Record number of vehicle damage complaints from potholes prompts call for Government to take action

A freight transport industry association is urging the Government to take action following a record-high number of complaints about potholes last year.

Waka Kotahi NZTA received 555 complaints about vehicle damage caused by potholes in the first 10 months of 2022, according to industry group Ia Ara Aotearoa Transporting New Zealand, compared to 421 complaints in 2021.

The group's chief executive, Nick Leggett, said the busy summer network has highlighted the "appalling state" of New Zealand's road network.

"It's not just about road maintenance. We also need the Government to recommit to new roading capacity to ease the strain on our existing network."

Leggett said the Government is too focused on pinning the blame on others, including previous Governments, road users, and the weather, rather than investing in roads.

"We acknowledge that there are a number of factors beyond the current Government's control impacting our road network, but the blame game isn't going to fix the potholes and stop people's vehicles being damaged."

Leggett added Transporting New Zealand was particularly disappointed to see a recent tweet from Transport Minister Michael Wood, where he said heavier trucks do "a lot more damage" to the roads.

"On some roads the introduction of heavier trucks by National have had a big impact," Wood tweeted.

"They allowed trucks up to 53 tonnes from 2010. Heavier trucks do a lot more damage – sometimes hundreds times more due to the '4th power law'. This was at the same time as they froze maintenance budgets.

"The above is not to shrug off the issue, but it is why we are currently seeing more potholes."

But Leggett said this wasn't true and referenced Waka Kotahi's website, which said there is no additional wear on the roads per tonne of weight for 50MAX trucks.

"Even if they did, New Zealand's road user charges system is calculated based on the vehicle's impact on road surface, so trucks and heavy vehicles are more than paying their way," Leggett said.

Waka Kotahi said in December it was currently undertaking its largest-ever programme of spring and summer road renewals. Between September 2022 and April 2023, more than 2400 kilometres of state highway will be resealed or rebuilt, which is more than 10 percent of the network.

Transport Minister Wood also emphasised the months-long maintenance programme but added that areas such as State Highway 35 in the East Cape are slightly different.

"They are areas that are bearing the brunt of repeated, unprecedented extreme weather events. This is climate change in action. We work to remediate these areas as quickly as we can, but in some areas the massive damage and complex conditions take time," he said. 

"It's a reminder that as we maintain our roading network, we also need to take action to reduce emissions. The same National Party who underfunded maintenance and complain about the subsequent potholes, also oppose everything we do to reduce transport emissions. Labour is and will continue to look after the network & make up for past neglect, while also taking action to reduce emissions and climate impacts on our communities.

"There is work to be done on this issue. National need to answer why they froze maintenance budgets for eight years. The nearly 50 percent increase in maintenance budget we have put in place and record programme now rolling out will start to make a difference."

The road maintenance and pothole "crisis", as Transporting New Zealand put it, comes as Government ministers were asked by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to assess their spending priorities over the summer break.

Transporting New Zealand is urging the Government to increase funding for road maintenance and new investment in state highways, despite the challenging economic conditions and a looming recession.

"The best way forward for New Zealand is to invest in infrastructure that supports our economy. New projects will help us grow our way out of our recessionary environment," Leggett said.

"Ninety-three percent of all products in New Zealand are delivered by truck. Doing nothing about the state of our roads will literally bring the domestic economy to a standstill."