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Spring is here, and that means load limits are, too

Don & Debbe Morrow
Authors of “For the Long Haul,
A State-to-State Guide for Professional Drivers”

Ever been “painted into a corner” by thawing highways? We were dispatched to pick up a load just west of Virginia City, MT. We had a beautiful spring day, and the driving conditions were excellent. The loading went very well, and the shippers were careful not to load us over 80,000 pounds but did get us close.

The destination for our freight was Marshfield, WI. We were heading home for some well-deserved time off. When we pulled onto U.S. 287 at Ennis, MT, we noticed a maintenance crew just finishing putting up a sign. The new sign established spring thaw weight limits on U.S. 287. We were now overweight.

As we checked out our options, we discovered the road we had just come off (Montana Highway 287) was now posted also. We could not legally move forward or backward. Our plan had been to cut east on Montana 84 (now also posted) to Bozeman, where we would hit the big road, I-90. We called the weigh station at Bozeman to explain our situation and get a flavor if the weigh master would cut us any slack. The response of “we’ll see what happens when you get here,” combined with the tone of voice, did not leave us with a warm fuzzy feeling. We chose to add some miles and get to the big road by another route that allowed us to miss the scales.

Getting caught as spring thaw limits are being posted is something none of us can do much about. Based on the time of year, we could have and probably should have done some more checking as to when spring thaw restrictions would be going into effect for that area. The last defense is to keep your eyes peeled for the little temporary signs indicating spring thaw limits are in place.

Spring road conditions: serious business, high fines
For those drivers unfamiliar with spring thaw restrictions, here is a little insight:

  • The pavement, base and subgrade thaw and soften as the road temperatures rise above freezing.
  • When the road temperature drops below freezing again, any water that has not run off is trapped.
  • As the trapped water freezes, it expands.
  • This temporarily leaves the roadway in a weakened state.
  • There is no set calendar date when all this occurs. It is dependant on several conditions, primarily the weather, (normally March to May in the United States.)
  • By reducing the stress on the roads during this vulnerable period, damage to the roadway and costly repairs can be dramatically reduced.
  • Several northern states and all Canadian provinces take the effective course of establishing lower spring load limits (also referred to as spring thaw restrictions).
  • These restrictions are serious business. The fines can be high. Nothing tears up a road faster than a heavy truck when the frost is going out of a roadway.
  • Many county and local roads will be posted with lower weight limits. Some state roads may be posted, also. The restrictions do not affect every road in a state, only those posted. In most cases, the only warning or notification will be a small temporary sign posted on the side of the road.

In these states, here’s how to get info

IA 1-800-925-6469 for restrictions, or go to
ID Temporary sign posting. You can also get your name placed on their e-mail list by calling (208) 334-8420. Ask for Cinnamon; it’s as simple as that.
ME Local postings.
MI “Frost Law” information 1-800-787-8960.
MN Call 1-800-723-6543 for restrictions.
MT Call (406) 444-6130 for automated weekly updates, or
NE Local postings.
NV Go to
NH No tractor-trailer combos permitted on frost law posted roads.
NY Town roads may be posted.
ND Call (701) 328-2545 or 5-1-1, or go to
OR Local postings.
PA Roads may be posted locally.
SD Call (605) 773-3704 or
VT Roads may be posted locally.
WA Local postings, mostly by counties.
WI Call (608) 266-7320 for restrictions, or go to
WY Should not affect non-permitted loads.

Some of the phone numbers listed above are only available during the time of the spring thaw restrictions. Local postings may apply in any state based on conditions. States with “local postings” do not have one source of information. State patrol and DOT officials advise drivers to contact counties or townships directly, but of course this is not very practical while you are on the road.

Have a safe trip and enjoy the ride.