Far North roads have been so slammed by severe weather a school bus driver has refused to travel on them and residents are doing DIY repairs in a tractor in a bid to make them safe.
But there won’t be any quick fixes for fed-up locals as the Far North District Council has admitted some repairs on storm-damaged roads are likely to take around two years to complete, “and timelines could change if Northland is hit by more adverse weather”.
A Far North bus driver, who didn’t want to be named, said several roads north of the Mangamuka Gorge have been “getting worse and worse” over the last two years.
These included Honeymoon Valley Rd, a 7km mostly gravel road in Peria.
The driver, who’s had the same run for more than 20 years, said because the culverts aren’t maintained, the roads flood and wash away, and there are “always potholes”.
“You’ve got part of the road where the banks are falling away, and it’s right on the road verge, so the road is getting narrower.
“They’re not maintaining the culverts; they’re flooding and wiping the road away.
“Because we’ve had logging trucks going up and down it’s made the roads even worse.”
The driver said the road has become so bad, a fellow driver recently refused to drive on it.
“The school bus won’t go up there. The bus stopped going up there last week because the road was that bad. There were a lot of clay patches and the bus started spinning on the corners.
“That happened to me too a couple of times a few years back when the clay came through, and the bus started sliding off the road.
“I had to get a tow truck to get me out because if I moved any further, I would have gone off the bank.”
The road was recently graded, the driver said, but it was “half-pie and not very good”.
“It would be good if the council would do something for the roads, it’s the future of our children travelling on these roads... they’re the priority.”
The bus company, which the Northern Advocate agreed not to name, said it backd the driver’s decision not to drive on unsafe roads.
The company said it has lodged “many complaints” with the council and Fulton Hogan.
“They just go up and grade it, they don’t put metal on it. One more downpour and it buggers the road up again.”
Sandra Carey, who has lived on Honeymoon Valley Rd for 13 years, said residents are “over the state of our road”.
Maintenance work, such as clearing drains and trimming trees used to be done every year, she said, “but it’s stopped happening and the state of the roads have got worse”.
“Nothing’s been done to the drains for the last three or four years.
“Most of our culverts are level with the road so there’s no drain.
“You’ve got all this rain trashing our roads, it’s not going where it’s supposed to go.”
Locals say Fern Flat, Parapara, Fairburn and Duncan roads are also atrocious. Duncan and Parapara roads are used as detour routes when SH10 is closed which is being used as a detour because SH1 at Mangamuka Gorge is closed.
Sally Clark said various requests for service have been lodged with the council about Duncan Rd in Kaingaroa, but nothing has been done.
Residents are now taking matters into their own hands.
Local Ted Jones has been out on his tractor smoothing out the road to make it driveable.
It’s not a permanent fix, Clark said, “but it’ll save our vehicles from further damage for now”.
The pot-hole-riddled road - also a school bus route - was “an accident waiting to happen”, she said.
“It is in such a poor state that parts of it have become dangerous and increasingly difficult to navigate.
“Logging has now recommenced, meaning we have large trucks to contend with again.
“Which is a fact of life, however, there are blind corners where residents are forced to drive on the wrong side of the road as the road is disintegrating, and we’re getting really concerned there could be a fatality before long.”
A recent report by the Northland Transportation Alliance on the effects of 2022/23 extreme weather events estimates the cost to repair and improve Northland’s local roading network at $75 million.
A further $185m is identified as being required to improve local road resilience.
Included in that sum is $36m for slip repairs and $25m for drainage improvements on unsealed roads.
A Far North District Council spokesperson said there are “no quick fixes” to its roading woes.
“Despite best efforts of roading contractors, there are no quick fixes for many of the roads damaged in recent extreme weather events.
“Some repairs are likely to take around two years to complete and timelines could change if Northland is hit by more adverse weather.”
The spokesperson said some road fixes would require in-depth geotechnical investigation and design.
“Continuing soil movement following recent rain events has hampered repair efforts.
“Initial focus was on getting roads open, and now more permanent repairs can be investigated.”
Repairs that don’t require geotechnical assessments will be tackled by the end of June, the spokesperson said.
However, some residents are not convinced.
Carey said she wasn’t sure “whether to laugh or cry” after a culvert by her roadside paddock was recently cleared for the first time in years.
“To add insult to injury the mud that was dug out was layered on top of what debris had already blocked our gateway from the redirected water.
“As ratepayers we’ve had a massive increase in our property values. Mine is $360,000 higher than their previous one and we’re not getting any bang for our buck.
“I’m disgusted they’re going to put our rates up and we don’t have a safe road to drive on.
“We’re not asking for it to be sealed; we just want it maintained to a standard that is safe for everybody. That’s what us rural people want.”