The sorry state of Northland's storm-battered roads is gaining political traction ahead of this month's election, with the Greens using a tour of the region's trouble spots to announce a plan to shift spending away from "vanity projects" into regional roads.
Co-leader Russel Norman and transport spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter pledged more investment in Northland's roads and rail during a visit last week, which took in the big slip on State Highway 1 south of Kawakawa and the notoriously flood-prone bridge at the bottom of Moerewa's Turntable Hill.
Their visit came just hours after SH10 re-opened north of Kaeo following yet another closure due to flooding, and a few days after Northland MP Mike Sabin took NZ Transport Agency bosses on a 500km tour around the highway network's "pinch points" to give them a first-hand view of the problems.
Far North highways have now been shut down by storms three times in less than two months. In the July storm, every road linking the Far North to the rest of New Zealand was closed, except one slip-damaged lane of SH14, leading to shortages of foods and fuel.
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Ms Genter said central government's roading priorities meant there was not enough investment outside big cities.
"Most road user charges and fuel taxes spent in Northland aren't making their way back to Northland," she said. "At the moment the government is spending massive amounts of money on a few projects in urban areas, they're not spending on roads that are the life-blood of regions like Northland."
Mr Norman said Northland roads were losing out to the Government's Roads of National Significance projects, leaving them to deteriorate until they were unfit for purpose. His party would increase regional transport funding by $423 million over the next decade and invest $3 billion in state highways, reprioritising funding away from "vanity projects" and into regional roads.
"More than half of all vehicle trips in New Zealand are on local roads, yet these roads only receive a fraction of overall transport spending. Our plan will change this. Improving the safety and quality of existing roads will be our priority, as well as making rail and coastal shipping a viable option for more freight."
Defending the government's roading spend in Northland, Mr Sabin said more than $1.66 billion had been committed to projects such as the fast-tracking of the Puhoi to Wellsford motorway, Loop Rd in Whangarei and the Akerama curves near Towai. The government had also pledged to cover up to 90 per cent of the estimated $30 million bill for repairing storm-damaged local roads in the Far North, he said. The cost of fixing local roads is usually borne by ratepayers.