Road Research Examines Impact of Cranes on Alberta's Busy Highways

Developing Alberta's vast fossil fuel reserves can be made safer and less expensive for the petroleum industry, thanks to the University of Calgary research, which has resulted in changes to provincial trucking laws that limit traffic on highways due to concerns pavement is being damaged by heavy trucks.

“There's no question our resource-based economy leads to a lot of damage to our roads,” said Dr. Lynne Cowe-Falls, a civil engineering professor in the Schulich School of Engineering. “What we want to find out is whether the rules and load limits that are in place are actually resulting in less strain on roadways and come up with real made-in-Alberta solutions that make sense for the oilpatch and the government.”

Cowe-Falls, who specializes in road design and pavement performance, is using a 327-yard test road located south of Edmonton to study how mobile cranes and other heavily-loaded vehicles used by the energy industry, particularly in northern Alberta's booming oilsands projects, affect the pavement of highways under a variety of loads, vehicle speeds and weather conditions.

The five-year study, known as the Alberta Road Research Initiative (ARRI), began after Syncrude Canada, Ltd., took part in an initial three-month experiment where the company was permitted to use Highway 63 north of Fort McMurray without the extra trailers and dollies that are normally required for vehicles that weigh in upwards of 110 tons. The initiative is a public-private partnership involving the University of Calgary, Alberta Infrastructure and Transportation, Syncrude, Leduc County, and the Alberta Crane Owners Association. Funding for the $500,000 project is also being provided by crane companies Liebherr (Germany), Grove/Manitowoc (U.S.), Spierings (Holland), and the Canadian Oilwell Drilling Contractors.

Preliminary results have shown that lengthening loads by using dollies does little to reduce strain on the roads in winter, prompting the provincial government to relax its regulations requiring mobile cranes to use dollies on February 1, 2007. The change improves safety on roads that are used to transport cranes to and from jobsites throughout the province and reduces the costs associated with moving cranes.

"The force driving the crane owners was not one of monetary consideration but more about safety,” said Terry Danderfer, president of the Alberta Crane Owners Association. “Cranes are primarily designed around lifting, not driving. Cranes all meet the strict regulations concerning road-worthy equipment, but when a boom dolly is added and the boom is over the back of the crane, driving the crane requires more skill and the operator is prone to much more fatigue.”

The study is also examining how heavy vehicle traffic impacts roads in spring, when they are most vulnerable to excessive weight, and in summer after they have stabilized from spring thaws.