The National Party’s proposal to establish a ‘Pothole Repair Fund’ is a useful clarification of priorities and funding to replace pavements degraded by underinvestment, but it does not provide a silver bullet or set funding in place for long-term transport network maintenance, says the CCNZ.
Association chief executive Alan Pollard says the proposed fund would reallocate funding towards much-needed pavement replacements, but the focus should be on replacing tired pavements rather than spot-fixing potholes.
Long term underfunding meant road surfacing, which waterproofs the pavement underneath, had been pushed past its design life, he says. This means that in many locations the surface had degraded to a state where the pavement beneath had suffered and needed renewal.
While the 2022 year’s large resurfacing campaign will go a long way toward waterproofing pavements that were still in good condition, in many places the network is beyond design life following years of funding roads with a 25-year design life as if they would last 200 years.
More work was needed to create a system that funds good safety outcomes in network construction and maintenance, says Alan.
“Do we need to embark on a major renewal programme for road pavements? The answer is yes. But, this would not be needed if the programme of road surfacing had been adequately funded, so it’s important we get the settings right.
“When you push the network past its design life, it is going to take more investment to bring it back up to scratch. We need better long-term funding structures in place for the construction and maintenance of our roads, or as a country, we will be worse off.”
Alan adds that the National Party’s proposed funding sits within the National Land Transport Programme, so it would be a reallocation of existing safety funding, and the proposal did not provide additional funding for the construction or maintenance of the transport network.
He says it is also concerning to see more and more tasks that would ordinarily sit within the National Land Transport Programme ‘shuffled off’ into short-term funding pools.
This demonstrated the shortcomings in the long-term funding system of road user charges and fuel excise duties used to fund road construction and maintenance.
Funding for the transport network was usually set in the Government Policy Statement for Land Transport, which was now four months overdue.
Alan says this was just one of a suite of key policy documents that seemed to be stalling without progress, alongside a review of the road user charges system which had been in stasis since April 2022.
As severe weather events increase, designs must change accordingly. Quick fix options such as spot-fixing of potholes were sometimes necessary, but were not cost-effective, he says. “Much better would be a well-funded construction and maintenance programme including cleaning out culverts and drains, plus more robust, resilient design and increased design life of options selected for pavements and surfacing.”
An ambitious programme of work is needed to provide the country with a transport network that connected communities effectively, provided a certain pipeline for a skilled road construction and maintenance workforce, and fostered economic development, he says.
“What we need from decision makers across the political spectrum is ambition to do better and commitment to long-term funding for the construction and maintenance of the country’s transport network.”