Oversized loads entertain Dalhart residents
By Robin Scott
The problem with the oversized loads was that they were too tall to make it underneath the power lines that run across 7th Street, Highway 54 and Highway 87. Steve Sharp Transportation from Cokeville, Wyoming, the transportation company delivering the loads, received their permits the day before. The permits included allowing the loads to travel under power lines hung between 18 and 20 feet, but all of the lines in Dalhart are hung less than 17 feet.
The three rigs were transporting parts of a compressor for a gas plant located in Hobbs. A spokesperson for Steve Sharp Transportation stated on Wednesday, “We had a route survey done before making the trip, so we don’t know what happened.”
Xcel Energy was on site with bucket trucks. Linemen were raised up to the lines in the buckets and then they physically lifted the lines so that each truck could pass underneath. Each truck had to zig-zag around the traffic signal lights and railroad crossings to avoid hitting them.
The 2 ½ hour event brought out many sightseers as well as emergency personnel. Chief Deputy Kevin Martin with the Dallam County Sheriff’s Office and DPS Trooper Les Jones assisted with directing the rigs through the intersections. Lt. Darin Davis with the Dalhart Police Department and Deputy Randy Hooks with the Hartley County Sheriff’s Office assisted in blocking off the regular flow of traffic. Anthony Salas, a Dalhart volunteer fireman, stated that he saw what was going on and threw on his emergency vest to assist.
Every utility company in Dalhart was on hand including Xcel Energy and XIT Communications. Johnnie Bates, Maintenance Section Supervisor for Dallam County, stated, “The loads were 18’ 4” high when most all of our clearances are 17 feet. The signal lights are just a bit higher than 17 feet and they cannot be moved at all, requiring the trucks to zig-zag around them and also around the railroad arms that are less than 18 feet.” Bates also stated that because the permit was issued late Saturday night he ordered the three drivers to leave their trucks at the truck stop located near Mazzio’s Pizza until someone from TxDOT in Austin confirmed that they could proceed.
The permit issued required the transportation company to contact the police department and all utility companies in each Texas city they planned to travel through, prior to entering any town. Bates stated, “They didn’t do that.” The permit also required the company to provide an escort to travel with the convoy, but about a mile or two ahead. Instead, the escort vehicles were driving with the rigs, causing the rigs to get pinned in before anyone was ready to work on the problem. Bates noted, “Once they got into town they couldn’t turn around, back up or anything. They had to go line by line from W 54 by Hunter Construction all the way to Mazzio’s.”
Although the drivers were ordered to remain at the truck stop, when Bates went back by there at approximately 7:30 p.m., they were gone and had left without permission. They continued on to Channing and when they arrived, they tore down some utility lines. They left there headed to Vega. Bates commented, “The next day another truck from the same company came and handled the situation properly. They contacted the police department first before entering town, and got in touch with the utility companies ahead of time and made it through town just fine.”
Bates commented, “The escort people did a great job taking care of traffic and the city officers, DPS and both county Sheriff’s offices and everything worked out very smoothly, considering the circumstances. The only problem was how long traffic was held up.”
TxDOT policy has recently changed so that employees are no longer able to commute back and forth to work in the state vehicle. They are required to drive to the TxDOT facility, unlock the building to go in and get keys, get the TxDOT vehicle, lock up again, then respond to the emergency. Bates stated, “The change has delayed our response time considerably.” Bates has contacted the emergency responders in Dallam County, so they are aware of the anticipated delays for future emergency incidents.