The Government must ramp up investment in road maintenance immediately, says an industry group, as data shows an alarming decline in the quality of road surfaces around the country.
A group of leading transport and infrastructure advocacy organisations, including the Association of Consulting and Engineering (ACE New Zealand), the Automobile Association (AA), Civil Contractors NZ (CCNZ), Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA), Infrastructure NZ, and the Road Transport Forum (RTF), have come together to demand urgent action.
AA general manager for motoring affairs, Mike Noon, says that investment in road maintenance was wound back heavily in real terms over much of the last decade, with the result being that road surfaces on more and more of the network now need urgent repair.
“Our state highways and local roads are becoming more difficult and more dangerous to drive on – anyone driving around the country over the last few years will have noticed it. It’s bad news for road safety, it makes for an unpleasant driving experience, and it’s unfair,” says Mr Noon.
“Road users pay a huge amount in fuel tax and road user charges, and that has only been going up over the last decade. If there’s one thing road users expect in return, it’s that roads they drive on will be maintained to a decent standard – right now, they’re being badly let down. Even the best driver can lose control if the road they’re on doesn’t have good grip.”
A MASSIVE OPPORTUNITY MISSED
The group says that the Government has missed a massive opportunity to get our roads back up to standard, and also to stimulate the economy, through the Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund. The fund has committed over $620 million towards ‘shovel-ready’ transport projects to help generate economic activity, but none of this has been directed towards road maintenance.
RTF chief executive Nick Leggett says that, from an economic stimulus perspective, road maintenance offers a number of benefits. “Road maintenance projects deliver excellent value for money, they’re labour intensive, they’re needed all over the country, and they can start immediately – they are literally ‘shovel-ready’. Investment in road maintenance is an excellent chance to create jobs, improve road safety, and deliver transport benefits that really matter to all New Zealanders.”
While the road maintenance budget has increased in the last two years, and further increases are planned, Mr Leggett says it’s not enough to address years of underinvestment. “In some areas, road surfaces are so poor they are costing road users in damage to their vehicles. Interestingly, trucking operators have had a 5% increase in road user charges in eight of the past 10 years. Essentially, they keep paying more, but getting less value from roads.
“We are calling on the Government to invest around $300 million extra per year on road surface repairs for the next three years, sourced from the Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund. And adequate investment needs to continue after that, to make sure we don’t slide back into the hole.”
On 17 September, Transport Minister Phil Twyford released the final Government Policy Statement on Land Transport (GPS 2021) which outlines the planned $48 billion investment in services and infrastructure over the next decade. The upper range of funding for state highway maintenance has been raised by $510 million.