by Jonathan Bhana-Thomson, chief executive, NZ Heavy Haulage Association.
The year ahead for the oversize transport industry, as represented by the Heavy Haulage Association, shows great promise if it continues the great gains that we have made in the last 12 months.
If there is a mantra that we hope to employ over the coming weeks and months, it will be to seize the moment and take the opportunities presented. In our case this will be to put forward the interests of the industry that we represent to those organisations that are crucial regulators and influencers for our sector.
There are a number of areas in which we want to build on the gains that we have made in recent times and put forward the specific concerns of the oversize freight sector. Our association has been existence for 55 years this year, and we have specific issues that mean that our Association for this sector of the specialised freight industry, has grown slowly over the years to be a necessary and thriving Association.
Roading design with a focus on medians
The biggest change for our sector with roading design for the immediate future is to balance the arguments around installing median barriers, with the positive safety benefits, against the extra risk factors that this makes for wider oversize loads.
The current Government rightly has a focus on the safety of our roads given the high fatality rate, and this is translating through into the investigation and construction of many kilometres of median barrier.
One estimation was for 980 kilometres worth of barriers – this would be slightly more than installing a barrier from Kaitaia to Wellington, or from Picton to Bluff. The issue for the oversize sector is to ensure that roadside restrictions do not push wide loads to travel over and above the barrier into the lane for opposing traffic.
Over the past year, we raised this issue with Government Ministers as well as NZTA, stating that there needed to be designs (and budget) to deal with these issues.
This year we expect that more of the detailed designs for these projects will come forward, and as long as we get the standard design criteria right, and have this applied by designers, then we’ll be a long way forward towards resolving any issues before they start.
Roading operations and maintenance to be aware of oversize
The Transport Agency already has a significant plan to invest in maintenance of state highway routes, and then add to that the stated aim in the Government’s GPS to invest more in local roads, and you have a major and ongoing works to keep NZ’s roads operative.
It is not a new problem for the oversize industry to face, but much of the maintenance work on roads is now carried out at night – the same time as oversize loads travel so as to reduce the impact on the travelling public.
Over the last year we have been raising this issue at a higher level and with wider audiences to get programmers of work, contractors, and traffic management operations to consider the impact of this on oversize loads.
We have been giving the message that they should plan to expect the unexpected – an oversize load arriving at their worksite. As much as the Association tries to be the conduit for information about what works are happening where, there is not yet a comprehensive information portal where all this information is accessible and available to the oversize industry.
It will be our aim to continue to work towards this with the Agency as well as the NOC Contractors around the country.
A particular issue that affects the oversize industry is the need for maintenance crews to keep on top of vegetation growth on the sides and above roading corridors. It is a concern of ours that continues to increase, that leads us to ask who is consistently checking on those companies with contracts to manage roadside vegetation.
Our view is that there needs to be better auditing of this, and this is justified in the extent to which the dimension envelope in some areas around the country is compromised by trees growing on roadsides and cut banks.
Permitting needs to move into the 21St century
In the last few months the Transport Agency has made an announcement that they are bringing all heavy vehicle permitting together into a new online portal.
We certainly welcomed that as we have been saying to the Agency (and it’s predecessor) for many years that they needed to do this. This will be for all overdimension, overweight and HPMV permitting, utilising the same system, and we look forward to the benefits that this should bring.
We are however wary of not getting our hopes up, as with any IT related project it can be easy to promise but more difficult and expensive to deliver. However we remain committed to pushing the Agency towards this over coming months, with the aim that it will be more flexible, operator- friendly and responsive to the needs of the oversize transport sector.
One particular issue that they need to get sorted is the ability for oversize loads to travel on Toll Roads at off-peak times. This has been an on-going bug-bear for the industry, which we have raised at many levels, but one that the many-legged octopus that is the decision-making process in the Agency needs to get on and get sorted.
Policy needs to be responsive
The everyday operation of the Oversize industry is governed by Land Transport Rules – in particular the Vehicle Dimension and Mass Rule.
The biggest issue for us is the lack of a process for getting changes to this Rule for anything more than minor technical changes – anything else literally seems to involve Cabinet approving a review process and this only seems to happen only once in a decade.
The reality is that the Rules need be set inside a review process that is more responsive to the needs of industry, and at present there is an opening for this, but this needs to be put in place by the Agency and then be receptive to industry to put forward good common sense but also innovative ideas that that can be developed to keep the Rules up to date.
The association has recently opened the door for our ideas to be put promoted and considered and in future months we intend to make sure that we make the most of this opportunity.
In conclusion, we saw advocacy for the oversize industry take big steps forward last year, and this year we need to continue in this vein to ensure that we take the opportunities that we have made, and cement the benefits for the industry.