The share of transport funding set aside for roads has dropped to a decade-low, even as more people use New Zealand’s roading network, according to analysis obtained by Newstalk ZB.
It comes as Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) pleads for extra cash to boost the country’s roads, and the National Party accuses the Government of spending money on an “agenda that’s trying to force people out of cars”.
Transport Minister Michael Wood has defended the numbers, saying the total amount going into roads, including maintenance, has increased significantly.
“Equally, we have to invest in other modes to give people real transport choices”, he said.
An Infometrics review of Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency and Stats NZ data has found that, since 2012, money for road improvements and maintenance has averaged at 78 per cent of total transport funding, with a high of 83 per cent in 2014.
But the data, which goes up to 2021, reveals the share dropped sharply over the last three years of the decade, and hit 70 per cent in the financial year ending June 2021.
The same figures show road use has steadily increased, with the distance travelled by vehicles on New Zealand roads rising from 43 billion kilometres in 2017, to 49 billion in 2021.
Recent severe weather events, including Cyclone Gabrielle, have put the country’s roading network, especially across the North Island, into sharp focus.
Speaking to Newstalk ZB, Wood maintained that the Government wouldn’t leave rural and regional areas out in the cold.
“We will always be there to repair, remediate and strengthen the resilience of the network – that’s critical, and those communities can have our guarantee of that”, he said.
“But we will also take action to reduce our emissions.”
“These [severe weather] events are happening because climate change is hitting us.”
Wood said spending on road maintenance had flatlined under the previous National Government, and Labour’s pumping close to $7 billion into getting local road and state highways up to scratch, as part of the National Land Transport Programme (NLTP) 2021-24.
National transport spokesperson Simeon Brown said he was “completely opposed” to a wholescale moving of people out of vehicles.
“That’s not going to happen in New Zealand. Actually, what matters is what we drive, not how we get around”, he said.
“We need to focus on core business [and] get back to the basics.”
Wood has hit back, taking a sharp dig at National over its approach.
“Climate denial has evolved over the years... now it’s people like Simeon Brown who just refuse to do anything about it.”
Local Government New Zealand, who commissioned the research, said it supported initiatives like public transport, walking and cycleways, but highlighted that they shouldn’t come at the expense of cash for roads.
“We call it sweating the assets so far until it breaks... that’s a false economy”, said president Stuart Crosby.
“There are challenges with our roads. Some of it has to do with weather, which is true. Some of it has to do with capacity coming out of Covid-19, which is true.
“But we shouldn’t let our critical roads deteriorate.”
Infometrics principal economist Brad Olsen co-authored the analysis and said it’s “incredibly difficult” to balance transport goals.
“The Government’s spending more on transport. But at the same time, Kiwis are driving a lot more, [meaning] a lot more wear and tear on our roads... and it’s also more expensive to pay for those roads”, he said.
“You’re getting less bang for buck.”