Why Is Local Oversize Permitting So Hard?

Traffic on a New York City highway

Sending valuable freight across the country is a stressful experience for shippers — and that’s before factoring in the extra time, effort, and cost to obtain over-dimensional (OD) freight permits. 

OD freight permits, also called oversize/overweight (OSOW) permits, are required for non-divisible shipments that exceed the legal dimensional limits for the states, counties, and/or townships they pass through during transit. 

Whether a local OSOW permit is needed on a remote, secondary dirt road or in the heart of a major metropolitan city, local jurisdiction permitting can be sticky. 

From intricate legal restrictions to infrastructure quirks, each locality presents its own set of challenges that can complicate the permitting process significantly. 

Without the help of an experienced transportation provider, shippers are likely to become frustrated and overwhelmed by the sheer complexity of local freight permitting. 

Every day at Anderson Trucking Service (ATS), we help shippers successfully navigate the complex maze that is OD freight permitting. While every situation is unique, we’ve found a few regions in which permitting is reliably (read: notoriously) tricky for one reason or another. 

From the bumper-to-bumper traffic of New York City to the historic waterways that criss-cross the Louisiana bayous, we’re breaking down the elements and infrastructure that can make permitting complex as illustrated by four especially tricky locations across the United States.

Each of the locations we’ve chosen — the rural counties of North Dakota, the cities of Chicago and New York, and the state of Louisiana— offers a distinct set of hurdles that can delay shipments and drive up costs. 

By the end of this article, you’ll better understand each of these challenges, which will allow you to plan your shipments more effectively and avoid costly pitfalls.

Local Transportation Permits: What to Know

Permits are issued by state, county, and/or township through which the truck will move. Whichever governing body polices the road in question issues the permit. 

When a transportation provider refers to “locals,” they are typically referring to roads “owned” by a township, city, village, etc. County-level permitting is also sometimes referred to as “local.” 

As a general rule of thumb, expect turnaround time for a local permit to be about three to five days, sometimes longer. Local permits tend not to move as quickly as state-level permits, as local offices often have their hands full with multiple priorities, fewer staff, and less (or outdated) technology. 

The cost of a local permit varies wildly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Some require a flat fee (usually under $100) while others charge an amount per ton over legal weight per mile. 

Weight can be a primary factor in determining the cost of an OSOW permit. Some locals implement a weight threshold; loads that weigh in over the threshold will pay more or calculate costs using a different formula.

Clearly, permitting is thorny terrain for shippers, with uncountable instances of location-specific nuances that must be known and adhered to before proceeding: 

  • Will the jurisdiction accept payment online or by phone? Will they only accept checks? 
  • Do they require bonds or insurance? 
  • Do they need copies of the state permit?
  • What about a copy of the driver’s CDL?
  • Does the permit need to be approved by a civil engineer? Public works agent? Local sheriff? Fire department? City clerk? The mayor?  

You name it, we’ve seen it. That’s why it’s best to work with an experienced transportation provider to determine the specifics of your load’s permits, their cost, and expected timelines. 

Your transportation provider will plan your shipment’s route and handle the state, county, and local permitting on your behalf. Still, it’s good to be aware of which areas on a county and township level are known for high permit costs, difficult processes, or lengthy timelines. 

ATS handles local permitting every day on behalf of our customers. Here are some locations we’ve noticed are “repeat offenders” for permitting challenges: 

A semi truck on a North Dakota oil field

North Dakota (Rural Counties)

For nearly 20 years, North Dakota’s booming oil industry has had a positive effect on the state’s economy.

While obtaining a state permit in North Dakota is streamlined, doing so in a rural county can be immensely expensive.

All but 15 of the state’s 53 counties participate in North Dakota’s LoadPass Permits program, which consolidates permitting for OD load travel on local roads. These counties implement a tiered heavy weight load permit schedule.

Below is a map of North Dakota with the participating counties noted in red, per the LoadPass Permits program: 

Map of ND counties participating in the LoadPass Permits program

Overweight (OW) loads are where things start to get really interesting — and costly:

    • The legal weight limit in the state of North Dakota is 80,000 pounds. However, you may travel on state highways without a permit if your load is divisible, if you are legal on all axle/group weights, and you are licensed for at least your gross weight. 
    • Loads with a GVW over 80,000 pounds and up to 150,000 pounds incur a flat fee ranging from $20-110. 
  • GVWs of 150,000 pounds or more graduate to the Xcess Load Permit fee, which is $5 per ton over the legal road weight limit per mile. 

