As someone who's responsible for shipping and logistics, you know plenty of factors can impact your ability to transport goods from point A to point B. For example, you know that, during the treacherous winter months, blizzards and ice storms in the northernmost states may impact your schedule.
But did you know there's another factor that could impact your deliveries as winter transitions into spring?
Even after the frost subsides, something called “spring thaw” can affect the cost and timing of your shipments. And, as someone who's striving to meet customer expectations, this is more than a little frustrating.
What exactly is spring thaw? How can it affect your shipments? And what can you do to prevent a delay in shipments?
How to Explain Spring Thaw to Your Customers
Throughout the winter months, prolonged periods of subfreezing and subzero temperatures cause roadbeds to freeze and contract. During the springtime, temperatures start to rise well above freezing during the day, causing the asphalt to expand and the melting ice to seep into the roadway’s foundation. At night, temperatures drop, and the asphalt contracts once again. This daily thawing process leaves roadways soft and more susceptible to cracks and breakage.
As you can imagine, large trucks with heavy loads can cause significant and expensive damage to weakened roads. And to prevent damage to their vulnerable roadbeds, many states and provinces set specific spring thaw restrictions — which, like any other lingo, has different names depending on where you are — some of which can last several months.
You may hear terms like “spring thaw,” “frost restrictions,” “thaw restrictions,” “seasonal weight restrictions,” “seasonal load restrictions” and more tossed around.
How Do Spring Road Bans Work?
If you’re not accustomed to working with frost restrictions, it can seem complicated — especially since seasonal load restrictions are rarely uniform across state lines or international borders.
Because the restrictions vary between each state and province, you could be impacted by them even if your cargo weight is as little as 40,000 pounds. That’s right. Even legal loads can be impacted by seasonal weight restrictions.
The best solution is to work with a knowledgeable transportation partner that can help you navigate the complexities of traveling across international and state borders.
- Some seasonal load restrictions last longer than others: There are no federal guidelines for thaw restrictions, and each jurisdiction sets its own regulations based on local climate patterns and road types. That means, in some areas, restrictions may only last six weeks, while others may last more than four months.
- Restrictions vary by region: The colder the weather, the deeper the layers that freeze — which is why you may see more restrictions in states like Minnesota or provinces like Manitoba that have particularly cold winters, but not in Ohio or Indiana, where winters are slightly milder. Also, in addition to state restrictions for interstates, local municipalities have additional or different restrictions for local road systems.
- Transportation companies are beholden to these restrictions: Some frustrated organizations looking to avoid shipment delays may turn to many transportation companies in hopes they don’t have to abide by the same seasonal load restrictions. After all, you want to make sure you can meet your customers’ expectations.
But, while helping you fulfill your obligations is crucial, it’s unlikely any transportation company would be willing to break the rules. Being caught with an overweight load often means paying costly fines, and/or being forced to offload or redistribute the load before you can continue.
This doesn't mean, however, that each transportation company has the same level of expertise. At ATS, for example, we have extensive knowledge based on our intimate experiences with relevant regulations over the years. We also have close relationships with state officials who can help us make the right decisions. Because of this, we're able to intensively plan each route during the spring months to ensure customers are virtually unaffected by frost bans.
How Can Seasonal Weight Restrictions Affect My Shipments?
If you're not working with a transportation company, like ATS, that can help you solve the problems presented by spring thaw, you may be unable to complete your shipment at all. In other cases, it may mean making alternative arrangements.
Here are a few ways seasonal weight restrictions can impact shipments if you're not prepared:
- First-mile/Last-mile: Sometimes it’s not the interstates that cause the biggest challenges for transporting goods, but smaller highways and access roads at the beginning and end of the journey. Called the “first-mile” and “last-mile,” these parts of the trip may be the shortest, but create the greatest obstacles. Before a shipment leaves, it’s essential you know exactly how it will arrive at its exact destination — down to the last few feet.
- Cost: In some cases, you may be able to complete your shipment, but for an additional fee. For example, some jurisdictions may charge an extra rate per-mile for loads that exceed spring road ban weight limits.
- Distance: Spring thaw can also mean your shipments will take longer to deliver because drivers will need to avoid certain states or road systems. For example, a shipment from Chicago to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, may double in distance because a driver may have to avoid driving through Iowa or Minnesota.
What Can I Do?
Your customers are your top priority — and meeting their needs is essential to your ongoing success. But while spring thaw restrictions can throw a wrench in your logistics, there are a few things you can do to reduce your headaches and ensure you meet customer needs:
- Be aware and proactive: Stay informed of all of the scenarios that can come into play throughout your shipment's journey and what it might take to comply. Also learn about some of the remedies — like distributing weight across additional axles or breaking shipments up into additional loads.
- Plan for lengthier shipment times and extra costs: When spring thaw season arrives, recognize that getting your shipments to their destination may mean waiting a few additional weeks, changing up your route or taking on additional per-mile costs.
- Rely on a knowledgeable and transparent transportation partner: Above all, be sure to discuss seasonal weight restrictions with your transportation company. As industry experts, we’re the most familiar with load restrictions and what it takes to deliver shipments without violating these rules. At ATS, we pride ourselves on being able to find the best solutions for our customers' needs and their customers’ expectations — helping them avoid shipment delays, unnecessary extra costs and frustrations.
Like other weather-based restrictions and measures, spring thaw could be out of your control, unless you rely on industry experts. By taking the time to understand how frost restrictions can impact your shipments, you’ll be better prepared to make informed decisions about your shipping and logistics efforts. And you'll also be able to understand whether your transportation partner is making the best decisions on your behalf.