Believe it or not, some of our roads have been described as the best on the planet by champion rally drivers Hayden Paddon and Ken Block.
Of course, they were referring to our rally stages, where the camber, gravel and design combine to create a uniquely challenging track. Their driving made for spectacular viewing during the Whangārei International Rally of NZ 2019, and feedback from the organisers, competitors and volunteers was absolutely glowing.
Rally routes aside however, I am aware that roading in our district is a contentious issue, and an ongoing source of frustration for many.
Whangārei District currently has more than 700km of unsealed roads, including about 150km of unsealed heavy vehicle and high volume roading. Much of our roading network needs upgrading, sealing, widening or resealing, and it seems the budget can never stretch far enough, fast enough. To put the council roading efforts in perspective, if we were to seal just the 150km of unsealed, high volume roads, it would come in at a cost of about $60 million.
Long, hot days that make for perfect holiday memories are not ideal for unsealed road maintenance. During a dry summer like the one we've just had, there isn't enough moisture in the "fines" to bind the larger stone together.
This causes rutting, corrugations, and sometimes bare spots in the middle of the road. Applying metal to hard, dry roads causes even more problems – these surface defects can only be effectively dealt with by cutting in deeper than the existing problem, but doing this when the road is dry causes even more damage.
When our contractors grade in dry weather, it only lasts a few days before the area is worse than before - this is why we advocate for no grading or metalling to take place over the warm, dry months.
Maintaining the sealed network is also done during the autumn/winter period. Chipseal is our most commonly used sealing agent, and it must be applied during daylight hours as it needs warm air and sunlight to cure.
Work is ongoing - council currently budgets about $45 million per year for transport, including roads, footpaths, bridges and shared paths. We are looking at ways to increase our investment in this important area of council's work.
I know roadworks are frustrating. Please remember, when you're waiting for the 'Go' sign, our teams are working as hard as they can to do the best job possible, and the gain is always worth the pain.
* Sheryl Mai is mayor of Whangārei District.