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A bridge too brittle – heaviest trucks banned from Melbourne’s West Gate

April 21, 2016

Much has been written this week about the demise of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal and, with it, its unpopular minimum rates for owner-drivers order.

If you’re a subscriber to our CoR Adviser newsletter, you can read a summary of recent events in transport lawyer and Editor-in-Chief Geoff Farnsworth’s editorial.

On a different tack, it’s a case of too big – too bad. That’s the message for transport companies using the biggest B-double heavy vehicles in and out of Melbourne’s port via the West Gate Bridge.

VicRoads has reduced the maximum weight limit on the 38-year-old bridge from 77.5 tonnes to 68.5 tonnes.

The State’s road authority says concerns for the ageing structure – and advice from engineers – has forced its hand. That’s despite some $350 million being spent on bridge-strengthening works in recent years.

The only solution for the largest, heaviest trucks is to use Melbourne’s inner city roads, some of which have a night-time curfew. And with the port operating around the clock, this poses more problems for companies moving freight.

Obviously, for many transport operators, load managers, consignor and consignees, this will mean advising drivers of changed routes, advising clients of possible delays and restructuring schedules to allow for slower travel times. Or reducing load weights to below 68.5 tonnes.

Head of the Victorian Transport Association, Peter Anderson, was quoted in The Age newspaper as saying it was likely the mass restriction on the West Gate Bridge would never be lifted.

Something positive …

In light of the West Gate Bridges shortcomings, an online map, just released by Vic Roads, has been designed to help transport businesses plan their routes. It shows Victoria’s approved roads for High Productivity Freight Vehicle (HPFV) B-doubles operating at weights between 68.5-77.5 tonnes.

The Vic Roads maps are part of a new HPFV policy where the government will increase its focus on providing better access for longer heavy vehicles.

The interactive maps indicate the maximum load capacities specified for each major Victorian road and also list the types of vehicles permitted on them, the current access restrictions and potential obstacles, with live information on what authorities are planning to do to improve freight productivity.

The Victorian Government said that the road network must be adjusted to deal with the more productive (higher mass) vehicles.
Currently, the HPFV map only displays information relevant to Super B-Doubles in quad/tri and quad/quad configurations. A-doubles up to 85.5 tonnes will be added this year.

Stumbling block

The maps prove that the West Gate Bridge is a central stumbling block in the State’s road freight network.

This will be heightened if the State Government’s prediction comes true that an additional 100,000 containers will arrive at the Swanston Dock each year.

The online map includes Melbourne’s proposed Western Distributor, between the West Gate and CityLink. The Western Distributor has been designed to remove thousands of trucks from local streets around the Port of Melbourne and, importantly, the West Gate Bridge and has been embroiled in a funding dispute between the State and Federal governments.

Unfortunately, the Western Distributor is not expected to open until 2022, meaning the heaviest trucks will continue to rely on surrounding, busier roads for a few more years.

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