Shortfall forecast for local roads

By John Cousins

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Tauranga's streets could look patched up if the council is unable to find smarter ways to cope with a looming funding shortfall to maintain its roads.

The Government's "flatlining'' of its contribution to maintain local roads was the subject of a visit to the Bay recently by Labour's transport spokesman Phil Twyford.

He said the 2.3 per cent increase in New Zealand roading's maintenance and renewals budget for the next three years did not even keep up with inflation or the rising cost of bitumen.

"It amounts to a substantial real cut for maintenance''.

Tauranga City Council's transportation operations manager Martin Parkes told the Bay of Plenty Times that flatlining of the Government's share meant the roading network could potentially start to decline with patching of potholes rather than bigger repairs.

"That is the sort of thing that could happen. I am not saying it is going to happen but we have got to be realistic. If there is not as much maintenance money as we need then there will have to be some tough calls.''

Mr Parkes said the pressure would come on roads that generally carried less than 10,000 vehicles a day, including relatively busy roads like Grange Rd.

"Quieter streets may not get the level of attention they currently get.''

He said the priority would always be on keeping roads that carried the bulk of the city's traffic in a good state of repair because they were the lifeblood of the city.

These included Cameron Rd, Fraser St, Otumoetai Rd and Papamoa Beach Rd.

The cost to maintain local roads was shared equally between ratepayers and the New Zealand Transport Agency and Mr Parkes said it would be a political call to compensate for the shortfall by increasing rates.

The New Zealand Transport Agency met the whole cost to maintain the city's highways like State Highway 29, Maunganui Rd, Hewletts Rd and Takitimu Drive.

Mr Parkes expected the impact of flatlined funding would not start to be noticed until towards the end of the current 2012-15 funding period.

In the meantime, the council would be looking at smarter ways to make the maintenance dollar stretch further.

He hinted at getting a better bang for the buck by letting larger contracts for road construction and maintenance, and working more collaboratively with other councils and agencies.

"We have not ruled anything out.

"It may involve working closer with the New Zealand Transport Agency or the Western Bay of Plenty District Council.''

Mr Parkes said the council had set its budgets for the next three years and knew what it had to deal with. It was beyond that period that they were preparing for.

The indications were that the Government would peg its roading budgets for the next 10 years, which would be bad news for the next five to 10 years.

Mr Twyford said the Government's $1 billion a year commitment to the seven motorway projects of national significance had put enormous stress on the rest of the roading network.

"We are running down existing assets in order to build new ones.''

- Bay of Plenty Times

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