OPINION: THE Roads and Maritime Services Heavy Vehicle Study published in March 2011 clearly shows that only 12% (163 vehicles per day) of the heavy vehicle movements on Grafton Bridge are travelling through Grafton and continuing their journey.
The balance of 88% have an origin within Grafton or South Grafton.
It is the belief of transport operators that a heavy vehicle will not be able to use the current local bridge for any reason, and will only be able to use the new second river crossing wherever that crossing may be. I believe that buses will still be able to use the existing bridge even though they are classified as heavy vehicles.
From a locally based transport operator perspective, our vehicles need to start, stop or deliver goods within the city, so a bridge outside the CBD would mean additional travel time from local transport depots to deliver goods to local businesses.
When there is additional travel time required, additional costs are involved by the transport operator and these need to be passed on to customers.
For operators who are travelling through Grafton on the Summerland Way from Casino region to the Pacific Hwy, a route that doesn't deviate in distance too far from the existing bridge would be the suggested alternative. Transport operators will take a route that may be slightly further but only if it is quicker.
Transport drivers also need access to toilet and shower facilities and food outlets to comply with mandatory seven hours of rest breaks in every 24 hours.
They also need access to fuel, general repairs and maintenance outlets as well as access to motor registries for fatigue-related work diaries. Most of the above are in our CBD.
While heavy vehicle drivers do not generally like taking a preferred route that may take them through built-up areas where they have to negotiate lower speed zones, intersections and condensed traffic, having access to all facilities necessary can make their job a little more safe and comfortable.
The South Grafton crossroads area is vital for heavy vehicles as the Gwydir Hwy is the only available B-double-approved road linking the road network from the east to the west between the southern outskirts of Brisbane and the Upper Hunter region of NSW.
As an example: If a B-double driver had to come from the Casino Abattoirs from the north to get on the Gwydir Hwy, and his only option was out of town toward North St, this would entail more time and cost for these vehicles to bypass the town completely, re-join the Pacific Hwy north of Grafton, into South Grafton to join the Gwydir Hwy, adding unnecessary cost for these vehicles.
Businesses based in the Richmond region, such as abattoirs, forestry and grain consolidators, are big users of road transport, in particular B-doubles, to economically deliver goods.
Given the results of the Heavy Vehicle Study referred to above, an option that is located close to the existing route would prove economic and beneficial to the transport industry, along with the broader local community. An option located out of town to cater for a mere 12% of through traffic would not provide the economic benefits required by all stakeholders.
Once the Pacific Hwy upgrade is completed between Glenugie and Tyndale, fewer heavy vehicles will actually travel through Grafton to go north toward Casino, or travel from Casino through Grafton to the south.
Unless these vehicles have a specific need to travel on the Summerland Way - such as delivering or collecting a load, or the driver lives along the route - the shortest, quickest, most practical route will be to stay on the Pacific Hwy.
It is reasonable to expect that this section of highway will be upgraded before the second river crossing will be open in Grafton.
It is already shorter by 5km (and 15 minutes) for Lismore-based companies to choose the Pacific Hwy instead of the Summerland Way for journeys to and from the south. The Pacific Hwy journey will only be improved with the re-alignment and duplication of the Pacific Hwy through the Pillar Valley.
- Robert Blanchard is the heavy vehicle representative on the RMS's new Grafton bridge working group. He was a director of NatRoad, the National Association of Road Transport Operators, for four years until 12 months ago.