Moala Ofa, known as “Mo” by the incident response team he leads, is the driving force keeping traffic on one of New Zealand’s key transport links safe and flowing.
“What I enjoy and wake up looking forward to is helping people when they break down on the road – the feeling I’m helping people and making them safe out there.”
As Ventia’s Delivery Manager for the high-profile Transmission Gully motorway north of Wellington, Mo manages the team that responds to accidents and breakdowns to make sure drivers and passengers are safe.
The response effort involves traffic management, liaison with emergency services, and sometimes taking motorists back to their base and warming them up with a hot cup of coffee.
Mo recognises the dedication of his team who are rostered over two shifts to provide incident response assistance every minute of every day of the year. Ventia operates and maintains Te Ara Nui o Te Rangihaeata – Transmission Gully on behalf of Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, the Government entity responsible for state highways across New Zealand.
“It’s a good feeling to know we are helping people. Any incident out there we are there to help them or make sure they are safe,” Mo says.
The motorway controllers, who continuously monitor the entire highway, are the eyes and ears alerting Mo’s team to any issues.
Following an alert, the team has two minutes to leave its base and 25 minutes to arrive on the scene – according to Ventia’s contract obligations. In the last three months, members of the incident response team have responded to hundreds of alerts and only gone over time twice.
Mo says if motorists break down going up a steep hill sometimes there’s no shoulder and they’re stuck on a live lane, with vehicles zooming past at high speed. When he or his team turn up and block off the lane it’s usually a huge relief for the people in the car and they’re always grateful.
One of the more unusual incidents involved a Holden VF Commodore police car that got stuck in a truck arrester bed while monitoring traffic on the motorway’s opening day. Mo’s team rescued the officer involved, and she returned later with a chocolate cake to say thank you.
“Another time a motorcyclist broke down in the rain and he was all wet. One of my team brought him and his motorbike back to our base and made him a hot coffee – the guy came back later just to say how much he appreciated how we looked after him.”
While it’s just part of the job, Mo says the feeling that people appreciate what you’re doing for them never gets stale.
“Just seeing the thanks and relief from people we’ve helped, it’s a good feeling.”
His team are also responsible for replacing damaged road safety barriers preventing head-on and run-off crashes along the highway. In the motorways’ first year of operation, the team has replaced 1.2 km of safety barrier.
Mo is usually busy working hard behind the scenes to make sure everything runs smoothly, but he says he enjoys going out on the road and working with the team whenever he can.
“If it’s a major incident it’s all hands on deck.”
This was the case earlier this month when a collision resulted in a fuel tanker leaking fuel onto the highway. Mo and his team were quick to respond, closing the highway to ensure the safety of motorists and supporting emergency services with the clean-up so the road could be re-opened as soon as possible.
There have been no fatalities or serious injuries in the entire first year of Transmission Gully’s operation, despite the fact more than 8.4 million vehicles have driven the length of the 27 km highway over the period.
Mo is rightly proud of his team’s efforts to care for the motorway and those who travel it.
“We haven’t experienced a serious crash and I hope it stays that way.”
Over the past year they have been called out more than 2,000 times to assist drivers – most of the incidents involving motorists who had broken down or run out of fuel.
“All of our team members are trained in first aid so they’re fully prepared for any situation.”
Mo says he’d recommend road maintenance to job seekers within New Zealand and people overseas looking for opportunities carve out a successful career.
His own journey brought him to New Zealand from the Kingdom of Tonga in 2015 to gain a Bachelor of Construction (Construction Management) from Unitec, and he had no trouble finding a job once his studies were over.
He says it’s a formula others can follow, and the civil construction industry offers plenty of opportunities to learn on the job as well. The team at Ventia is made up of people of all ages and ethnicities, which makes for an inclusive and enjoyable work environment, he says.
“It’s a good environment, with really good diversity. If you want to work in the industry, I would say just give it a go.”