Mayors, commuters slam potholes on State Highway 1, road described as 'laughing stock'


Several sections of the country's state highways have been described as being in shocking condition, with some mayors calling for urgent upgrades as holidaymakers travel through their districts.

The Automobile Association (AA) says State Highway 1 is the poor "shop window" of a network riddled with potholes and road surface issues.

It comes as Waka Kotahi embarks on what it says is its biggest summer road works programme in years, worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

A pothole on State Highway 5.
A pothole on State Highway 5. Photo credit: Supplied via RNZ / Triden Harris-Bush

Taupō Mayor David Trewavas said his district's main thoroughfare, SH1, is inadequate for such a popular holiday destination.

"Certainly I believe between Taupō and Tokoroa it's just nowhere near the standard it should be.

"They are trying their best to maintain it or improve it, but SH1 is the pre-eminent highway in New Zealand, and it's not good enough."

Trewavas said one section between Maroa - about 30km north of Taupō - and Tokoroa has become a "laughing stock" due to the number of potholes which keep appearing.

He said there were also several pinch points between Taupō and Tūrangi at Bulli point and Jellicoe Point, where trucks cannot pass each other - and this can lead to lengthy delays.

Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst said the condition of SH5 between Napier and Taupō was dire, even after recent maintenance work.

She was concerned about the large number of potholes as high numbers of visitors travelled the road this summer.

"You could run off the road - I mean, they are dangerous. We certainly want to see a maintenance plan and we would like to see contractors up there each day managing these potholes to make sure the road is safe."

Bumpy roads

And several travellers RNZ spoke to as they stopped in Wellington agreed some roads were in a poor state.

Pierre Le Coq had been road-tripping in his campervan between Dunedin, Hastings, Mt Maunganui and New Plymouth. He said he was disappointed by the condition of the state highways.

"The roads are horrendous. It's just patches on patches - there's no new roads, they're just a road of patches. [It's] very bumpy in the camper, very bumpy and rattly."

The New Zealand Transport Agency Waka Kotahi said it was doing work on more than 2500km of road as part of its summer maintenance programme, which will run until late March, costing about $500 million.

It said parts of SH1 from Tūrangi along the lake had a significant amount of renewal scheduled, and that a safety improvement project on the Maroa section had sealing work scheduled for February and March this year.

Parts of State Highway 5 would have resealing work, after being heavily damaged in the 2023 cyclones - making the Napier side fragile and vulnerable to potholes.

Waka Kotahi senior manager for maintenance and operations Wayne Oldfield said areas hit by cyclones in 2023 - including Hawke's Bay, Gisborne, Coromandel and Northland - will see the most roadworks, as the extreme weather forced a delay on renewals intended for last year.

"The weather and the demands on those parts of the network have been really quite hard this last two or three years. What we've got to now with the investment we have is get out there, get those renewals underway, and get the network back into a condition that we'd all love to see."

Potholes on a road in Northland
Potholes on a road in Northland Photo credit: Facebook/Northland Potholes

'It will take time'

Transport Minister Simeon Brown told Morning Report on Tuesday refocusing Waka Kotahi on the state of the country's roads was part of its 100-day plan.

"I don't doubt the fact that it will take time to fix our roads. It will take time. But at the same time, we need to make sure that the money that New Zealand taxpayers are paying when they fill up their cars and pay road user charges is going back into the core business of fixing and building our roads, and not into other priorities, which the prior government spent a lot of time focusing on."

The AA said the country's state highway network has been underfunded for a decade. Spokesperson Martin Glynn said a boost in maintenance funding from the previous government was a good sign, as was the $500 million 'pothole repair fund' the National Party promised in the election.

But it was not enough to ensure lasting improvements.

"There's equally big calls for more investment in renewals, and resurfacing, [and] the base foundation of many of our roads. The problem has been years in the making and will take years to fix."

The AA said it wanted to see the government commit to a substantial investment in state highways when it puts out its three-year National Land Transport Programme later in the year.

Brown said there would be more money, but that was not the only solution.

"What we're doing at the moment is we're rewriting the government policy statement on transport. That will include a significant focus on pothole repair, which includes the funding that we would reallocate away from low-value functions towards actual maintenance, and in particular, an improvement around the number of kilometres of pavement which are being rehabilitated."

One of the first things the coalition government did on securing power following last year's election was to cancel future cycling and walking projects, Brown calling them a "waste of time and money". He declined to be interviewed about the move, which was criticised by cycling and climate advocates.

Transport Minister Simeon Brown
Transport Minister Simeon Brown Photo credit: Newshub

Brown told Morning Report that while the previous government did increase funding for road maintenance, less road was being "rehabilitated" than before.

"We want to see the real focus go back on outcomes, so it's not just more money. Yes, we'll put more money into it, into road maintenance, but we then want to require, actually, the New Zealand Transport Agency and road controlling authorities meeting clear outcomes around rehabilitating and resealing our roads so that they're actually safer to drive on."

Rather than just patch up potholes, Brown said it could involve digging roads up completely and remaking them from scratch.

At the same time, the government had brought back the Roads of National Significance programme, which was canned during the Labour years.

"We want to see a real focus on maintaining the roads, but also building the new highways that New Zealanders need, such as restarting the Roads of National Significance programme - which the last government cancelled - so that New Zealanders can actually get where they need to go quickly and safely around our country so we can grow our economy.

"But also mean that people can see this wonderful, wonderful country over summer as they love to do it - in their cars, with their family."