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Pipe Dreams

This week’s articles is about pipes. No, not the kind you smoke in a velvet robe. No, not the kind which broadcasts sound from a giant organ in a cathedral. No, not the kind which busts out the tailored sleeves of a guy with large biceps. Come to think of it, this article isn’t really exclusive to pipes at all. What is it about you ask? Fair question – read on.

Conversation is easier when a generic name is used to describe a whole lot of things which are similar. It in a high paced, high stress society, economy of words is critical. To meet this verbal frugality, it’s not uncommon to lump together similar items with a universal name.

Hence, “the pipe exemption” was born. The pipe exemption is an exception to legal length in the Illinois Vehicle Code. However, it is not just about pipes. It’s about anything of a structural nature which cannot be disassembled into smaller loads.

Obviously the pipe exemption applies to long pipe, but the law commonly serves to cover customary loads of steel I-beams, telephone poles and machinery, such as a legal weight excavator with a long boom.

Picture this: a 30’ long flatbed straight truck with three axles. The maximum overall length for any single vehicle in Illinois, regardless of highway classification, is 42’. Because the truck is only 30’ long, it is legal. But what happens when the truck is now loaded with a 50’ steel I-beam? There is no way to cram 50’ of steel into 42’. The pipe exemption kicks in to cover the extra length.

The same could be true with a semi-tractor hauling a 60′ telephone pole over a local road. The current (and drastically outdated overall legal length) is 55′. The load plus the rest of the power unit could very well exceed 70′. Not very compliant with the law, but the pipe exemption is there to make things legal again.

Most loads, when oversize, need to purchase an oversize permit from the proper road authority to carry such lengths. Not so with the pipe exemption, however there are limitations.

In order to qualify, the load must not be more than 80’ long individually, and the overall length of the vehicle and load cannot exceed 100’. Sound simple? Well keep reading.

The pipe exemption is found in four different places in the length law of the IVC, 625 ILCS 5/15-107. It is mentioned in the paragraphs which cover non-designated roads, Class I, Class II and Class III highways.

Each time it is repeated, something is a little different. For non-designated, Class I and Class II highways, the text specifically limits operations during “daylight hours”. However there is no definition of “daylight hours” mentioned. It is commonly accepted that this means 30 minutes before sunrise and 30 minutes after sunset.

In the paragraph about Class III highways, it only says “daytime”. This term is even more ambiguous, but it’s not unreasonable to ascribe the same time limits as “daylight hours”.

The term “legal holidays” is also thrown into each of the four paragraphs. Much like the daylight vs daytime discrepancy, non-designated, Class I and Class II highways actually define which holidays are “legal holidays”. The Class III highway paragraph only says “legal holidays”.

Big deal? Maybe not, unless you are the trucker getting a $500 overlength ticket on a Class II highway because the federal and state governments recognize President’s Day as a legal holiday, but the pipe exemption does not.

Or maybe you are the trucker who believed he could move under the authority of the pipe exemption, on a Class III highway 30 minutes before sunrise, just like bigger and heavier loads operating under the authority of a permit. Ooops…wrong again. Vague laws yield creative interpretation.

It’s been said before and it will be said again – Illinois length law is a disaster. It’s high time for a complete rewrite of the entire thing. Now is anyone willing to pony up some lobbying money?

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