Thursday, April 25, 2024

Mixed reactions to road funding

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Despite the scale of the Government’s $24 billion-plus transport plan, mayors in some provincial regions are challenging the adequacy of funding for rural roading networks. Auckland accounts for the lion’s share of the national land transport programme at $7.3b, but Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Manawatū, Canterbury and Otago are also swallowing $6.1b of the funds over the plan’s 2021-24 lifespan.
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Despite the scale of the Government’s $24 billion-plus transport plan, mayors in some provincial regions are challenging the adequacy of funding for rural roading networks.

Auckland accounts for the lion’s share of the national land transport programme at $7.3b, but Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Manawatū, Canterbury and Otago are also swallowing $6.1b of the funds over the plan’s 2021-24 lifespan.

Ashburton District Council mayor Neil Brown said he was underwhelmed by the $1.2b allocated to Canterbury and just how much would be available to his council’s district as it continues to recover from devastating floods in late May.

“When you look at general repairs and maintenance allocated, we did get more than the last three year plan, but it is only 1.6% more,” Brown said.

“Roading and infrastructure inflation tends to run above the CPI, usually at 4-5% a year.”

He estimated overall the amount allocated would be only about 80% of what the Canterbury region needed.

Canterbury has been allocated $605 million for maintenance and operations and $287m for upgrades and ‘Road to Zero’ safety improvements. The remainder is for Christchurch public transport.

Brown says the new bridge that has been in the pipeline for Ashburton for 15 years also falls outside the three-year funding window, but there was some hope that given the state of the existing bridge this could be fast-tracked.

The present 90-year-old Ashburton bridge remains in a shaky condition after the late May floods, with traffic limited to 30km/h.

“When it comes to this bridge, it is about resilience. If that bridge goes out, the next option to cross the river adds an hour and a half to the journey,” he said.

He says council was meeting in early October to decide how the shortfall could be made up, if at all, with the only other option being additional ratepayer funding.

At the top of the North Island, Far North District Council deputy mayor Ann Court says it was easy to believe the $750m allocated to Northland was adequate, when in fact it too fell short.

The state of Northland’s roads became something of an election issue in 2015, with then transport minister Simon Bridges’ “10 bridges” project proposal.

Court says that list was now down to eight bridges and one of those at Kāeo, on State Highway 10, has been delayed by soaring costs.

“Everyone is putting a positive spin on this funding, but I am not,” Court said.

Her council had sought $88m from the programme and had received $80m in the 2017-20 plan. It had gone to extra effort to ensure its 2021-24 bid was defensible to Waka Kotahi.

“We bid this time for $105m and got $95m. We are still $10m short, and that is significant for this district,” she said.

Allowing for inflation, she estimates the district like Ashburton received about 78% of what it sought.

She was also cautious about the $2b injection that came from the Crown into the roading plan to make up for Waka Kotahi’s funding shortfall in the wake of covid-induced loss of fuel and road charges revenue.

“What many are not aware of is that this is a loan, it needs to be paid back. While it did top up funding to councils, when will this have to be paid back, and what will the implications of that repayment be in coming years?” she asked.

She was also seeking greater accountability from Waka Kotahi on how effective the state highway network was in Northland. The region has a disproportionately high number of accidents and death rates per kilometre.

“As a council we have to run our road network to meet certain KPIs,” she said.

“However, we do not see the same demand placed upon Waka Kotahi for the state highways. Greater transparency is vital if we are to make sensible funding decisions.”

Ratepayers would be the only other option to make up a funding shortfall, but Court says they had already paid through road user charges and taxes.

“In the meantime, KiwiRail and coastal shipping, the other big recipients, have contributed nothing by way of charges but are receiving funds,” she said.

Coastal shipping is to receive $30m, and Kiwirail $1.2b over the programme’s three-year period.

Tararua District Council mayor Tracey Collis says she was relieved to be receiving 50% of what was sought for low-cost projects in her district.

Of the Manawatū-Whanganui region’s $1.3b allocation, a quarter was committed to safety upgrades and to the NZ Upgrade Programme improving rail links and road safety, including Ōtaki to north of Levin.

While funding for the new Manawatū-Tararua route was separate, she was now optimistic the district roads feeding into the current alternative Gorge route would be returned to council in sound condition.

Some projects would also now have to be pushed out beyond the three-year funding window into 5 to 10-year timelines.

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