Forestry impacts, funding for roads up for debate

EDITORIAL

How the forestry industry pays a fair share of local spending on roads, and what that might be, is set to be a hot topic during consultation for the Long-Term Plan early next year.

A big step-up in funding is needed to make local roads, in particular, sturdy enough for the increasing log truck traffic which is also a major contributor to the deterioration of our highways. Tairawhiti Roads and its contractors are proving unable to keep up even with maintenance because of limited budgets.

In hindsight, it is clear that savings from “efficiency gains” in the new type of five-year roading contracts that began in October 2015 should have been invested into further resourcing of road maintenance, rather than being pocketed by NZTA ($12.1m) and the council ($4.6m). The powers-that-be should be looking to unwind that situation, but the need is so great that putting this money back in would only scratch the surface of our potholed roads.

Of course, major challenges are caused by the soft soils that lie under our region’s road network. But councils and governments over many years have not adequately prepared for getting the long-forecast “wall of wood” from hillsides down to the port.

An estimated $25 million of investment is required over the next decade to upgrade the pavement of selected rural roads to allow access for log extraction. Numerous bridges also need to be strengthened. Even after this expenditure, some private woodlots will remain isolated from a sufficiently-sturdy road network.

At their Future Tairawhiti meeting on Thursday, councillors will consider a range of options to see a greater share of road spending come from the forestry industry, and/or for the industry but from central government.

Most interesting is a proposal for a new levy on all logs going through the port. The council sees a commitment on this front as potentially unlocking extra government land transport funding to support the effects of forestry.

Both options will face hurdles, though, which could leave the council having to fall back on major changes to its differential targeted roading rate system — probably to a weight-based model.

How the forestry industry pays a fair share of local spending on roads, and what that might be, is set to be a hot topic during consultation for the Long-Term Plan early next year.

A big step-up in funding is needed to make local roads, in particular, sturdy enough for the increasing log truck traffic which is also a major contributor to the deterioration of our highways. Tairawhiti Roads and its contractors are proving unable to keep up even with maintenance because of limited budgets.

In hindsight, it is clear that savings from “efficiency gains” in the new type of five-year roading contracts that began in October 2015 should have been invested into further resourcing of road maintenance, rather than being pocketed by NZTA ($12.1m) and the council ($4.6m). The powers-that-be should be looking to unwind that situation, but the need is so great that putting this money back in would only scratch the surface of our potholed roads.

Of course, major challenges are caused by the soft soils that lie under our region’s road network. But councils and governments over many years have not adequately prepared for getting the long-forecast “wall of wood” from hillsides down to the port.

An estimated $25 million of investment is required over the next decade to upgrade the pavement of selected rural roads to allow access for log extraction. Numerous bridges also need to be strengthened. Even after this expenditure, some private woodlots will remain isolated from a sufficiently-sturdy road network.

At their Future Tairawhiti meeting on Thursday, councillors will consider a range of options to see a greater share of road spending come from the forestry industry, and/or for the industry but from central government.

Most interesting is a proposal for a new levy on all logs going through the port. The council sees a commitment on this front as potentially unlocking extra government land transport funding to support the effects of forestry.

Both options will face hurdles, though, which could leave the council having to fall back on major changes to its differential targeted roading rate system — probably to a weight-based model.

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