Every spring, in an attempt to preserve the more than 500 miles of roads on the county’s road system, the Wright County Highway Department places weight restrictions for vehicles on County State Aid Highways (CSAH) and county roads. The weight limits don’t apply to the standard cars and trucks that are on the road, it is directed at semi truck traffic carrying full loads.
Wright County Highway Engineer Virgil Hawkins said the reason spring weight restrictions are placed on the roads – typically an eight-week period – is because roads in Minnesota are most vulnerable to sustaining significant damage as frost comes out of the ground and the roads are brittle during the thawing process.
“The purpose of spring load restrictions is to protect and prolong the surfaces of the roadways we’ve invested so much money in,” Hawkins said. “During the time of the year when the frost goes out of the ground when it starts getting warmer, roads are at their weakest. The ice is melting underneath the road bed and a lot of damage can be done to some of the roads that aren’t built up to the proper standards. We have a lot of those. About 300 miles of our 512-mile system don’t meet current standards, because they’re two-lane roads that were built back in the 1940s and 1950s. That’s why we protect those roads so they last as long as possible and don’t get broken up.”
The current standard for roads that don’t need restrictions is a 10-ton designation. When the spring load restrictions come off, all roads in Wright County revert to the 10-ton designation. But, during the eight weeks of thawing, many roads take on different weight limits, including 5-ton, 7-ton and 9-ton maximums.
Hawkins got approval from the Wright County Board of Commissioners at its Feb. 18 meeting to place the 2020 spring load restrictions on at his discretion. He said that in the 25 years he has worked for Wright County, new construction and overlay projects have been able to greatly reduce the number of roads with the 5- and 7-ton designations.
“We’ve made a lot of progress,” Hawkins said. “When I started with the county in 1995, we were posting a lot of the highways as 5-ton and 7-ton routes when we put on spring load restrictions. Over the years with our reclaim process and putting new layers of bituminous on them, we’ve been able to bring a lot of the roads up to 9-ton designations in the spring. We have almost no 5-ton roads left on our system and those are just short strips.”
It was pointed out that the rules are enforced by the Wright County Sheriff’s Office. Deputies will be randomly assigned to patrol the roads with weight restrictions and have portable scales that can be used to determine the weight of trucks traveling those roads. Violators are issued citations and must go to court to resolve the issue.
The only aspect of the 2020 road weight restrictions that remains undetermined is when it will begin. Over the last five years, the start and end dates have varied by almost a month – March 12 to May 7 in 2015, Feb. 29/April 15 in 2016, Feb. 21/April 17 in 2017, March 16/May 11 in 2018 and March 19/May 4 in 2019. Hawkins explained that the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) monitors frost depth daily and when the county gets notified by MnDOT that it is imposing weight restrictions on its roads, the county gives three days notice before imposing its own restrictions.
“When the restrictions get posted can vary quite a bit,” Hawkins said. “In 2017, we posted them Feb. 21, which is very early. Usually they come in mid-March. When we do put on the restrictions, it is based on scientific data. MnDOT has its MnROAD facility on I-94 and has a monitoring index that deals with thawing. When they determine that the frost is going out, they post the state roads that have spring restrictions and we follow suit.”
Given the location of the roads with restrictions, those most likely to be impacted are local businesses generally in the center of the county because most of the highly traveled roads have a higher weight limit and aren’t impacted.
Hawkins understands that the weight limits can be a headache to some truckers and businesses for the two months the restrictions are in place, but said the financial benefit of getting more years out of the roads before they need to be repaired or upgraded is valuable to all Wright County residents.
“These restrictions basically impact the local trucking industry,” Hawkins said. “We know it can be an inconvenience to detour around the roads with weight restrictions, but it is done to preserve our roads so we can lengthen the life of the roads and save money in the process by keeping the roads in better condition for a longer period of time.”
For a look at the county’s 2020 spring load restriction map, click here: https://www.co.wright.mn.us/ImageRepository/Document?documentID=18847