Flooding along Interstate 40 and other routes in eastern Arkansas and the Memphis area is a costly headache for truckers having to detour hundreds of miles during a time when diesel fuel prices are above $4 a gallon.
In fact, Van Buren-based USA Truck Inc. has implemented a surcharge on detoured loads in an attempt to recover costs.
The Arkansas Highway & Transportation Department reported Thursday that I-40 westbound lanes are closed because of the flooding of the White River around mile marker 202. Traffic is being detoured beginning at Brinkley (mile marker 216) and north to Highway 49, Highway 64 west and Highway 167 south to Little Rock. With the river yet to crest, expectations were that the eastbound lanes would also be closed.
Highway officials have said portions of I-40 may remain closed until Monday.
Greg Carman, president of Fort Smith-based Carman Inc. and a member of the Arkansas Trucking Association board of directors, said the past few months of higher diesel prices have been tough on relatively smaller operators. Having the major east-west artery blocked in a way that adds significant costs to a haul hasn’t helped.
“We have several trucks that stopped in Memphis last night instead of attempting to come to Fort Smith. Right now we are routing some 200 miles out of route through south Arkansas to get home. With diesel fuel continuing to rise past $4.50 per gallon, this is just makes things that much worse,” Carman said.
At USA Truck the recent quarterly earnings report noted that higher fuel prices pulled $2.3 million from the bottom line. The company posted a quarterly income loss of $2.7 million. The detour is affecting only a “small percentage” of the company’s business, said President and CEO Cliff Beckham, but the company isn’t taking chances on a financial hit on any percentage.
“The I-40 closure has required a 100-mile detour that eats up two extra hours of time through small towns with bumper-to-bumper traffic. Time is money — particularly when our drivers can only work a limited number of hours each day by law — so we are levying a surcharge on affected loads,” Beckham said.
David Humphrey, vice president of investor relations and corporate communication for Fort Smith-based Arkansas Best Corp., said the interstate closure is not a big problem for the company. ABF Freight System is the largest subsidiary of Arkansas Best, and is one of the largest less-than-truckload carriers in the U.S.
“Flooding is affecting us in various areas of the country but it is not significant. We normally deal with these kinds of things related to ice and snow during the winter time. In these cases, the only difference is that it is flooding-related,” Humphrey noted. “In all of these cases, our network is flexible enough to allow us to work around any delays or closed highways that we encounter.”
ABF also has been sensitive to rising fuel prices. In its first quarter earnings report released April 25, company officials said the last six weeks of the quarter brought a “significant increase” in fuel costs, and revisions to fuel surcharge policies and increased rates on “underperforming accounts” were enacted to counter the higher fuel costs. The company posted a loss of $12.8 million in the first quarter, an improvement over the $21.4 million loss during the first quarter of 2010.
Michael Tilley with our content partner, The City Wire, is the author of this article. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.