Potholes, broken cars - a day in the life of Far North roads
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The state of Far North roads has been a long-standing issue for the district, yet countless residents continue to call on authorities for urgent change.
One Far North resident was so fed up with the state of her roads, she decided to pen a letter to the editor requesting Far North Mayor John Carter to lend her his car.
Maromaku resident Sandra Goddard claimed the condition of Maromaku and Towai Rds was so bad, her 2014 Holden Trax SUV could no longer pass a warrant of fitness thanks to the damage it had sustained while driving those roads.
Goddard alleged it had been more than 15 years since the road had received any decent maintenance or even gravel, with the occasional grader coming about every 18 months to pull mud onto the road.
"We won't count the token sprinkle of cheap, pink shingle that is put on before the Far North Rally each year and then sprayed off the road again by the rally," Goddard said.
"Although it does give a pretty, pink hue to the mud."
Goddard said dodging potholes usually worked somewhat, however, that was now proving impossible.
"The wheel alignments, tyres, suspension parts fail at every WOF ... my car just can't take it any longer," she said.
"Even the light bulbs have shaken out of the headlight sockets.
"Can I borrow your car John, to see if your light bulbs fall out too?"
Goddard said the roads had to be travelled about 20-30km/h because anything faster would "bounce you off the road".
"We understand in a rural location we can't have highway standards, but we need regular gravelling, regular drain cleaning, we just need something for our rates," Goddard said.
"We don't get much, no roadside rubbish collection, no sewerage system, no water supply, no street lighting and that's fine.
"But our roads are what we do want and we want them maintained to a respectable standard or even some standard."
Whangape Rd, stretching from Herekino to Whangape, is another pothole hotspot according to residents, who claimed they were making driving dangerous, particularly for school buses.
Fred Waru has lived in Whangape Rd since the 1990s, and said he'd complained several times to the Far North District Council but was yet to see any long-term solutions to improve road safety.
He believed the whole of Whangape Rd desperately needed to be covered in metal rather than levelled with grading, which he said only washed away with each weather event.
"This is becoming a health and safety issue and we're worried about the school and kohanga reo buses that drive up and down here each day," Waru said.
"As far as I'm aware this road has never been fully metalled and if the council was spending their money wisely, the roads would be a priority and this wouldn't be a problem.
"At the end of the day, it's like anything, if you do a job properly you don't have to keep fixing it and you will save money in the long term."
David Wilson has lived in Pairatahi Rd, Kaingaroa, for about 22 years and said he often had to dodge potholes on his "goat track" of a road.
Wilson said the main issue with the road was due to the corrugations and dust during the dry seasons that were causing large potholes and worsening over time.
He, too, believed the road required metal and despite making inquiries with FNDC, the poor conditions had remained.
"The problem has gotten a lot worse over the last 10 years as there is very little metal on this road," Wilson said.
"I think this road is dangerous, especially the last kilometre where you need to drive on the wrong side of the road.
"There are also several blocked culverts, which are causing the road to erode."
Last year the AA put a call out for critical funding for repair and maintenance works to rectify years of constant underfunding, which it said had affected road safety.
According to AA Northland District Council chairwoman Tracey Rissetto, although there was an increase in funding in the 2021-24 National Land Transport Plan, this increase had not equated to the funding the AA had sought.
"Funding provided for Far North local road maintenance was approximately $10 million short of what FNDC budgeted as required and requested," Risetto said.
"For state highways across Northland, the AA calculates between $60 million to $70 million of additional surface maintenance funding is required Northland-wide over the next three years.
"While funding over this period for Northland SH maintenance has increased by approximately $8.5 million, at the proposed level of funding, road surface quality will continue to decline overall because of the backlog of essential work that won't be completed.
"The impact will be felt especially in the Far North, which already has some of the lowest-quality road surfaces."
According to Risetto, the most immediately pressing issues in the Far North were potholes and, from a safety perspective, "skid resistance".
She said road surface quality determined the grip a vehicle had on the road and its risk of skidding and reducing crash risk across the network.
"Poor-quality roads increase crash rates, especially loss-of-control crashes where vehicles cross the centre line or run off the road," Risetto said.
"Central government is responsible for the funding of our state highways and is a large contributor to local roading infrastructure."
When road users pay "road taxes", i.e. petrol excise duty (PED) and road-user charges (RUC), they are paying for road maintenance and safe roads to drive on.
According to Risetto, until the recent decrease to PED and RUC (i.e. the Government's recent discount to help motorists with fuel prices), road taxes had increased 18 per cent since 2018.
This meant more money had been coming in, but a lot of this money was being diverted to fund other transport initiatives, for example, rapid transport, KiwiRail's freight service, etc.
Risetto said while she recognised other transport initiatives were important, alternative sources of funding needed to be found to ensure sufficient funds were available from road taxes to address road maintenance and road safety.
Far North district councillor Mate Radich has long been a staunch advocate for repairing and sealing roads in the Far North.
He said in his opinion, the council's maintenance practices were a waste of time.
"In the example of Whangape Rd, even though they've recently graded that road, unless they put metal on it, in a week's time it will be back to the same condition again," Radich said.
"In my opinion, it's pointless continuously grading roads. Even though the council has said it would put metal on Whangape Rd, it's all just bull***t.
"This shouldn't be about rates, it's a safety issue."
The Far North district has a total 2510km network of roads, 1614km of which is unsealed.
According to Northland Transport Association, upgrades to numerous unsealed Northland roads have been under way since January, with work due for completion at the end of June.
Earlier this year, Northland Transportation Alliance (NTA) general manager Calvin Thomas said with nearly 60 per cent of Northland roads unsealed, upgrades would be spread over many years.
"The reality is we can only get to 6-8 per cent of our unsealed roads annually, but by maintaining and upgrading them properly through renewing road surfaces, drainage and culvert work, they will last well for seven to 10 years," Mr Thomas said.
"Over time, we will get to all roads in Northland."
In terms of road maintenance contracts, these were said to be inspection led, with most of the unsealed roads being inspected monthly to identify defects.
All other roads were inspected at a minimum of every two months.
According to FNDC, road repairs were prioritised on defect severity or, in the case of routine maintenance such as potholes and grading, were responded to "within contracted response times".
According to Deputy Mayor Ann Court, the council allocated 19c in every dollar from general rates to transportation, with the latest annual plan showing a total budget for transportation of $37.905 million.
She said after subtracting budgets for cycleways, footpaths and the Hokianga Ferry, that left $35.096m for roads.
"We will never be able to afford to seal all our roads so we must make choices about which roads are sealed and what levels of service we apply to our unsealed roads," Court said.
"This is a constant balancing act between the subsidies we get from the Government and what ratepayers can afford."
Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency was approached for comment but did not respond in time for the edition.
In an earlier interview, NZTA regional relationships director for Northland and Auckland, Steve Mutton, said "significant investments" were being made to improve the safety of state highways in Northland.
Far North Mayor John Carter was also approached regarding Goddard's proposition to lend his car, but was unavailable for comment.
- NZ Herald