It’s been a bitch of a summer on the Wairarapa east coast. We’ve had major problems with slips, flooding and road closures. The local council has done a good job of clearing slips and getting access but the roads are a mess and need fixing.
Roads need to be fixed, yet the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA), or Waka Kotahi as it likes to be called, is buzzing around reducing speed limits without rhyme or reason.
It gets even less relevant. The NZTA launched a campaign, Road to Zero, where it wants to eliminate road deaths by 2050.
We’re talking 27 years away, and there will be no one around then to be held accountable for its inevitable failure.
Nicole Rosie won’t be CEO of the NZTA, Paul Reynolds won’t be chair and Michael Wood won’t be transport minister.
In addition, government officials advised Minister Wood that the result was “unachievable”. The media had to use the Official Information Act (OIA) to find that out.
What we also found out was that the agency has wasted a scandalous $62 million on promotional campaigns to support Road to Zero. That money would have been far better spent on fixing potholes.
We now have the NZTA swanning around the country reducing speed limits arrogantly and at whim.
That tells me the agency wants to be seen doing something while not actually achieving anything.
Hopefully last week’s announcement by the prime minister will put a halt to its stupidity.
In the Wairarapa we are suffering the Jackboot of NZTA with an arrogance I haven’t seen since Muldoon.
They are erecting a central barrier south of Masterton and taking away the passing lane. Local experts pointed out that the passing lane is important because of the amount of slow agricultural machinery using the road. The closeted, cloistered clerks of the NZTA ignored the advice.
The road between Featherston and Greytown is 11km long. It is a straight road with one bend in it. The NZTA decided to reduce the speed limit to 80kmph.
Respected solicitor Michael Bott said the NZTA is “an opaque bureaucracy that uses consultation in a way that would make 1984 author George Orwell rub his eyes”.
Bott did the sum of the number of trips verses the number of crashes, which shows .002% of trips result in a crash for whatever reason. Unbelievably, that .002% encouraged the NZTA to reduce speed limits.
The local Wairarapa Times Age has done excellent work questioning the NZTA and its figures. That it had to rely on the OIA is an indictment. It found out that in 22 years speed was a factor in just one fatal crash between Masterton and Featherston.
It then learnt, again as a result on OIA inquiry, that the speed limit between Greytown and Featherston was lowered not for any road safety reasons but for “consistency”. The NZTA obviously rates consistency ahead of common sense.
The OIA response also showed that the NZTA took as much notice of local submissions on road safety as an elephant would a flea. It also ignored a traffic planners’ suggestion about the safety of cyclists and a school principal on the safety around her school.
We get emotive and bureaucratic with animal welfare issues, yet the additional stress on animals caused by slower trucks seems irrelevant.
There are two major issues in my view. The first is a question of revenue. In the past month we’ve heard that the NZTA is going to purchase more speed cameras. We were also told the police will be reviewing their tolerance on speed limits.
That tells me that if you lower speed limits, remove any tolerance and pursue excess speed with missionary zeal, you’ll increase the governments’ revenue stream. The road toll becomes irrelevant.
The second is that we have a bloated, totally useless and arrogant bureaucracy in Wellington that is out of control. It can’t get roads built on time and according to specification, it makes decisions that are crazy, like tar seal quality and depth, it knocks off when it feels like it as it did with the Northland cyclone.
One obvious way of improving road safety would be to improve roads, but the NZTA doesn’t seem remotely interested. The pothole problem has reached crisis point, not that it would know or care.
It gets worse. Our local MP, Kieran McAnulty, didn’t want the speed limit reduced between Greytown and Featherston. He received a two-fingered salute from the mandarins at the NZTA. “Consistency” is obviously more important at NZTA Towers than listening to local representatives.
If Transport Minister Wood wants me to take him remotely seriously, he’ll call in the hierarchy of the NZTA, kick butt, take names and insist they listen to locals.
I’m pleased the prime minister has stepped in as he did last week. He needed to. If the NZTA takes him seriously it’ll reverse its stupidity over rural roads including that between Greytown and Featherston.
The harsh reality is that NZTA must be made accountable to the public and not the other way around.
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