Thursday, December 7, 2023

Bring some speed to fixing rural roads

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The NZTA needs to do a lot more in the provinces, says Alan Emerson.
The New Zealand Transport Agency needs to do a lot more in the provinces, says Alan Emerson.
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It’s been a long, harsh winter in coastal Wairarapa with mud and slips everywhere. I’m over it.

Roads have suffered too, with the current trip into Masterton fraught with slips and washouts. 

The local council does a good job with the resources it has but they aren’t enough. The answer is for the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) to do a lot more, especially in the provinces.

That is, I fear, a forlorn hope as funds are going into a pile of big city projects like cycleways and public transport, which is of little use to the productive rural sector.

We urgently need money spent upgrading our provincial roading network, making our country roads safer.

The issue is that the NZTA focus is not currently on the state of our roads but on speed limits.

Let me state up front that I want to see our road toll reduced. My view of the issue is widely different from those of our army of bureaucrats.

The problem with our bureaucrats is that they seem to spend their time finding ways of mucking you and I around in plaintive, unworkable efforts to fix often imagined problems.

They tend to have a single focus, too, as evidenced by the NZTA’s concentration on speed and speed limits. 

The stupidity started with Auckland Transport reducing the speed limit on more than 1600 roads. Some went from 50km/h to just 10. Others went from 100km/h to just 40.

I’m glad I don’t live in Auckland as I strongly believe that the changes will only make commuting around Auckland worse than it is.

Hard on the heels of the Auckland stupidity came Police HQ telling us they wanted the speed limit reduced to 80km/h on roads “with no protective median barriers”, which would include all rural roads.

Reducing speed limits on provincial roads has many unintended consequences, with animal welfare being one.

I was a little surprised by the lack of any hysteria from either SAFE or Greenpeace. Surely they would be as concerned as I am about the severe animal hardship caused by the extended amount of time animals would be on trucks.

I’m also horrified that the National Advisory Committee on Animal Welfare didn’t get involved either.

I can remember when the speed limit was 50 miles an hour, or 83km/h. The cars back then had antiquated rack-and-pinion steering systems and cable brakes. The technology bore absolutely no resemblance to that of a modern motor vehicle.

Also, the bureaucrat’s argument that vehicles didn’t go as fast back then isn’t true as I can remember doing 100MPH quite regularly on the Kumara Straight.

The problem is NZTA has the resources to bury us in irrelevance with its 88 PR staffers, with 65 earning over $100,000. I’d sooner see their annual $10 million wage bill put into road improvements.

My real frustration is that we’ve had many road safety initiatives and our road toll keeps climbing as it is currently doing. As well as speed limits we’ve had so-called solutions that have created real issues for the provinces, like raising the driving age, which has had zero effect.

NZTA tell us that the rural network is the deadliest. The answer is to fix the roads, not muck with speed limits, but provincial New Zealand is getting a smaller share of NZTA road funding.

Now the NZTA brains trust is demanding councils do “speed management plans”, which will solve nothing except increasing rates. You drive to the conditions and not according to the signs on the side of the road, which, inevitably, won’t be policed. 

Again they ignore the state of our roads. For example there have been several road deaths recently near Cambridge, with the locals saying there will be more. Speed limits are secondary; the state of our roads isn’t.

It gets worse, with the government and NZTA announcing a campaign to try to reduce the road toll to zero by 2050. You’ll have seen the advertisements.

I have several issues with that.

The first is that our bureaucrats will inflict a pile of stupid restrictions on us in pursuit of their goal.

The second is that I would prefer the nearly $5m spent on the campaign so far to be spent on upgrading roads.

Finally, who is going to be around in 28 years to judge the effectiveness of the campaign? 

Roading has been a political shambles for decades and needs to be fixed. Remember the Roads of National Significance from the National Party? Treasury claimed they didn’t make financial sense but the politics obviously appealed.

Now we’re lurching into a zero-by-2050 campaign that will involve massive restrictions over the decades but achieve little.

The answer is simply to improve our roading network, which neither Labour nor National appear committed to doing. 

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