National is pledging to pour $500 million over three years into a Pothole Repair Fund to address what it calls the “shocking state of our local roads and state highways”.
It says it will find the money by slashing road safety initiatives including blanket speed limit reductions, “excessive speed bump installations” and the Road to Zero campaign.
The Government has hit back, saying National created the current problems after it froze maintenance funding when it was in office.
Transport Minister David Parker added National needed to explain how they would fill the “giant pothole they’re creating in the transport budget”, with the numbers to pay for the scheme not adding up, and also involving scrapping road safety programmes that include funding over 1000 road police.
The announcement follows a nationwide campaign from the National Party to highlight the state of the roading network, and in particular, encouraging people to send in photos of potholes.
National’s transport spokesperson Simeon Brown, who unveiled the policy in Auckland alongside leader Christopher Luxon today, said there would also be a new directive for Waka Kotahi/NZ Transport Agency to double the current rate of roading renewals and make “fixing the roads” the number one priority.
When pressed on whether the $500m will do the job of fixing the pothole problem, Brown would only commit to it making “a significant step in the right direction”.
He said Waka Kotahi currently allocates just under $200m a year to road rehabilitation and the extra $170m a year was a significant increase.
The $500m would rebuild about 1500km of road at a price of about $330,000 per km, Brown said.
Under a National Government, Waka Kotahi would also halve the standard response rate for pothole repair from 48 to 24 hours.
“In 2022, over 54,000 potholes needed repair on State highways around New Zealand, the highest number in ten years,” Brown said.
“In Auckland alone, there is a backlog of 1000 kilometres of needed road repairs, with Auckland Transport estimating it will take up to 10 years to clear.
“Potholes are a safety hazard and have been causing significant damage and disruption to freight and motorists all over the country.”
The Pothole Repair Fund would see an additional $500m over three years allocated to local authorities and Waka Kotahi to address potholes and other damage to both local roads and State Highways, Brown said.
The cost of the Pothole Repair Fund would be met from re-prioritising spending within the National Land Transport Programme, including a reduction in expenditure on activities which “unnecessarily slow traffic down such as blanket speed limit reductions and excessive speed bump installations, or the failed Road to Zero advertising campaign, towards investment in safer roads which are properly maintained”.
National would also introduce a requirement for NZTA to undertake renewal and rehabilitation work on at least 2 per cent of the roading network each year, more than double the current rate.
“Rather than wasting money on slowing people down, giant red zeros, or expensive transport projects nobody wants, like the $30 billion Auckland light rail project, National will focus on fixing and enhancing our roading network to ensure people and freight can move around the country safely and efficiently,” Brown said.
Transport Minister David Parker said National was proposing to fix a problem they created themselves.
“The current state highway maintenance budget is $2.8 billion for 2021/24 – that’s a 65 per cent increase on the $1.7 billion that National spent during 2015/18, when it was last in office.
“Maintenance spending on all roads, including local roads, has increased by 54 per cent since this Government took office.
“This Government inherited a road maintenance crisis. National chose to freeze road maintenance funding during its time in office in order fund high-profile new highways.”
Parker said this meant roads were resurfaced at less than half the rate they should have been.
“The state of our roads deteriorated, making them more vulnerable to damage from the extreme weather events that have hit the North Island in particular this year.”
Parker said Waka Kotahi was fixing a record number of potholes across the state highway network. It repaired 54,544 potholes in calendar 2022, compared with 39,652 in 2018.
Parker said he also questioned where the funding would come from, as Waka Kotahi’s road safety public awareness campaign funding was only $38.7 million this financial year.
He said the plan would also mean fewer road police, as current funding pays for 1070 dedicated road policing staff.
“The current funding paid for Police to conduct more than 2.1m breath tests and to enforce more than 37,000 seatbelt offices in the 2022/23 year.
“It would also mean building less infrastructure like median barriers and side barriers to make the roads safer.”
Regardless, National’s potholes campaign has helped unveil widespread dissatisfaction from many with the state of the roads.
More than a fifth of the 211,747 potholes repaired between 2018 and 2022 were in Waikato (42,583) and it had more than 20,000 more repairs than Canterbury (22,259).
In recent months, motorists countrywide have complained about the state of the roads and a Rotorua-based engineer believed that “won’t change anytime soon”.
It was also recently revealed by the Herald that it is going to take Auckland Transport up to a decade to clear the backlog of local road repairs, which currently sits at around 1000 kilometres.
The backlog is caused by funding issues, according to the Auckland Transport Alignment Project update. The report said it would take five to 10 years to clear the backlog.