NZTA Must urgently review the new winter road closure policy

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NZTA recently announced changes to their winter roading policy, concerning the major alpine passes in the South Island. Many regular users of these roads have already seen the effects of this policy change.

The new policy states that the road will close the moment any snow begins to fall, and will not reopen until the snow has stopped, and all works on the road have been completed. No traffic will be allowed on the passes during these times, regardless of how little snow has accumulated, or vehicle types or how well prepared they may be for winter driving conditions. It is very clear to regular users of these roads that this policy goes way beyond what is reasonable, and this will have significant effects for those of us that wish to access the high country throughout winter.

As well as inconvenience, this also presents a real threat to very the existence of any ski field that is accessed by these passes. As well as customers and supply lines, many of these areas depend on their staff using these roads in order to open. These business create hundreds of jobs, and are also dependent on tourism, so are already likely to be struggling in the wake of recent global events. This new policy will have significant effects on their viability as businesses. Their most profitable days are always those days following or during snowfall, and if the roads are closed in the mornings of those days, they will not be able to open and operate their businesses properly. Many of them operate at a loss or break even for most of the season, with much of their profits coming from those busy days that follow new snowfall.

It would be understandable if the policy was to stop 2WD cars with road tyres from using these roads when it snows. But it is utterly absurd to be stopping people with alpine/winter driving experience, in suitably prepared vehicles, with good tyres and chains, from driving these roads because of a couple of cms of snow fall.

No-one would argue that there are, of course, some times that the roads will need to close. But this new policy goes way too far in the conservative direction. This is health and safety policy, and risk aversion, gone mad.