As those who have driven to different parts of the country for their summer holidays can probably attest, New Zealand's roading network is struggling to keep pace with the demands on it.
Most of the highways are still narrow, winding, dual carriageways unsuited to the volume of traffic they often have to carry and the cruising speed of modern cars.
Under the previous Government, the NZ Transport Agency was slowly upgrading them with motorways into and around main cities and divided expressways in regions such as Waikato and Bay of Plenty. The motorway north from Auckland was extended to Pūhoi and a further stretch is now under construction that will bypass Warkworth and the busy turnoff to Matakana.
But this Government has different priorities. It has directed the Transport Agency to put money into improving the safety of existing highways rather than build new ones. So the planned motorway extensions to Wellsford, and ultimately Whangārei, are on hold. In their place we are to get safety features such as rumble strips and widened shoulders on highways such as that through the Dome Valley between Warkworth and Wellsford.
Thousands of holiday makers will be on these roads this weekend and through next week. If some of these safety features can be installed quickly they could help reduce the worrying increase in road accidents and fatalities in recent years.
After easing year by year over a long period, the road toll has been rising since 2013. That was the year the economy started its present growth phase and immigration began to rise to record levels, which is not to blame immigrants for the drop in road safety. It is the increased numbers on our roads rather than the drivers' ethnicity that increases the congestion, frustrations and chances of an accident.
The sooner we can build more motorways and divided expressways, the better. Tinkering with rumble strips, shoulder widening and more median barrier and side barriers will only go so far.
Associate Transport Minister Julie Ann Genter says these things have been proven "incredibly cost effective", reducing fatalities by up to 90 per cent. If that is so, we should see a reduction in the road toll this summer in places such as the Dome Valley where the work will shortly start.
Waikato, Auckland and Canterbury have been given higher priority than the Bay of Plenty for some reason. Tauranga is one of the most rapidly growing regions in New Zealand. It needs an expressway to Katikati as much as Napier and New Plymouth need the expressways that will begin to be constructed this summer.
Better, wider roads with separated traffic are the best safety improvements. The scheduled projects are a legacy of the previous Government. It must be hoped the present one will schedule more, not limit its road safety programme to nips and tucks and sticking plaster on roads no longer up to the task. A growing population needs modern, well engineered expressways in many more places than are scheduled for them so far.