Bigger trucks spark concern in Nelson

TRACY NEAL
Last updated 13:00 31/01/2014

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Bigger trucks are on their way to Nelson roads, but city councillor Eric Davy wants an assurance that their drivers will be able to handle them properly.

The Nelson City Council's works committee agreed yesterday to support the introduction of 50Max trucks to Nelson streets, with some exclusions where the bridges would not cope.

Transport operators will be able to put vehicles on the road that can carry a maximum total weight of 50 tonnes, with a maximum length of 23 metres.

However, Road Transport Association Nelson branch president Derek Nees said operators were "not going to be parading all around Nelson with 50Max vehicles".

One or two might be seen around supermarkets and in the Tahunanui and Port Nelson industrial areas, but there were likely to be more of them on state highways than on city streets, he said.

The council also agreed to hand over permitting authority to the NZ Transport Agency, to speed up the process for the road transport industry.

Councillors were unanimous in their support for the move, in recognition of Nelson lacking alternatives such as rail.

Mr Davy, who chairs the works and infrastructure committee, said 50Max trucks were slightly longer than standard 44-tonne trucks, but an extra axle gave them up to another six tonnes of cargo capacity.

He said he was not against increasing the size and weight of freight trucks, but in light of recent accidents involving large trucks, he asked the NZTA's representative at yesterday's meeting to take back the message that he was unhappy that there would be increased payloads for drivers who in some cases did not know how to handle the larger vehicles properly.

"Drivers should be certified to drive the HPMV [high productivity motor vehicles] routes," Mr Davy said.

Jason Morgan of the NZTA said it was "very concerned" about heavy vehicle safety, and driver training was part of its safer journeys strategy.

The Ministry of Transport introduced the new vehicle dimension and mass rule in 2010, to allow the freight industry to move more cargo with fewer trucks.

The rules were changed to accommodate predictions that freight volumes are expected to increase by 75 per cent over the next 20 years, with much of this being transported by road.

Council senior asset engineer of transport and roading Rhys Palmer said in a report to the council that there had been a "good uptake" of HPMV permits, especially on the state highway network that serviced Port Nelson. The permits apply only to specific routes and are administered by the council.

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The council staff report said the council supported the NZTA being the issuing agency, because it would be easier for operators to apply to one authority to get a permit that crossed several road controlling authorities.

Mr Palmer said it would also reduce the current workload on council staff.

Mr Morgan told councillors yesterday that if the council was to manage the growth in freight volumes, it had to accept that more loads would need to be transported by trucks. He said Nelsonians expected their supermarkets to be full of food and appliance stores to have goods in stock.

Mr Morgan said the new nine-axle configuration would allow larger payloads to be carried without increasing the risk of damage to infrastructure.

A key difference between current heavy vehicle operations and 50Max trucks would be less tolerance of operators stretching the limits, and greater penalties if they did, he said. The council would retain the right to revoke permits, in tandem with the NZTA, if it felt an operator was not sticking to the rules.

Councillor Mike Ward said he had misgivings about the move to larger trucks but accepted that it would ultimately benefit the region.

"It's important the drivers are aware of their responsibilities, and perhaps we could work alongside the freight companies to ensure that. Maybe we could offer a rewards system," he said.

"Having bigger vehicles on the road is scary, but in some ways the drivers are also more respectful than they've ever been."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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