Moving Oversized Loads with First Call’s Landon Moreau

Jan 30, 2024

You’ve likely seen at least one oversized shipment making slow progress on your local freeway, accompanied by various pilot vehicles, warning flags, signage and other safety precautions.

As you might expect, successfully transporting oversized loads involves meticulous planning, preparation and a near-endless list of variables impacting the cargo’s safe (and legally compliant) delivery. Here’s a closer look at what it takes to move over-dimensional cargo, featuring First Call Business Development Manager and longtime heavy haul specialist Landon Moreau.

First Things First: Which Loads Are Considered “Oversized”?

Oversized loads (sometimes termed project freight, over-dimensional or heavy hauls) are shipments exceeding the standard legal size or weight limits for a given region or route.

Though specific oversized load regulations vary by state (as laid out by their respective Departments of Transportation), generally a load exceeding 8.5 feet in width, 13.5 feet in height or weighing more than 80,000 pounds is classified as a heavy haul. Common heavy haul items include:

  • Construction equipment
  • Raw manufacturing materials
  • Farm machinery
  • Large vehicles (including boats and aircraft)
  • Turbines
  • Storage tanks
  • Steel pipes
  • Military equipment

Oversized Load Permits & Legal Requirements

States are responsible for their own oversized load permitting rules, escort requirements and legal hours of operation (as the Federal Government does not currently issue permits for over-dimensional shipments). Each state’s requirements must therefore be carefully considered when piecing together route plans for shipments crossing state lines.

“If you’re driving through New York City, you may only be able to travel between certain times of the day,” Moreau says. “If you’re hauling something taller, you have to pay attention to bridge and tunnel clearances — up to 10ft tall is legal on a standard trailer in most every state, but from 10-12 feet, those are usually dimensions where you’ll need permitting. Anything over that, you may need police escorts or a planned route avoiding certain bridges or highways.”

Additionally, some states require a route survey before granting a permit, sending a survey vehicle to physically inspect bridges, tunnels, tight turns and rest stops along the proposed route for potential hazards.

Drivers or carriers are generally tasked with securing proper permits and escorts in advance, in conjunction with the details communicated by the shipper (or 3PL partner). At least a dozen times in our quick chat, Moreau emphasized the importance of clear and accurate communication when seeking efficient heavy-haul transport.

“Details are important,” Moreau says. “A lot of this stuff is on deadline — it’s going to job sites, construction crews might be waiting on it — but like anything else, any issues can be mitigated with clear communication. It’s nice when our partners communicate precise dimensions, the products going on the truck, the number of pieces and the dimensions of each piece. When you’re doing oversized loads, if a product can be broken down to fit on a standard legal dimensions it cannot be shipped over-dimensional.”

A shipment’s “divisibility” (ability or inability to be broken down) is determined by whether disassembling the cargo in question would decrease its value, rendering it unable to perform its intended function or require more than eight work hours to dismantle (think military vehicles, construction equipment and other large machinery).

Heavy Haul Modes, Equipment and Preparation

As you might expect, avoiding certain roads or highways during normal daylight hours, obtaining state-specific paperwork, escorts and permits in advance (but not so far in advance the permits expire), acquiring all necessary signs, flags and lights for safe transport and adequately insuring an oversized load isn’t the sort of thing you can throw together at the last minute.

“It’s not like a spot-load where you schedule for next-day pickup,” Moreau says. “The permitting offices typically don’t work over weekends, so all that planning needs to be done probably a month out. Two weeks is the minimum time if you’re in the winter and you want some flexibility for working around the weather.”

Flexibility includes choosing the right equipment for a job — or even switching up modes when the situation calls for it. Depending on a shipment’s destination, rail transport may provide a viable alternative for heavy loads as rail cars are designed to hold three to four times more than a truck. For over-dimensional loads too tall or wide for rails, certain road vehicles can likewise aid the shipping process while remaining compliant.

“The type of equipment matters,” Moreau says. “RGNs (removable gooseneck trailers) sit lower to the ground, so legally you can fit taller cargo on there. RGNs are typically used for taller or overweight equipment — flatbeds and step decks can be used for over-width, but for heavier freight you’ll typically see RGNs and double-drops.”

Insuring Oversized Loads

While all freight is protected to a degree by freight liability limits, third-party insurance is often needed to safeguard shippers from potential disaster when transporting oversized equipment. The standard liability limit is not the same as insurance; it isn’t based on the cargo’s precise value and in many cases falls woefully short of covering an oversized load’s true cost.

“Finding out the load value is part of that detail-gathering aspect,” Moreau says. “I’ve seen $3 million equipment on the backs of trucks — that’s not something you can mess around with. That can put a company out of business. When you’re hauling big pieces of equipment like this you want to make sure the carrier has the appropriate insurance.”

Destination and Route Analysis

Effective route planning balances dozens of shifting variables at once; a single bridge closure or patch of road construction can cost an oversized load valuable time (and fuel) if not properly anticipated. Likewise, seasonal hardships like winter freezes and snow squalls can sideline a shipment for days at a time.

“I used to ship into Ogden, UT all the time,” Moreau says. “They’d shut down I-80 pretty regularly — in terms of weather issues, that’s the biggest one I’ve run into in terms of highway shutdowns. Up in Alberta, CA you have to make sure drivers have chains half the year. That’s part of your pre-dispatching checklist though — ensuring they have all the equipment they need.”

Move Oversized Loads with First Call

Streamlining the heavy haul process can be as simple as choosing the right shipping partner. First Call partners with a host of vetted carriers around the country to make sure oversized cargo arrives safely and on time, with transparent shipment tracking and dedicated logistics management every step of the way.

Looking for an over-dimensional load solution? Contact us today to learn more about how our experienced team of logistics professionals can resolve your toughest supply chain challenges.

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