Lack of spend­ing is driv­ing us to a stand­still

Rotorua Daily Post - - OUR PEOPLE - By Peter Wil­liams

If you love sta­tis­tics, here’s a few that might raise your eye­brows. From Septem­ber 1 last year to Au­gust 31 this year, the num­ber of cars and vans on New Zealand roads in­creased by 105,970. In the year be­fore that, the in­crease was 120,939.

I’ll do the sums for you. There are 226,909 more cars and vans on the roads around the coun­try now than at the time of the Rio Olympics.

Ev­ery day for the past two years, that’s an­other 311 cars and vans spilling off the car yards onto our roads and into the traf­fic jams.

No mat­ter what politi­cians try to tell us about pub­lic trans­port, the re­al­ity is we love our cars, and other ma­chines on wheels, too.

The most re­cent num­bers from theNZ Trans­port Agency re­veal there are 5,172,482 reg­is­tered ve­hi­cles in New Zealand. Sure, that num­ber in­cludes trac­tors and trail­ers too, but there are still 3,371,584 cars and vans reg­is­tered, as well as 712,824 trucks and utes.

That’s more than 4 mil­lion on­road ve­hi­cles, es­sen­tially one per per­son of driv­ing age, a num­ber not go­ing down any­time soon.

So we need roads, plenty of them — and we needed them yes­ter­day.

Why, then, do we take for­ever to make de­ci­sions about what to build, and then why does it take so long to ac­tu­ally do it?

In the past nine years, I’ve driven be­tween Tau­ranga and Auck­land more times than I care to re­mem­ber. I feel very ac­quainted with State High­ways 1, 2, 27, 29 and the Tahuna-Ohinewai road, de­pend­ing on which route I take on any par­tic­u­lar day.

With­out doubt, the most in­fu­ri­at­ing road is State High­way 1.

What is now called the Waikato Ex­press­way may have been des­ig­nated a Road of Na­tional Sig­nif­i­cance in 2009, but it had its be­gin­nings with the Po¯ keno by­pass in the early 1990s.

There wouldn’t have been a day in the past 25 years when some part of the Auck­landHamil­ton road hasn’t had chok­ing road­works.

Cur­rently, it’s at Longswamp, near Hampton Downs.

Is that re­ally good enough on what is the busiest part of the coun­try’s main ar­te­rial route, the busiest side of the so-called Golden Tri­an­gle?

The signs and the web­sites sug­gest that road will be fin­ished by 2020.

But even al­low­ing for the piece­meal start with the Po¯ keno by­pass all those years ago, is it re­ally ac­cept­able that a ma­jor high­way, ad­mit­tedly about 100km long from the Bom­bay Hills to south of Cam­bridge, takes more than 20 years to build?

I have no ex­per­tise in roads, apart from driv­ing on them. But in my life­time, there are count­less ex­am­ples of short-term think­ing by politi­cians when it comes to road­ing.

Who can for­get the Auck­land Har­bour Bridge de­ba­cle, orig­i­nally built with just two lanes each way? The fa­mous “clip-ons” had to be added in­side 10 years.

What about the orig­i­nal Tau­ranga Har­bour Bridge?

It was way too small very early in its life, yet it took 21 years be­fore a se­cond one was in place along­side. Even the Water­view Tun­nel, un­doubt­edly the best road­ing in­fra­struc­ture built in the coun­try this cen­tury, was canned by Steven Joyce and the Na­tional gov­ern­ment in 2009 be­fore com­mon sense fi­nally pre­vailed.

The ve­hi­cle rego num­bers do not lie.

Apart from aero­planes, we are not a pub­lic trans­port coun­try.

We like the con­ve­nience of roads and we love own­ing and driv­ing cars.

That’s why roads, in and to the busiest and fastest grow­ing places in New Zealand, must be a top pri­or­ity in land trans­port spend­ing. Un­der this gov­ern­ment though, that looks un­likely.

There have been too many years of un­der-in­vest­ment in state high­way spend­ing.

The snail’s pace of progress sug­gests we are go­ing to be Aotearoad-cone for many years to come.

PHOTO/FILE

The Waikato Ex­press­way near Te Kauwhata.

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