The administration and management of our roads is broken

By Owen Jennings


Over the past few months I have been working as a relocation driver for a rental car/campervan company.  The job takes me across the city regularly but also all across the North Island and occasionally to the mainland.  It?s been interesting. 

Here are a few observations ? some pretty obvious and others maybe less so.

Drivers.  The great majority of drivers are capable, courteous when required and simply get the job done.  Too many, though, are unforgiving, have a short fuse and get all over you if you make a small error or want to do something legal but unusual.  Often there is a tiger ready to be unleashed in a millisecond.  They become impatient very quickly and multiply the risk greatly.

Generally, the fastest drivers are young women.  I am often overtaken by females travelling at what must be 120 ? 130 kph.

Normally sedate 90 ? 95 kph drivers on the open road became a menace at overtaking lanes.  They speed up, seemingly offended that anyone should pass them, only to force the drivers they were holding back to drive like maniacs at 130 kph plus to get rid of the problem.

Because we drive at night a lot we encounter the sward of big rigs ? 50 tonne loads hurtling through the darkness at over 100 kph.  They are generally helpful and considerate, but don?t get caught putting your lights up, even accidentally, as you meet them.  Their full beam can blast you into temporary blindness.  Also you can?t help asking why the goods are not on the rail running alongside the road.

The most frightening encounters are with the few drivers who are going like bats out of hell, overtaking dangerously, forcing you to brake hard to let them in, tailgating when they can?t get past and making driving less enjoyable and decidedly dangerous.  Somehow they seem to avoid cops and cameras.

While speed is obviously a factor in accidents (it increases the mess) it is inattention and lack of capability that cause accidents.  The number of people using a cell phone while driving is staggering.  Because we are often up a little higher in an SUV or campervan we can see them snatching quick looks to check an address or answer a call.  Just plain stupidity.  And too many people driving simply cannot judge what speed to use on a poorly cambered corner, how long it takes to stop at speed or how to drive in very wet conditions.  They may have learnt the road code to pass a test but their skill level is badly wanting.

However it is our roads, with their poor quality of design and lack of expenditure and maintenance, that are the most concerning aspect of the job.  The road surface even on recently upgraded sections is atrocious.  Giant holes, uneven surfaces, poor repairs, cracks and slumps all make driving hazardous and horrible.  We are not looking after what we do have and doing too little to improve and upgrade.  Sections like Pokeno to the Coromandel/Matamata turnoff, for example, are a disgrace.   

The recently opened bypass at Waikanae, the Kapiti expressway, has holes and rough seal areas despite the millions spent on it.  Is anyone accountable for this? It is not an isolated instance ? it’s typical.  The Longswamp upgrade has the same problems.  Surely we don?t have to accept it as ‘normal’?

White lines on the road edge and between lanes are critically important at night and in wet weather.  Right across the country they are faded and indistinct through lack of maintenance.  What is being spent on road cones would fix the problem.  The deployment of those orange top hats has gone from the sublime to the ridiculous.  So has the number of workmen standing around idle.  Reminds us oldies of the Public Works and shovel leaners.

Something about the administration and management of our roads is broken.  Is there no real competition?  No proper oversight and accountability?  Low quality design?  No penalties for shoddy work? 

The Coalition of Losers government has decided to throw money at barriers and road dividers. Sounds like putting patches on rotten jeans. Why not spend it on improving our low quality roads?

Roading generally, but particularly in Auckland, is showing the signs of over 50 years of neglect and poor decision-making.  Too many car haters are in positions of influence.  Successive governments have failed the network, and in Auckland it will not recover.  Maybe driverless cars will rescue us but in the meantime the present government are making a pig?s ear of a job of transport and roads.  Their plans are idiocy. They will only increase frustration and cause the economy to limp along hamstrung by low grade infrastructure.