Crazy weather caution

In Newsletter Editorial4 MinutesBy Gavin MyersFebruary 3, 2023

While many North Islanders were looking forward to an Auckland Anniversary Weekend filled in the sun, the weather gods had other plans. To say the heavy rain and wind experienced over the past week wreaked havoc on the North Island is an understatement, with Northland, Auckland and eastern Waikato/Coromandel being especially hard hit – a double whammy after Cyclone Hale in mid-January.

Many different sectors of the economy and people’s lives have been affected. When it comes to the impact on the roads and transport systems, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, contractors and local authorities have struggled to keep up with the amount of floodwater, damaged roads and slips. While that’s understandable given the circumstances, some major roads have been affected. The agency has stated that SH1 Brynderwyns to Waipu, which suffered some slips thanks to Cyclone Hale, is unlikely to open this weekend due to recurring slips. In the Coromandel, this week’s weather sounded the death knell for SH25A Kopu-Hikuai road, a section of which disappeared after Cyclone Hale set it on edge (and it’s still moving).

Both examples have resulted in significant detours for freight and motorists in regions serviced by only a handful of roads already.

With many roads left similarly affected, I shudder to think of the repair bills. Yesterday the NZ Herald stated the agency’s ’emergency works’ fund “will soon be exhausted thanks to the number of costly storms trebling in the last five years.” If it weren’t already clear that there’s a dire need for considerable investment in the resilience of New Zealand’s roading infrastructure, it sure is now. New Zealand’s roading network and infrastructure need to be future-proofed. Extreme weather events are expected to continue to increase, which means the roading network will continue to be thrashed. Along with the actual roads – which are constantly in the spotlight for increased investment – there needs to be increased investment and attention paid to drainage and the stabilisation of embankments. Much like the agency has carried out on SH59 in Pukerua Bay this week.

I’m no engineer, and I do not work for the roading authority, but I listened to Peter Brown, Waka Kotahi regional manager of maintenance and operations, Central/Lower South Island, at the Irtenz conference last November, and he said as much – and more. We have a report of Peter’s presentation coming up in the March issue of New Zealand Trucking magazine. It lays the facts bare and is worth a read.

The other unfortunate road-related consequence of this bad weather is the increased risk of accidents. I’ll admit, there have been fewer reports than I expected – always a good thing. Of course, there’s always that one… This week, I encountered a minor but multi-vehicle accident in a residential area, with cars scattered around the intersection and footpaths and people standing around in the soaking rain. As the traffic took turns to filter through, a man and his kids slowly rolled past in their Toyota Wish, windows down and their faces craned through, and he – the driver – filming the scene with his cell phone.

Any responsible driver – and father – would instantly recognise the number of things wrong with his actions. Unfortunately, I don’t think he ever would.

With weather warnings still in place for some areas as we head into Waitangi Weekend, being patient, courteous and sensible probably goes without saying. As does prioritising significant roading infrastructure investment.

All the best,

Gavin Myers