Potholes have become an election issue with both National and Labour blaming each other for the state of our roads.
For its part, National have created a $500 million Pothole Repair Fund
Asked whether this was a political gimmick Brown said: “Not at all, this is a reality of our roads being in the worst state they’ve ever been and the need for us to be investing in making sure that they are safe to drive on so we can keep our economy moving.”
“What we’re saying is we want to double that current rate and get it back to a sustainable level of investment and this is what this fund will be directed towards so that our roads … aren’t falling apart.”
The money for National’s policy would come from money put aside for speed reduction.
“What we’re saying is actually the Road to Zero fund, which has got a billion dollars being allocated to it each year, it has significant delivery challenges. Within it they promised 300 kilometres of median barrier by 2024, they’ve only delivered 50km so far.
“We’re going to take a portion of that money and we’re going to reallocate that to making sure our roads are actually safe to drive on.”
Maintaining our roads is important but pulling funding from road safety to fix a lack of investment in road maintenance would be a terrible outcome.
Labour say they’re fixing the roads
Transport Minister David Parker told Morning Report in 2018, the government repaired 39,000 potholes and in 2022 it repaired 54,000.
“The maintenance budget’s gone up from $1.7b over three years when they (National) left office to $2.8b under us – a 65 percent increase.
“You’ve got to ask yourself, with those increases, what’s the underlying problem and the underlying problem is actually very simple for people to understand – the last government stopped resurfacing roads – or they froze the funding for maintenance – and therefore the number of roads that could be resurfaced.”
Brown had earlier told Morning Report there had been a 27 percent reduction in relaying of roads under Labour.
Parker said that was “absolutely wrong”.
“Actually he knows that, that is so, with respect, dishonest because he was at a select committee where I showed him the graph of the kilometres of road that have been resurfaced now compared with the halving of it when he was in government, or when his party was in government, and they froze the maintenance fund.”
Let’s take a look at what the data says about these claims
Transport funding in NZ is determined by a few different processes. It starts with the Government Policy Statement (GPS) which is renewed every three years – though with a 10-year outlook. The GPS sets out the government’s strategic priorities and as well as the various government policies and priorities, it determines an upper and lower limit of funding for each high-level activity. These activities include how much funding should go to towards things such as state highway and local road improvements and maintenance, public transport provision, road policing and a range of other areas. For the purposes of this post there are two activities we’re interested, those for State Highway and Local Road Maintenance.
Waka Kotahi then use those funding limits when coming up with their National Land Transport Programme (NLTP), which is also renewed every three years with a 10-year outlook. The NLTP outlines where and how Waka Kotahi will invest the funding from the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF) which is funding primarily by fuel taxes and road user charges. The overall funding in the NLTP for each activity is meant to fall between those upper and lower limits set in the GPS.
The GPS was introduced as part of reforms of the transport sector by Labour in 2008 and they had released a draft of the first one but it was replaced by National after they won the election that same year. National made a number of changes to it, particularly significantly boosting funding for State Highway improvements to fund their Roads of National Significance but that came at the expense of other activities.
The graphs below the midpoint in the funding ranges for the two maintenance activities for that draft Labour GPS and all of the subsequent GPS’s. You can see quite clearly that the funding for maintenance dropped significantly, especially in 2012, and was increased again by Labour after they were elected in 2017 with the 2021-24 almost back to being in line with what was first proposed in 2008.
It’s also worth remembering that in 2010 National changed the rules to allow for larger 53 ton trucks. These heavier trucks have put more pressure on road surfaces only exacerbating the problem of less funding.
Given the GPS is reviewed every 3 years, I’ve then taken the ranges for relevant years and looked at what was actually spent or is projected to be spent based on the current NLTP. This is shown below with the funding range shown in a lighter colour and the actual amount spent in green – which extends back prior to the GPS process. Further, I’ve also included the amount spent on road resurfacing in yellow – as you can see this is just a portion of the money spent on maintenance. Finally you’ll notice a couple of periods where spending is above the maximum range, this is due to additional funding for responding to the Kaikoura earthquake as well as the flooding and cyclone damage this year.
Based on this it’s clear that Labours claim of funding being frozen by National was correct, however the big increases in pavements and seals funding is only really this year and next year.
Furthermore, Waka Kotahi also publish data on the length of works completed each year. These graphs show how many lane-km of road were resurfaced and also how much was rehabilitated and that tells a different story.
As you can see, resurfacing has roughly doubled on the state highway network since the nadir of 2015/16 and rehabilitation has also increased. However, local roads have gone the other way so in some ways, both Brown and Parker are correct, each picking numbers to suit their narrative.