CommentFeatureHeavy HaulageRoading

Impact of works and closures on routes

Over the past 12 months we have seen an unprecedented number of closures to the roading network because of weather issues. Jonathan Bhana-Thomson, Chief Executive, NZ Heavy Haulage Association.

Now it’s the on-going consequences of the damage to roads and structures that is causing issues for freight operators. This includes the use of weight-restricted bailey bridges, one-lane sections of road where there are drop-outs, and closures of roads with long detours. The roading authorities have done a great job getting the routes open to their current extent, but there remains a lot work to do.

These physical restrictions cause issues for freight operators – in particular those moving oversize freight. It is one thing to have a route re-open to light vehicles and general freight, however, ensuring larger oversize freight can access the route is another thing altogether.

Operators need to be aware of the on-going restrictions that exist for oversize freight, and what this means for their clients in getting their larger items transported to their final destination. The NZTA reports that some transport operators are pushing the envelope weight-wise on bailey bridges for example, which puts the temporary bridge structures at risk.

In addition, as roading contractors push to get reinstatement work done, this often involves significant restrictions to the use of these roads. Even when the basic structure of the road has been reinstated, in many cases there will be closures while the pavement of the road is completed.

Transport operators need to be aware of the significant number of restrictions on these routes, and what the impact will be on the freight involved. Sources of information include the NZTA, local councils, organisations set up to undertake repair work (such as Transport Rebuild East Coast), and various industry associations such as ourselves.

Safety upgrade projects

Works are continuing on a number of safety upgrades around the country, such as median barrier installs and upgrades to roundabouts. Often this work can only be undertaken while the roadway is open, and this means stop/go or one-way detours. These works will have an obvious impact on permitted freight – often oversize loads have no option to use a detour route due to size restraints. It is great to see that some worksites are opting to allow big loads to have controlled access through the site, but this often involves time delays, and uncertainty about what time the loads will arrive to site.

For longer term sites, and with limited options on detour routes, our association is engaging with contractors over opportunities for oversize loads to obtain access through worksites as a scheduled activity. While this may cause small delays for the construction crew, planning in advance minimises inconvenience for both parties.

Closures cause extra costs

In situations such as the Brynderwyn Hill closure over at least eight weeks, the options for all freight were much longer detour routes, The only consolation, as with most cases, is that the short term pain should result in a better road.

Meantime, the reality is that someone has to pay for the extra travel cost in terms of fuel, RUCs and driver time, and often this ends up being carried by the transport operator. And, these costs are difficult to pass on if they are tied into a contract.

While we understand that the improvement works do need to be done in a cost-efficient way, it is the private sector that then ends up picking up the costs imposed on them.

Multiple works/closures on routes

With so many work sites going on, it is inevitable that transport operators will come across more than one major works site on their transport route. Any delays at these sites can add up significant time delays in getting to their destination – and time is money. There is a role for the NZTA to ensure that on key freight routes the accumulated time delays do not exceed more than is tolerable (say 30 minutes max on a four to five hour driving sector).

Planned closures for maintenance

It started with the Remutaka Hill’s planned closures at night, and now we are seeing the NZTA is approving the closure of other routes for multiple maintenance activities at the same time (eg Kaimai and the Desert Road). This can be a good use of contractors time – and may ultimately mean less closures over a contracting season, however these closures still have a considerable impact on freight operators.

The publishing of the closure schedule in advance means transport operators can better plan their operations.

While there will always be freight that has to be rescheduled, it will assist oversize freight (especially at night) if suitable alternate routes are made available.

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