Slow road speeds, slow economy

As a country reliant on export dollars to maintain our great way of life, transporting goods on trucks, via roads, is the lifeblood that keeps the New Zealand economy moving.

Our roads are like the arteries in a human body. Arteries pump blood around your body to keep you alive, and most people are conscious of keeping those vital arteries healthy. If we want to keep our economy healthy and alive, roads must be treated as essential to that.

Road quality must be improved and maintained to a level that ensures goods can be moved in the most cost-effective way. That means, safely and without delay. This is getting increasingly important as the world wants more of our primary products, and the Government pushes for a much higher investment in forestry.

Regional roading infrastructure is critical to transporting our primary products from the farm or orchard gate to processing and markets, and the logs out of the forest to the port. While these movements can be a combination of road and rail, road will always be integral and its investment dollars should not be moved wholesale to rail.

Yet the Government is deferring significant road building and improvement and focusing on things like slowing speeds to allegedly make roads safer. Earlier this month Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter said speed limits on “the most dangerous roads” could drop to 80km per hour, as part of its road safety plans. This has some worrying implications for productivity and meeting market demands for goods.

Setting speed limits needs to be about more than safety. Mobility and the environment need to be balancing priorities in any decision making. And the environment is something we would expect this Government to focus on.

Slowing down heavy vehicles may in fact, increase their impact on the environment, with a rise in emissions at decreasing speeds. Without getting technical, this is to do with fuel and engine performance at various speeds, with that being different for trucks than for cars.

We want policy that solves problems. To do that, all factors need to be considered. At the moment it feels like the road safety focus is on the trimmings of median and side barriers, rumble strips and shoulder widening. A $1.4 billion spend over three years sounds like a lot for that. This policy was announced six months ago and despite the fact we are almost 20 percent through the period, we know precious little about the critical roads where it is to be spent. It sounds like another announcement without any detail or policy behind it.

If it is at the expense of quality road surfaces, and road building projects that could reduce travel times and congestion, as well as making roads safe, then we question that.

And if slowing down the traffic is because there isn’t money to spend on making the road surface safe and to avoid road building projects that could reduce travel times and congestion, then we question that as well. Under the Land Transport Rule: Setting of Speed Limits 2017, the Road Transport Forum, among others, is to be consulted on proposed speed limits and I look forward to that consultation.

Ms Genter refers to the “most dangerous roads” being the target for speed reductions. We need to know what determines “most dangerous”. If it is roads without median barriers, then that’s most of the South Island. If it’s hundreds or thousands of kilometres, then that will severely impact the productivity of New Zealand and our ability to export goods at prices markets will pay.

Each additional cost to transporting goods costs every New Zealander.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum