The Port of Lewiston, Idaho, the State of Idaho, and Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil are working to convert Idaho’s U.S. Highway 12 from a Scenic Byway and All American Road to an industrial truck route for the transport of mammoth loads of heavy equipment. The 174-Mile, Lewiston to Lolo Pass, scenic route would in effect become re-characterized as what some refer to as a permanent “High and Wide Corridor” for use by major international corporations.


1. Initially in 2002 and with an extension in 2005, the U.S. Department of Transportation designated Idaho’s portion of U.S. 12 as the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway and later one of only 27 All American Roads in the nation. Also, nearly 100 miles of the highway run, within mere feet, alongside two of the nation’s original 8 rivers given special protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. This route has also been identified as one of the top 10 scenic drives in the Northern Rockies. In other words, both locally and nationally, Idaho’s U.S. 12 corridor is considered a unique and special place. However, if the U.S.12 corridor’s intrinsic qualities are not maintained, the Scenic Byway and All American Road designations can be de-designated.

2. Idaho hosts a 3.4 billion dollar tourism industry, with travel and tourism consistently ranking among the top 3 industries in the state. Idaho’s travel/tourism industry also provides almost $500 million in local, state and federal tax revenues. For years the Idaho Department of Commerce, local chambers of commerce, travel organizations, and individual business owners have worked diligently to develop a recreation and tourism visitor brand for north central Idaho that rests solidly on the official designations noted immediately above. With the steady decline in the wood products industry and unstable agricultural prices, the local rural communities in north central Idaho are already struggling to maintain their fragile economies—which are increasingly dependent upon and hopeful about the growing tourism industry. Anything that disrupts or threatens this part of our economy would deliver a serious blow.

3. The three rivers that U.S. 12 traces in Idaho—the Lochsa, Middlefork and main Clearwater and their tributaries—provide critical rearing habitat for salmon and steelhead, whose economic impact extends throughout the Pacific Northwest. The upper Clearwater basin is also critical habitat for endangered fish species and important to the successful reintroduction of coho salmon and fall Chinook, and hence the potential of a renewed and expanded sports fishery. Just one major salmon run earlier in this decade brought $42 million into the local economy. In addition, the Nez Perce Tribe, Bonneville Power Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and local sportsmen and sportswomen all place a high value on the enhancement of the Clearwater River fisheries.


1.    Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil (IO/EM) intends to truck an estimated 207 loads of mining equipment across Idaho’s Northwest Passage Scenic Byway and All American Road beginning in October 2010 and ending in late 2011.

2.    123 of the 207 loads will be 24’ wide, 210’ long, nearly 30’ high, and weigh up to 344,000 lbs. not including the weight of the trailer and the trucks both pulling and pushing the load. Think of a 3-story building 2/3 the length of a football field moving down the highway. The sides of these loads will in many places extend outside the highway’s white fog lines, and on curves will swing beyond the fog lines. Another 53 loads will be 12’ to 24’ wide and an estimated 190’ long.

3.    The majority of the 170’ long trailers that will carry these loads will return from Canada to the Port of Lewiston via U.S. 12, adding more oversized truck traffic to the highway. The oil company contends the 170’ trailers can be returned on 160 miles of winding, two-lane road at 45 mph with just a normal oversize load permit, that is, with no traffic delays. Whether or not their contention will prove true remains in question.

4.    IO/EM plans to begin these shipments in October or early November, 2010, suspend shipments during winter, and complete the shipments in November 2011. They state they will transport at night when traffic will be relatively light and not on weekends or holidays. Come spring, they will resume shipments after March 18th when the locks on the Snake and Columbia River return to service after a closure of 98 days for lock repairs. IO/EM says they will also try to limit shipments to one per day. However, because each shipment requires three days to travel from Lewiston to the Montana border, three convoys will be on the Scenic Byway on any given day. Further, the number of possible shipping days available during the target dates totals fewer than 207, the number of projected shipments. Factor in any problem—weather, mechanical, road conditions etc.—and some days will of necessity include double shipments, putting from 4 to 6 mega-loads on U.S. 12 on the same day. Supporters of the IO/EM transport project believe that having from 3 to 6 giant loads with support vehicles on the highway every weeknight for up to 9 months will be little more than a minor inconvenience to local residents and visitors to the area.

5.    A trial run with a test vehicle module (TVM) was originally scheduled for June 2010. The TVM run was then rescheduled for early September, and now has been rescheduled again for “sometime in the fourth quarter of the year,” i.e. after October 1st. Oil company spokesmen have noted that the time between the trial run and the beginning of regular shipments has thus been shortened considerably and that regular shipments will begin around November 1. Hence the cargo for the beginning shipments will have to be already at the Port of Lewiston or on barges coming up the river by the time the trial run is conducted.

6.    The Idaho Transportation Department has repeatedly stated that IO/EM must be able to meet the “15-minute rule” — maximum traffic delay time — before IO/EM will be issued a permit. In order to meet the rule, IO/EMC states trucks will pull off the road (or locate such that traffic can be routed around them) at “traffic clearance stations” approximately every 5 miles. IO/EM has publicized the speed of the units at 22-28 mph on straight flat stretches, 15-20 mph on curves and hills, and 6-8 mph on mountain passes. At 5-mile intervals, the 15-minute rule will require tractor trailers to achieve an average speed of 20 mph (the top speed they list for curvy roads), including going from a dead stop with a truck/tractor/trailer weight of over a half-a-million pounds, managing continuous curves with a 165-170 foot long 24 foot wide trailer, pulling over and decelerating to a complete stop. The oil companies recently acknowledged that some of the distances between clearance stations exceed 5 miles in length. A distance of six miles, for example, would require an average speed of 24 mph without including acceleration and deceleration time. An IO/EM spokesman recently stated they “believe” they can meet the 15-minute rule “in most instances.”

7.     Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil’s plan, submitted to ITD, states that two Idaho State Troopers will escort each shipment "to ensure safety of the public and crews.” The Troopers will drive state police cars on off-duty hours, and the oil company will pay their overtime wages. Using travel times stated in the IO/EM plan (barring delays for weather, accidents, etc.), plus time for a pre-trip “plan review,” each load will require 19 hours of trooper time. Additionally, ISP officers will need travel time before and after each run. Every third shift, for example, ends at Lolo Pass, 174 miles from Lewiston. Conservatively, average officer travel time will require 3 additional hours. Thus each shipment, taking 3 days to complete, will require a minimum of 22 hours of officer time. At 207 loads, the IO/EMC shipments will require over 9000 hours of escort time when officers will be unavailable in their normal coverage areas. The plan calls for 1 shipment launch per day, for up to 3 on the highway on any day with a total of 6 officers. IO/EM also reserves the right to send 2 loads per day, requiring 12 ISP officers in marked cruisers on a single night. Their unavailability to Idahoans and visitors raises safety issues.

8.    Faced with from 3 to 6 traffic stops between Lolo Pass and Lewiston every weeknight for 9 months (for cumulative delays of from 45-90 minutes), it seems likely that more drivers in the current nighttime semi-truck traffic on U.S. 12 will consider making their runs during daytime, placing a greater amount of semi-truck traffic on the highway during periods of heaviest local traffic.

9.    Personnel from IO/EM’s public relations group, Fluor of Canada, are currently suggesting these shipments could have positive economic effects on our area. Yet, the equipment under discussion is being manufactured in Korea, will be freighted to the U.S. by Sungjin and Dong Bang, moved along U.S. 12 by Mammoet of Holland, for mining in Canada. In contrast to the suggested “positive effects,” Americans may wonder why jobs at any juncture in this mega-project were not given to Americans. In other words, this project constitutes a staggering loss of potential jobs for American workers, and Idaho’s portion of U.S.12 is being used by IO/EM to help make such a loss possible.


