NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. – Carriers may be relieved to know they won’t have to pay US$500 (CAD$673.13) for every truck weighing 80,000 lbs. or more crossing the Peace Bridge.
They may also be happy to learn they won’t necessarily have to submit information about each heavy vehicle combination three days ahead of its arrival at the bridge.
And if they’re feeling particularly grateful about the news, they can send their thank you cards to the Ontario Trucking Association.
The association first learned of the Peace Bridge Authority’s plan for trucks over 80,000 lbs. last summer, said OTA vice-president Barry Montague.
“I’m not sure how serious they (the bridge authority) were about it but that’s when we first learned of their plans,” said Montague, adding the bridge authority probably suspected “the idea would never fly.”
“They might have just thought they’d float the balloon and see what happened.”
Needless to say, the OTA was quick to respond.
The bridge authority was concerned about the effect of heavy truck traffic on the Peace Bridge’s structure, after engineering studies were completed at the authority’s behest in 2001. (The bridge was built in 1925.)
So the authority decided it would require an evaluation of each and every configuration exceeding the U.S. federal gross weight limit of 80,000 lbs. prior to the vehicle crossing the bridge.
Not surprisingly, jaws dropped when the authority announced the evaluation could cost carriers US$500.00 (CAD$673.13) per truck.
“I think what they were trying to do, in terms of protecting the bridge, was legitimate,” said Montague.
“Because if anything goes wrong and the bridge collapses they’re out of business. They do have an obligation to make sure certain configurations of trucks are not damaging the bridge.
“But I think they underestimated the amount of heavy traffic crossing there.” (It’s estimated about 5,000 trucks cross the three-lane bridge per day, and about 100 of them weigh over 80,000 lbs.)
The OTA found out about the bridge’s plans in June 2003 and scrambled to come up with the information on truck traffic and configurations on the Peace Bridge that would make the pricey evaluation of each and every 80,0000-lb plus truck unnecessary.
“They didn’t have the information on what kind of configurations were already crossing the bridge and we knew where to get it,” said Montague.
The OTA shelled out the bucks (nowhere near US$500 per truck) to get a list of the heavy configurations regularly crossing the bridge from a consultant who used to work for the Ontario Ministry of Transport (there used to be scales on the bridge).
OTA officials claim that’s how they saved 95 per cent of configurations weighing 80,000 to 130,000 lbs. from having to apply in advance for permission to cross the bridge and pay the US$500 engineering analysis evaluation fee.
The new plan makes substantially more sense, especially for carriers who regularly carry commodities such as beer, cement, steel, propane, dry wall, paper and lumber across the bridge.
(Keep in mind when viewing the drawings that any trailer body type can be applied – e.g. if the drawings show van trailers, tank or dump trailers with similar axle spacings and weights have also been approved.)
Key factors for unrestricted crossing
There are three key factors that determine whether a configuration is okay to cross the Peace Bridge: 1) the inter-axle spacing; 2) the spread of the axle grouping; and 3) the weight of each axle grouping.
If a vehicle combination weighing 80,000 lbs. or more does not meet all the conditions shown in the applicable drawing on the OTA link provided above, the carrier must make an application for an engineering analysis and permit prior to crossing the bridge.
Vehicles that will still require an engineering analysis account for about five per cent of heavy trucks between 80,000 and 130,000 crossing the Peace Bridge.
They also include vehicles operating in excess of 130,000 lbs. or requiring an overweight/oversize permit (with the exception of some B-train configurations used to move steel under special permit from New York State and Buffalo).
These vehicles will be considered on a case-by-case basis by the bridge authority’s engineers and will require an engineering analysis to be per formed prior to crossing the bridge.
If you check out the configuration drawings on the OTA Web page and discover your vehicle doesn’t qualify for unrestricted access, here’s what to do:
1) Contact the bridge authority a minimum of two business days in advance of the crossing to obtain permission to cross.
2) Obtain and complete an application for analysis (available at the above Web address or by calling the number appearing below), fill it out and send it back to the authority. The authority will match the configuration on your application to the data sheet and if it has previously been analyzed and approved a permit will be issued.
3) If there is no match, the permit application will be sent to the bridge authority’s engineering department for an evaluation and you’ll have to shell out CAD$450 or US$350. Then, if engineers issue a successful report, a permit will be issued giving you authority to cross the bridge. If they don’t give you a permit, you still have to pay the analysis fee.
4) If your application succeeds, you won’t have to pay again. You get a configuration reference number and use that when you apply for a permit the next time.
Keep in mind that even if your vehicle configuration operates above 130,000 lbs. it may still be approved for crossing.
But you have to submit an application (except for the approved B-trains).
According to the OTA, owners of these vehicles won’t get dinged with the evaluation fee, but still have to make special arrangements with the bridge.
Vehicles weighing in excess of 140,000 lbs. have special needs when it comes to crossing the Peace Bridge, points out toll/traffic supervisor Christopher Bonn.
“We basically have to close down two lanes and the vehicle has to move across the bridge straddling the two lanes,” he said.
“The other lane is open to cars and trucks, but those two lanes are devoted solely to the one vehicle until that one vehicle gets across. It requires a lot of organization and work on the part of bridge staff, and we need to know about it ahead of time.”
Bridge authority staff have been trained to recognize configurations that don’t qualify and to conduct random inspections.
The bridge authority also retains the right to deny access to combinations that have not been approved and the right to deny access to the carrier in question at any point in the future.
Carriers with questions concerning the Authority’s Truck Loads Program should contact Christopher Bonn – Toll/Traffic Supervisor at 905-871-1608 Ext. 269.
The new rules will take effect June 16.
Sault Ste. Marie dinging hazmat carriers
Meanwhile the OTA is trying to reduce the impact of a program at the Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge (between Sault Ste. Marie and Michigan), where the bridge authority has decided to charge hazmat carriers CAD$100 or US$75 to be escorted across the bridge – in either direction.
“We’re trying to get them to come up with something that makes more sense, like not doing it at all,” said Montague.
U.S. trucking groups are even considering legal action against the bridge on the grounds that the escort fee is unconstitutional, Montague said.
The argument could be made that, under the U.S. constitution the bridge has no right to impede international commerce.
According to Montague, some hazmat carriers can apply for a special permit to cross the bridge unescorted.
This of course could involve another fee of some kind.
“At this point we’re just trying to clarify exac
tly what it is the bridge authority wants to do,” Montague said.
Asked whether he thinks international bridges in general are demonstrating an increasing penchant for cash grabbing, Montague said no.
“The Peace Bridge and the Sault International are the only instances of extra fees we’ve dealt with recently.”