Two recent Bridge upgrade projects on State Highway roads have caused angst for the freight industry – particularly the oversize sector. by Jonathan Bhana-Thomson, chief executive, NZ Heavy Haulage Assciation
One of the bridge projects is on SH1 in the middle of the Desert Road, the Waihohonu Bridge that requires the replacement of the bridge deck following a truck accident on the bridge in the middle of last winter. The second project is the strengthening of the Tukituki Bridge on SH2 north of Waipukurau, enabling it to take full High Productivity trucks on the route.
In each case the projects will mean that the bridges have restrictions for up to 12 weeks, thereby causing major issues for the delivery of freight. Certainly, the need for the bridge work is required, and we support the work being done – and in the case of the bridge on the Desert Road, this is perhaps the best time of the year to be undertaking the work.
However what the NZ Heavy Haulage Association, as well as the Road Transport Forum, and the Road Transport Association have issues with is the lack of communication around the impact of the works, the nature of the restrictions, and the time frame in which all this happened.
In the case of the Waihohonu Bridge, this Association found out about the restriction, some 4 days prior to the work starting, with the project team not considering the full impact of the way that the bridge deck is to be reconstructed, and the fact that the proposed detour also has restrictions for larger oversize loads. To their credit, the project team have been responsive to the issues raised.
We have also collectively raised this to the highest levels within NZTA, and the response received acknowledged the failing, and sought to ensure that the effect on road users for such significant projects is fully considered. A protocol that is in draft stated that the freight industry will be notified 30 calendar days in advance of any such works affecting the travel of permitted loads.
Analysing these situations for future learnings is useful for the construction as well as the road transport industry.
Road Upgrading is valued
From the perspective of the oversize industry we absolutely want to see the capacity of bridge structures maintained and improved, and we acknowledge that in many cases this will mean that there are restrictions on the travel of freight and in particular oversize loads.
Construction method has impacts on road users
The way that a project is undertaken has impacts on the road users and we know that what best suits the construction process, does not always fit well with road users – and vice versa. There are different options for the construction method that should be considered, and the impact of these options for all parties needs to be analysed.
Seek Input from road users
What we advocate is that for the full information about the bearing that construction has on the users of that section of road, should be done in conjunction with road users. The various Association’s have direct and useful information that we can add to the discussion about the impact on road users – in the case of the oversize transport industry, the Heavy Haulage Association is a ready source of information.
In our case there are only a certain range of roads that are regularly used for oversize loads, and both the construction team as well as those designing the traffic management plans should ask whether the route is one that is a crucial oversize route, a secondary route, or one that is seldom used. Also we can provide information about the types of loads that use the route in question, and whether the planned detour is suitable for oversize loads.
Seek Input early
There is nothing more frustrating than spending a lot of time planning for a project, than for it to have a spanner thrown in the works by last minute demands from road users. It is better to engage early and explore the options sooner rather than have to consider the impact in a time-pressured situation.
Communications – do it once and do it right
With both the bridge projects mentioned above there has needed to be multiple sets of communication info go out, updated with changes in plans once the full picture is known. This only adds confusion to those receiving it, and is to be avoided.
Working together in partnership with road user groups is the way to head off these situations, and I urge early and engaged discussions in order to produce the best outcomes.