1. The Port of Lewiston website proclaims that Idaho’s U.S. 12 has recently been “discovered” as an alternate route for the shipment of oversize equipment destined for Canada and the Midwest. The Port is currently seeking funding to expand dock capacity and reconstruct the state highway routing from the port to U.S. 12. According to the Port of Lewiston, “If one oil company is successful with this alternative transportation route, many other companies will follow their lead.” Clearly Port personnel envision Highway 12’s becoming what the Montana Department of Transportation is calling a Permanent High and Wide Corridor, i.e. a permanent industrial mega-truck route.

2. An Edmonton, Alberta newspaper reporter has written that Sungjin Geotec Co. of South Korea received a $250 million contract for the production of the 200 modules IO/EM included in what has been called a one-time (over one year) shipping project. According to the Edmonton Journal, the CEO of Sungjin told a Korean news agency he expects to receive future orders from Imperial Oil totaling $1.5 billion for additional modules. A Sungjin representative in Calgary apparently confirmed that his company expects to build hundreds of additional modules. The Edmonton article also quoted the head of an Alberta industrial association as stating “This route will become the highway for energy-related products from not only South Korea, but even-lower-wage suppliers such as China and Vietnam.”

 3. During a recent visit to the Port of Lewiston, Governor Otter spoke about the new opportunity for shipment of oversize industrial equipment through the Port. Otter was quoted by the Lewiston Morning Tribune as saying “the state will do whatever it can to help the port reach its potential.”  Apparently Governor Otter, too, intends to contribute to the rebranding of our Northwest Scenic Byway—All American Road as an industrial mega-truck route. The rural people of Highway 12 may wonder if he has given any thought to their lifestyle, economy, and safety.

4. On May 18, 2010, barges delivered to the Port of Lewiston a shipment of cargo destined to be hauled across the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway. This shipment is not part of the IO/EM 207 loads, but a Conoco Phillips shipment to be carried out by Emmert International. According to the Lewiston Morning Tribune, the size of these loads exceeds even those cited above—30 feet wide, cargo weight alone listed at 375,000 pounds, with a truck-trailer-truck configuration of 220 feet long. As in the IO/EMC plan, the Emmert/Conoco Phillips shipment plan calls for 2 ISP officer escorts.


Do you remember the time when the fishermen of Prince William Sound believed oil tankers were too technologically sophisticated to run into a reef and that tanker pilots always stayed sober while in the wheelhouse? Do you remember when the rural people of southern Appalachia assumed mountaintop removal mining companies cared enough to not irreparably leak toxins into the people’s only source of water? Do you suppose, prior to their recent mourning of the loss of 29 mine workers, the rural people of West Virginia trusted that Massey Coal Company would meet mandated safety standards? Do you suppose that once upon a time Gulf Coast oil workers, fishermen, and rural residents believed BP Oil’s assurances that their offshore drill rigs were sound and safe and posed no threat to their lifestyles and livelihoods? Do you trust that, with the planned arrival of Big Oil and Mega-Rigs, the lifestyles and livelihoods of the rural people of Highway 12 will remain undamaged?

ExxonMobil, which has previously used other routes for transporting huge industrial equipment to their mining projects in Canada, appears to view using the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway and All American Road as a means of achieving greater company profits. ExxonMobil is the second largest corporation in the world, and according to the Washington Post, saw a profit in 2007 of over $40 billion. In 2008 their profit exceeded $45 billion, the largest annual profit of any company in U.S. history. Isn’t it doubtful that safeguarding rural economies and the lives of rural people are ever among ExxonMobil’s priorities? Like giant international banks, typically they get the rewards, while we the people get the risk.

In north central Idaho, with the likely re-branding of the Scenic Byway—All American Road as an industrial mega-truck route, that risk includes damage to one of our few growing industries, to our public safety, to our property values, to our fisheries, to our recreation along the Lochsa, Middlefork and main Clearwater Rivers, and to the peace and quiet that is an essential part of our way of life.

Who really benefits when our All American Road becomes a mega-truck route for the transportation of industrial equipment at a frequency and size beyond which any of us have ever imagined?

Not the rural residents of Idaho.
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