$185 million needed for Northland roads

Published on 24 May 2023

Image showing roading slip after the weather event.

“Even before the storms of the past ten months, bringing Northland’s roads up to a proper standard would have cost more money than all of the region’s councils have,” said Whangārei Mayor Vince Cocurullo.

He is calling on Central Government to properly fund Northland’s transport network after “years of neglect by successive governments”.

In New Zealand, local road networks are funded partly through Council rates, with a contribution by Waka Kotahi.

“The situation is now dire. Before Cyclone Gabrielle we had an average of one slip for every kilometre on our most important roads.

“This was before we had the Brynderwyns close. It was before the problems with heavy traffic and slips and dropouts on the detour routes made Northland a separate island of New Zealand for weeks, costing our communities a minimum of a million dollars a day.

“We estimate that just bringing the District up to the standard it was in June last year will cost $185M.”

In normal times, Central government pays 53% of the repair costs of local roads and requires us to contribute the remaining 47%. Following extreme events, Government can boost its percentage to 93% for urgent response work for a set period. With the damage in the region so severe Government has announced in the Budget that it is extending the 93% past June this year.

“This is enormously helpful, although the reality is that when the cost of the work is this enormous our council doesn’t have anywhere near enough money to pay our share, especially when our contribution goes back up to 47%.

He was speaking in his capacity as Chair of the Northland Mayoral Forum. This group includes the Mayors of each of the three District Councils, the Chair of the Regional Council, and the Chief Executives of each.

It is a high-powered group whose transportation services are run by the Northland Transportation Alliance (NTA), an entity that combined the roading departments of each former Council into one organisation in June 2016. The aim was to better coordinate work and use resources more efficiently to improve the transportation network across the region.

When Treasury representatives were planning to meet last week with the Mayoral Forum in Kaikohe, the NTA analysed the state of the roads in Northland before the rain events began, the costs of repairs then and the cost now and prepared a report spelling out the situation in Northland. While the meeting was cancelled, ironically because of bad weather, the report is a matter of public record and available on Council websites.

Major rainfall events in 2022 - 2023

The rainfall in the past 10 months has been higher than ever recorded in a similar period in Northland.

In the 10 months since July 2022 the Northland roading network has suffered approximately $75M of damage from at least ten significant weather events.

  • July 2022 (2 extreme rainfall events)
  • August 2022
  • November 2022
  • January 2023 (Cyclone Hale + Auckland Anniversary weekend)
  • February 2023 (Cyclone Gabrielle + 24 February Mangawhai rainfall event)
  • May 2023 (2 Orange rain warning events)

Numbers tell the story

“Northland has been suffering from under-investment in roading by successive governments for decades now,” Mayor Cocurullo said.

“Prior to Cyclone Gabrielle we had 1,126 live slips across 1,110km of road. Of those, 557 slips were so bad that we have had to close roads to one lane.

This image shows heatmap of the slips on main roads before Cyclone Gabrielle:

Heatmap of the slips on main roads before Cyclone Gabrielle.

“It will cost $36.28M to repair just 116 of these slips and our teams estimated just keeping the roads open will cost $7.25M a year from our maintenance budgets.

“We just don’t have the money, and the $11.4M allocated by central government before the budget will cover repairs to only 32 slip sites (2.8%) over the 2021 - 2024 period.

“The numbers were high and the conditions were bad before, yet the last few months have made the numbers staggering and the conditions appalling.

“We have asked government for $185.5M, just to bring the roads up to the standard they were before July last year and to improve the Brynderwyn detour routes.”

Requests to government

The report makes six requests for funding from central government.

It asks for a total of $185.5M of investment to the Northland Council’s local roading network in addition to the $75M of local road damage repairs already underway as Emergency Works in Northland.

It asks Government to confirm it will provide funding to Waka Kotahi, to continue building its Business Case for the NEW SH1 Brynderwyns Expressway.

It asks for $107.5M to make the two local road detour routes around the Brynderwyns fit for purpose.

It states the region’s councils cannot afford to contribute their share of $17M towards “Emergency Works Financial Assistance” funded work through 2023/24, without further impacting current programmes, and another $36M (that’s $12M a year for three years) is needed to repair 116 of the total 1,126 slips on major local routes.

It explains that water is the enemy of roads, and that improved drainage can have long term benefits. It asks for a $25M one-off payment to address the growing backlog of drainage defects across 3,391km of the Region’s unsealed roads.

The report also asks government to guarantee that it will continue with funding already allocated to Waka Kotahi to repair the SH1 Mangamuka Gorge slips and improve its detour routes.

Funding drainage is key

Poor and underfunded drainage work has been identified as a major weakness, but also an area where great gains could be made for the long-term if resources were provided.

The report states that roads performed better and suffered less damage in extreme weather events when enough money had been spent on drainage and related improvements. Obtaining funding to progress this work across Northland’s unsealed network is key to providing safe and resilient roads for our remote communities.

Over the past five years the Alliance has been operating Northland’s five inspection-led maintenance contracts. Each year it has identified twice as many drainage-related defects than were funded by the budgets provided.

The report states Northland Councils were not resourced to manage their way out of this situation and, unless addressed correctly, the impacts of subsequent weather events would continue to escalate.

The report said a oneoff funding injection of $25M would address drainage issues to the point where they could be maintained within existing budgets:

  • Far North District Council – $11.81M/1,602km
  • Kaipara District Council – $8.15M/1,105km
  • Whangarei District Council – $5.04M/684km