Tasman road changes 'create safety risks'

LAURA BASHAM
Last updated 13:00 23/08/2012

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The Tasman District Council's cost-cutting policy of removing road marker posts and not repainting white centre lines on country roads is a bad idea, says the New Zealand Local Authority Traffic Institute.

TRAFINZ represents local authority views on road safety and traffic management in New Zealand.

Its president, Andy Foster, who is also the Wellington City Council's transport portfolio leader, said he understood why the TDC was trying to cut its road maintenance costs. However, he did not agree with the changes for safety reasons.

"I don't think it's a good idea at all. Given we put those markings in to help motorists drive more safely, to take them out creates some safety risks."

Rural communities including Tapawera and Murchison have criticised the council for putting cost-cutting ahead of road safety.

Mr Foster said he was not aware of any other local authority adopting the same policy.

Tasman Mayor Richard Kempthorne has justified the council's stance by saying it has to save money. The council will get $35.8 million in roading subsidies from the NZ Transport Agency for the next three years, which is $100,000 less than it got in the last funding round. Mr Kempthorne said its costs were increasing.

Mr Foster said he understood why the council had chosen to cut spending. Any local authority had two significant pressures, one from the economy and one from government funding arrangements which meant a huge amount of money was going into building roads of national significance.

"That's making life very difficult for local authorities," he said.

This was particularly the case for local authorities such as Tasman, where the cost of roading was proportionately high while the willingness to pay rates was limited. Councils had to try to balance those competing demands, he said.

The Tasman council maintains 1683 kilometres of roads - 1516km of these are rural, and 167km are urban.

Its annual roading budget is $19.6m, which is 36.5 per cent of the council's engineering budget and 20.4 per cent of the council's total operating costs.

"The Government is taking from our collective petrol taxes and spending more proportionately on its own roads than local roads, despite where the money is generated," Mr Foster said.

TRAFINZ already had a picture of how some local authorities were struggling, and was likely to seek a wider view of how they were all coping.

Both it and Local Government NZ had repeatedly made the Government aware of the dilemma in cost-cutting, he said.

"The Government is aware of it. They have a view they need to spend a huge amount of money on building roads of national significance."

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- The Nelson Mail

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