Megaload to pass through Flathead raises concerns


KALISPELL, Mont. - A new permit has allowed a megaload to travel in northwest Montana. The new route will go through the Flathead Valley.

The load is just over 21 feet wide and 16 feet 9 inches tall. The length of the load will vary depending on the number of push and pull trucks it takes to move the load, but the permit limits it to 400 feet.

The megaload will enter Montana near Clark Fork, Idaho, on Highway 200. It then will travel northbound toward Libby, then head south to Kalispell. Once in Kalispell, it will travel up Meridian Road to Highway 93. It will hit Columbia Falls and then travel south to Bigfork. Eventually the megaload will reach Highway 200 at the Clearwater Junction and then head to Great Falls.

Even the Montana Department of Transportation figured there was an easier route, along Interstate 90 or Interstate 15. However, with construction on I-90 and detours, that is why the load has to travel through the Flathead.

The megaload is carrying the first of three pieces of a refinery machine, used to process Canadian oil sands. It is on the move, currently making its way through Idaho toward Montana. It could reach the Flathead as early as Sunday night.

The megaload weighs close to 1 million pounds, and that worries some residents.

"I'm sure there's going to be some kind of damage to the roads and the local infrastructure by having all that weight," said April, a Kalispell resident.

NBC Montana drove the route and found some narrow roads and steep hills, especially the hill on Meridian Road. It's a road that connects U.S. Highway 2 with Highway 93.

MDT says a hill like that could be a challenge.

"They very well may need to put both pull and push trucks to climb that hill," said Duane Williams, from the MDT Motor Carrier Services.

There is also concern that the load won't fit under street lights. However, because it is less than 17 feet MDT says they won't have to remove any lights or electrical poles.

There are requirements. The load will only travel at night, and only during the week. During the day, it will pull into designated staging areas. When in route, there will be traffic control.

"There will be ‘leap frogging' flag stations ahead of the load and they'll be stopping cars while the next flag station is leaping forward. Cars will be asked to pull off on the side of the road," Williams said.

But for Flathead residents who work overnight, it could pose a problem.

"I'm really concerned what's going to happen if I end up meeting one of these megaloads at 2 in the morning trying to get out of Libby. I'm on a time frame for my job," April said.

Environmentalists have already protested the megaload as it passed through Moscow, Idaho, on Monday. Those protesting don't want the equipment because it's a part of the tar sands oil project.

MDT will keep these protests in mind during the seven-night travel period.

"We hope to move this load along with as little inconvenience to the traveling public as possible," Williams said.

Montana Highway Patrol will be escorting the load the entire way. They usually don't always escort megaloads, but are doing it for this one. They say it's because of the potential for more protests and because the load can cause a massive safety issue.

MDT wants to remind drivers that there will be traffic delays, so people traveling at night should find alternate routes.