More funds needed for dodgy bridge replacement

31 July 2011

Forest owners want the government to give a higher priority to upgrading dodgy bridges on highways and key district roads.

"Old under-spec bridges are costing a small fortune in lost productivity because of the limited loads they can carry. Replacing them now, even it means slowing the upgrade of roads of national significance, would allow key roads to handle heavier vehicles that are safer and more efficient," says Forest Owners transport chair Brian Pritchard.

Until 2009, trucks without special permits were limited to 20 metres and 44 tonnes. Since then heavy vehicle owners have been able to apply for permits to use high productivity vehicles on selected roads.

These vehicles, which can be up to 22 metres and 51 tonnes, are much more efficient. To cart a given amount of freight, fewer journeys are needed. Costs and carbon emissions are lower. Often they have a lower centre of gravity, reducing the risks of crashes.

Until bridges and culverts are assessed and in many cases replaced, permits for heavier weight vehicles can't be granted. Forest owners are disappointed by the time this is taking.

"A lot of permits have been issued for 22 metre vehicles, but few have been granted for the new maximum of 51 tonnes. Longer is useful and safer, but heavier will bring the real productivity benefits," Mr Pritchard says.

"High productivity vehicles were not mentioned in the government land transport funding statement issued earlier this week. We also note that it will be another year before all state highway bridges have been assessed.

"We have a good working relationship with NZ Transport Agency staff, but it is clear they are under-resourced.

"Logic suggests that upgrading bridges and fixing other choke points on our existing roading network should have at least equal priority with new motorways and expressways."

The flat-line budget for local roading is also of major concern, he says.

"We support efficient spending, but it is unlikely that the efficiencies the government is seeking will exceed the rapidly increasing costs of road building. Bitumen prices, after all, are linked to oil prices."

Mr Pritchard says the government wants to treble exports by 2030 and the sustainable harvest from plantation forests is expected to increase by more than 50% in the next decade. So forestry will play a big part in the government achieving its goal.

"This will require a big investment in rural roads and bridges. But at the moment, we can't see where this investment will come from."