By Jonathan Bhana-Thomson, CEO, Heavy Haulage Association.
The Government’s NZ Upgrade Programme allocates $5.3 billion in roading upgrades for State Highway networks, which our association welcomes.
However, we would like to challenge the Government to invest some of the extra unallocated $4B towards upgrading bridge structures on local council roads.
In the heavy haulage industry we are at the sharp end of confronting the declining state of the local roads – and particularly the bridge capacities on roads that connect the state highways to the customers and clients that keep New Zealand operating and productive.
More and more we are getting reports from members of the Association where there are more restrictive conditions on bridges, the weight capacity of bridges being limited, individual trip permits are being issued where we used to have long term permits, and some bridges being giving the designation “Do Not Cross” for overweight loads.
This is of major concern to the Association, as this restricts access for transporters carrying all types of heavy loads and equipment which includes excavators and diggers, log processing equipment, pre-fabricated beams and construction steel, amongst many other heavy items.
If these items cannot get to their destination, then much longer detour routes have to be travelled, or in some cases, the items cannot get there at all.
In most parts of New Zealand, there is the roading spine of the State Highway network, which is then augmented with the local roading system which is often the “last kilometre” or so to where the item is actually required.
These key local links are to the locations where the action actually happens, and we need these routes and roads to be maintained and up to capacity. In other places, there are good local road connections between places that save a much longer route on State Highways.
The Manawatu Region is one where there are major restrictions on bridges that are on Council roads, which mean that overweight loads have to use the State Highway network on a much longer route to get to the destination.
This means a greater cost to the client in terms of travel distance and time. There is also an increase in the exposure risk for oversize loads – we prefer to travel by the most direct route with less risk to other road users from a large load on the road.
Examples of this are illustrated in the pictures attached which are on or near the Kairanga to Bunnythorpe Road which would otherwise be an excellent bypass for an oversize load of the urban Palmerston North area.
These bridges are noted as “Do Not Cross” for overweight loads, but also they are not significant structures that would take much effort or resources to upgrade.
However the resources need to be targeted by the Government as being available for such improvement works.
In other areas, such as the Bay of Plenty, due to insufficient info held by the Council, transport operators are having to get specific bridge analysis completed themselves in order to prove the capacity of bridges are sufficient to carry heavy items such as bridge beams.
Ironically this is for upgrading and road improvements of other sections of road around the country.
Meanwhile in other provincial areas, Councils have slapped blanket weight restrictions on their bridges due to lack of funds to have them properly analysed.
This seems to be taking the easy route out for the Council, but doesn’t help those transport operators that still need to transport heavy loads, over those weights, for their clients.
The final point is that overweight permits can be gained on a long-term basis (up to two years) which enables the road owner to give those operators an agreed schedule of bridges and their crossing restrictions.
But more and more, we are seeing that Council’s wish to only give individual trip permits for heavier weight loads, even though these happen on a frequent basis – due to concerns about the capacity of bridges on the route.
The Government needs to be dedicating some of their funds that they wish to invest in the country, not just into the high profile roads on State Highways, but also for those Council areas where the state and the capacity of the roads and structures is in decline.
This is what we need in order to keep New Zealand working and improving our productive capacity.