Here’s an example of the Xcess Load Permit formula in action:

A vehicle with a 300,000 pound GVW is 194,500 pounds over the upper limit (105,500 pounds.) of the legal road weight.

Divide 194,500 pounds by 2,000 to find the weight in tons. In this case, the vehicle is 97.25 tons overweight. 

Then, multiply 97.25 by $5, the per ton per mile fee. 

This permitted vehicle will cost a whopping $486.25 per mile of travel. 

A similar formula is used to determine fee costs for movement on restricted roads, which have a restricted axle weight in addition to a GVW restriction. That formula is $5.00 per ton per mile over the given maximum GVW restriction plus $1 per ton per mile for each axle over the given maximum axle weight restriction for that road. 

Much like finding out how much your daily $7 coffee actually costs you month over month, these fees tend to leave shippers totally speechless.

If you do find yourself in the unenviable position of having to move OW freight in North Dakota, be sure to work with an extremely experienced transportation provider — preferably one that regularly deals with the permit program — to get their expert advice on how to understand these truly mind-boggling fees. 

Chicago highway at dusk

Chicago, Illinois

The Chicagoland area includes the city of Chicago, its 13 surrounding counties, and countless villages, townships, and other municipal routes. 

Chicagoland has some quirks when it comes to permitting. It’s no exaggeration to say that a truck traveling through Chicago can drive two miles without turning and still bounce through multiple jurisdictions. 

This convergence of state, city, and county oversight — sometimes multiple counties on the same short stretch of road! — can make the permitting process somewhat tangled and contribute to longer turn times. 

While the state of Illinois (and solutions to local permitting resources, like Oxcart Permits,) has come a long way in the past 10 years, it still requires an experienced trucking company to make sure the permits needed can be completed legally and safely. 

That’s why, for shipments originating or delivering in Chicagoland, shippers can anticipate more back-and-forth with the permitting offices on both a state and local level.

The city’s infrastructure, shaped by its status as the nation’s busiest rail hub, also presents permitting challenges. 

Low clearances abound in and around Chicago. A particular pain point is the city’s many less-than-legal-height bridges (i.e. bridges with a clearance of less than 13 feet, 6 inches). 

Many of the lower clearances go hand-in-hand with railroad tracks, which often force OD shipments out of their way by some 10 to 15 miles or more to find a legal crossing. 

Finding a route for Chicagoland shipments with over-legal heights and weights can be especially challenging. At ATS, we often recommend a route survey for shipments over 13 feet, 6 inches high for precisely this reason. 

By sending out a pole car to check the route in advance of the shipment moving, potential clearance issues can be caught and addressed early. 

Vehicles entering the Midtown tunnel in Queens, NY

New York City, New York

As the U.S.’s most densely-populated city — that also happens to be a global center of commerce and located on one of the world’s largest natural harbors — nothing about permitting in New York City is simple.

Let’s start with the basics for OD freight in NYC. In addition to having their own requirements for truck traffic, vehicles exceeding 13 feet 6 inches in height, 8 feet in width and 55 feet in length off the Truck Route Network must obtain a daily OD permit for each portion of a trip — that means one permit for inbound travel to NYC and another for your outbound trip. 

Vehicles weighing over 80,000 pounds will also need to apply for a special handling permit from Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Bridges and Tunnels in advance of any movement. 

Another unique facet of NYC’s permitting is that city permits, while valid for five travel days, are issued for one period of time — day or night — not both. 

Vehicles over 10 feet wide and/or 80,000 pounds GVW often must be nighttime moves, or are better coordinated as nighttime travel. 

Roadways and bridges may have weight thresholds, height thresholds, or turn limitations, so loads over 80 feet long, 12 feet wide or 13 feet 6 inches high often require a route survey before any permits can be issued. 

If a load exceeds 130 feet long, 15 feet wide, 15 feet high, or 180,000 pounds, a unique geometric survey is needed — and takes weeks to approve

If your overall length exceeds 65 feet, you’ll need a permit and at least one escort to travel into or through NYC, even if your trailer is empty when off the NYC truck routes.

And that barely scrapes the surface of all New York City’s many, many rules, restrictions, and nuances that make permitting difficult. 

The bottom line: Shippers can expect both permit turn times and vehicle travel times to be slow, the process to be complex, and the route planning to be a headache. 

So, should you avoid the Big Apple at all costs? No — but we recommend working with an experienced transportation provider to do so. 

