Broken roads: Who pays to fix the damage?

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 9 February 2023

The country's roads have taken a hammering after a summer of bad weather. But as The Detail finds out, there might not be enough money in the kitty to fix them.

The landslide that sliced through SH25A in the Coromandel, pictured on 2 February 2023 after more land slipped down the hillside.

The landslide that sliced through SH25A in the Coromandel, pictured on 2 February. Photo: RNZ / Libby Kirkby-McLeod

In the Far North, as soon as some of the roads are fixed, they start falling apart again.

"We are facing a very real situation now where the funding just cannot support the level of service," councillor Ann Court says.

"Last year we had the significant event which took out the Mangamuka [Gorge] and that's still closed. We'd only just got that open from the previous event and that's State Highway 1. 

"That's our main arterial route that takes us north to Kaitaia and beyond up to Cape Reinga. When that's closed, as it was last time for over a year and this time for longer, that puts an enormous amount of strain on the existing network that is not designed for it."

Court has been a councillor for 24 years and says she has never seen it this bad.

"The funding has been coming extremely constrained - we're not getting the level of funding that we need...our proximity to Auckland means we get a lot of tourism up here so that's putting more traffic on the road, we're getting a lot more industry up here...and all of that freight and logistics is moved by road."

A portrait of a woman, Ann Court.

Ann Court, a Far North councillor Photo: Diane Stoppard/supplied

This is just one of the many districts across New Zealand having huge problems - roads at the top of the South Island, Tairāwhiti and the Coromandel have also had serious damage after recent rain.

The New Zealand Herald's deputy political editor Thomas Coughlan says roads have basically been funded the same way for a century.

The government - through the transport agency Waka Kotahi - raises money from costs associated with cars - for instance petrol taxes, taxes on tyres and registrations.

"It puts it into a central government kitty...and then you have a local government side of things and local governments raise revenue from rates...and every road is a mixture of those kinds of pots of funding."

But Waka Kotahi's emergency fund has all but dried up, Coughlan says.

"We always set aside money from the fuel taxes to pay for fixing the roads, now what is obviously a problem is that climate change means that there are a lot more storms and we need a lot more money to fix the damage that these storms create. 

"The government's indicated pretty strongly that it's going to have to step in and take general taxpayer top up the transport fund and that's a wee bit controversial."

Court says there's got to be a better way to balance funding for metro and rural areas.

"I'm going to be a pretty little provocative here," she says.

"It's an election year and the minister of transport [Michael Wood] has just been appointed as the minister of Auckland and has been on TV talking about Auckland and how if Auckland succeeds, the rest of the country succeeds. 

"Yes Auckland is important, we love Auckland and 1.5 million people live there, but 3.5 million people don't. 

"So my challenge, and I guess I'm laying down the gauntlet and I hope New Zealand will join me, is let's make sure we hold this minister to account...that we don't see all these election bribes designed to support the metros, and particularly Auckland, and at the price of rural and provincial New Zealand."

Want to hear more about the state of the Far North's roads? Check out the full podcast episode.

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