When road hogs get really, really big
I love living in rural Montana, where every census confirms out-migration. But much as I enjoy it, there are a few disadvantages, such as spotty cell phone service, access to only two free television stations, wilted produce at the grocery store, and lately, incredibly huge loads of equipment that clog our narrow, two-lane highways.
Recently, on my way to an appointment 80 miles away that I didn’t want to be late for, I came close to road rage. It was probably lucky that I am not a violent person. It was 10 a.m., and I’d allowed an extra half-hour of travel time for the trip, but three miles into my journey, I was brought to a halt by the driver of a pilot car, who was out of his vehicle and standing on the centerline of the highway. Behind him, a monster truck blocked the highway from one edge of the pavement to the other.
I rolled down my window and asked the man how long I’d have to wait. He sighed and informed me that an obstinate driver refused to move off the highway to allow the mega-load to pass by.
I suggested that he inform the driver of said vehicle that someone heading west needed to get moving. He obliged, via a short walkie-talkie conversation with a counterpart leading the caravan.
After a few minutes, I observed an elderly rancher (aka the obstinate driver) attempting to back his very long livestock trailer onto a narrow track that led off the highway into a field. It was a painstaking process, but he eventually made it, and the mass of machinery ahead of me crawled on, with me bringing up the rear. I waved to the rancher. He smiled at me as I eased by the nose of his truck. I couldn't blame him for not wanting to move off the highway onto a two-track.
Of course, I expected the big rig to stop at a wide spot up the road and let me go around, but no, it continued its laborious trek as nothing less than a slow-moving roadblock. I began to seethe, but thought, well, he'll surely stop at the next turnout. By now, my half-hour cushion had shrunk to 15 minutes.
The long, not the short of it, was that an hour later I had traveled only 20 miles and was definitely going to be late. Not only that, but as a well-informed member of Montana's traveling public, I knew my rights had been squashed by the heavy-hauling transport crew. The law clearly states that holders of over-sized load permits must not delay traffic on the open highway for more than 10 minutes.
Through clenched teeth, I so informed the driver of the pilot car as I was finally allowed to squeeze by the load before it turned off my route at a highway junction. He shrugged and said, “Have a nice day, ma'am.” Not likely.
The next day, I looked up the phone number of the Montana Department of Transportation, Motor Carrier Division, and called to report the incident. The first employee I talked to said he had no way of finding out who was hauling the load. I didn't believe him.
The second in the chain-of-command was slightly more helpful, and took down the details of my experience. He suggested that I write a letter to his supervisor. About a half hour later, the second employee called back to say that he had all the information he needed, and that it wasn't necessary for me to write a letter after all. I immediately fired off a letter to the supervisor, sending it certified mail.
The next day, the supervisor himself called to apologize and explained that these days, there are so many huge loads moving on Montana's highways that it is difficult to track a particular one without knowing the name of the carrier. I gave him all the details I could, and he called back the next day with the identity of the offender from Casper, Wyo.
The load was refinery equipment for oil and gas delivered to Laurel, Mont. He said he would forward my complaint to the company, and that his department would more carefully scrutinize its submitted travel plans before issuing future permits.
We all know that the booming oil-equipment transport business has strained state resources. This January, Montana's biennial Legislature will consider a request from the transportation department for more enforcement personnel to deal with the sudden stampede of over-size loads.
In the meantime, the traveling public can do little more than carry a supply of aspirin. This might help to ease the headache of trailing a road hog of gigantic proportions at a frustrating 15 miles per hour.
Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at firstname.lastname@example.org.