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Winter challenges in the central North Island


Ever wondered what it takes to keep some of the highest highways in the country safe for travellers over the winter?

Brooming light snow Desert Rd

It’s a challenging 24/7 job which runs from May through to October and involves snow ploughs, grit spreaders, road weather stations, a de-icing treatment, electronic signs and up to 65 staff at the busiest times.

The Transport Agency’s Central Waikato contract manager Bevan Percival says a range of equipment, technology and a lot of hard work at all hours of the day and night go into making it safe for central plateau travellers.

“Our focus is on safe travel on open roads. That means being smart and treating roads at just the right time to allow them to stay open, closing them when it gets too dangerous, and working hard to clear them so they can re-open.”

Weather is monitored via a network of dedicated MetService road weather stations across the central plateau, with live updates sent every minute. Sensors are also embedded in some roads to monitor the road surface conditions. This data is used to work out what treatments should be applied, where and when, based on forecast road temperatures and surface condition.

A range of treatments are applied to the roads, including CMA, an environmentally friendly anti-icing material which is imported from overseas and can be applied to the road in granular or liquid form proactively to prevent ice forming. Regular grit is also applied if ice has already formed, but CMA is more effective and used more widely and can keep working over a number of days.

Up to 15 snow ploughs, some with special rubber tipped blades to allow better moulding to the road contour, and which are less likely to damage the road and cat’s eyes, are used for snow clearance, along with rotary brooms on trucks for light snow. All the vehicles used are equipped with vehicle tracking devices to ensure the whole operation can be centrally managed and that the machinery is in the right locations for the weather issues at the time.

Bevan works closely with the Transport Agency’s supplier Downer whose up to 65 strong crew can be on the roads day or night across a wide area. The team also works closely with local stakeholders and emergency services.

“The team involved is always striving for continuous improvement and we constantly monitor our decision making processes. We are always looking for new and innovative ways to manage the roads and how to use new technology to assist us.

“We have reasonably high volumes of traffic through this area, with around a quarter of all being heavy vehicles, with many travelling at night. We know it’s a strategic freight route, and is used by skiiers, tourists, and many others travelling up and down the country – the safety of these customers is always top of mind for us,” says Bevan.

For more information contact:

Bevan Percival
NZ Transport Agency Central Waikato Contract Manager