With the exception of Ina Garten, most of us wouldn’t be able to just step into a kitchen and bake a cake from scratch, without a glance at a recipe or set of instructions to follow. At least, one that someone would want to eat.
Similarly, transporting oversized, super heavy haul loads down the road a few miles or across the country requires critical knowledge of important regulation guidelines to keep the route and load in check from start to finish. Permitting and the enormous documentation process involved plays a crucial role in the specialized transportation sector in order to comply with governmental and safety regulations and to keep all parties safe – the heavy haul service provider, the general public and the huge and often very expensive cargo itself. Navigating heavy haul and specialized transportation permitting is an arduous process, and there are always obstacles to overcome no matter where you are operating. The recipe for success is never the same. Heavy haul companies rely on professional permitting companies to acquire the necessary permits and help them comply with an oftentimes long list of regulations.
“Some of the biggest challenges include the travel restrictions that can vary by jurisdiction for weekend or holiday travel, turnaround time on the issuance of a permit and the number of days for which a permit is valid,” said Laurie Eldridge, senior vice president and general manager of regulatory and compliance services at Comdata, based in Brentwood, TN. “Another challenge would be keeping up with regulations.”
Becky Woods, vice president operations at WCS Permits & Pilot Cars, based in Los Angeles and with offices in Ohio, New York and Tennessee, has been working for 19 years in the permitting industry, and she believes that each state’s procedures and overall consistency continue to be an everyday struggle for permitting companies as well as their customers.
“Some states are progress oriented and forward thinking, however, a number of states hold onto the same procedures they worked with 20 years ago and have not adjusted to meet the needs of the industry,” said Woods. “The resulting conflicted processes make it extremely hard for carriers to plan their trips accordingly.”For example, many states have progressed to online, self-issued permits, which takes a significant amount of workload off permit staff and bridge departments, Woods said.
“By moving in this direction, staff can focus on expediting super load and specialized permits,” she said. “The results of these changes, in most cases, are vastly improved departmental turnaround times. As many states have evolved to accommodate the much-needed changes of a quicker and easier permit process for the carriers, it makes it difficult to explain the delay and struggles experienced in other states.”
But with online technology advances, solutions to these challenges are absolutely within reach. However, it’s important to ask, have automated permitting applications and other routing processes really helped streamline the permitting process? Or has this modernized approach resulted in more harm than good?
“Automated permitting and routing systems have surely streamlined the overall permit process within many states as well as some cities and counties,” said Woods. “Years ago when ordering a permit either by fax, or online, it was very time consuming to check bridge clearances or construction restrictions. With online permitting and routing systems, we are able to review multiple routes quickly, without having to wait on hold for a state permit agent or reach out to a bridge department. Having these tools at the tips of our fingers allows us to issue permits faster and more efficiently, while keeping the customer up to date on routing issues before they become a problem.”
Louis Juneau, president of Nova Permits & Pilot Cars, based in Quebec City, Canada, is also in agreement that the use of automated applications have aided in restructuring and streamlining the permitting process, to a point.
“It obviously improved the turn-around time for the so called ‘routine permit,’” he said. “As for the super and mega loads, it still doesn’t have any impact at this point since human involvement is still a key factor with bridge engineering and such.”
But despite the growth in efficiency with the larger state Department of Transportation (DOT) entities, when it comes to local environments, small towns are now starting to require more detailed permitting, which adds another layer of processing and obstacles.
“We saw a substantial increase in local permit volume in 2016,” said Eldridge. “We stay abreast of changes, and are able to update our system to reflect any change as it happens.”
In a similar fashion, Juneau said that he has seen a significant increase in extra layers of permitting in the last few years, but that Nova has been involved and proactive. The company dedicates resources in finding the local entities that have begun requiring permits, as well as their regulations, so that they can better assist carriers with their planning, he said.
“Local jurisdictions continue to gain knowledge and permit travel through their localities,” said Woods. “But they are becoming more stringent every day. I understand the need to obtain local permits, however, the state in which the jurisdiction resides needs to be [clearer] with the parameters of their permits.”
Woods said she would like to see the states include complete contact information for any jurisdiction needed to legally travel on the route given. Several states have begun this process of monitoring the issuance of local permits.
“For these states, it makes the process much less painful, far less time consuming and gives assurance that the carrier is traveling legally,” Woods said. “In watching local entities move to the forefront of permitting, WCS Permits has taken many steps in making this process simple and streamlined for our permit agents as well as the industry. Our Attachment App – available on the Apple Store and Google Marketplace – now has an upgrade which includes many of the required permit attachments that are required by local agencies. WCS approaches local permitting with the same sense of urgency and importance that we place on state permitting. Compliance is our goal.”
In addition to maintaining compliance with local entities, Woods also pointed out that with oil and gas exploration and drilling activity on a significant downward slide, many carriers have shifted focus their focus to other areas of hauling. With the purchase of newer and larger trailers, there has been some strain across the industry due to freight competition. But the heavy haul market hasn’t slowed significantly.
“We have seen little deterioration in the heavy haul market, and the mild winter has led to an across-the-board uptick,” said Eldridge. “The overall impact of the new [president and] administration is uncertain, but the planned investment in infrastructure can only mean an increase in heavy hauling.”Infrastructure construction continues in several areas of the United States.
“We have been involved quite a lot with infrastructure work throughout the Northeast, which helped [the market] a lot,” said Juneau. “We are still waiting for the Eastward Pipe Line Project to come to life but I won’t hold my breath. Now, from what I heard, we may see the one going to Texas come to life sooner.”
Similarly, Woods also noted that the wind market has continually fluctuated by region and continues to be driven by government incentives and tax credits.
“One moment you’re handling multiple loads for multiple carriers all headed to and from the same wind farm, the next moment your focus completely shifts for those carriers to now go to and from a new farm on the other side of the country,” she said. “With the industry always changing, we currently see the Midwest taking the lead in wind energy. We do not anticipate significant wind growth on a national level in the coming year.”