Managing road networks

Dr Steven Finlay Manager Business Solutions


Last year was significant for strengthening the partnership between councils as road network investors and the New Zealand Transport Agency as partner investors under the ONRC system.

THE ONE NETWORK ROAD Classification system classification will help local government and the Transport Agency to plan, invest in, maintain and operate the road network in a more strategic, consistent and affordable way throughout the country.

The ONRC project has three elements.

The first is classifying roads into categories based on their function in the national network. This was completed in December 2013 following extensive engagement with road controlling authorities and other stakeholders.

The second element is the customer levels of service, which define what the fit for purpose outcomes are for each category in terms of mobility, safety, accessibility and amenity.

The third element is the development of the performance measures and targets, which effectively determine how the categories and customer levels of service translate into specific maintenance, operational and investment decisions.

The Road Efficiency Group oversees the governance, leadership and regional implementation of the ONRC as a sector-led initiative. The ONRC system was a key recommendation from the Road Maintenance Task Force Report published in October 2012, and also endorsed by the sector.

The Road Efficiency Group has inherited these recommendations and work programme and work streams are well underway nationally, regionally and locally to drive best practice activity management throughout the country – covering collaboration, procurement, data and the ONRC system itself.

Under the sector leadership of the Road Efficiency Group, the first stage has been fully and successfully applied across all Council networks.

Road Transport Unit

Last year, LGNZ’s Centre of Excellence EquiP also launched the Road Transport Unit (RTU) under a service contract with the NZ Transport Agency.

The RTU assists metro, provincial and rural councils to apply the guidelines for classification and test the thinking in dealing with complex networks with various and significant network demand conditions.

With significant growth pressures facing Auckland, Tauranga, Waikato, Kapiti and Queenstown (amongst others), understanding current customer traffic patterns helps build the evidence base for future road use. With other areas experiencing stable or declining populations, the focus is on prioritisation of key strategic routes and maximising opportunities for freight and tourist access.

Taken together, the sector achieved a very high level of 94 percent classified on the first round of submission. This was a significant achievement for all councils working collectively to agree on: road classifications with their geographic neighbours; prioritising appropriate regional roads, and aligning under a nationally consistent classification system.

Alongside this milestone achievement, councils also developed and submitted their three year Transition Plans that outline how the full ONRC system is to be embedded for the 2018 to 2021 National Land Transport Programme.

Performance measures

Having completed the ONRC classification the key part of the current work programme, in it’s second year of implementation, is to assess the network against the performance measures with the goal of identifying how the network performs against nationally consistent customer levels of service.

The ONRC system supports councils to evaluate the current levels of service across key performance areas and assists activity managers to firstly measure their own levels of investment against these customer levels of service and secondly to be able to benchmark against other similar and comparable councils within and across the ONRC road categories.

With this information in hand, council officers are then in an informed position to begin the conversation with elected officials about the levels of service that the community deem as both fit for purpose and affordable.

This is an important conversation to build the understanding of the demand of customers who use the network, and the current and future likely demographics that underpin any case for change.

To do this, councils can gain real and tangible support from the delivery side of the sector partnership when working with roading contractors.

While many contractors are used to providing physical asset services to councils (as clients and customers), the ONRC system creates powerful opportunities to strengthen the relationships between contractor and council as customer.

Within the NZTA, David Darwin, Outcome Delivery manager for Highways and Network Operations, has assessed levels of service across the state highway network by reviewing the service level agreements and deliverables by reference to contractor contracts.

As David says; “When we looked at the levels of service that were being delivered across the network, our thinking led us to assess the deliverables within the State Highway contracts. This enabled us to confidently predict customer outcomes by contract, and brought our contracting partners with us on the journey of understanding customer outcomes, which by the nature of the commercial delivery model, they intuitively understand.”

This close customer-contractor relationship enables contractors to assist council by assessing levels of service without the additional expense of asset condition inspection. Importantly, both parties work together to agree on the service levels within contracts and to provide the physical works programmes that deliver against these Key Result Areas or KRAs.

By defining KRAs within contracts that meet customer levels of service, the contractor becomes a partner in both reporting, assessing and delivering levels of service.

Within the symbiotic relationship the focus on customer outcomes becomes the predominant lens of discussion, creating and strengthening the relationship with customer outcomes and not asset level condition as the paradigm of contract delivery. Contractors can enable councils to understand which areas of the network are meeting the performance measures and which are not.

Sharing information

Another part of the strategic conversation is to share strategic information across geographic boundaries, especially with regional councils. These shared strategies contain key information about the expectations of each region over the forward period, and become key sources for regional alignment, while underpinning the key role transport connectivity plays in a region’s aspirations for growth.

As Murray Gimblett, Principal Investment Advisor – Investment Assessment, Planning and Investment Group from the NZ Transport Agency says; “Council activities do not occur in isolation. When we review Activity Management Plans we are looking for how councils are firstly looking to deliver on the Government Policy Statement, and secondly on the business case for change. To see this in context, we build a picture of the region, to understand the council activity in context. We encourage councils to do the same.”

Building a regional picture is again where the Road Transport Unit can help and the unit is now building regional clusters of capability through our suite of workshops. As part of this forward activity in 2016, we will be showcasing regional growth stories and strategies to help councils understand how their own significant investments play into this regional story. This is another means of building sector collaboration and sharing knowledge.

A fit for purpose network

With support from REG, the RTU, contractors, and fellow council officers, the sector is deepening its understanding of the challenges and opportunities in providing a fit for purpose network which enables customers to undertake everyday activities critical to the local, regional and national economy.

We need to be bolder in communicating the scale and quantum of investment in the national road networks. With many councils allocating the majority of activity in maintaining local roads, these investments carry the most weight for many business communities, who expect reliable and safe journeys. We are collectively here to ensure that happens, in a way communities can themselves afford. Meeting nationally agreed levels of service ensures that customer expectations are met, which can only enhance councils’ reputation for ensuring these critical assets are protected and enhanced for future generations’ use.

That is a goal the entire sector can work to deliver on.

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