Waka Kotahi has drastically under-performed this year based on its targets set in the Government’s annual accountability document.  

A briefing from Ministry of Transport officials to Transport Minister David Parker said it was of “particular concern that a significant number of road safety-related measures are off-track and unlikely to be achieved by year-end”. 

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The number of deaths and serious injuries has increased 11 percent year-on-year to March. 

“At 2,876… while [deaths and serious injuries] are lower than the 2018 baseline of 2,978, they are above the target of 2,418 for the year ending June 30 2023,” officials said.  

Overall 41 percent of the agency’s capital projects were off-track. 

This includes half of its New Zealand Upgrade Programme projects such as the South Auckland package and Queenstown package and a third of the projects committed to in the Land Transport Programme including Puhoi to Warkworth, State Highway 29 Tauriko Enabling Works, and Transmission Gully (which is open but not technically complete).  

“Waka Kotahi assess the overall outlook for [the Upgrade Programme] as ‘red’, reflecting programme-wide cost pressures and the risk of being unable to deliver the programme within the current funding envelope. 

“The extreme weather events that occurred during the March 2023 quarter have adversely impacted Waka Kotahi performance during 2022/23 and increases risk to the agency’s future performance.” 

The briefing points to a number of “extreme risks” for Waka Kotahi – first and foremost its revenue structure. 

“This risk is being mitigated by the land transport revenue review currently underway; but will need to be actively managed by the board from a liquidity perspective and to minimise pre-commitments and financial pressure.” 

In a different briefing, officials accepted funding pressures would mean the planned investment in road safety would not be able to continue, in order to meet the Road to Zero goal of 40 percent fewer deaths and serious injuries.  

“The key interventions needed to reach our reduction target include transformational infrastructure improvements, targeted speed changes on the parts of the road network that offer the greatest benefit, increased levels of enforcement (both by safety cameras and police officers), supported by updated levels of fines and penalties, and improved safety performance of the vehicle fleet.  

“These interventions (plus other supporting interventions) come at an estimated cost of around $1 billion per year over the course of the 10-year Road to Zero strategy. 

“Current pressures on the National Land Transport Fund mean this level of funding for safety improvements will not be possible over the next Government Policy Statement on land transport (GPS 2024).” 

Approximately $1 billion over three years will move from the road safety category to maintenance.

Information released by Waka Kotahi shows that where they have been able to carry out road safety work, it is working.  

“Longswamp to Rangiriri section of State Highway 1. In the 11 years prior to the barriers being installed there were 16 deaths and 25 serious injuries on this corridor. In the 11 years after there have been two deaths and 11 serious injuries, a 68 percent reduction.  

“State Highway One Centennial Highway median barrier project. There were 18 deaths and 18 serious injuries on this corridor in the 10 years prior to the median barrier being installed. In the 10 years since installation, there have been three serious injuries.” 

Similarly, on State Highway 6 officials say deaths and serious injuries have been significantly reduced.

“Following the engagement and consultation with communities during October 2019, it was decided to reduce the existing 100kph limits to 80kph in places and introduce new 90kph speed limits on appropriate sections. The new speed limits took effect on December 18 2020 and in the two years since, [deaths and serious injuries] have reduced by around 80 percent whilst the average journey time has increased by about four minutes over the 110km length ie two seconds per kilometre.”

Recently the NZ Herald also reported that reduced speed limits on State Highway 5 between Rangitāiki and Esk Valley had prevented 34 crashes in 12 months while adding no more than three seconds per kilometre travelled. 

But getting the level of interventions in place has been a significant challenge. 

Aside from funding, public buy-in for reduced speed limits has been challenging for some regions, with consultation taking longer than expected

The rollout of median barriers is also well below where it was hoped to be. As of March this year, 11km of median barrier had been retrofitted and there was 85km of new median barrier. The target was 400km by next year and 1000km by 2030. 

In March Prime Minister Chris Hipkins announced a “significant narrowing” of the speed limit reduction programme as part of his policy reprioritisation.

The changes now direct Waka Kotahi to focus on the most dangerous one percent of State Highways.

However, modelling for Road to Zero has been based on the highest risk 10,000km of New Zealand’s roads being treated with safe and appropriate speed limits. Approximately two-thirds of these high-risk roads are on the state highway network.

Officials have said more expensive road safety measures would be needed to make up the gap from not reducing speeds in some areas that had been originally targeted. 

Waka Kotahi equates the social cost of deaths and serious injuries as billions each year.

“In the 12 months between September 2021 and October 2022, 348 people died with a social cost to New Zealand of $7.7 billion and this only accounts for death and serious injury, not minor injuries,” a May report into the Road to Zero programme said. 

The final confirmed figures on how far off Waka Kotahi was in meeting its targets for the year ended June will be available when its annual report is released later this year. 

Emma Hatton is a business reporter based in Wellington.

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