Chasing their tail

In Newsletter Editorial4 MinutesBy Gavin MyersSeptember 16, 2022

I’d imagine it’s good business to be a roading contractor in New Zealand. Not that I’m aware of what Waka Kotahi pays, but the steady stream of repairs and rebuilds should mean that engineers and workers are never found standing around admiring the scenery… Except for when you’re passing a worksite, and they seem to be doing just that.

In all seriousness, though, the country’s roads have taken quite the beating this winter. So much so that in a press release this week, the agency advised that between now and April 2023, more than 2400km of state highway – or more than 10% of the state highway network – would be at least resealed or, at worst, rebuilt.

We’re told contractors have already started work on isolated patches, repairing the underlying road structure ahead of resealing once the weather warms up and dries out. Neil Walker, Waka Kotahi national manager, maintenance and operations, says that in terms of scale, it “is the most significant renewal programme we have ever undertaken”.

That’s frightening to contemplate. Two reasons spring to mind. The first comes from the accompanying details of state highway maintenance work completed in the financial year ended 30 June 2022. In that period, 2217.2 lane kilometres or 9.1% of the network was renewed.

If you’re interested in the split: 107.5 lane kilometres were completely rebuilt, 230.4 were resurfaced with new asphalt, 1811.4 were resealed with new chip and 67.9 were SCRIM resealed (improved skid resistance).

The agency says that the 270,000 separate state highway maintenance activities (including rumble strips and new signs) undertaken in the period totalled $775,556,576, or more than 37.5% of the $2,064,886,150 national spend (including councils).

This leads us to the second reason Neil’s comment is so frightening: it’s clearly not enough.

One must ask, how much of the 2021-2022 work will need to be redone? How much will the 2022-2023 programme just not address? And how much more will need to be spent in 2023-2024?

Maintenance spend is absolutely a good thing. We want the roads to be kept at a high standard (at least, an acceptable one). We’ve written before that Waka Kotahi is damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t and, personally, I’d prefer it does. Unfortunately, there are bigger factors to consider, including the fact that we’re dealing with an outdated infrastructure that struggles to support modern-day traffic and the hegemonised allocation of funds and resources – both of which are related and have been commented on ad nauseam.

Until the sceptre of ideology is cast aside and issues such as those are addressed with the seriousness they deserve, Waka Kotahi’s contractors will be stuck chasing their tails as each round of annual maintenance kicks off. At least that’ll be good for business.

*On another note, in July, I wrote that I’d taken up the Graeme Dingle Foundation Drop for Youth fundraising challenge. The idea is to raise as much money as possible for the foundation and jump from 12,000ft to show Kiwi youth that daunting challenges can be overcome.

The foundation does hugely important work in this regard, helping New Zealand’s youth craft a positive future for themselves and the country, so any support for this cause is appreciated immensely. If you’d like to back my jump, you can do so here:

Thanks heaps and take care,

Gavin Myers