Who is liable if it doesn’t?

What are the minimum design standards and legal requirements for rural bridges?

These pages summarise some of the design requirements for rural bridges on private roads and farms

Will your bridge comply?

‘Post’ Heavy Vehicle Bridge Limits signs on any bridges that have insufficient load carrying capacity to safely support the normal range of heavy vehicles

“ Only old bridges can be posted with a diminished load rating, not new installations, these MUST be build to todays Transit Bridge Manual Codes. If the vehicle can fit on it they must take the loadings”.

Requirements for Rural Bridges

A bridge, as a temporary or permanent structure, is a Building defined by the Building Act (Section 8).

The Building Act (Section 17) states that all building work must comply with the New Zealand Building Code, whether a building consent is required or not.

The Building Code requirements for the loads that various parts of a structure are to be capable of withstanding are based on the Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 1170: Structural Design Actions.

AS/NZS 1170: Structural Design Actions refers to other publications for the information necessary for the design of some structure types, including bridges (AS/NZS 1170.0 C1.1(A)).  In Australia that is the Australian Bridge Design Code and the New Zealand equivalent is the NZ Transport Agency (previously Transit NZ) Bridge Manual.

Appendix D of the Bridge Manual relates specifically to rural bridges and has reduced deck loading and barrier requirements compared to highway bridges.  The design loads are appropriate for the normal range of Heavy Vehicles (3.5 tonne to 44 tonne).  Some relevant extracts are copied on the following pages.

Whereas AS/NZS 1170 does not cover Heavy Vehicle loading on structures and bridges specifically, it does have some provisions for Light Vehicles on car parks, etc., that could perhaps be applied to bridges where heavy vehicles are excluded (say, by the narrow width of the bridge).

The Heavy Motor Vehicle Regulations has requirements for signs to be posted on bridges where the Heavy Vehicle weight that can be carried safely is limited. 

Requirements for Rural Bridges

Extracts from NZ Transport Agency Bridge Manual:

(These extracts apply to rural bridges that may at some time be used by heavy motor vehiclescomplying with the Heavy Motor Vehicle Regulations and the applicable Land Transport Rules, that are not Overweight or High-productivity vehicles: that is, bridges that could be crossed by vehicles between 3,500kg and 44,000kg.  The full document is available on the NZTA website.)1


The section copied above means that kerbs must be provided on a rural bridge as a minimum standard of edge protection.  They are to be designed for a minimum horizontal ultimate load of 13.4kN/m (1.37 tonne per metre) applied at a height of 0.2m above the deck.   Other types of vehicle/traffic barriers are not a usual component of farm bridges.  Design load actions are different on the various types of barrier and are significantly greater than .

Although this section indicates that pedestrian barriers may not be required on some remote bridges where the likelihood of an accidental fall is very low, the Building Act and Code states that in all other situations a barrier shall be provided where a person could fall vertically more than 1 metre from the deck.  Barriers would usually be needed as part of fencing to stop stock from entering waterways, anyway.4

The wording of the Bridge Manual provisions for pedestrian barriers, copied above, is intended to comply with the requirements of the Building Act and Building Code – some of which are copied below:

This is a reference to bridges

Rural Bridge Design Loads

The ultimate load factors and the load combination that usually governs the structural design of a rural bridge is as copied from the Bridge Manual below:

For example, the design ultimate load imposed on the deck of a 14m long rural bridge, including the usual dynamic Impact Factor ‘I’ of 1.3, is equivalent to a static load of 785kN (80 tonne).  The design includes load factors to ensure that compliant vehicles up to 44 tonnes cross the bridge with a ‘margin of safety’.

The Bridge Manual design ultimate horizontal load that the top rail of the pedestrian barriermust be capable of resisting is 1.75kN/m x1.70 = 2.97kN/m (300kg per metre).  This applies only where the barrier is ‘protected’ by a kerb from vehicle impact.  Much greater loads would need to be designed for if the railing were part of a vehicle barrier.

For comparison, the equivalent load prescribed by AS/NZS 1170 for pedestrian areas in car parks is 1.5kN/m x 1.5 = 2.25kN/m (230kg per metre), 75% of the value for bridges.

In regard to the vehicle barriers on car parks and ramps, the horizontal ultimate design load to be applied to any 1.5m length of barrier is either 45kN (4.6 tonne, for vehicles less than 2,500kg: 30kN x 1.5 = 45kN – the same as for a Bridge Manual TL3 guardrail post) at 0.5m height or 60kN (6.1 tonne, 40kN/m, for vehicles more than 2,500kg and less than 10,000kg) at 1.0m height.  This is more onerous than the horizontal load of 20kN (2 tonne) at 0.2m height that would be applied to a 1.5m length of kerb in designing to the requirements of the Bridge Manual Appendix D.

Timber kerbs designed to the Bridge Manual standard are often damaged by truck and tractor wheels.  The QTS farm bridge integral concrete kerbs are designed for more than three times the Bridge Manual minimum requirement: that is, > 40kN/m (4.1 tonne per metre).  This is similar to the AS/NZS 1170 requirement but applied at kerb level.  They also prevent stock effluent from flowing over the sides of the deck and entering the stream.

Under these regulations, if the bridge has insufficient capacity, it is a requirement to:

R5-9 Heavy vehicle – bridge limits
Restrictions for heavy vehicles on a bridge – axle weight, or gross weight or speed. One ‘panel’ used for each limit.
Shape and size rectangle 1000 x 650 mm (one panel) 1000 x 775 mm (two panels) 1000 x 900 mm (three panels)
Background white (R)
Border red (R) 25 mm
Legend Description Colour Size
‘HEAVY VEHICLE’ black 100/12.5
‘AXLES [weight] kg’ ‘kg’ 50/10,
others 75/11.5
‘GROSS [percent]% OF CLASS I’ ‘GROSS’ 75/11.5,
others 75/9.5
‘SPEED [speed] km/h’ ‘km/h’ 50/10,
others 75/11.5

“erect and maintain near each end of the bridge a sign indicating any weight and speed limits so fixed in the form prescribed by Land Transport Rule: Traffic Control Devices 2004”

“In any prosecution for a breach of this regulation, it shall be sufficient evidence that the weight limits or speed limit with respect to any bridge had been fixed and were in force in accordance with this regulation, if the prosecution proves that at the time when the offence was committed the signs indicating weight or speed limits, or both, were in position near each end of the bridge, and that those limits had been fixed by the controlling authority not more than 12 months before the date of the alleged offence”.

Whereas this is generally applied to limit the liability of local authorities for accidents resulting from overloading of substandard bridges on roads, it could offer the same protection to owners of substandard bridges that may be used by employees and by others.

The design loads prescribed in the Bridge Manual – Appendix D are considered to be “100% of Class I”.  A well‑maintained bridge built to comply with or exceed the requirements of the Bridge Manual – Appendix D has sufficient load carrying capacity and is not to be Posted with a heavy vehicle bridge limits sign.

Click here to look at the Full New Zealand Transport Agency Bridge Manual

Click here to read about non compliant bridges