Alberta farmers are exempt from vehicle weight restrictions as of April 1 when hauling grain from farm to elevator via provincial highways.
The provincial government released details of a plan last week to allow grain trucking under special permits until June 30.
Free permits will be available for grain trucks to travel at full axle weight on banned roads, as long as those roads are not damaged. A separate permit will be required to haul grain on municipal roads.
“We’re doing all we can to support Alberta farmers and keep grain moving, even on banned roads when possible,” Alberta transportation minister Wayne Drysdale said in a government news release.
“Relaxing road ban limits at a time when our farmers need some flexibility is the right thing to do.”
Bob Barss, president of the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties, said he met with Drysdale to help work out the logistics of the plan.
“I was really happy to see the announcement,” he said March 28.
“And I think the timing is great. It kind of coincides with the time the federal government has given the railroads to ramp up.”
Grain shipping backlogs caused by rail transportation issues and a large crop last year have resulted in significant amounts of grain still sitting on farms.
However, shipping by rail showed signs of improvement just as road bans were about to be implemented. That combination could have prevented farmers from getting their grain to rail position.
Farmers who want a permit must obtain a request form from Alberta Transportation and provide details of trip origin, destination, route, requested weights, number of loads needed and contact information.
Engineers and regional maintenance staff will determine whether the exemption can be granted without significant road damage.
Kent Erickson, chair of the Alberta Wheat Commission, greeted news of ban relaxation with relief but ex-pressed concern over potential road damage.
“They’re going to need to have some way of monitoring just to make sure the roads don’t get too beat up,” he said.
“I don’t want them to be beat up too bad. We need them in the spring and the fall to move grain as well, so I think it’s good that they’re going to have a system in place to monitor them.”
He said most farmers know which roads in their area can withstand the most weight and hopefully will use those.
Alberta Transportation staff will check roads and may suggest alternate routes to protect highway infrastructure, according to the province.
Erickson said it would have been preferable to have a one-permit process rather than requiring farmers to contact both the province and their municipality.
Barss said that was discussed, but it wasn’t possible because of the different standards between provincial and municipal roads.
“I know it’s duplication, but in the long run it will make it easier for everyone,” Barss said.
Permit request forms are available by calling the central permit office at 800-662-7138 from 6 a.m. to midnight on weekdays and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends.
Road bans are usually implemented first in southern Alberta and then move north as weather warms. They are lifted when provincial staff determines roads are stable enough to handle regular weight.
A list of road bans is available on Alberta Transportation’s website.