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Concrete ideas to get Auckland moving

ROB GAIMSTER, CEO, CONCRETE NEW ZEALAND.

CONSTRUCTION ACTIVITY across New Zealand, and particularly the Auckland region, is running at record levels. This is a welcome situation, as it indicates a prosperous economy and a developing country/region.

However, there are several issues which are preventing efficiency gains for ready mixed concrete producers that would benefit Auckland in the broadest sense.

Chief amongst these issues is the impact of concrete delivery on traffic congestion, construction noise regulations, and uncertainty around the 2016 changes to the Land Transport Rule: Vehicle Dimensions and Mass 2016 (VDAM) rule.

On behalf of the concrete and wider construction industry, Concrete NZ is pursuing a range of potential measures to help alleviate the situation.

Traffic congestion

Traffic congestion across Auckland’s roading network has become a huge problem for concrete producers, who make around half-a-million truck movements throughout Auckland every year.

Across Auckland there are around 25 concrete plants each operating approximately 15-16 trucks, giving a total of about
400 trucks.

Increasing traffic congestion results in longer delivery times for each load and, therefore, reduced productivity per-truck
per-day. This leads to a general extension of the time from the customer placing an order for concrete to its delivery.

It is important to emphasise that unlike other construction products ready mixed concrete is ‘perishable’, with a short
shelf-life of around 90 minutes in its fresh plastic state. To exceed this shelf-life would be to compromise the quality of the delivered product and in turn the construction outcome.

One possible solution currently being explored is to allow concrete trucks access to bus and transit lanes across the Auckland network.

Construction noise regulations

The impact of traffic congestion is accentuated by regulations and consenting/planning requirements that place limits on construction noise (and therefore delivery times) in residential areas. Concrete companies are forced to commence delivery just as commuter traffic is beginning to peak each morning.

Customers need to start work as early as possible as concrete placing and finishing operations can take an extended period, and a failure to have a house floor placed by 10.30am during cooler months (after which the concrete must ‘sit’ before finishing can start) risks breaching consent conditions at the end of the day.

This has a productivity flow-on effect for the entire build process as the delayed start impacts on the concrete placer’s finish time as well as their ability to undertake other work during the day, which in turn impacts on the builder and all on-site trades.

“One possible solution currently being explored is to allow concrete trucks access to bus and transit lanes across the Auckland network.”

To off-set these restrictions the building industry is in some instances forced to increase resourcing levels, whether it be extra staff or machinery. However, this inevitably leads to an increase in the cost of construction.

While an earlier start would not see the removal of all concrete trucks during the morning peak, it would lessen their number as deliveries would be spread throughout the day.

For context, BRANZ data indicates that at around 92 percent, a concrete slab-on-ground is the most preferred foundation solution for new residential builds across the country.

More discretion should be used when applying construction noise regulations. For instance, the ‘residential’ classification should not be used when a greenfields sub-division is in its early stages.

VDAM rule changes

The 2016 VDAM Rule is designed to create a reasonable balance between the efficient operation of the heavy motor vehicle fleet, within the constraints imposed by the road network, and ensuring that heavy motor vehicles are operated safely.

At present, concrete producers are struggling to use the 2016 changes to the VDAM Rule that enable heavier trucks to be configured. While the NZ Transport Agency permits the use of these heavier trucks across the State Highway network, local road controlling authorities have restrictions in place (e.g. the use of some bridges).

This is a problem for concrete trucks, as unlike other eligible vehicles such as passenger service buses, they tend to not follow a prescribed ‘route’.

It would be beneficial if a clearer indication could be given as to where specially configured concrete trucks, allowed under the 2016 VDAM Rule, are permitted to travel. This may simply be a case of indicating where they are not allowed to travel.

Moving forward

Used as a metric for economic activity, ready mixed concrete production, or in this case delivery, is currently facing obstacles in our biggest city, relief from which will require a collective approach between industry and central/local government.

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