Bigger trucks headed our way

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Longer, bigger trucks are coming to New Zealand’s roads and probably to Waitaki’s roads also.

Today’s meeting of the Waitaki District Council will decide whether to adopt a staff recommendation that allows the NZ Transport Authority (NZTA) to issue permits for 50MAX trucks on Waitaki’s roading network.

50MAX trucks can be longer than the conventional 44-tonne vehicle combinations now commonly seen on the country’s roads, having an extra axle and extending 23m. They could could become the preferred option in Waitaki to be used for milk tankers, and for forestry and bulk haulage.

In his report to the council, Waitaki roading manager Michael Voss said while there could be an increase in maintenance and rehabilitation costs, increased productivity to the agricultural and forestry industries should provide a counter-balance.

The effects of the bigger trucks would be monitored, Mr Voss said, and if they proved unsustainable, the council could withdraw from a memorandum of understanding with the NZTA.

Mr Voss said with one heavy vehicle truck in five potentially being a 50MAX on the region’s rural roads, the effects would be expected to be minimal.

However, safety could be a concern.

“The matter of road user safety is one that will arise; either through fact or perception it will need to be addressed through education, new signage and localised improvements.

“Our roads are very low in traffic volume which both limits the likely encounter with a 50MAX but increases the ‘fright’ factor if met. The roads are generally under-width and this deficiency will be used as a determination for selecting routes.”

Mr Voss said the effects in Oamaru should be more readily evident when new usage patterns emerged from increased rutting, surface scuffing and shear failures.

He said discussions were being held with the NZTA on 50MAX routes within Waitaki to try to identify where road deficiencies could occur.

The NZTA has predicted a 75 per cent take-up of 50MAX trucks on New Zealand’s urban and line-haul roads, with 20 per cent on rural roads. Most of the new trailers that are being used are now configured for 50MAX usage.

The NZTA said the overall load on 50MAX trucks was spread further, with no additional wear on roads per tonne of freight and the increased payloads that were possible made it more economic.

Also, road safety was improved, the NZTA claimed: “50MAX can improve road safety because of the reduction in truck trips to move the same amount of freight – fewer trucks on the road will mean a reduction in the crash risk.”

Caroline Perry, of Brake, a national road safety charity based in Auckland, said there could be a probable benefit with fewer trucks on the roads but because of the additional length of the vehicles, extra care would have to be taken.

“We would want trucks clearly labelled on their increased length. Also, there needs to be a high-profile campaign so people know they’re coming in.”

By CHRIS TOBIN