Answers To 7 Critical Questions On Oversize/Overweight Permits

Debora Carley

In 2011, a Putzmeister 70Z-Meter concrete pumper truck needed to navigate Georgia highways on its way to Japan. The 70Z, so named because its pumper, affixed to a Kenworth truck, stretches roughly 230 feet (70 meters) when fully deployed. The vehicle, the world’s largest concrete pumper at the time, was […]

In 2011, a Putzmeister 70Z-Meter concrete pumper truck needed to navigate Georgia highways on its way to Japan. The 70Z, so named because its pumper, affixed to a Kenworth truck, stretches roughly 230 feet (70 meters) when fully deployed. The vehicle, the world’s largest concrete pumper at the time, was heading to Japan to help with recovery following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster.

John Taylor of PDLDrivers was tasked with getting the 10-axle, 179,000-pound pumper to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport for its flight.

“A couple of days before we had to move the truck, Georgia decided we couldn’t move it,” Taylor, a driver training and staff development specialist with PDLDrivers, told FreightWaves.

The state decided the boom was just too big, so it needed to be removed before the truck could travel on the state’s roadways. The pumper eventually made it to Japan, but the experience illustrates the difficulty in moving oversize and overweight loads.

“I think the worst part about ordering permits is understanding the nuances of every state,” Taylor said. “In Nebraska, for instance, if an axle is above 20,000 pounds, it can’t go on the Interstate but can go on state routes.”

Virginia and West Virginia are states that make the permitting process more complicated for transporters, the role PDLDrivers fills, he said.

Once the proper permits are obtained, though, the process is far from over. In many cases, it just becomes more complicated. Taylor, who said his company moves between 600 and 800 units a year, each requiring their own permits, noted that permits come with many restrictions such as pilot cars, flags, lights, and even specific speed limits along the route.

Taylor said it is not unusual to have four or five pages of provisions attached to a permit. 

Chris Turner, director of crash and data programs for the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), told FreightWaves it is important to read the permit thoroughly.

“What folks usually fail to do is [once] they have the permit, they will get off route or drive at a time that is not allowed by the permit,” he said. “As a best practice, make sure you read through the permit.”

Turner said a common issue relates to drivers following GPS guidance even though the permit requires a different route. Construction sites can also increase the likelihood of violations. These changes often and lane restrictions can be put in place that force an oversized load carrier to divert. The result is an out-of-route violation.

Following the proper permitting process is key to avoiding violations, which can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. After starting his career working with a single individual on permits, Taylor has found that the expertise a third-party consultant provides is invaluable. PDLDrivers now works with  J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. on the permitting process.

“I think the people on their team are great because they are able to take the problems I have, or the potential problems I will have, [and solve them],” he said. “I think on the whole, J. J. Keller offers a great service.”

When beginning the permitting process, there are seven critical questions that need answering, according to J. J. Keller. They are:

1.Do I need a permit?

In general, the legal vehicle size is 53 feet for a semi-trailer, with a 13-foot, 6-inch height, and 8-foot, 6-inch width. The maximum gross vehicle weight allowed is 80,000 pounds. Anytime the vehicle and its load will exceed these limits, a permit is required. Additional permits may be required under special circumstances.

Understanding federal regulations are tough enough, though, and that is only the beginning in some cases. Taylor said each state can have its own rules. 

“Federal regulations for legal sizes and weights are covered in 23 CFR Part 658, Truck Size and Weight, Route Designations — Length, Width, and Weight Limitations and pertain to designated roadways in the National Network of highways,” Heather Ness, transport operations editor at J. J. Keller, said. “States are allowed to set restrictions on state and local roads, and even some counties will have separate regulations. The process of identifying what permits are needed and submitting those permits across multiple jurisdictions is a time-consuming process that can easily overwhelm any fleet’s safety officials.”

2.I’m traveling through several states; do I need a permit for each state?

Yes. Most state applications are online, but the information each state requires may differ. And, to complicate matters, most state systems do not talk to other states’ systems, requiring a separate application for each state. In general, expect to include the following information, at a minimum, on your application: USDOT number, plate number, equipment/vehicle specs and details, dimensions of the vehicle and load (overall height, width and length), empty weight, gross weight, axle weights, trip origin and destination, and planned route(s) of travel.