Any transportation provider that regularly moves freight in and out of New York City will know these various regulations like the back of their hand. 

From the extensive restrictions to specific bridge weight limits to the ever-present traffic, they’ll be able to help you navigate the sticky web of NYC’s permitting process better than even Spider-Man (a Queens native!) could. 

A bridge over the Mississippi River in Louisiana


Bridges are perhaps the most impactful piece of infrastructure in the state of Louisiana, which takes a unique approach to permitting super loads traveling over bridges. 

Once gross vehicle weight (GVW) exceeds 254,000 pounds (232,000 pounds for loads traveling off of the designated highway system) it is considered a super load and is subject to additional guidelines and paperwork. Permissions for super loads must be requested at least one month in advance of any expected movement. 

Louisiana’s permit fee is charged based on ton-mile, weight, and structure type, plus a fee for structural evaluation (i.e. determining the construction and condition of the bridge(s) the load will cross). 

A bridge constructed of concrete and rebar will require a different fee than a bridge made of steel beams, for example. Depending on the structures your shipment will encounter on its route, permitting in Louisiana can become hugely expensive and unpredictable. 

Unfortunately, your bridge woes aren’t over once you have your permits in hand. One of America’s oldest cities not to mention a bustling domestic and international port city New Orleans is chock full of aging infrastructure. 

As such, permitted vehicles are prohibited from crossing any bridge that spans the Mississippi River in the New Orleans area from 6:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. 

In fact, permitted vehicles aren’t allowed to be within two miles of a bridge during these hours. 

Low clearances also plague New Orleans, especially around the waterways. As in Chicago, this can make finding safe, legal routes tough for transportation providers.

Loads exceeding 12 feet in width cannot travel from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on weekdays on Louisiana’s interstate system in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Shreveport, Monroe, and Lake Charles. 

Vehicles over 14 feet wide are prohibited from traveling on Louisiana’s interstate highways altogether, with exceptions for fiberglass swimming pools, boats, tanks, and mobile homes.

Finally, while the good times may be rolling during Mardi Gras, OD loads are not: Travel is prohibited for most OD vehicles on all state highways in select areas (including several parishes in the New Orleans metro) during the seasonal celebration. 

Learn More From Permitting Experts

It can’t be overstated how complex the labyrinth of local OSOW permitting can be for shippers. From Chicago’s arterial railroad system to North Dakota’s expensive oilfield region, there are locations across the nation that are, simply put, a complete pain to permit. 

The many nuanced local regulations, varying fee structures, and patchwork of jurisdictional oversight underline the importance of careful planning and collaboration with seasoned transportation providers.

Given the potential delays and significant costs associated with non-compliance or missteps in permitting, leveraging the expertise of a provider who navigates these waters daily isn’t just advisable — it’s essential.

From understanding the impact of travel restrictions to preparing for infrastructure challenges like low clearances and weight-limited bridges, every detail counts, and every shipment deserves a proactive approach to ensure its safe transit. 

Now that you have a better understanding of local permitting nuances, you’re ready to brave the task of moving freight in these challenging locations. Check out our article on How to Get Oversized Load Permits for Your Freight, which further breaks down the OD permitting process into three simple steps.

Tags: heavy haul, Heavy Haul Shipping, Route Planning, Oversized Shipping, Heavy Haul Trucking, Over Dimensional Shipping, HH, Supply Chain Tips

Joanna Jungels

Written by Joanna Jungels

Joanna Jungels began her career with ATS in 2005 as a Fleet Manager. Soon after, she was promoted to oversee and enhance a growing OS/OW permitting team which created a system to retain and output rules and requirements for both state and local entities. Today, Joanna regularly attends state transportation meetings, and currently serves as chair of the Permit Policy Committee at the Specialized Carriers & Rigging Association, where she advocates for, and promotes the importance of, creating useful resources to better understand and increase awareness around the complexities of oversized freight. In her role at ATS, Joanna enjoys working with others to brainstorm, solve problems and learn new things while continually striving to improve the processes and resources available to ATS' customers.

Get the Latest Content Straight to Your Inbox!

We Have a Podcast! Find Us on Your Favorite App.

Apple Podcasts logoSpotify logoGoogle Podcasts logoAmazon Music logoAmazon Music logo

Beyond the Road Podcast logo

Recent Posts

Work With a Transportation Provider You Can Trust

You don't want your freight in just anyone's hands. Find a transportation provider that cares about your safety and your reputation. Learn how ATS can help.

Connect With an Expert