Ignored, dangerous rural roads urgently need funds

CHRIS LEWIS
Last updated 06:58 02/07/2014

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OPINION: The state of rural roads is in dire need of attention and could well be a political football leading into the elections.

Both National and Labour agree there needs to be better investment in rural roading but it's a question of how and where that funding would be dished out.

Investment in the past has been on the Seven Roads of National Significance, six of those being in the North Island.

While these roads are indeed significant to New Zealand's infrastructure and economy, focusing solely on these has left the rural communities driving on dangerous and inadequate roads. Local councils have used the Band-Aid approach on rural roads to date, if they've chosen to deal with their pitfalls at all. As a ratepayer, I'm very concerned people living in rural roads are not being considered at all when it comes to divvying up the coffers.

The Government appears to have frozen funding on rural roads, but Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee says the plan is to invest 4.3 per cent more in rural roading, which equates to $176.3 million of the $4.1 billion roading budget.

Is that enough? These roads have been neglected for six years.

National roading is currently under consultation and New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) is reviewing the Funding Assistance Rate.

I hope both will take into account the social and economic importance of these roads to New Zealand and its people.

These outdated roads transport $34b of export revenue, not to mention the risky business of these modern-day trucks navigating narrow pot-holed roads designed for small cars.

There are also the school buses, the families, the rural bankers and so on travelling down these roads, reporting near misses, children being thrown from their bus seats, and drivers bellying their vehicles.

This is not asking for a handout; this is asking for an even distribution of central government's road-use-derived revenue so we can all have safe journeys.

We can all agree there are far too many deaths happening on our roads. The Labour Party stated that 20 per cent of road deaths involved trucks and, while I'm unsure if they are happening on the narrow gravelling, pot-holed death-traps, it wouldn't surprise me.

The Waikato Regional Council is reviewing an Emergency Roadwork Fund in its Draft Annual Plan, with a $270,000 fund. I implore the council to put it to good use and get the road workers out and give some much-needed attention to our rural roads. The decisions on how national road funding is dished out through NZTA is going to have long-term affects on our rural communities, what we are seeing now is long-term results of neglect and it is proving extremely hazardous to rural New Zealand.

Let's do the sensible thing and put our rural roads back on their feet, so we can get home safely, enjoy those Sunday drives and deliver the goods.

* Chris Lewis is Federated Farmers Waikato provincial president.

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