In memory of Pauline

This article first appeared in Contractor February 2017.

MARY SEARLE BELL looks back on the award-winning career of Pauline Nobbs, who led the traffic management role for the Newmarket Viaduct Replacement project.

“A caring person with a beautiful heart” is how friend and colleague Phil Skinner of Fulton Hogan described Pauline Nobbs at her funeral.

Pauline worked for 12 years at Fulton Hogan, responsible for temporary traffic management before her life was cruelly cut short by cancer in September last year. However, in her time with the company, her stellar work ethic and attitude made her a standout employee.

Her key role was to ensure the travelling public and the crew working on the roads were kept apart from each other by creating a safe working space for the contractors while traffic whizzed by.

“She used to say, ‘never shall the two meet’,” says Phil. “She watched over me and my colleagues daily and ensured we were well protected and we each returned home safely.

“She cared for us and was well respected and loved by many on site.”

Pauline joined Fulton Hogan in late-2004 as a traffic management plan designer and soon showed herself to be a very capable employee. Consequently, she was soon promoted to department manager. She led the traffic management team through to 2008 when she took on the temporary traffic management role for the Newmarket Viaduct Replacement project.

This groundbreaking project saw Auckland’s very busy Newmarket Viaduct completely replaced with a bigger structure, while remaining open to traffic the entire time. Naturally, traffic management had a huge role to play in ensuring the workers and the travellers were suitably and safely separated.

When that project was completed, Pauline moved to another massive roading project. In 2013 work began on raising and widening the 4.8-kilometre-long causeway across the harbour on the Northwestern Motorway. Once again, the road was to remain open throughout the project for the 90,000 vehicles that use it daily.

One of Pauline’s many triumphs in this role was the successful coordination of a considerable number of complex and lengthy traffic switches – where the road layout was changed to allow work to be undertaken on different parts of the project. This included over 50 major traffic switches over the three years she worked on the project.

In recognition of Pauline’s outstanding contribution to the industry, the NZ Transport Agency posthumously awarded her a special GEM Outstanding Service Award. Her sister Tina Nobbs, pictured with Tommy Parker, NZTA, accepted the award.

These switches included several successful ‘bull runs’. A bull run is a non-exit lane switch, where traffic in a particular lane may not be able to leave the motorway at a particular exit. To be successful, drivers need to know this information in advance and ensure they’re in the correct lane if they want to exit. Causeway Alliance project manager Mike Elliot says Pauline recognised the potential for these switches to have a major impact on customers, and often went the extra mile to improve communications.

He says the Rosebank Road on-ramp diversion was unique in its design, and was in place for several weeks to enable the team to raise the motorway to the city.

“What made this diversion notable was that the on-ramp remained open but it linked directly to the Great North Road exit. The effect of this was that drivers were temporarily unable to enter the city-bound motorway, putting significant pressure on local roads and other motorway on-ramps.”

Pauline worked to have temporary ramp signals installed on the Rosebank Road on-ramp that were able to be manually changed by the project – a first.

“The impact of the diversion was at its greatest during the morning peak period and Pauline was determined to ensure that customers were kept moving on our section of the motorway and on the surrounding roads.

“Every morning for the first week of the diversion, Pauline stationed traffic controllers at intersections on the local roads and sat at the Auckland Traffic Control Centre [ATOC] at Smales Farm. Using her overview of the traffic network and receiving reports from controllers on where traffic was backing up, she was able to adjust the on-ramp and local road signals appropriately, to help keep traffic moving while drivers became familiar with the diversion.

“After the first week, Pauline continued to manage the ramp signals and major intersections, and would call ATOC if she thought the signals required adjustment elsewhere.”

As part of the causeway upgrade, the cycleway adjacent to the motorway was upgraded along with the road. With 450 cyclists using this each day, Pauline ensured that they too were kept safe throughout the project.

Following the demolition of the old Patiki Road pedestrian overbridge, pedestrians and cyclists had to be detoured across Patiki Road.

“The area was high risk due to traffic volumes on the Patiki off-ramp eastbound,” says Mike. “Pauline worked with the project team to install a pedestrian refuge that was wide enough to accommodate a bike, dropped the speed limit to 30kph and installed VMS boards to advise drivers to slow down.

“She had special detour signage made and installed for pedestrians and cyclists to follow.

“For the first two weeks, six days a week, she ensured traffic personnel were on the ground to assist users with the detour and ensured no one cut across the road, putting themselves at risk.”

In a GEM Award entry nominating Pauline for the 2016 Customer Champion Award, the submission states, “Pauline often went the extra mile finding innovative solutions to customer concerns, attending call outs in the middle of the night, regularly liaising and responding to any of the Auckland Motorway Alliance concerns, solving potential traffic problems and generally keeping customers moving.”

Feedback from those she came into contact with endorses this. In the GEM Award entry Duncan Edgar of the Auckland Motorway Alliance writes, “Pauline plans collaboratively with the right people at the right time and ensures no surprises. She is the most prepared, most planned and most able to challenge her construction team about their methodology. She exhibits leadership, planning, adaptability, and personality. She always has a smile.”

While Pauline didn’t win that particular GEM Award, she did receive the Hynds Women in Construction inaugural award for her outstanding contribution to the causeway project, the client, stakeholders and customers.

In April 2016 Pauline left the project to return to Fulton Hogan office to lead the regional traffic management departments in Mt Wellington and Silverdale. Sadly, a few months later she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died on September 3.

In recognition of Pauline’s outstanding contribution to the industry, the NZ Transport Agency posthumously awarded her a special GEM Outstanding Service Award.

In presenting the award, which was accepted by her sister Tina, NZTA group manager for highways and network operations Tommy Parker described Pauline as a well-respected and dedicated member of the team, known for her infectious laugh, her incredible sense of humour and great care of people.

“Any project that had Pauline as traffic manager was known to be in competent, safe hands, and would be hugely successful.”

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