Watch out, potholes about!

Driving around the region these days and along state highways is like playing a game of dodgeball. Avoiding the potholes has become a daily ritual.

We’re not alone. Headlines everywhere tell of people around New Zealand complaining about the appalling state of our roads, with an Automobile Association road safety spokesperson reported as saying the roads are in the worst condition they have ever seen.

In 2022, over 54,000 potholes needed repair on state highways across the country – the highest number in ten years. Why has it become so bad? There are a number of factors, including the ongoing wet weather and the use of poor-quality bitumen that we now have to import, after Marsden Point stopped manufacturing it in 2020.

However, the biggest factor by far is the lack of investment into road repairs and maintenance by the Government.

Their spending on cancelled cycle bridges, speed reduction plans, and land acquisition for the Auckland Light Rail project that is yet to eventuate, means billions of dollars from the National Land Transport Fund have been directed away from investment in road improvements and maintenance. Even this year’s Budget in May failed to make any change, with funding for state highway and local road maintenance reduced by millions.

In July, we discovered (in documents released to National) that around 1000 km of Auckland’s roading network now require repairs. Ever-increasing numbers of potholes are appearing as roads and state highways lose their waterproofing, and Auckland Transport and the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) fall further behind with repairs, a backlog that could take up to a decade to clear.

While the roads we have got have been falling into disrepair, there has also been a lack of investment into significant new roading projects, such Mill Road and completing the widening of Auckland’s Southern Motorway between Papakura and Drury.

Labour seems to have forgotten that motorists pay road user charges and petrol taxes for the primary purpose of building and maintaining the roading network.

To combat this, if elected into Government in October, National will establish a Pothole Repair Fund, comprising a $500 million fund, spread over three years and allocated to local authorities and NZTA, specifically for state highway and local roading repairs, and a new directive to NZTA to double the current rate of roading renewals and halve the standard response rate for pothole repair from 48 to 24 hours.

To create this fund, we will re-prioritise spending from within the National Land Transport Programme, including a reduction in expenditure on activities which unnecessarily slow traffic down, such as blanket speed limit reductions and excessive speed bump installations, or the failed Road to Zero advertising campaign. Instead, we will invest funds in safer roads which are properly maintained.

Potholes are a safety hazard. They cause significant damage to vehicles and frustrate motorists. Rather than wasting money on slowing people down and expensive transport projects that benefit very few people, National will focus on fixing our roading network to ensure people and freight can move around the country safely and efficiently.