Transport

Pleas to rev up road maintenance

With maintenance cuts averted, the infrastructure lobby says it's time we reversed a historic underspend 

NZTA and other agencies have aborted rumoured road maintenance cuts, but now infrastructure and business lobby groups are calling on the Government to spend more money fixing our roads.

They argue the investment would be better value for money, get underway faster, and generate more jobs than some of the major "shovel ready" projects already on the table. 

The Automobile Association, Infrastructure NZ, Road Transport Forum NZ, The Employers and Manufacturer's Association, Civil Contractors NZ and the Association of Consulting and Engineering wrote a joint letter to government ministers on August 25 asking for $900m in extra road maintenance investment. 

"We've heard stories of people ending up with all the rims of their tyres dented. Another one took the axle out of a trailer - it hit this great pothole in the road - we've got people falling off the roads because the skid resistance is going and the surface is uneven."

The proposal was for the money to be taken out of the Government's Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund and to be spread out over three years. 

Top of mind for AA motoring affairs general manager Mike Noon were highways like State Highway 5 between Napier and Taupo. The stretch of road required 2992 pothole repairs over the last five years according to Stuff

"We've heard stories of people ending up with all the rims of their tyres dented," Noon said.

"Another one took the axle out of a trailer - it hit this great pothole in the road. We've got people falling off the roads because the skid resistance is going and the surface is uneven,

"It's not only protecting the asset. It's actually having the roads really maintained as they should be."

National Party transport spokesman Chris Bishop promised his party would inject $150m per year for two years ($300m) into the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF) for road maintenance on top of an already announced proposal from the Government to increase funding by 17 percent.

"Unlike most of the other projects funded by the Government’s shovel-ready fund, road maintenance is actually ‘shovel-ready’ with much-needed work around the country able to get underway almost immediately, boosting employment, and fixing roads at the same time.

"We will immediately commission the work upon taking office with the aim of getting work underway around the country by Christmas.”

Amalgamated Workers Union national secretary Maurice Davis said previously signalled road maintenance cuts - reported on by Newsroom in July - were reversed by NZTA the following month.

In August the Government announced it would inject $600m into the NLTF to keep those maintenance projects going. They had been under threat due to decreased revenue from fuel taxes and road user charges (which are used to fund the NLTF).

However, he believed there was still room for more spending. The civil contracting industry had capacity to take on 30-40 percent more road maintenance work. 

And a dollar in maintenance generated more jobs than a 'shovel-ready' project because less of that money would be spent buying new equipment. 

Noon said road maintenance work would better fit the bill of "shovel-ready" than many of the brand new infrastructure projects selected for investment by the Government.

Many smaller maintenance works had higher Benefit Cost Ratios (BCRs) than larger infrastructure projects. Spending that maintenance money earlier was also cheaper than doing so later.

"We know what to do. We don't need to get consents. We don't need to buy land. We don't need planning."

Underinvestment

Transport Minister Phil Twyford said there was "a decade of underinvestment in road maintenance before we came to office".

"That’s why since 2017, we’ve increased state highway maintenance spending on average by 36 percent in comparison to the previous nine years.

"We’re also proposing to go further next term and increase state highway maintenance spending by a further 17 percent to help fix up our roads.

"Our record investments in rail will help take pressure off our roads by moving more freight to rail. It’s going to take more than a few years to undo a decade of neglect.”

An Auditor-General report on NZTA's maintenance of state highways highlighted the gap between budgeted maintenance work and the amount of renewals required.

"People we spoke to, including staff from the agency, suppliers, councils, and road user groups also told us they think parts of the network are getting worse, or about to get worse.

"It will be important for the agency [NZTA] to monitor [performance] measures closely and take action if the road condition continues to deteriorate."

The quality of our roads has deteriorated thanks to maintenance spending having been kept at the same level despite an increase in road traffic, according to the joint letter to ministers.

Road maintenance investment levels stayed static for most of the last decade while the cost of maintenance rose 17 percent, general road traffic rose by 22 percent and freight traffic increased by 32 percent.

And much of the money spent didn't go into replacing the road surfaces.

Resurfacing work had been below NZTA targets for six years out of 10 and road pavement replacement work had only been above target for one year since 2008.

Road surfaces affect things like vehicle damage and the likelihood of cars skidding.

 

Road Transport Forum CEO Nick Leggett said research work undertaken by the University of Waikato on the organisation's behalf showed there had been a huge spike in truck vehicle damage - largely attributable to poor quality roads. 

Intercity trucking operators experienced a 55 percent increase in their vehicle maintenance and technician costs this year according to the data. 

Many of those costs involved things like wheel alignments and chassis damage. A poor road surface can cause vehicles to vibrate more - damaging the chassis.

"People are paying. Some people are paying with their wallets. If you look at some routes some people are paying with their lives - and that isn't acceptable either," Leggett said.

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