CommentHeavy Haulage

Demanding times ahead for a tough industry

By Jonathan Bhana-Thomson, CEO, Heavy Haulage Association
Over the course of the past year, the oversize transport industry has faced a number of different pressures, and 2023 looks like it will be more of the same – but with the addition of a slowing economy. 

In all sectors of the economy one of the most-talked about issues is the lack of good staff to fill many industry staff vacancies. And this has been no different for our oversize transport sector, and with no obvious solution on the horizon.

Other pressures that have faced our sector over the last months of 2022, were ongoing disruption caused by weather issues with slips and washouts, and road pavement/surface issues right across the roading network.

In a number of locations around the country this has resulted in full road closures and in other places has slowed vehicles down to one lane or narrow road width – which all have a significant impact on the transport of oversize loads with our network restricted and because detours through local roads are often not of suitable dimension or structural capacity. 

The reinstatement of network routes of full road width often takes a lot of time and we give full marks to those roading crews who are often working in adverse conditions to open routes as soon as possible. Other closures involving slips and road dropouts require more substantial work with retaining walls, which further restrict available road widths for us. 

However, there were positives, including the full opening of the Waikato Expressway. For the oversize transport industry the progressive opening of the full 100 plus kilometre divided Expressway meant the more efficient and safer transport of oversize loads. For wider loads normally travelling this route at night, being able to get through to south of Hamilton with no oncoming traffic, and with good visibility for following traffic, markedly reduced the risk profile. 

The same can be said for the opening of Transmission Gully north of Wellington, which now links to the Kapiti Expressway, and provides a 50 kilometre length of divided roadway to efficiently and safely transport oversize goods. 

Looking ahead

This year we are looking forward to a further extension of the Expressway from Waikanae through to north of Otaki, which is due for completion; as well as the Puhoi to Warkworth section of the Auckland Motorway.

While these expressways are ideal for moving oversize goods, many final destinations are on narrower state highway routes, so it is important to keep these secondary roads open for oversize freight. This will continue to be a main focus of the association’s work over the forthcoming year.

For new capital upgrade and safety projects it is important that the use of them by oversize loads is built into the design, with roundabouts, traffic signals and other smaller safety works the key to getting it right for the overweight heavy haulage sector. 

For the transport of wider over-dimension goods, such as houses, the infrastructure around the roads is more important – such as the placement of light poles, traffic signal poles, signage and plantings. 

Over 2023 we are expecting to have input into a wide range of new design projects, such as the Otaki to North of Levin Expressway, while at the same time analysing the many safety projects that the NZTA has underway around the country.

Having good width and height capacity is the main design feature that we seek and need, as well as the connections to local networks, and pull over areas for heavy vehicles to safely be clear of the traffic lanes.

New safety projects include the placement of median barriers down the centre of roads with just one lane in each direction, which can obviously make it difficult for the transport of  load sizes that may take up most of the roadway. Appreciating that this is a challenge for designers to cater for oversize, a primary focus for us is for any restrictions on the left hand side of the road be pushed back from the roadside edge or shoulder. 

We will continue to engage with the Transport Agency to open up access to oversize on the Northern Gateway Toll Road north of Auckland, which is currently restricted to special project approval; and for areas such as the Dome Valley where there is a new median barrier that was close to completion just before the end of last year. 

In other on-road operational projects we will aim to get approval for a small range of improved pilot vehicle signs (a project which has been underway for some time), but we have renewed engagement with the Transport Agency to finally get this over the line. 

We see a need to keep on improving the safety tools available to load pilots to ensure other road users are adequately warned of the approaching hazard of an oversize load. This is particularly so with the increasing number of places on the network where load pilots need to get ahead of the load to stop all traffic, so it can get through safely.

This will need additions to the Good Practice Guide for Piloting that we produced a couple of years ago. Over 2023 we also plan to work with NZTA to ensure that new bridges are designed with the correct information to be able to carry abnormal weight loads. 

In addition, when new bridges are opening on the state highway network we want them to provide for heavy loads without having to get new permits for the whole region or overweight permit addendums. 

We are working on a good practice guide in association with the Transport Agency that includes both recovery and transport of the immobilised heavy vehicle. This is a key project for the year ahead with the aim of standardising practices and operations to create a ‘level playing field’ for the operators and regulators. 

Overall, the next 12 months look to be challenging as the unknown effects of inflation, increasing interest rates, and labour supply restrictions will play out, and with possible reduced demand for machinery use, project and construction components, and housing supply. 

However, in post-Covid lockdown times there has been increased demand over the last two years for the services of the oversize sector, so we are hoping this will continue over the 2023 year. 

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