‘Superload’ cuts through Pennsylvania, two lanes wide and the size of two whales


It’s called a superload, and for good reason: the highway behemoth is longer than five fire trucks and weighs a whopping two blue whales.

This week and next week, the giant tractor-trailer, carrying a tank from a decommissioned nuclear training site, will trudge through Pennsylvania on a 400-mile route that would test the skills of even the most experienced truck driver.

Occupying two lanes, the metal leviathan measures 213 feet end to end and weighs 294 tons, which only puts oversized loads to shame.

As it rolls across the state on what is expected to be a nine-day journey, the rig with various flatbed trailers and escort vehicles must traverse 16 counties, navigating exit roads, country roads, two-lane highways, unusual traffic patterns and a potential snow storm.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, the truck can only drive at the posted speed limit or 30 mph, whichever is lower.

Unsurprisingly, drivers should expect delays if they get behind the superload, although it is expected to travel mainly at night to reduce bottlenecks, the department said.

Lew Grill, a truck driver and instructor in Montana with 54 years of experience on the road, said he had deep respect for any truck driver who could carry a 294-ton load.

He said the weight limit for the average tractor-trailer is 40 tons, featherweight by comparison.

“This is phenomenal,” said Mr. grill. “If this man can do this professionally, he should be praised. We should bow to him. There aren’t many drivers like that.”

Mr Grill said the driver must respond to unforeseen challenges, such as cars stopping at the side of the road.

The escort drivers are “just the extra eyes and ears of the ship’s captain,” he said. Ultimately, the truck driver is responsible for making sure the superload reaches its destination safely, he said.

Although the tank is empty, it is radioactive due to its proximity to the D1G Prototype reactor, which was used at the Kenneth A. Kesselring site in West Milton, NY, to train naval sailors in the operation of nuclear-powered propulsion systems. fleet.

The prototype reactor was decommissioned in 1996, and the reactor’s fuel was removed in 1997, according to the Naval Nuclear Laboratory. The tank, which was part of a system used to support the prototype reactor, contains no residual fuel, according to Saralynne DelRaso, a spokeswoman for the lab.

She said a person who was close to the outside of the tank for an hour would receive less radiation exposure than a passenger might get on an overland flight from New York to Seattle.

Ms. DelRaso said the company carrying the tank planned to have three escort vehicles and three state police vehicles accompany the truck.

Because the trailer is wide, drivers aren’t allowed to pass on two-lane roads until the rig comes to a stop and the attendants let traffic through, she said.

The shipment required numerous permits, all of which included advance notice of the operation, as well as approval of the proposed route and timing, Ms. DelRaso said.

The truck left the Kesselring site, near Saratoga Springs, NY, on Jan. 5 and crossed into northeastern Pennsylvania Wednesday night, she said.

He was expected to reach Wampum, Pennsylvania, about 41 north of Pittsburgh on January 21. The tank will then be disassembled, some of it recycled and the rest thrown away.

A winter storm expected to hit the northeast this weekend could complicate the journey. The National Weather Service has warned of dangerous road conditions, with: early estimates of four inches of snow or more in parts of Pennsylvania.

Perkins Specialized Transportation Contracting, a heavy haulage and superload logistics company in Becker, Minnesota, that shipped the tank, declined to comment on the venture Thursday.

But the job isn’t the biggest the company has done.

In the summer of 2018, it was carrying seven motorcycles of 318 tons each on a 61-mile route from a port in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, according to the company’s website. The shipment took more than a year and a half to plan and three and a half weeks to complete and required route studies, feasibility studies and outside support teams.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation urged people to follow the superload on social media with the hashtag #PAsuperload22.

“It’s going to be teamwork, with troopers from at least six different stations participating at different intervals,” said Lieutenant Adam Reed, a state police spokesman. “Safety and security will be our top priorities and we ask for patience to make sure it arrives safely at its destination.”

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