By Jonathan Bhana-Thomson, chief executive, Heavy Haulage Association.
The next 12 months will be interesting and challenging, but in the oversize transport sector we have a cause for optimism that is based on the current, perhaps surprisingly good economic climate, and also hard work and effort that members of our industry are putting in.
Being primarily a service industry, demand for the transport of over-dimension and overweight loads is driven by clients that need equipment moved to a new job, large prefabricated items for construction moved to site, and the relocation of new and recycled houses from their current site to their new destination.
What the industry is seeing is that there is good demand for the transport of large oversize freight items, which does give us a positive outlook for the next 12 months. However, as we know, things can change quite fast, and it very much depends on the general economic sentiment that will indicate whether things continue in the same vein.
There are longer term planned projects that are continuing due to larger planned upgrades, such as the current wind farm projects in the Taranaki and the Manawatu. However, in addition there is current strength in the commercial construction market, which is driving demand for prefabricated steel and concrete.
In addition, the local and national government-led demand for roading upgrades is certainly assisting the earth-moving and machinery equipment movements that are required when projects are put underway or are moving to a new phase of construction.
The association aims to ensure that the regulatory environment is one that assists the transport of oversize loads, is carried out in a way that enhances safety, but at the same time enables this to be done efficiently.
Over the past year, there have been some wins. The one that has the most on-road benefit for members operating in the Bay of Plenty area, is the access to the Tauranga Eastern Link (TEL) Toll Road. For a number of years, access had been restricted with special permission needed to travel on any Toll Road around New Zealand. There are not that many at the moment, but they are often on key routes and the intel we see is that there will be more in the future.
Last year, it took a sustained lobbying effort, including a meeting with the Associate Minister of Transport, and extra pressure during last year’s lockdown four period, to finally achieve a general permission to travel on the TEL road from October onwards. In practice what this means is that there is a much safer transport route that is also more efficient and there is no extra administration required to gain permission to travel.
This example is representative of the efforts that the Association plans to undertake in 2021.
One of our first tasks is to extend the approval for toll road usage to the Northern Gateway Toll Road north of Auckland. The alternative route that oversize operators need to use is through the built-up area of Orewa, and this is continuing to be a battle to keep this route open. With the likely extension of the toll road north of Puhoi, then it is crucial to gain access to what will be the best route for oversize loads to use.
A major initiative that the association is working on is a Strategy for Oversize Routes. This brings together a number of the streams of work that we have been working on, into an overall strategy document that we intend to partner first with the NZTA and then local roading authorities. The ultimate Outcomes of the Strategy are:
- That oversize routes are available for use by oversize loads without capacity restriction.
- Where a restriction is in place for maintenance or upgrade that advance communication between RCAs and road users allows oversize loads to continue to move.
- That new routes or roads are added to the current network of oversize routes.
- That current capacity restrictions are removed over time.
There are some key aspects here. First, that oversize routes are identified – be they on State Highway routes or local roads where there are capacity restrictions on State Highway routes. Second, that any roading projects on these, are planned so that there is consultation and communication about these works and that the capacity for oversize loads are retained, or preferably enhanced. Also, where there are maintenance operations on these routes that the effect on the transport of oversize loads is considered, and where required that detour routes are assessed as being suitable for oversize transport.
Next, where there are new roads being built, that these are designed as being suitable for oversize loads, and it is possible that these replaced routes that do not have full capacity due to existing restrictions.
The final aspect is that where there are existing restrictions, such as a lower capacity bridges, or a dimension restriction such as a low rail overbridge, that these restrictions are identified for removal or improvement over time.
These are very lofty goals and may not be achieved within even the medium term, but a strategy document is exactly that – looking forward to what can be achieved in partnership with other organisations that are willing participants.
In addition, some actions pull together activities that we currently have underway, but also some new projects to help to achieve the goals and outcomes. These include:
- Developing an online resource of oversize routes maps. The ones that we have do not take account of new roads and improvements to restrictions that we have had previously.
- The review and expansion of the Association’s Design Specification Guide. This has already been through a number of different versions, but the current review underway will add some new roading features, such as speed tables, that have not been widely used up until recently.
- The NZTA’s Vehicle Design Memorandum needs to be completed, so that this can be used by road designers to ensure that the roading projects are designed for normal HPMV trucks as well as making allowance for oversize transporters moving over-dimension and overweight loads.
- That a communication protocol be put in place to ensure that there is adequate advance communication of major roading maintenance that sees full road closures, one-way traffic detours, and even tight work sites adequately communicated with the oversize industry.
- To engage with local councils, especially where there are detour routes on their roads that need to be maintained as oversize routes – such as through Tirau, Marton and Oamaru to avoid low rail bridges.
The association is optimistic that with a coherent approach that this will see good outcomes, not just for our association members but also for Road Controlling Authorities who will know that roading projects will be designed right first time (and there won’t have to be re-work to cater for the oversize industry), and for maintenance operations who will be more ready to accept oversize loads through a worksite, or for alternative routes to be suitable.
For these reasons, the oversize sector has every reason to look forward to the next year as being one that will be beneficial and productive for our sector of the road transport industry.