Jinxed joint still stuck across state

April 6, 2007 

The trucking company trying to deliver an oversized piece of equipment to the new Tacoma Narrows bridge hit another major chuckhole Thursday.

After an inspection, the Washington State Patrol advised Big Boat Movers of Zavalla, Texas, that the configuration of trailers it had assembled to carry the 100-ton expansion joint from Spokane to Tacoma didn’t have enough brakes.

That means Big Boat must find new trailers and won’t be leaving the Spokane area with the dual-lane load today, as it had hoped.

And because Big Boat’s state hauling permit allows travel though the congested Seattle-Bellevue area only on weekends, the builder of the Narrows bridge will have to wait another week for the expansion joint to arrive.

“It’s unfortunate,” said officer Nicholas Hopper of the State Patrol’s Commercial Vehicle Section, “but you’ve got a 300,000-pound load here. We want to make sure they’re able to stop it. Our job is to make sure the rules are carried out.”

Big Boat’s representatives disagreed with the State Patrol’s assessment, maintaining that their 22-axle, dual-lane assembly had plenty of braking power and that the state was being unreasonably rigid with the rules.

“Our official comment is, we’re trying to do everything in our power to cooperate with the local officials, as difficult as that has been at times,” said Big Boat co-owner Wayne Elledge.

After picking up the expansion joint in Minnesota, Big Boat traveled through five states before being stopped at the Washington border for weight violations.

To satisfy the state Department of Transportation’s weight distribution requirements, the trucker had to change its 165-foot-long train of single-lane truck trailers into a dual-lane configuration.

Even though the new rig will be more than 100,000 pounds heavier, the weight will be distributed in a way that the state says will be easier on the bridges the load must cross.

The extra double sets of trailers Big Boat leased from a Washington company were house-movers’ trailers, which aren’t legally required to be equipped with brakes.

According to Hopper, federal interstate regulations apply to Big Boat’s load because it originated in Minnesota. Those regulations require that all axles in a load be equipped with brakes.

The federal laws do permit trucks to operate if as many as 20 percent of their brakes aren’t functioning, Hopper said, but assembling a load with brakeless trailers to begin with isn’t allowed.

“Technically, the standard rule is you’ve got to have brakes on all wheels,” Hopper said. “You would think that, as a heavy hauler, they would know that.”

Big Boat argued that, of the total of 22 axles, 78 percent of them had brakes – close enough to the 20 percent requirement to let pass.

Elledge said his company scrambled for most of the day Thursday before finding the type of trailers it needed in Oregon.

Those trailers were expected to arrive in Spokane today, Elledge said, and his crews will start reassembling the load.

“We’re going to try to do whatever it takes to satisfy all the agencies involved,” he said. “But once we get this done, the way things have been going, there’s probably going to be something else that comes up.”

By the end of the day Thursday, something had: The Transportation Department told the company it couldn’t take the extra-wide rig across the state over Easter weekend, when heavy traffic is expected.

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