Completing multiple applications with the same information for multiple jurisdictions slows the permitting process. J. J. Keller can speed the application process through the one-time collection of all necessary information from the fleet and then performing the legwork of securing permits in each jurisdiction on behalf of the fleet. 

3.How do I know what is required for each state or municipality?

Because each jurisdiction has its own permitting application process, you will need to check with each state or municipality. Turner said you should contact each state’s Department of Transportation or whoever runs the weigh stations in the state. If you can’t find the proper person, Turner advised reaching out to state police, who will be able to put you in touch with the appropriate contact. Also, municipalities and local governments may require additional permitting, so you will need to check with those entities as well.

An approach that can save time and money is contracting with a third-party expert. Compliance specialist J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. handles overweight and oversize permitting and compliance for many customers, giving it scale and experience working with regulatory bodies across the governmental spectrum. J. J. Keller experts are familiar with what each state requires, including which states may require escorts, specific signage, lights or flags, while others may not.

4.What other information must I provide?

As each state is different, the information you provide may be different. There is no way to know this until you begin the application process. Ness said these variations in requirements adds time to the process. 

“Some states may require you to obtain approval from local utilities for wires or other overhead obstructions prior to your move,” she said. “Some states may also require a route survey. All of these things take time.”

Taylor said one of the permits he received for a shipment required vehicles to limit their speed under certain bridges, and under others to ride over the centerline.

J. J. Keller said to collect as much information as you can on the vehicles, load, personnel and routes that will be involved, and have this information available during the application process. A compliance specialist is able to assist in this process and ensure all the boxes are checked.

5.How do I obtain a permit?

Start by working with each state on your route, or engage with a compliance partner like J. J. Keller to manage permits on your behalf. If managing yourself, once the application is filled out, the state or municipality will approve the plan, ask for additional information about it or reject it. If it is rejected, it often is due to either deficiencies in the plan or not enough information and does not necessarily mean you can’t complete the move. Work with your compliance specialist or the state to address these areas.

Turner said most states are more than willing to work with carriers to get the permits approved. “We know this is a stressful situation for carriers, so when they reach out, we try to help,” he said.

6.What do I need to know when I move the load?

For multistate moves, the process to obtain the necessary permitting can sometimes be more difficult than the move itself. During the application process, you should learn about specific restrictions in moving the load, and those restrictions may be different depending on the type of load. A 20-foot-wide load may require shutting down a road, so there may be limited hours available to move that load.

Common restrictions or requirements include limiting the transport of the load to evening or weekend hours or not moving it during typical rush hours. If there is construction on the route, that may alter the plan. The state may dictate how many escort vehicles are needed, if any, or how many and the size of signage, where flags should be placed, or whether caution lights are required.

Turner said the most common violation is being overweight, but many violations pertain to carriers not following the directives set out in the permit, including operating outside of allowed hours or drivers exceeding hours of service, which still apply in most cases.

“You need to consider hours of service and required rest times in planning the route because you just can’t pull an oversize load to the side of the road,” he said.

Be sure to check with each state or have your compliance specialist check on specific requirements. Failure to follow protocol could leave your oversize or overweight load stranded for days or weeks and result in large fines.

7. Should I acquire the permits myself?

The permitting process is complicated and can take many months to complete if it is a complicated move across multiple states. Because of this, many companies turn to compliance specialists to handle the permitting task. Companies like J. J. Keller will not only handle the securement of all necessary permits, they can advise on proper load securement and help plan the most effective route to minimize the unnecessary cost associated with additional restrictions.

 Moving oversize and overweight loads requires special attention to detail and additional preparation. Adherence to permit regulations is just part of that process, but an important part that can result in large fines if not properly followed. Outside compliance specialists can help make this process smoother, ensure compliance, and save fleets time and money along the way. For his part, Taylor said he is often asked why PDLDrivers doesn’t handle the entire process themselves.

“Some states have said to me, ‘John, why don’t you order the permits yourself, it’s much cheaper than going through a third-party provider,’ and I tell them, ‘I don’t have the time to call all the states’ [and the entire process can be complicated],” he said. “I think the worst part about ordering permits is understanding the nuances of every state.”

Photo by Josiah Farrow on Unsplash

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