Interstate 495 is packed with cars 24 hours a day, traveling at speeds of 70 miles per hour or more. On Wednesday, April 17, at 9:30 a.m., two tractor trailers were towing loads that extended beyond one lane, with cars behind, flashing lights and a "wide load" sign, exasperating drivers in the morning rush hour, though 9:30 is technically outside the allotted rush hour times.
In another instance, an oversized piece of the Hubble telescope came through the area on a flatbed truck in early April but was forced to travel in the middle of the day because of restrictions on truckloads larger than normal. Then there are the beams for the interchange project that require a police escort, 21-foot-wide boats, and U.S. Army tanks destined for overseas ports.
Welcome to the Beltway.
Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) spokesperson Ryan Hall remembered the telescope.
"Because of the odd size of the load, it was restricted to the day, between rush hours," he said.
The tanks on the flatbeds was back in the early '90s during Desert Storm, according to Ken Jennings, director of Motor Carrier Service Operations at the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in Richmond.
"We were moving tanks all day and all night," he said.
But it is not a free-for-all for these trucks, according to VDOT Interchange Information specialist Steve Titunik.
"They don't just get on the road. Once you have your route established, you have to contact the Department of Transportation in that state. You also have to have 'chase vehicles' in the front and back," he said.
VDOT gives permits for oversized loads, and the DMV handles the overweight loads.
Jennings said DMV handles the weight permits along the particular route.
"We are in charge of when they came through, adhering to the restrictions of that permit," he said.
Jennings said their guidelines for oversized trucks include trying to keep them in the right lane as much as possible, but he also indicated that there were no particular time restrictions, so a wide load on the Beltway at the height of rush hour is a possibility.
"We monitor trucks for compliance," he said.
Ryan noted the tight restrictions around rush hour on the Capital Beltway.
"There are time restrictions based on different criteria. They're definitely not going to be on the road at rush hour," he said.
Those restrictions included a height limit of 13 feet 6 inches, a length limit of 65 feet, and a width of 8 feet 6 inches. A standard lane is 12 feet wide. Permits and restrictions would be available for exceeding the length and width, but the height would be limited, since bridge heights are nonadjustable. An alternate route would have to be chosen.
Joel Dandrea, executive vice president at the Specialized Carriers and Rigging Association, noted the 80,000-pound limit as the average maximum weight for most roads and bridges.
"All states have various regulations. Oversized, overweight permits are issued by the permit office. There are federal guidelines," he said.
The Commonwealth of Virginia Guidelines state, "For a single-trip temporary registration or permit issued under this section, the applicant shall pay a fee of ten cents per mile for every mile to be traveled, in addition to any administrative fee required by the Department of Transportation."
According to Dandrea, there are permit companies that are contracted out that handle all the permit procedures. He said some truck companies get in touch with these companies through the state, at truck stops, on the Internet or by fax.
"They're there to provide one-stop shopping. There are hundreds of thousands of permits issued throughout the country," he said.
Richard F. Clemente, director of safety and health programs at the Truckload Carriers Association in Alexandria, handles weight restrictions on regular-sized tractor trailers but not wide loads.
"It is an issue certainly. Our guys are certainly subject to length and width issues. There are bridge formulas, axle restrictions. When you are carrying more than you should, it damages the roads and bridges," Clemente said.
According to VDOT rules, except for permits issued under ß 46.2-1141 for overweight vehicles transporting containerized freight and permits issued for overweight vehicles transporting irreducible loads, no overweight permit issued by the commissioner or any local authority under any provision of this article shall be valid for the operation of any vehicle on an interstate highway if the vehicle has one of the following:
- A single axle weight in excess of 20,000 pounds;
- A tandem axle weight in excess of 34,000 pounds;
- A gross weight, based on axle spacing, greater than that permitted in ß 46.2-1127; or
- A gross weight, regardless of axle spacing, in excess of 80,000 pounds.
Violation of any term of any permit issued under this article shall constitute a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Hall said that safety was the most important factor.
"The safety of the commuting public has the priority," he said.