Rodney drivers, faced with swerving to avoid potholes that have been damaging their vehicles have taken to filling potholes themselves rather than wait for Auckland Transport (AT) to do their job.
AT responded by stating “We do not want people to do this themselves - as they put themselves and others in harm’s way. If these potholes are reported through the proper channels, our contractor will get to them. If they are very dangerous they need to be reported to us as an emergency.”
AT has 670km of gravel roads to maintain in Rodney alone. Maintenance budgets are under pressure as always. But there comes a time when putting a grader over roads once a year simply doesn’t deal with the problem.
When there are 20 potholes in 20 metres, as reported in July, that is not an emergency. That is evidence that the system to fund, finance, build and maintain our roads is broken.
The part of the road we drive on is designed with a “design-life” in mind, somewhere between 15 to 25 years. A new state highway would be expected to last 25 years, and an unsealed road around 15 years.
Drainage and bridges are designed for much longer lives, 50 to 100 years in some cases. That doesn’t mean that the road or bridge is completely broken and useless after that time frame. But toward the end of the design-life the road owner should expect to renew the road from the clay subgrade right up to the surface and give the road a new “life”.
When I worked as a civil engineer on road renewals, we used to call this “giving the road a birthday”. The problem is councils and their roading units have simply failed to put birthday money aside to remake the road at the end of the design-life. Funding depreciation is vital if you are running a business that owns cars, trucks, machinery or managing any kind of asset.
Successive Governments have instead allowed councils to spend money on the “Four Wellbeings” - fancy town halls, art galleries, painting streets blue and any number of things that give elected councillors a good photo op.
The current car-hating Labour Government have no interest in changing the rules of the game - after all it was a previous Labour Government under Helen Clark who made those rules.
Labour, along with their support partner the Green Party, have made it clear they prefer anything but roads for our future. They proclaim that we should drive less, so why spend money on roads?
The Minister of Transport Michael Wood recently stated a target to reduce vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT) to meet a 20% nationwide cut by 2035, but without a plan on how to achieve that. One person who does have a plan, and significant influence over the Minister, is Green MP Julie-Ann Genter.
At a Future of Transport event I attended recently, Ms Genter stated her support for the Government’s plan to reduce VKT. How? By simply dropping “Level of Service” as a metric for transport networks altogether.
So rather than fund and deliver the road maintenance we need, the Labour Government and their Green support partner would let the potholes do the talking.
At the same time, they demand a greater share of petrol taxes and RUCs for their pet projects like Light Rail which would only serve a few people, the road network will be allowed to slowly fail.
ACT would instead support the regions and the economy with a safe efficient roading network.
Between 2007 and 2017, more than NZ$300 Billion was raised by funds globally to invest in infrastructure. Most of that capital was raised from insurance companies, pension funds, and sovereign wealth funds (including our own New Zealand Super Fund) looking for long-term investments with reasonable returns.
ACT would harness the funding and expertise from the international investors and apply this to our roading network.
We would also use New Zealand’s independent Infrastructure Commission as the project manager and take politicians with blurry green visions out of the decision making loop.
This Government might be allergic to good road maintenance, but ACT is not.