Industry Insights: The Intricacies of Route Planning in Oversized Shipping Explained

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ATS International coordinates movement of turbine parts from US to Puerto Rico through JAXPORT.portation in San Juan.
Oct 7, 2020 | Cargo Blog

By Joanna Jungels & Leah Kuechle,
ATS Transportation

Shipping heavy items from point A to point B is always more complex than it appears. Behind every successful oversized shipping project, you’ll find dozens of shipping and transportation professionals working together, carefully managing every element, and preparing for each mile of the journey.

But the truth is, not all shipping partners that provide oversized shipping services and solutions are created equally — and much of the difference comes down to something that many shippers like you don’t have visibility into, route planning.

Today, we’re pulling back the curtain on the route planning process. This way, when it comes time to choose an oversized shipping partner for your next project, you can make an educated decision that will yield the best results for your project.

What Does Route Planning Entail?

Route planning is the process of identifying the best, most efficient, and most cost-effective method of moving a shipment from its pickup point to its destination. Whether you’re leveraging specialized flatbed or heavy haul shipping equipment, there are all sorts of considerations necessary for delivering the best outcome. And the more information you have at the beginning, the better you can plan.

Think of it like a jigsaw puzzle: When you have a clear picture of what you’re trying to accomplish, it’s much easier to put the right pieces into the right places.

Generally speaking, route planning consists of the following steps:

The first step is to learn more about what’s being shipped: its weight, dimensions, center of gravity, and your timeline. This is also when your oversized shipping partner should identify your number one priority: speed or cost. While a great partner will always look for ways to save you money and time, some routes are faster while others are cheaper. Knowing what’s most important to you will help them make the right decisions on your behalf.

Once your oversized shipping partner has gathered all the necessary shipment data, it’s time to identify the best trailer type for the job, how to distribute the load’s weight and where its securement points are.

Finally, it’s time to begin planning the journey — and this is when things get interesting. Your oversized shipping partner will begin obtaining necessary permitting, conduct route surveys and identify potential obstacles, such as construction, infrastructure limitations and local curfews or travel restrictions.

What Factors Impact Route Planning?

Route planning for oversized shipping is a special science. One of the reasons it’s so challenging is because everything varies.

Here are some of the most common factors heavy haul carriers and other oversized shipping partners must consider when planning a route:

States and municipalities have different regulations and fees associated with dimensions and load weights. For example, one state may require additional axles to distribute the weight of loads that exceed a specific threshold and another might have rules around loads that exceed a certain width, length or height.

Oversized shipping partners must check to see if there’s any construction along a route that may present challenges to drivers. They must also be prepared to react quickly and find a new route when unexpected construction pops up and a load is already in transit — which is something that happens often.

Some states and municipalities can issue permits relatively quickly, while others may take longer — this is especially true in over-dimensional shipping. Unique circumstances may require extra time. Additionally, fees can vary significantly. For example, a permit may cost as little as $8 or more than $20,000 depending on the state, roads used, time of year and size of the load.

Long-standing relationships with the permitting authorities can really make a difference in this process. The more permits a carrier does, the better their relationships are with the states/counties/municipalities they work with, which can make this process faster.

Some states and municipalities don’t allow trucks or loads of a certain size to travel along certain roadways during weekends, holidays or other high-traffic times.

Some states will require a route survey before granting you a permit. This can add extra time and cost to your project, but it will help ensure it’s safe and feasible, and mitigates the risk of encountering unexpected obstacles (like low tree limbs, construction and narrow passes).

Some states also require oversized loads of a certain size to have an escort. Escorts may include city or state police, private companies that work for a city or state (these are called civilian escorts) or a combination of the two. Given the additional cost of escorts, it may make more sense to plan your route around states or municipalities that require them — but not always.

It can be more expensive or challenging to travel during certain times of the year. For example, during the spring thaw, when roadways in the Northern Great Plains and Upper Midwest are fragile, you’ll likely have to pay additional fees. And if your load is over a certain weight, you may not be able to take a route through those regions at all.

Shipping partners need to identify any known bridges, tunnels, tight turns and rest stop locations to make the experience as streamlined and efficient as possible for its drivers and customers.

How Can an Experienced Shipping Partner Help?

When selecting a shipping partner, it’s critical you choose someone who has plenty of knowledge, a commitment to due diligence and experience in specialized flatbed and heavy haul shipping. Not only will this result in fewer headaches, but it can help you save significant amounts of time and money.

A partner who has proven experience shipping oversized loads will be able to handle anything that comes up, from permitting issues to unexpected route changes. It’s also crucial you choose a shipping partner with contacts at the state and municipal levels. This will help ensure they can quickly solve any challenges you may encounter. After all, when it comes to oversized shipping, it’s best not to risk it.

Also, look for carriers with in-house services. Carriers who have these necessary resources who work side-by-side on the planning, permitting and other details of the route planning produce the most efficient, accurate results the first time. Some carriers don’t have the needed expertise to conduct all facets of this process in-house, so outsourcing takes time — and adds cost to the project. If your lead time is short and/or budget is a factor, consider utilizing a carrier with all of the needed resources in-house.

An experienced partner can help you to navigate the myriad of questions and decisions to make your next move successful. Choose wisely and your next move will be a smooth one.

About the Authors
Joanna Jungels & Leah Kuechle have more than 27 combined years of experience coordinating oversized shipments. They are route planners for ATS Transportation, which has coordinated all facets of such shipments around the United States for more than 65 years and is recognized as an industry leader.

Originally published on the ATS Transportation Blog.