A washout at Kaiwaka-Mangawhai Rd, the detour to bypass State Highway 1 at the Brynderwyns, undergoing repairs. Photo / Civil Defence Northland
While Cyclone Gabrielle has well and truly barreled through, much of its destruction remains, especially when it comes to our roads.
As of Thursday, 111 local roads were either closed or required caution to navigate through. Most are in Whangārei and Kaipara, the two districts hit the hardest by the storm’s fury.
Fifty-eight roads needed attention in Whangārei, followed by 42 in Kaipara and 11 in the Far North – none including any of the region’s maimed state highways.
With such an extensive roading repair to-do list – on top of all the other storm recovery tasks – how do councils choose which to fix first?
Northland Transportation Alliance (NTA) maintenance and operations manager Bernard Petersen said immediately after an emergency event impacts roading networks like Cyclone Gabrielle did, the alliance’s first priority is to make adversely affected roads safe.
After which the alliance – a collaboration between local government and Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) – then reinstates roading access to at least a single lane.
Petersen said the focus to restore access can mean some roading repairs may have to wait until a second round of “tidying up” or until there is a shift into the recovery phase post-emergency.
“Roads that are considered low-risk sites, to which standardised repair can be applied, may begin construction before more significant sites,” he noted.
The deviation was because more in-depth geotechnical investigations and/or design could be needed for the more serious sites.
“While this can lead to a perception that some sites are not being prioritised for repair, this is not the case,” Petersen said.
He explained how roads are prioritised by whether they are a key strategic route for either the movement of freight, reconnecting communities and residential homes, or supporting the reinstatement of utilities like power, cellphone service, water and so on.
“After the assessment of key arterial routes, the focus is on collector or distributor roads,” Petersen said.
These are the “low to moderate-capacity” roads that move traffic from local streets to arterial roads.
Last are the roads least travelled.
“In the recovery phase following an emergency event, the focus turns to repair and maintenance,” Petersen said.
The strategic importance of a road – while a priority – is not the only badge assessed.
“[…] There are additional considerations of work efficiencies, understanding of risk, and resource availability to be taken into account.”
The alliance also assessed ways to improve the resilience of roads at this stage, Petersen said.
“This includes considering if permanent reinstatement of road carriageways is appropriate, if the construction of new retaining features is necessary and what new drainage may be necessary, for example.”
Petersen said the alliance was “very focused” on bringing the council’s three different roading networks back to “full strength” as soon as possible.