It’s called a super payload, and for good reason: The highway giant is taller than five fire trucks and weighs as much as two blue whales.
This week and next, the giant tractor-trailer, hauling a tank from a decommissioned nuclear training site, will drive across Pennsylvania on a 400-mile road that will test the skills of even the most experienced truck drivers.
The metallic leutane, which takes up two lanes of traffic, measures 213 feet from end to end and weighs 294 tons, making shameful oversized loads.
As it passes through the state on what is expected to be a nine-day journey, the excavator with its many flatbeds and escort vehicles must cross 16 counties, navigating exit ramps, country roads, two-lane highways, unusual traffic patterns and a possible snowstorm .
The truck can only travel at the posted speed limit or 30 miles per hour, whichever is lower, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
The department said it was unsurprising that drivers could expect delays if they found themselves trapped behind overloads, although travel is expected mostly at night to reduce jams.
Lew Grill, a truck driving expert and coach in Montana with 54 years of road experience, said he respected any truck driver who could carry a 294-ton load.
He said the maximum weight of a medium trailer is 40 tons, compared to a featherweight.
“This is exceptional,” Mr. Grill said. “If this guy manages to do this professionally, he should get the accolades. We have to bow to him. There are not many drivers like this.”
Mr Grill said the driver will need to respond to unexpected challenges, such as cars parked on the side of the road.
The escort drivers, he said, are “only the eyes and ears of the ship’s captain.” He said the truck driver is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the super-load arrives at its destination safely.
Although the tank is empty, it is radioactive due to its proximity to the D1G prototype reactor, which was used at the Kenneth A. In the nuclear-powered Navy fleet.
The reactor prototype was decommissioned in 1996, and the reactor fuel was removed in 1997, according to the Naval Nuclear Laboratory. Saralyn Delrasso, a spokeswoman for the lab, said the tank, which was part of a system used to support the reactor’s prototype, had no remaining fuel.
She said a person who was in close proximity to the tank for an hour would be exposed to less radiation than a passenger would receive on a cross-country flight from New York to Seattle.
Ms Delrasso said the company that was transporting the tank planned to have three escort vehicles and three state police cars escorting the truck.
Because the trailer is wide, drivers may not pass on two-lane roads until the rig stops and escorts allow traffic to pass, she said.
Ms Delrasso said the shipment required numerous permits, all of which included advance notice of the operation as well as approval of the proposed route and timing.
She said the truck left the Kesselring site on January 5 and crossed into northeastern Pennsylvania on Wednesday night.
It was expected to reach Wambum, Pennsylvania, about 41 miles north of Pittsburgh, on January 21. The tank will then be disassembled, with some of it recycled and the rest disposed of.
A winter storm expected to hit the northeast over the weekend could complicate the trip. The National Weather Service warned of dangerous road conditions, with Early Estimates Four inches of snow or more in parts of Pennsylvania.
Perkins Specialized Transportation Contracting, a heavy-duty and heavy-lift logistics company in Baker, Minn., that has been moving the tank, declined to comment on the pledge Thursday.
But the mission is not the biggest that the company has accomplished.
In the summer of 2018, seven engines weighing 318 tons each took a 61-mile route from a port on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, according to the company’s website. The shipment took over a year and a half to plan and three and a half weeks to complete, the required road surveys, feasibility studies, and external support teams.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has been urging people to track their superload on social media using the hashtag #PAsuperload22.
“It will be a team effort, with soldiers from at least six different stations participating at different times,” said Lieutenant Colonel Adam Reed, a spokesperson for the state police. “Safety and security will be our top priority, and we ask for patience as we ensure that he arrives safely at his destination.”