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Banned!

MONTREAL, Que. - Within a day of the I-35W bridge collapse over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis on Aug. 1, the city of Montreal upgraded a ban on trucks over 20 tonnes to a total truck ban on the...


OBSTACLE COURSE: This interactive map, available at the Transports Quebec Web site, shows which overpasses and bridges are affected by the load limits. Some trucking companies have warned shipping costs will skyrocket as a result of the restrictions.

OBSTACLE COURSE: This interactive map, available at the Transports Quebec Web site, shows which overpasses and bridges are affected by the load limits. Some trucking companies have warned shipping costs will skyrocket as a result of the restrictions.


MONTREAL, Que. – Within a day of the I-35W bridge collapse over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis on Aug. 1, the city of Montreal upgraded a ban on trucks over 20 tonnes to a total truck ban on the overpass at Henri Bourassa Boulevard E and Pie IX Boulevard in Montreal North.

A reported 3,000 trucks a day will be affected, and the city has marked out a five-kilometre detour. The bridge will be demolished and rebuilt next year, hopefully. Bans were also imposed on eight other city overpasses.

This is not encouraging, especially since Transports Quebec was able to announce on July 27 that two overpasses on the A-40 in Quebec City had been re-opened to trucks carrying loads within the normal weight limits for their axle configurations.

Meanwhile, 135 other overpasses in the province remain closed to trucks carrying overweight loads with special permits until further notice. The restrictions are part of the fallout following testimony about the Sept. 30, 2006 collapse of the de la Concorde Boulevard overpass onto Highway 19, in Laval.

Weight reductions are also in force for three other configurations of trucks if they want to cross the affected overpasses: seven-axle tractor/semi-trailers (quads) must reduce their GVW from 57,500 to 55,000 kilograms; B-trains must reduce their payload from 62,500 GVW to 59,000 kilos; and long combination vehicles (LCVs) must reduce their maximum payload by 7.4%, from 67,500 to 62,500 kilos.

An estimated 12,000 trucks registered in the province will be affected.

Jean-Robert Lasalle, vice-president of marketing with Robert Transport, says the company has been working on loading plans with its customers, and on new routes.

“We are not that much affected: A lot of our merchandise is more volumetric,” Lasalle says. “We have had to reduce weight on some B-trains and the long combination vehicles, but it is usually easy to accommodate. But along the line it will cost money.”

Sylvain Roussille, general manager of Roussille Transport in Montreal, expands on the money theme.

“Most carriers that do contracts with paper mills or companies that work with heavy resources like aluminum or iron try to maximize the capacity of their trailers. The Quebec and Ontario carriers that compete for manufacturers from points A to B have pricing by weight. If they have to reduce their weight, their revenues diminish, but costs remain the same. And the rate is fixed for a specific route. If you make changes to the (weight of the load) or the miles travelled, it affects pricing. Most carriers have yearly contracts they cannot change. I would be very much surprised if their clients will agree to pay more.”

Just how much cost and revenue loss any particular carrier is exposed to depends on how weighted it is toward overweight loads, the configuration and whether their clients will pay more money for detour miles. Bellemare (Thomas), in Trois-Riviere-Ouest has an average of 40 trucks every day on the road with special permits and is racking up between 5,000 and 8,000 detour kilometres a day, according to a quick and dirty bit of ciphering by the carrier’s director of transport, Daniel Lemire.

Even worse (unless parking your rigs is a better option than running them at a loss), there are some routes with restricted structures for which no practical detours exist.

For example, on Hwy. 117 between Montreal and Abitibi-Temiscamingue there are two restricted bridges, and the only detours are via Temiscaming from Ontario, and an utterly impractical, 1,000-kilometre or so detour via Quebec City and Lac Saint-Jean on highways 75/169/167; pretty unpalatable at a fuel burn of maybe 5 mpg.

In fact, of the four highways to Lac Saint-Jean from the North Shore of the St-Lawrence River, only the 75/169 is free of restrictions. The A-10 between Montreal and Sherbrooke has three restrictions in Marieville; a detour via Saint-Hyacinthe and the 137 is not an option, putting Sherbrooke essentially out of reach to eastbound overweight loads that cannot be broken up.

Martin Dupuis, the president of Transport Watson Montreal in St-Mathieu-de-Beloeil, says some loads might be delayed by up to three months.

“For now we are screwed at some places. If we are moving overweight or single piece loads, we sometimes can’t move them at all.”

As for detours, he says, “Our longest detour is 400 kilometres. Some of our customers do not want to accept the extra cost. But with a major detour we either get paid or we don’t move the load.”

There are several rotten slabs of concrete between this crisis of faith in the structural integrity of so many overpasses and bridges and its resolution. Among them: One, although Transports Quebec ballparks that the results of the structural analyses will be completed by the “fall,” spokesman Jean Armand could not say when and at what rate the results of individual analyses would be released.

As they become available results should appear on the Transports Quebec Web site, but as the occasional document has a way of coming and going from the well-run site, it would be awfully nice if the Quebec Trucking Association, which is well plugged in with Transports Quebec on this dossier, would liven up its somnolent Web site with updates on what has to be the worst crisis facing Quebec’s trucking industry since the trucker strikes and union activism in the late 1990s.

Two, this uncertainty makes it hard for carriers to know when to submit special permit applications.

“No-one can make a decision whether to get a permit. The company specifies the route it wants to take, but it can be refused. It can take weeks to get a refusal. Transports Quebec isn’t helping. It is just saying, ‘It is just your problem,'” says Roussille.

Three, the way the ill winds are blowing right now, it would come as no surprise to learn that some of those structures under investigation will be slapped with bans that will not be lifted until they are replaced.

Breaking news please!

The best, although not consistently comprehensive source for information on the bridge/overpass ban is still the Transports Quebec Web site: www.mtq.gouv.qc.ca.

Information may appear in the regular press release section, but the bulk of relevant information; e.g., the list of banned structures and weight reduction tables, are contained on a special page: www.mtq.gouv.qc.ca/portal/page/portal/accueil/dossier_135_structures.

One cool feature is a manipulable provincial atlas of all the banned structures accessable via a link on the bottom of the page. The instructions are in French, but the toolbar is self-explanatory.

Users can magnify any point on the map, although the “i” button that is supposed to call up information on any of the structures represented by a black square was not operational as of early August.

Care should be taken not to confuse a banned overpass crossing a highway with a banned bridge on that highway; e.g., there are several banned overpasses on the A-10 that can only be identified as such once the atlas has been magnified a few steps. This map works very well with a list of the banned structures beside it for reference. Of course, you can also check www.trucknews.com for daily news updates for the trucking industry.


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