In my column of April 7, with the wet winter months imminent, I predicted the return of multiple potholes and broken surfaces on SH3 between New Plymouth and Hawera.
Needless to say this has again become the reality and the combined regional leaders' push for improvements on our highways remains a continuing priority.
Last week I received information of immediate plans for maintenance referred to as "mill and fill" repairs at Mangamahoe/Kent Rd, Waipuku/Croydon Rd, Dudley Rd, Durham Rd and Midhirst. Thankfully we are achieving some progress but it is not enough and has been frustratingly slow in coming.
But on a more positive note, the resurfacing of Broadway between Stratford's roundabouts is a huge improvement on what we have been putting up with for the last few years. It is always encouraging to get the odd win.
A big factor affecting the standards of roads is the amount of quality maintenance undertaken, traffic volumes and of course, traffic types. The abundance of heavily laden logging trucks heading to the port cop the blame for most of the wear and tear issues. The Government has recognised this and has committed to increasing the use of rail as a solution for bulk freight transport issues.
A recent feasibility report published by KiwiRail concludes there is scope for logging rail services in Taranaki.
The report favours a site at Waverley, saying it is operationally feasible and can be created at a relatively low cost. Developing a logging hub in the south would take port bound trucks off the state highway and reduce the number passing through the main street of Stratford. A win all round I suggest.
I am regularly asked about reopening a section of the Okahukura rail line from Stratford to Taumarunui. The possibility of establishing a log loading site at Te Wera has long been touted as a solution to reducing the number of logging trucks on our roads, but the KiwiRail report all but dismisses this proposal and describes it as "economically marginal". It parks the idea for another time.
Three key factors influence this outcome. The rail siding at Te Wera is adjacent to the Te Wera forest, 37km from Stratford. Both the line and the siding could be redeveloped to handle the logs harvested from the nearby forest, but the volumes are relatively small and are expected over a short seven-year timeframe.
This makes the investment in wagons, locomotives and a log yard marginal, especially so when the cost of upgrading of the 37km of rail line back to Stratford is included.
The benchmark for economically transporting logs by rail is around 75km. At 88km rail distance to the port, the Te Wera forest is just on the cusp of that competitive distance. Interestingly by comparison, it is 80km to the port by state highway.
Owners of the forest have indicated their intention to cut 100,000 tonnes a year for seven years. Approximately 20 per cent of this is earmarked for Taranaki Pine's Bell Block mill, leaving 80,000 tonnes for export. This is not large compared to other areas in New Zealand. While it is possible to haul the logs by rail, the low volumes and short life make any investment "likely to be uneconomic".
The Waverley log loading hub proposal is estimated to cost $8.8 million for the purchase of wagons, $5.2m for alterations to the Waverley site and $3m for alterations at Port Taranaki. But because the estimated costs of any development at Te Wera have been withheld, it is not possible to evaluate nor compare the decision to proceed no further.
All we know for sure is that the logs will keep coming and road congestion combined with growing wear and tear will continue to be an issue for the foreseeable future.