Road assets such as bridges and culverts are vital to keeping Australia moving, from ensuring products reach supermarket shelves to connecting families with loved ones. However these assets, like all infrastructure, carry an expiry date due to ageing and weather events, and need regular review and maintenance.

Significant assets, such as bridges, need consistent assessment – however for councils, sourcing and using external engineering consultants to do this is costly and time consuming.

Because of this, assets can be left to age; increasing the likelihood of an accident, and the asset needing to be rebuilt – instead of the sustainable option of maintaining it for years to come.

The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator’s (NHVR) Strategic Local Government Asset Assessment Project (SLGAAP) provides funding for external engineering consultants to provide a consistent assessment of these types of assets in local council areas.

The SLGAAP aims to bridge the information gap for councils where the capability of the asset may have been unknown, and heavy vehicle access was limited. Engineering reports detail the assessment results and support councils in making more efficient, safe and productive access decisions.

The Federal Government provided initial funding of $7.96 million in 2019 for Phase One of the project, with the SLGAAP receiving an additional $12million to extend the project until 2024. To date, the SLGAAP has completed 465 asset assessments across 74 councils nationwide.

What is the SLGAAP delivering?

Undertaking heavy vehicle assessments of bridges and culverts is a key deliverable for the SLGAAP. In a recent NHVR survey, one of the main concerns for road managers was making heavy vehicle access decisions when the route includes unknown or ageing road assets.

Chief Structural Engineer at the NHVR, Dr Neal Lake, explains that while an asset assessment is important in deciding an asset’s ability to carry certain vehicle loads safely, other inputs are needed to form an entire picture of an asset’s condition.

“Assessments of assets are an important consideration when determining the capability of bridges and culverts, however, aspects such as condition of the asset, historical use patterns and realistic site-specific considerations are also important in access decision-making,” Dr Lake said.

“Over time, the type of heavy vehicles used has changed considerably in an attempt to optimise freight movements, and the gross vehicle mass is no longer an appropriate measure of the maximum capability of a bridge.”

Dr Lake said that the spread of weight across multiple axles at varying spacing must be considered and optimised to allow bridges to carry higher vehicle masses to meet the growing freight task.

In the past, the current bridge formula was used to optimise Performance Based Standards (PBS) vehicles, accounting for axle masses and spread of axles, however, the bridge formula has limited scope to tap into any reserves in bridge capability over and above what the bridge formula was designed to reflect.

“Minor changes to bridge capability estimates can make a major difference to heavy vehicle access outcomes. This is why we are committed to providing tools and training for road managers to better understand their assets and enable them to make fast and accurate heavy vehicle access assessments that take into account the true capability of an asset,” Dr Lake said.

Dr Lake explained that, in Phase Two of the SLGAAP, the concept of ‘bridge families’ will be introduced; which is where similar families of assets that have detailed assessments can provide a basis to better estimate bridge capability for assets that have not yet been assessed.

“This will be particularly helpful where there is limited asset data or when the original design drawings are lost or destroyed,” Dr Lake said.

Phase Two of the SLGAAP will focus on:

Strategic routes and assets

  • Identifying assets on key routes for whole-of-journey network improvement

Asset Assessments 

  • Undertaking targeted asset assessments, from those nominated by local councils

Bridge families

  • Developing a framework for ‘bridge family’ assessments, where ‘like’ assets are used to support decision-making

Capability uplift

  • Further development of resources for road managers, including frameworks and methodologies to understand bridge capability and make streamlined access decisions
  • Delivering additional road manager education and training, particularly around sourcing bridge capability assessments, understanding and accounting for plausibility gaps and holistic decision-making that considers risk

Systems and tools

  • Increasing functionality in the centralised asset information system in the NHVR Portal, within the Asset Module
  • A staged release of the Asset Rapid Assessment Tool, a self-serve tool for preparing fast and accurate Tier 1 vehicle comparison asset assessments in the NHVR Portal

What are the benefits of being involved?

The SLGAAP aims to deliver several benefits for local government road managers, including:

  • Increased road asset data, with key information publicly available to inform route planning for both road managers and operators
  • Improved understanding of asset capability to inform streamlined heavy vehicle access decision- making across a range of vehicle configurations
  • Improved confidence in asset assessments and interpreting engineering reports
  • Optimised local government network access and connection to state routes, providing productivity and safety outcomes
  • Identification of assets for remediation or replacement in a national Annual Bridge Strengthening Report

How can I nominate assets for an assessment?

Councils will be invited to nominate assets for assessment at multiple stages during the three-year delivery of Phase Two, and are encouraged to register their interest in the project by visiting the NHVR website.

If a council’s nominated asset is selected, the assessment is funded under the SLGAAP and there is no additional monetary contribution.

The council will be required to participate in collaborative meetings with the SLGAAP team and the appointed engineering supplier, including onboarding, progress and post-assessment sessions.

What is the Asset Rapid Assessment Tool, and how can I participate in the early release?

For many local governments, assessments are often undertaken by engineering providers and cost considerations may limit the number of assessments possible in a given period. Time, cost and availability of appropriate information make individual detailed engineering assessments of every council asset unachievable.

To manage the volume of assets, the SLGAAP is developing an Asset Rapid Assessment Tool (ARAT) that will provide self-serve functionality for Tier 1 assessments to local government road managers. After developing and testing the prototype in 2021, a staged release is planned for 2022-2023.

Coupling the ARAT with ‘bridge family’ research will provide a solid basis for understanding bridge capability across the network and facilitating streamlined access decision-making.

Recent case studies

The SLGAAP is already helping councils to accurately assess their assets and keep communities safe.

Coastal New South Wales region, Bega Valley Shire Council, worked with the SLGAAP to gather an assessment report for the region, providing information to help nominate Meringola Gully Bridge for renewal to the New South Wales Government’s Fixing Country Bridges program.

Bega Valley Shire Council Recreation Assets Coordinator, Richard Cunningham, said, “The level of service provided by the original timber bridge could not be improved; therefore, the report provided the necessary information to demonstrate the need to renew the bridge, which has now been completed.

“The revised assessment for Candelo Creek Bridge, West Kameruka Road, was timely and provided an alternate route for heavy vehicles due to a load limit being imposed on the nearby Mozilla Road caused by embankment instability.

“Previously, special purpose vehicles such as all-terrain cranes were subjected to speed restrictions due to uncertainties in capacity. These restrictions have now been confirmed as unnecessary.”

Mr Cunningham also said that the assessments provided Council with the confidence to allow heavy vehicle access on the network, where previously no reliable assessment data was available.

“Where substandard results have been received, the assessment work completed will allow traffic to be managed safely in the short term while supporting the case for renewal and upgrade in the longer term.”

Glenelg Shire Council (GSC) in South Australia was nominated through the SLGAAP to receive funded engineering reports and Asset Improvement Reports, since many of the region’s assets were of an unknown capacity and design.

GSC Team Leader Design and Assets, Ricky Luke, said, “The reports have allowed GSC to better understand the assets and focus our funds towards structures that will benefit the most from repairs and strengthening. GSC has now budgeted for works in the 2022-23 financial year to address the most urgent issues.

“This initiative has certainly helped GSC to improve our knowledge of our assets and how heavy vehicles impact them.”

Local governments can register their interest in the project by visiting: www.nhvr.engagementhub.com.au/slgaap-future-rounds

Sign up for testing or being a part of the early product release in the NHVR Portal: www.nhvr.engagementhub.com.au/slgaap-early-arat

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