Part 3: Planning for maintenance and renewals work

New Zealand Transport Agency: Maintaining and renewing the state highway network – follow-up report.

Our first report concluded that NZTA had all the main elements of a planning framework for maintenance and renewals work, and a detailed set of levels of service. NZTA also had good short- to medium-term asset management planning and was in the process of finalising its State Highway Activity Management Plan.

However, NZTA needed to make it clearer how it determined levels of service for road maintenance and renewals work and ensure that road users’ views were taken into account in developing levels of service. NZTA also needed to complete its State Highway Asset Management Plan and refine the way it delivered its maintenance and renewals work to ensure that the right work was being done cost-effectively.

National road classification system and new levels of service

NZTA has done significant work to introduce a new national road classification system. NZTA has also made significant changes to the way it determines its levels of service for the network.

The new national road classification system, which the NZTA Board has now adopted, has three broad elements.

A functional classification categorises all New Zealand public roads based on their function (such as the road’s main purpose and traffic volume). NZTA has completed this work, and there are six different road classifications and two sub-classifications.7

Different customer levels of service have been established for each road classification. A provisional set of customer levels of service covers six service areas:

  • travel time reliability (that is, consistency of travel times users can expect);
  • road resilience;
  • optimal speed for each road;
  • safety;
  • amenity (that is, travel quality and aesthetics); and
  • accessibility (that is, ease with which people can reach their destination).

Performance measures and targets for each of the customer levels of service determine how the road classifications and customer levels of service translate into specific maintenance, operational, and investment decisions. The performance measures and targets are due to be completed in 2014.

An important finding from our first report was that NZTA needed to make clear how it determined its levels of service, and how those levels were informed by users.

NZTA had a clear process for determining the customer levels of service. For example, it established a set of “Overarching Principles” and “Foundation Principles”. It also reviewed other work done internationally, such as recent work by Austroads.

NZTA carried out extensive consultation to discuss the proposed road classification and draft customer levels of service. For example, 10 regional workshops were held during July and August 2013. Attendees included representatives from the Automobile Association, planning staff from local government, mayors, councillors, and local government chief executives.

In our view, the new classification system and associated differentiated customer levels of service could have several potential benefits. These include:

  • making asset management more consistent throughout New Zealand;
  • allowing better value for money to be achieved by targeting investment decisions;
  • allowing for better benchmarking of service outcomes; and
  • allowing road users to expect and have similar experiences on roads in the same classification.

However, NZTA needs to complete this programme of work and then ensure that it:

  • monitors and periodically reviews classifications to incorporate new thinking and recognise any changes in the operating environment; and
  • establishes acceptable customer levels of service and maintenance standards for each road classification.

State Highway Asset Management Plan

Our first report recommended that NZTA complete its State Highway Asset Management Plan to give more consistency to longer-term asset management planning. The Plan was finalised in October 2011 and covers the period 2012 to 2015.

NZTA intends to update the Plan when the National Land Transport Programme is adopted in mid-2015.

In our limited review, we did not test how effectively NZTA carried out the activities associated with effective planning. NZTA acknowledges that the State Highway Asset Management Plan is just a document, and to be successful NZTA will need to align its everyday activities to the guidance the Plan contains.

Refining the ways maintenance and renewals work is delivered

NZTA is refining the way it delivers its maintenance and renewals work to ensure that the right work is being done in the best way to deliver high-quality and cost-effective work.

For example, NZTA prepares a State Highway Plan annually. NZTA Regional staff, including Network Managers, prepare proposals for regional programmes that are consistent with nationwide goals and objectives, reflect regional contexts, and are consistent with the State Highway Activity Management Plan 2015-18. NZTA moderates the proposals and then combines them into a draft State Highway Plan. This forms the nationwide programme for delivery by each regional network.

NZTA told us that it is adopting a much more robust approach to this planning. In particular, it is challenging proposals more, requiring stringent economic analysis, and removing work from proposals when it cannot be justified.

NZTA has estimated that the more rigorous approach has seen renewal works reduce by 15%, and the cost of proposed network programmes reduce by 20% compared to those previously submitted by Network Managers working alone.

NZTA is also placing an increased focus on its renewals activity. Its planning framework now requires all pavement renewals to be “The Right Treatment in the Right Place at the Right Time with the Right Risk”.

This is part of NZTA’s approach of maintaining its assets within a reduced funding package. NZTA has estimated that reducing renewals by 10% will yield $20 million in savings. Also, internal work has indicated that up to 30% of NZTA’s pavement renewals were done too early, so it considers that there are opportunities to defer some of this work without compromising safety.

Figure 2 sets out NZTA’s renewals planning framework.

Figure 2
The New Zealand Transport Agency’s renewals planning framework

Figure 2: The New Zealand Transport Agency’s renewals planning framework.

Source: Redrawn from a figure supplied by NZTA.

NZTA considers that renewing pavements on a “just in time” basis makes good sense. Ultimately, this is a risk management exercise, and NZTA has a renewals planning framework to address the main risks and issues. In applying its framework, NZTA is balancing the trade-off between wasting money renewing pavements too early, and doing the work too late and so risking pavements and roads becoming sub-standard. The latter may increase NZTA’s whole-of-life costs, and may adversely affect road users’ experience.

To make the right decisions, NZTA will require reliable and up-to-date asset information, so the accuracy of the RAMM database is critical to successfully implementing its renewals strategy.

7: The classifications are National (sub-classification National – High Volume), Regional, Arterial, Primary Collector, Secondary Collector, and Access (sub-classification Access – Low Volume).

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