Why are our roads not being safely maintained?

5 December 2022. Published in ๐Œ๐š๐ก๐ฎ๐ซ๐š๐ง๐ ๐ข ๐Œ๐š๐ญ๐ญ๐ž๐ซ๐ฌ, by Cr Greg Sayers.

What is happening about the maintenance of our sealed and unsealed roads?

Roads are utilised by buses, cyclists, commercial and private vehicles. Everyone wants to use safe, good quality roads.

Yet the number of potholes, patchwork fills and uncleared “blocked” drains are more plentiful now than ever before. Safety for people, and repair costs to vehicles, are being compromised.

The issue of roads “potholing” is being reported right across New Zealand and is not isolated to just Rodney’s roads.

So why isnโ€™t Auckland Transport able to get on top of properly maintaining our roads?

The answer is relatively simple. Their spending priorities have been weighted more heavily towards providing public transport than towards improving the standard of our driving surfaces.

The Government, through the Minister of Transport and Waka Kotahi NZTA, has intentionally set the spending this way. This policy in turn cascades down and sets Auckland Transportโ€™s spending priorities because NZTA matches Auckland Transportโ€™s ratepayer provided funding, on the proviso the money is spent on the Ministerโ€™s priorities. 

Translating this into numbers for Auckland. The amount of money Auckland Transport spends on public transport is $655 million a year. The amount of money spent on maintenance contracts is $133 million per annum, or 80% less than what public transport receives. Put bluntly, that explains why the roads are in such a poor state. Other Council’s across New Zealand are in a similar position. 

Locally, ratepayers are extremely frustrated as they pay their rates in good faith, and presume their money will go into their local needs, which for rural Rodney is maintaining the unsealed roads. But this isn’t happening. 

The problem is compounded at the local level. For example, Phil Goff’s โ€˜Emergency Budgetโ€™ saw a decrease in the regional unsealed roading budget by almost 70% – from $12 million pa down to $4 million pa, plus a simultaneous decrease in the local gravel road maintenance budget by 18% – from $6.8 million pa to $5.6 million pa even though it needs to be $8.8 million annually. The roads are observably going backwards by a rate of $3.2 million year-on-year!!

These unacceptable cutbacks have also seen degradation of the environment, as failing to correctly maintain the culverts and roadside water-tables is resulting in water overflowing across the roads, causing heavy silt erosion into the waterways.

Until the priority on transport spending changes at a central government level, then Auckland Transport has one hand tied behind its back in its ability to maintain Auckland’s roads to an acceptable and safe standard. 

However, these safety standards, and any safety incidences related to poor standards, remain the responsibility of the Directors of Auckland Transport who are accountable under law. Link: Board of Directors – Auckland Transport. (Emails have a standard format of – firstname.lastname@at.govt.nz).

To do the best by ratepayers, I have been working closely with my colleagues Cr Andy Baker and Cr Mike Lee, who are the two councillors now on the Auckland Transport Board of Directors, in an effort to have Aucklandโ€™s rural communities treated more fairly. The Rodney Local Board are an equally strong advocate.

Regrettably, it remains a “long-shot” to get more money spent on road maintenance due to the Governments’ other higher transport priorities and Council’s $295 million fiscal hole, but as elected members we have to keep the pressure up on Auckland Transport who in turn should help by keeping up pressure on the Government.

The only other possible solution rests is the Rodney Local Board. The Local Board has its own Transport Targeted Rate collecting $4.6 million cash per annum which it independently administrates.

The money is spent on bus services, bus shelters, park โ€˜n rides and footpaths.  The Local Board could ask ratepayers in its 2023 Annual Budget setting process coming up soon, if people would prefer if some of this was spent to top up the road maintenance deficit, or it could divert money into bolstering the road sealing program. You can ask your Local Board representatives to do this now. Link: Rodney Local Board members.

The important advantage is the Local Board controls this sum of money. Their decisions are not dictated to by the Transport Minister. Also this money is immune from budget cuts because itโ€™s a separated targeted rate. This gives the Rodney Local Board the freedom to decide how the $4.6 million pa should most appropriately be spent. This same autonomy does not exist for Auckland Transport.

If your road needs maintenance don’t assume Auckland Transport has it scheduled. Lodge a job request by clicking this link: Log a Maintenance Request. Typically Auckland Transport will advise you approximately when the job will be done – but remember, because the budget is slipping behind by $3.2 million year-on-year, as explained above, there will be significant delays.