1 million-pound ‘superload’ starts 2-day trek through Northwest Arkansas

by Jeff Della Rosa (JDellaRosa@nwabj.com) 4,136 views 

Workers prepare to move a 454,000-pound autotransformer from Tontitown to Siloam Springs in Northwest Arkansas. It's the heaviest load ever permitted in Arkansas.

Three big rigs began Thursday morning (June 29) to haul a 1 million-pound load, the heaviest ever permitted in Arkansas, from an electrical substation in Tontitown. The destination is only about 15 miles away, but it will be a 56-mile journey, completed over two days.

Southwestern Electric Power Co., a subsidiary of American Electric Power, is hauling a 454,000-pound autotransformer, from AEP’s Tontitown Switching Station to another substation on Arkansas Highway 16, near Chamber Springs Road, southeast of Siloam Springs. The 56-mile route is necessary because some of the bridges along Highway 16 cannot handle the load.

“This is the heaviest load we have ever permitted,” said Danny Straessle, public information officer for Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department.

Since January, the highway department has issued 1,080 permits for “superloads,” or loads that are 180,000 pounds or more, and 18 permits were for loads 300,000 pounds or more, Straessle said.

Altogether, the length of the transport is 300 feet and includes 30 axles. It’s 19 feet wide and nearly 16 feet tall. One tractor was pulling the load and two tractors were pushing it as it moved along U.S. Highway 412. H. Brown of Louisiana was hired to haul the load and is using heavy equipment from a Utah company to move it.

“These guys are out of South Louisiana, and they are a class act,” said Tim Cronemeyer of AEP Transmission. Cronemeyer, of Tulsa, said this is the first haul like this he’s overseen, but it’s not the first one he’s worked on.

The “superload” pulls onto U.S. 412 from Arkansas 68 in Tontitown.

The $2.5 million transformer the electric company is moving is a spare at the Tontitown substation, adjacent to the natural gas-fired Mattison Power Plant. The transformer was loaded onto a trailer about two weeks ago, and could not be transported until a permit from the state was issued.

Cronemeyer said the transportation will cost about $1 million. He expects the transformer will be operational by the end of July, and a crew of between six and eight workers will install it. A transformer’s life cycle is typically between 30 and 40 years, and the electric company has transformers as old as 60 years in service.

The $4,016 state permit will cover “wear and tear” on the state highway system, Straessle said. The highways on the route include Interstate 49, U.S. highways 412 and 62 and Arkansas highways 112, 59, 244 and 16.

Authorities with Arkansas Highway Police and Washington County Sheriff’s Office are providing escort for the haul, and they blocked off all lanes of Highway 412 to allow the transport onto the highway. Sgt. Rick Jensen of the sheriff’s office said two police vehicles will lead and two will follow the transport, which will travel at a speed of about 10 mph. The plan is to reach Prairie Grove by this afternoon. The move can only take place between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Cronemeyer said the electric company might transport another transformer to SWEPCO’s coal-fired power plant in Gentry in late 2018, but he expects the move will take place by rail. New transformers take about a year to build. After that, spare transformers might be placed at the Tontitown substation and the one on Highway 16.

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