Our band aid approach to road maintenance in this country has come back to bite us.
The recent disastrous weather events in the North Island have created massive problems due to a lack of investment. It’s not just related to this government but rather decades of misspending and a worrying lack of focus on a coherent national roading strategy.
We now have isolated areas of the country with bridges washed away and roads closed by multiple slips and washouts. Affected communities now face excessive travel times. This has led to supply chain issues with goods either simply unable to move about or trucks having to spend more time on the road. Those extra costs will be passed on to households already struggling with cost of living issues.
It’s good that the government is reappropriating its budget, cutting or shelving a few niceties that benefit small minorities instead of all New Zealanders. If we went through the list of expenditures we’d likely find some areas where huge amounts are being spent for tiny gains. For instance, we can cut the $62m annual advertising budget for Waka Kotahi’s Road to Zero, given they have admitted it is failing miserably.
We need to look at the way our roading maintenance is handled too. Are the NOC (Network Outcomes Contracts) really working for us? According to the Waka Kotahi website, ‘a key driver of the NOC is continuous improvement’ but are we getting that? It’s clearly not working and needs re-evaluating as well.
It’s the overall strategy that needs fixing.
Recent weather events highlight our dependence on roads; we need them and we don’t have an alternative. We are a nation dependent on driving cars to get around for we don’t often have viable train alternatives, and the railway lines aren’t immune to these disasters either. We simply don’t have the public ground transport to get around the country so the more efficient and resilient we make our roads, the better we all will be as a result. We need to get on and do it – we’ve been so lacklustre in our ambitions in regards to big roading projects.
Yet we are supposedly about to spend billions on light rail in Auckland and by the time it’s completed the budget will have blown out by billions more. And is it going to achieve what we really need? We must focus more on the whole of NZ rather than just some specific areas that benefit a few.
We can build good roads here; the expressway that now extends south of Hamilton is a great example. We need these sorts of roads in many more parts of the country but there always seems to be a reason why we can’t, usually due to the influence of small minorities. These well constructed, dual carriage roads will help save lives. And if we consider greenhouse gases, smooth straight roads will save gas and help those electric cars run further on a single charge.
The fallout from the flooding has also highlighted the issue of electrifying the transport system. In the Hawkes Bay and Northland, the weather events showed just how vulnerable the electricity infrastructure is. And yet here and now we have a focus on a move to electric vehicles. These have their place but at the moment they don’t pay to use the roads and they get a subsidy. Yet we don’t have the proper infrastructure to support a rapid uptake. We are trying to do something that we think is right but we don’t have all the boxes ticked to really make it work properly. It again highlights a lack of strategic oversight that is holding this country back.