International gong for Southland’s Milford Sound Piopiotahi Road Alliance team


A small southern town housing a handful of dedicated road maintenance, rockfall and avalanche specialists has reached the lofty heights of international awards in recent days.

Southland’s Milford Road Alliance, comprising around 30 people from Downer NZ and NZ Transport Agency, Waka Kotahi (NZTA) mostly living in Te Anau, won the International Road Federation’s (IRF) 2023 Global Road Achievement Award for Programme Management. The awards were announced in November.

The IRF Global Road Achievement Awards acknowledge excellence and a way to share best practices, inspire future innovations, and foster collaboration within the global transportation community.

 Milford Road Alliance Youtube video(external link)

The Milford Road Alliance, formed in 2016, is responsible for maintaining the gateway to New Zealand’s tourism crown jewel – the only road into and out of a key tourism destination, Milford Sound Piopiotahi.

The NZTA and Downer partnership manages a significant programme of work within the protected Fiordland National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Area. The team ensures that the one road into and out of Milford Sound is safe, resilient and accessible for close to 1,000,000 tourists annually.

NZTA’s Vanessa Browne, the Project Alliance Board chair, says that the Transport Agency and Downer New Zealand are “true programme partners.”

“When we step onto the Milford Road, we leave our organisation at the door so we can wholeheartedly form the Alliance," says Ms Browne.

Dedication to the safety and wellbeing of those who traverse the Milford Road is unwavering.

“For the past year, the Alliance has had an outstanding safety record with a low Total Recordable Injury Frequency Rate* of zero,” says Ms Browne.

The Milford Road Alliance plays a key role in ensuring safe access on SH94 for commercial fishing and visitors to Fiordland. In addition to avalanche and rockfall prevention, the Alliance manages numerous complexities including the historic, one-lane Homer Tunnel which provides the only vehicle access in and out, it is required to keep the road open as much as possible while maintaining consistent standards, environmental considerations, and the need for Alliance staff to act as first responders to emergency situations.

Programme investment helps to ensure the Alliance's ability to share knowledge widely across the industry, particularly for road agencies operating in alpine environments. With a dedicated in-house workshop and innovative solutions, the Alliance provides excellent learning opportunities, as shown in the Alliance’s development and use of avalanche detection technology and the in-house development of innovative tools for weather and avalanche forecasting.

The full list of winners(external link)

“Being recognised at the Global Road Achievement Awards is incredible for us as a team – it recognises the hard work, passion, and specialist skills of our exemplary team.” Kevin Thompson, NZTA’s Milford Road Alliance Manager. 

Video: Kevin Thompson talking about the Milford Road connecting Milford Sound Piopiotahi and Fiordland National Park(external link)

Total Recordable Injuries are those which would require a person to have time off work/see a doctor/get medical advice.

Kevin Thompson, Milford Road Alliance Manager, Vanessa Browne, Project Alliance Board Chair for NZTA and Craig West, Downer Executive General Manager Transport and Infrastructure Downer NZ, accepting the international award earlier in November.