Waka Kotahi urges caution on icy roads

In News5 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineAugust 11, 2023

Waka Kotahi is urging caution on snowy and icy roads as weather conditions continue to wreak havoc on New Zealand’s transport network.

Last week, more than 150 vehicles had to wait in freezing conditions in the Tongariro National Park after truck crashes and snow and ice forced the closure of highways in the Central Plateau.

With freezing temperatures and more snow forecast for the region, Waka Kotahi is asking road users to plan ahead.

“The message is, check the forecast, check the Waka Kotahi Journey Planner,” said Cara Lauder, system manager for Waka Kotahi in the Waikato.

“If it’s going to be under 4 degrees, consider whether you really need to drive – or can you delay your trip? And if you’re out there go slow, heed warnings and follow our contractor’s advice on the ground.”

Lauder said some drivers are not making good decisions.

“They’re not taking notice of warnings. They’re not driving to the conditions. They’re going too fast and taking risks,” she said.

“And a crash is extremely disruptive – not to mention dangerous at this time of year. Once traffic is stopped, it can get snowed in.”

Last week freezing conditions saw the closure of SH1 through the Desert Road, between Taihape and Waiouru, SH4 from Taumarunui to the Tongariro National Park and SH47 from the National Park to Turangi.

“At least 100 trucks and more than 50 cars were stuck or parked up in Waiouru or National Park due to crashed trucks and dangerous conditions forcing the road closures. And that’s a conservative estimate,” Lauder said.

“Waka Kotahi issues advice about potential closures and winter conditions and puts notifications on roadside digital signs. It goes to show how important it is to listen to this advice.

“Pack warm clothes, blankets, food and water if you’re going to drive through this region at this time of year. Conditions can worsen at little notice, or a crash can block the road. It gets very cold very quickly once the engine cuts. If you’re trapped through the night – are you prepared for that?”

Last week Waka Kotahi contractor, Downer, rescued a family travelling together in three vehicles that got stuck on the Desert Road. Contractors’ first priority was moving crashed trucks so they could start ploughing and de-icing. The six adults and 12 children were travelling in vehicles without chains and had a cold wait.

“That family was lucky. The Downer crew knew they were there and gave them hot pies. Once it was safe to do so, they were escorted out,” said Lauder.

“Crashes are difficult in this region as even heavy tow trucks may not be able to reach a crashed vehicle in the wintery conditions. If maintenance trucks are also involved in a rescue, it diverts resources away from re-opening the road.”

Waka Kotahi prepares for these situations by monitoring the conditions around the Tongariro National Park with the help of weather stations and a forecast tool called Metconnect that predicts temperature, wind, rain, snow and ice and helps inform if or when highways may close and how many roading crews are needed to keep highways safe.

“Stay home if you don’t need to travel. If you do – be prepared. Driving to the conditions means being very careful about your speed and if you see a vehicle that has skidded or crashed consider whether or not it is safe to pass.

“Assess the conditions when you reach Waiouru, Turangi or the National Park and consider whether it is safe to continue and if not either find somewhere safe to wait or consider an alternate route.

“Waka Kotahi and our contractors are doing what we can to keep you safe – the rest is up to you.”