Beehives, bridges and bypasses - all in a day's work for road transport lobbyist
For someone who spends most of his working life on the road, transport lobbyist Tom Cloke prefers to stay close to home.
Cloke has been in the driver's seat as an Road Transport Association Taranaki area executive member since the early 1990s.
Whether it is lobbying for a new multi-million highway bypass, warning of beehives being placed too close to traffic routes, or pulling up a council for different sized car parks, Cloke seldom takes his eyes off the road.
The role is "24/7", he says.
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"You are never far away from it.
"When a slip comes down at Mokau on a Sunday and I'm out spraying my land, the phone will go and we have to react to it."
He estimates he drives around 50,000 kilometres a year attending meetings with government ministers and roading agencies anywhere between Otorohanga and Taupo in the north and east, or down to Levin in the south.
The kilometres would be more if he wasn't able to rely on conference calls or Skype to keep up-to-date with meetings and colleagues, he says.
For the past decade Cloke has been closely involved with pushing through roading improvements on SH3, north of New Plymouth, at Mt Messenger and the Awakino Gorge.
A new highway bypass and road safety improvements were provisionally approved by Transport Minister Simon Bridges with roading groups in September.
Once the resource consent process is completed in early 2018, the first sod on the $245 million bypass is due to be turned in 12 months' time, with an expected construction finish in 2020.
Cloke, a non-whisky drinker, says a bottle of single malt awaits the finish of the job.
"I joked with the Minister I didn't want to wait for the ice to melt to open the bottle."
It is a major achievement, and the first significant roading project in Taranaki since the Think Big petrochemical era of the 1980s, he says.
"I'm not a drinker but it's such a significant project there will be a celebration."
Cloke fully supports the bypass option chosen on the eastern side of the existing highway.
"There are so many positives, it's going to be a really good project," he says.
"It will have the 'wow' factor.
"Not only will it help business, more importantly it will connect Taranaki people to their families in Waikato and elsewhere.
"There will be a connectivity for everyone and there will security that when they decide to visit friends and family north, the road won't be closed by a slip.
"People need to feel confident when they set out on their journey they will arrive at their destination."
Cloke says he will be ready to step back from his role following the end of Mt Messenger bypass construction.
"My days are coming to an end, probably after the bypass gets opened," he says.
He is looking forward to spending more time on his New Plymouth farm, and with his eight grandchildren, once the road transport role winds down.
The former diesel mechanic says he never had a close affection for trucks.
"Back then it was a dirty job, crawling underneath chassis, and fixing oil and fuel leaks.
"It's not like that now."
He's born and bred in Taranaki - "can't you tell the passion?" - and has never strayed far from his roots.
"I've never moved much, some call me a narrow-minded bastard, but I'm proud of that."
Before he does leave the organisation there are more roading projects to push through.
"We're not stopping here," he says of the bypass project.
"We don't give up after on this one, we've got some more projects on the table.
"There's more alignment to do on SH3, we've got the Awakino Gorge and the Uruti Valley.
"We take the plums when they are ready but we also look to riper fruit on the tree as well."
To draw an analogy with his roading role, Cloke has never been a "my way, or the highway" sort.
"I don't think I'm a tough negotiator, but I don't take no for an answer, you can't afford to when you represent the trucking industry, which has high demands.
"It's about working with people to get the desired outcomes for the industry and the public."
The Awakino Hotel became a meeting point for the agencies involved from the early days of lobbying for the bypass and improvements to the Awakino Gorge, he says.
"We never wanted to give too much away, we always wanted to take new road out of the discussions.
"That's why we fought so hard for options that eventually produced the bypass because that's what we wanted.
State Highway 3 is not a high traffic route compared to other national networks so it was a hard sell to convince the government to provide funding, he said.
"You have to get a return on investment and unfortunately the vehicle numbers going north on State Highway 3 have always been quite low compared to other areas, such as the West Coast and Northland.
What SH3 had in its favour was the high heavy traffic content, as much as 20-22 per cent of all vehicles that use the road, he says.
"There's huge demand on State Highway 3 to get product from the black and white gold economy, oil and dairy, and the poultry industry, out of Taranaki.
"They all need to use the road to get to markets and so there is a high number of freight using the road."
Cloke said the government has seen the need for an efficient roading network in the region to promote trade and tourism, as well as improve communication links.
"To build a good network you have to have good infrastructure."
- Taranaki Daily News