A lack of Government investment is being blamed for the current state of Northland’s roads, as two sections of State Highway 1 remain closed.
There was no timeline yet for re-opening either the Brynderwyns or the Mangamukas at edition time yesterday. However, an extra $250 million of Government funding was announced to fix cyclone-affected roads on Monday.
Far North District councillor Ann Court said the biggest issue with Northland’s roads was that the Government funding model was broken, with money from fuel excise and road user charges now expected to fund more than just road maintenance.
“Costs have gone up, revenue has gone down and funding is being asked to do too much,” she said.
Concrete and steel prices have risen by 60 per cent recently, Court said, and fewer people had been on the roads during the Covid pandemic, resulting in less money from fuel taxes.
Access to emergency funding had also been an issue after the rain that closed SH1 through the Mangamukas last year, Court added.
“If you have a significant rain event - this is a bit different because they’ve gone for a National State of Emergency - but if we hark back to last August when we had a number of catastrophic failures on our network, you have to apply to Waka Kotahi [NZ Transport Agency] for emergency money.
“They then go through the process to determine how much they’ll give you and how much they’ll fund.”
The process takes months, Court said, as geotechnical engineers have to assess the damage and Waka Kotahi wants a business case for repairs as they have a finite amount of money.
“But that’s not what the community sees. They see a road out, they see months pass, they see nothing happening, and they think nobody cares about them.
“I think one of the first things we need is a simplified emergency response process in the event of a catastrophic road failure.”
The Brynderwyn detour for trucks via SH12/14 was adding nearly 50 per cent to freight costs and pushing prices up, Court said.
“If they have to go the long way, they have to pass on that cost.”
The current Government was keen on rail as an alternative to roads, Court added, but she believed this was not a solution as most freight could not be sent by rail and passenger rail in Northland would take decades to implement.
Northland-based National List MP Dr Shane Reti said his party’s plan for a four-lane highway would fix the current problem with the Brynderwyns, as the highway would bypass the hills to the west.
The original plan under the previous Government was well-advanced and there were multiple options for highway routes, he said.
“[Waka Kotahi] NZTA had already scoped out the options. We were having community consultations.”
The current alternative route through Waipū and Mangawhai was not suitable, Reti said, with its narrow roads and one-lane bridges.
“The locals at Waipū have been telling me for many years that when the Brynderwyns go down, they become the proxy for the state highway, but the roads are not suited to do that.”
Truck and trailer units were banned from the route on Monday after a cement truck became stuck on a sharp bend, blocking traffic.
Whangārei MP Emily Henderson said resilience would have to be built into the transport network in the future, and a new highway was not the answer.
“Pinning all our hopes on a super-highway alone is outdated and short-sighted thinking,” she said.
“The need to diversify is why we’ve already put in $209m into upgrading our local rail and are funding a rail spur to NorthPort, and why we have invested in more coastal shipping as well.”
A number of local roads remain closed across Northland, including two in the Far North, five in Kaipara and 12 in Whangārei. Dozens of others have been damaged by the cyclone. Residents in Takitu Rd (including Haha Rd) in the Whangārei District remain cut off by a slip.
The Government announced on Monday an extra $250m to help Waka Kotahi and local councils fix roads across the regions hit by Cyclone Gabrielle and the January floods.
Minister of Transport Michael Wood said in a statement on Monday the focus was on getting lifeline roads open and reconnecting isolated communities.
“We have a large job ahead to determine the extent of which state and local roads can be rebuilt and which cannot or should not be replaced. This medium and long-term work will take time and require additional funding over and above that announced today.”
The minister was approached for comment today but did not respond by publication time.