Same old same old

In Newsletter Editorial5 MinutesBy Gavin MyersJuly 5, 2024

It’s exactly a year since I was last in Hawke’s Bay. At that time, it was only a few months on from the ‘extreme weather events’ that assaulted the country in the early months of 2023. As we know, the devastation was immense. Crossing the Glengarry’s, the landscape scarred by slips hinted at things to come … By the time you’d dropped into the Esk Valley, the silt was metres high in places, buildings and homes were smashed and battered, the picturesque orchards and vineyards obliterated.

Crossing the Napier-Taupō at Matariki weekend, the scars in the hills remain unhealed, but the valley below seems to be slowly on the mend. There’s clearly been a monumental clean-up– the land is still barren, but the ground has been levelled out and, in some areas, appears to be ready for planting again. Some of the condemned buildings have been or are being torn down, but many remain and still raise eyebrows. Likewise, the mounds of debris and silt dotted around by the clean-up effort.

And regarding the Napier-Taupō, Waka Kotahi appears to have done a great job of rebuilding the sections of road washed away by the floods. At certain points, I had to look twice to realise it was a rebuilt section.

As for the rest of it, though, the Napier-Taupō in June 2024 is in the worst state I can recall it being in the past five years. Truly, it’s atrocious. Embarrassing.

Those who cross it regularly would probably quip, “You’re surprised?” And yes, I am. Surprised and appalled.

I lost count of the potholes, some of which are wide enough to swallow a vehicle’s wheel and deep enough to destroy its suspension. I had a laugh at one point: “Simeon Brown aims for potholes to be repaired within 24 hours…? This road will be permanently shut.”

Indeed, some potholes have been filled in – I imagine by residents and road users who had had enough and sought a solution themselves, such is the level of apparent slapdashery. One section is currently in the throes of rehabilitation, and I sincerely hope the plan is the same for the other potholed kilometres.

A look at the NZTA projects page reveals that since January, “Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency is improving safety on SH5 from Napier to Taupō. This includes widening the road shoulder, installing roadside safety barriers and rumble strips, painting new lines and a wider centreline to improve the safety at various high-risk curves.”

That’s all good and well, and yes, this work – stretching from Tarawera to Eskdale – is needed. But it boggles my mind that NZTA can claim it’s improving safety by widening shoulders, adding barriers and laying paint when the most basic component of the route – the road itself – is in the state it’s in. Now, I don’t doubt for a moment that this work would be done without the road surface being tended to as well. But it does seem a little back to front … Surely, you’d make some effort to fill the bloody things temporarily?

At least, when someone does swerve at the last moment to avoid a crater, a swanky new barrier will (may) be in place to catch them.

I’ve been saying it a lot lately, but it’ll be interesting to see exactly where activity and resources will be directed with the release of the 2024-27 Government Policy Statement on Land Transport and the National Land Transport Plan. Because considering the effort that’s gone into righting the devastation along the southern stretches of SH5 in the past year, it’s pitiful that the main road linking it and the inland regions of the country continues to decline.

Take care out there,

Gavin Myers