Major task maintaining roads

The two recent volleys from the Otago Daily Times on the quality of road maintenance (Page 1, 30.5.11, editorial, 31.5.11) have been based on comments from some of the community boards during the 2011-12 annual plan hearings, where it is not unheard of to deliver impassioned pleas for an increase in funding for their areas of concern. 

To develop those observations into a wider sideswipe at the delivery of all roading services and "inadequate internal management and supervision" is, I suggest, a stretch too far and without foundation.

To put the total delivery and maintenance of transportation (roading) services in context, one can refer to the photo montage of Dunedin's billion-dollar transportation infrastructure as at July 2010. The key statistics are in the accompanying table. The numbers attest to the raft of services that are delivered by a dedicated staff team of 27 people.

To achieve the maintenance and extension of these services, our 2010-11 budget is $61.7 million (including an NZTA subsidy of $22 million) which identifies the significant footprint that Transportation Services sustains in this community.

Now from the general to the specific, and the Fulton Hogan contract. Fulton Hogan did not respond at the outset as its contract requires comment to be via the DCC. Fulton Hogan is the recipient of work allocated under the urban and rural roads maintenance contracts and is subject to the DCC's rigorous tender process.

At the time of this tender award the Fulton Hogan contract was very competitive. In addition, the contract is subject to regular performance audit checks by staff and to NZTA administrative and technical audit as a local authority in receipt of NZTA funding, not to mention our input into the annual checks by Audit NZ.

In terms of the DCC spectrum of services, transportation operations award some 15 to 20 contracts a year for a range of physical services, including lighting maintenance, signal maintenance, pavement rehabilitation, bridge maintenance, seawall reinstatement, etc.

The contract timelines vary and roading contracts tend to be three year plus two one-year extensions, to a maximum of five years, to achieve cost and mobilisation efficiencies.

For comparative purposes typical roading maintenance contracts let by NZTA and other neighbouring local authorities are shown above.

It should be noted that staff have to operate in accordance with a DCC roading procurement strategy recently approved by NZTA and also operate within the DCC purchases and disposals manual. All contracts are approved by the DCC executive management team.

As with many contractor-client relationships, the success or otherwise of a contract is often dependent on goodwill and communication, as much as the technical, written contract.

The activity levels within the maintenance contract also have to respond to myriad phone calls that are forwarded by the DCC Call Centre. The call request activity levels from May 2004 to date vary from a low of around 450 requests to a high of 1150 requests per month.

Among other interesting data, a breakdown of the range of typical request categories for May 2011 shows 180 tonnes of detritus are swept or collected off the city's roads each month, excluding the 10 weeks of autumnal leaf drop, and the winter grit collections.

Dealing with other issues raised in the ODT's observations:Power line tree-trimming: DCC is not responsible for tree-trimming under power lines, the responsibility for which remains with power network contractors.

Weed spraying: This is a contentious area undertaken by qualified practitioners. There is a contemporary school of thought that one can obtain good results by spraying gorse in winter. This seriously challenges some long-held views in the Strath Taieri.

The outcome will be closely monitored.

The articles correctly referred to arranging roading staff meetings with community boards, discussions with contractors at management level, and a council review of procurement procedures. These meetings/reviews are a normal part of any business cycle.

We accept it is every resident's right to express their view about issues relating to our roading network. Every effort is made to ensure those concerns get a fair hearing and that results are delivered equitably within budget allocations and contractor responsibility.

With large maintenance contracts there will always be contention over performance issues. Whether these arise from a contractor's failure to deliver, lapses in supervision, or failure to meet public expectations, it is an essential part of the relationship to find solutions with all parties involved.

One of the biggest challenges the council faces with these contracts is managing public expectation, and this invariably leads to the levels of service established and paid for through these contracts. Levels of service, along with decisions on the procurement model, and contract terms, are matters to be reviewed as we firm up the tender process for the next contract period.

These contracts are awarded and managed in accordance with accepted industry practices and have inbuilt checks and balances, together with independent audits from NZTA.

DCC staff work hard to keep community boards well informed about what to expect from our contractors and to accommodate added requests where we can.

We make a concerted effort to attend board meetings regularly and to organise joint drive-overs.

Transportation operations welcomes discussions with the proposed council working party, among others, acknowledging that it is only through a thorough appreciation of the details of these contracts that one can develop well-formed opinions about contract performance.

DCC would be remiss if it did not recognise the significant contribution that Fulton Hogan and Delta have made to the Christchurch clean-up in the aftermath of the recent earthquakes, while ensuring those extra duties had only a marginal impact on our services here.

We also appreciate the significant contribution of the public in making us aware of areas where we need to pay particular attention - in a city of our size, still the largest by area in New Zealand, it is inevitable there will be occasions when we miss something which causes concern in your neighbourhood.

In those instances we welcome the public's input in keeping us informed through our Customer Services call centre at 477-4000.

In conclusion, it is hoped that the complexity of delivering transportation services to a city the size and diversity of Dunedin is now understood in the broader context. A couple of potholes, a broken branch here and there or a collapsed kerb are not the end of the world - ask the residents of Christchurch.

The vast majority of the city's roading network is in good shape and in the stewardship of professionals who care. Graeme Hamilton is the Dunedin City Council's transportation operations manager.


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