Oversize sector adaptability and tenacity
by Jonathan Bhana-Thomson, chief executive officer, Heavy Haulage Association.
Adaptability and tenacity are two traits that have come through for transport operators in the oversize freight sector these past 12 months, and are likely to stand them in good stead for the coming year.
There have also been many layers of frustration for the industry in terms of getting initiatives off the ground, but this has been tempered by good demand from clients and customers for oversize freight items to be moved around the country.
In terms of issues and projects that the association wanted to progress, getting access to the Northern Gateway Toll Road for oversize has not been achieved – although we have a proposal to have a small trial to progress it.
A desire to improve signage on load pilot vehicles has not been approved yet, but we will keep pursuing this. Meanwhile, the long-promised review and implementation of a new over dimension and overweight permit system from the Transport Agency has not yet produced any tangible results. Finally, we were unable to hold our largest ever industry conference in August this year due to the L4 lockdown being applied the night before our four-day conference was due to start.
The lost opportunities for engagement within and between members and our regulators have certainly been missed this year.
What has been positive is the way that our industry has been able to keep operating – within the bounds laid out and developed by the industry and the association during the various Covid restrictions. The big change in controls for the past year (2021), is that all freight was deemed as essential work under all levels of Covid control and, with the appropriate health and safety tools applied (and subject to suitable work being available), the industry has been able to keep operating.
The borders between Auckland and Northland/Waikato meant the association had to have good liaison with the Transport Agency – as well as their traffic management contractors – to be able to get oversize freight through these checkpoints, while still complying with all the requirements. This has ended up being a good process for operators, and we appreciate the assistance of the Police and TM crews on site to assist with this process.
The 2022 year
Challenges for the year ahead will include the need to be adaptable to whatever twists and turns in the road turn up for our industry, as well as what unknown circumstances this Covid virus might throw at us yet, and what consequential restrictions we may be faced with.
What we do know is that there will continue to be issues with two major areas of roading – construction and maintenance.
Primarily oversize freight uses the State Highway network nationwide to transport large items on most of the routes taken. The Government is pushing the Transport Agency to improve the level of safety on the nation’s roads to reduce serious injury and death. The association supports this aspiration; however, we need the nation’s roads to also be the life blood for freight to connect from one area to another, and to assist with development and improve housing around the country.
The challenge this year for both the NZTA as the road owner and our association, as the representative of the oversize freight industry, is to improve the safety of our roads while at the same time to ensure the dimensional capacity of the roads is not diminished.
We have a good liaison on some projects about the safety measures that all parties desire to be installed, while on others the NZTA project managers like to keep their cards close to their chest.
What will help is a NZTA Design Framework for the Road to Zero Speed and Infrastructure Programme that requires consultation with the oversize sector.
The problem for NZTA project managers is that they are trying to get as much bang for the buck in terms of the cost of the safety changes they are seeking to make, and often this does not extend to making narrower roads wider.
However, this is still something that our association will continue to push for, alongside good design that provides for infrastructure to be pushed back from the roadside verges to be able to provide wider clearances.
Early engagement is the key to this, and we continue to push this these with other aspects of the Transport Agency’s work – particularly in terms of the increased maintenance being undertaken over the coming year. It is expected that there will be an increase of nearly 25 percent of the number of State Highway Lane kilometres on which there is maintenance carried out this year. This is great for improving the overall condition of the road, but there will obviously be restrictions on these roads while the work is being undertaken.
There are a couple of key changes to how maintenance works are being carried out that affects road users – particularly road freight operators.
The first is the scale of the work, and the traffic management procedures being out in place to manage this. In order to undertake significant amounts of re-sealing or road re-construction, often this is extensive and in addition to manage traffic flows then one-way detours or closures are being put in place.
This is instead of stop-go operations. The key for this industry for work being planned this way during the coming months, is that there is consultation with the freight industry about the traffic management and the detour routes being selected. We have had examples where the routes have not been suitable for oversize freight, and we hope that there will be lessons learned about how to get good communication going in advance of confirming these plans.
The second major development is the bundling together of several different types of maintenance works for a section of road, with full closures on the route – probably overnight to undertake the series of different maintenance works at the same time. There are benefits in doing this, that the road workers are kept safer from other road users, and that there are not on-going minor works over a series of weeks to complete the different tasks.
The downside is that if the closures are at night, then this affects freight, but particularly oversize freight which frequently moves at night. There needs to be good communication and discussion about alternative routes before the work plan is agreed. It is expected that there will be more and more plans over coming months to undertake works like this, and a key is that detour routes are fit for purpose and that there are no works planned for those routes – particularly if in a different region.
Overall, this would fit into the scope of an Oversize Route Strategy that would see both the Transport Agency and the industry agree to high level objectives to keep routes open, with an alternative suitable route provided if there are going to be maintenance or upgrade works planned for that section of road.
As an industry group, we will continue to work with the NZTA and local councils to be adaptable in these situations to ensure that roads are kept open, however we need to ensure that routes are also available, and we will keep reminding the roading authorities of this.