Where’s the $1.4 billion for safer roads?
The new standing joke in the Road Transport Forum’s (RTF) office is that we will receive an email from Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) saying, “Dear Nick, we have reduced the speed limit across all State Highways in New Zealand to 80km.”
Of course, they wouldn’t be this direct because it would create massive outrage. Instead, it is happening by stealth, empowered by the politics of the Road to Zero policy which has been directed by Transport Associate Minister Julie Anne Genter.
The idea that you can lower speed limits and install rumble strips and median barriers as the way to improve safety, in lieu of safe new roads, was always fanciful. However, there has been an effective delivery of lower speed limits in an incremental way across the nation. We have pushed back, along with National Road Carriers, NZ Trucking and Road Transport Association NZ. Slowing road transport down will slow the economy down, and we can least afford that at this point in our Covid-19 battered economy.
So, on the install side, how is NZTA going? In December 2018 a $1.4 billion Safe Network Programme for New Zealand’s highest risk roads was announced by Ministers Phil Twyford and Julie Anne Genter.
The Safe Network Programme was going to make 870 kilometres of high volume, high-risk State Highways safer by 2021 with improvements like median and side barriers, rumble strips, and shoulder widening.
The programme was going target an estimated $600 to $700 million of state highway safety improvements and $700 to $800 million of local road safety improvements. Once complete, the improvements were expected to prevent 160 deaths and serious injuries every year.
Two years later, do you think we are able to find out what money has been spent and where? Have we seen a corresponding reduction in deaths as a result of what has been spent to date?
This was a big-ticket announcement and it was heralded as being the major part of the Government’s roading agenda. We have not been able to find evidence the money has been spent and nor can we find a project report, or overview.
However, we have been able to find evidence on the state of our roads. Many industry members give industry associations regular feedback. We see the physical signs of poor-quality roads all over the country. We see the huge 55% growth in maintenance and repair costs for intercity fleets between 2015-2019 – as per the Waikato University operator comparison report. And then we also stumble across NZTA’s own self-assessment.
Their recently published National Pavement Condition Report showed that between 2008-09 and 2018-19, the volume of resurfacing work completed was 33 percent below NZTA’s own targets for the maintenance of a safe network. Over the same period, the volume of foundation replacement work was a whopping 50 percent below NZTA targets.
Since 2015, the proportion of the road network not meeting the minimum standard for skid resistance has more than doubled to over 500 lane kilometres, the average seal life remaining has reduced by 50 percent, and four out of five measures of roughness and rutting have got worse by an average of 14 percent.
Even for those that don’t fully understand the science behind road engineering, and I count myself in that category, these are extremely concerning figures.
It looks as though NZTA can’t deliver on a $1.4 billion new safety programme, that should be two-thirds completed by now. Worse, for our industry, they can’t deliver on basic road maintenance. That costs all motorists in terms of wear and tear – and safety.
When we write to brief the incoming Minister of Transport about industry issues in a month’s time, NZTA performance on roads will be a key issue that we raise. Be assured, we will continue to raise it until road transport operators start to see the positive impact of the additional funds that have apparently been directed into road maintenance in the last couple of years.
– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum