Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency siphons over $500 million from Taranaki to spend elsewhere, region's highways 'falling apart' - mayor

Robin Martin for RNZ

The mayor of New Plymouth says Waka Kotahi has siphoned off half a billion dollars from Taranaki over the past decade while the region's state highways are falling apart.

Documents released to Neil Holdom under the Official Information Act show in 10 years, the region has contributed about $550 million to the roading agency's coffers which was spent elsewhere - primarily in the main centres.

Waka Kotahi says that is a too simplistic view and the transport agency prioritises where it spends its money, by the greatest need.

Stratford mother Sandra Ngatai has first-hand experience of the perilous condition of Taranaki's roads.

She was driving to the New Plymouth Airport on State Highway 3 recently when she saw a bunch of cars pulled up on the side of the road.

"And their lights were flashing and I was like why are they there? And I started slowing down but it was too late I'd already hit it.

"So, there was three in a row actually, three pot holes in a row and I became like the fifth victim cause there was already four cars there."

Ngatai said it was a frightening experience.

"So, I hit it and my left wheel went in and I felt my right side front come up and then when I went to carry on it just went bang because I went over the bump, over the last bit of it."

She was left with two flat tyres and a repair bill in the hundreds of dollars.

Doug Peach of Symons Transport said the state of the roads was shocking and was affecting his drivers' well being.

"They're atrocious, they're atrocious and it's affecting, it's taking a toll on them physically and mentally driving on our roads.

"They don't have room in a heavy motor vehicle to avoid pot holes. They can't swerve to avoid a pot holes like a car can. You can't drive it on the wrong side of the road, so they have to go through them."

It had been a wet winter, but Peach said something more fundamental was at play.

"Something that's happened a number of years ago has got it to the point where it's finally breaking, where the maintenance that the crews do isn't enough to keep it up to scratch.

"Where we are seeing pot holes fixed on a Friday come Monday the contents of that pot hole has washed out."

New Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom said he knew what the problem was.

"Basically they've skimmed enough fuel taxes and road user charges from Taranaki drivers and businesses in the past 10 years to pay for half of Transmission Gully while our state highways are falling to pieces."

Documents released to Holdom under the OIA showed Taranaki was only getting back 33 cents in the dollar of what it had contributed to the New Zealand Transport Agency, Waka Kotahi.

He said to find evidence that the region's state highways were being systematically run down while cash was being pulled out of Taranaki to spend in Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland, bordered on the scandalous.

"You can see from NZTA's own board reports that it's areas like Taranaki, Bay of Plenty and Southland etc that are generating far more revenue for Waka Kotahi than is being invested back and then they literally make us beg for basic transport upgrades."

A group of regional mayors wanted to meet with the Waka Kotahi board to discuss their concerns around funding, financing and asset management, Holdom said.

Waka Kotahi director of regional relationships Linda Stewart said the transport agency drew its funding from multiple sources.

"The maintenance of state highways, as well as local roads, is funded by several revenue sources, including fuel excise duty and road user charges, as well as revenue from vehicle and driver registration and licensing, state highway property disposal and leasing, road tolling and local government rates."

Waka Kotahi prioritised where it spent its money, by the greatest need, Stewart said.

"It is an over-simplification to imagine that heavy transport and freight companies are operating only, or even predominantly, within the regions in which they pay road user charges."

However, she conceded that funding constraints over the last 10 years had impacted the condition of state highways and it would take some time to bring them back up to a higher standard.

"We are working hard to make the most of a finite budget both in Taranaki and across the rest of the country, and we expect to see improvements in Taranaki year on year."

Waka Kotahi supported a Ministry of Transport review of its funding model, Stewart said.

Waka Kotahi investments in Taranaki:

  • $166m to maintain Taranaki's local roads and state highway as part of the 2021-24 National Land Transport Programme

  • $280m for Te Ara o Te Ata: Mt Messenger Bypass project

  • $82m for Te Ara Tūtohu: Waitara to Bell Block safety improvements project

  • $25m upgrades on State Highway 43, Forgotten World Highway

  • $21m for safety improvements on SH3 between New Plymouth and Egmont Village

  • $33.4m for safety upgrades on SH3 between New Plymouth and Hawera.