Kerikeri man Jim Stephen has a novel idea for fixing Northland roads.
Take the Transport Minister, the Associate Transport Minister and the head of the NZ Transport Agency, strap them in the back of an ambulance, and drive them from the Far North to Auckland.
That's what happened to Mr Stephen, who says it brought home to him the dire state of Northland's roads.
The retired businessman drove to Wellington a few months ago and was amazed by how much better the roads became as they went further south.
But the state of Northland's roads really hit him after a mild heart attack landed him in hospital in Kawakawa, from where he was transported by ambulance to Auckland, a jarring four-and-a-half-hour drive frequently punctuated by roadworks.
He had no complaints about Bay of Islands Hospital or St John, both of which were ''just brilliant'', but the road from Kawakawa to Whangarei was ''abysmal'' while another stretch north of Kamo was ''an absolute disgrace''. The Akerama Curves realignment wasn't finished but already the road was being repaired.
''You don't notice it so much it the comfort of a car but in the back of an ambulance you feel every bump,'' he said.
''I'd like to suggest that Phil Twyford and Shane Jones, the two ministers in charge of roads in New Zealand, and Fergus Gammie, the chief executive of the NZTA, be strapped in an ambulance and transported from Kawakawa to Auckland so they can experience the atrocious conditions we Northlanders suffer every day on State Highway 1 and other roads. I suggest it's an experience they won't forget,'' Mr Stephen said.
Mr Stephen believed the problem was that Northland roads weren't built for the huge numbers of logging trucks now using them, along with the region's lack of population and political clout.
''The people of Northland have to start complaining,'' he said.
St John Kerikeri station manager Nick Scott said patients often complained about the bumpy trip to hospital.
''It's just one of those things we have to keep having to explain or apologise for. It starts to get embarrassing. We have to keep breaking out one-liners like the one about the ambulance having square wheels.''
New Transport Minister Phil Twyford didn't take up Mr Stephen's challenge but said he had already seen first-hand the poor condition of some of Northland's roads. It was symptomatic of nine years of neglect of the regions by the National Government, he said.
The new Government was committed to increasing funding for regional roads. Roading projects that helped connect regions and offered economic and social benefits would be considered by the Provincial Growth Fund which the Government was setting up.
Associate Transport Minister Shane Jones said some of his political opponents would love to see him flat on his back in an ambulance.
''However, as someone born and bred in Awanui, I have intimate knowledge of how much Northland's roads need to be fixed,'' he said.
His colleague, Mr Twyford, would deliver a statement to NZTA in the New Year outlining the new Government's values and priorities around roading, and they would be markedly different to those of the previous Government.
Mr Twyford said work on SH1 currently being carried out by NZTA included resealing at Maromaku, widening the shoulder where Saleyards Rd joins SH1 at Kauri, and temporary repairs at Waiotu. The Akerama Curves realignment project was due to be completed early next year.
The next step would be a Safe Roads Alliance safety improvement project on SH1 from Ohaeawai to Whangarei, he said.
In response to the ambulance ride challenge issued to Mr Gammie, Northland manager Jacqui Hori-Hoult said the agency understood how important the region's transport system was to the people of Northland.
"We're working hard to maintain the local state highway network and ensure it remains safe and resilient," she said.
She didn't say if she was willing to try the Kawakawa-Auckland trip in the back of an ambulance.