National’s newly announced $212 million roading package for the regions is a perfect example of pork barrel politics. It’s also a handy little way to blunt Labour’s attack on National for having abandoned the regions. Of the various regional projects, Gisborne gets two – speeding up the development of slow vehicle bays on State Highway 35 (which will be welcomed), and replacing the Motu Bridge.
The latter project has produced a number of quizzical looks here in Gisborne. For those who don’t know the area, the Motu Bridge is a one lane bridge almost an hour out of Gisborne, just past Matawai on the way to Opotiki. The Gisborne – Opotiki journey is not a particularly high traffic route. There are apparently only 900 vehicle movements across the bridge every day, and I can only recall one occasion in the last year and a half where I have had to stop for a vehicle coming the other way. There are no safety issues with the bridge that I’m aware of, and it doesn’t cause traffic blockages.
The quizzical looks are only increased by the fact that approximately $100,000 has just been spent strengthening the bridge, future-proofing it for the next twenty-five years and allowing heavier truck movements across it. That strengthening work is due to be completed in the next fortnight – a complete waste of time and money if National now intends to tear the bridge down and build a new one.
The cost of replacing the bridge is estimated at between $3m to $5m. As a Gisborne resident, I can think of a multitude of other roading projects that would be of far more value to the region, at a fraction of the cost. As Gisborne councillor Meredith Akuhata-Brown has said:
“I can understand the Government wants to be seen to throw some sweets to the regions, but I think we have other projects that need funding before these ones. It really makes a mockery of the process council and NZTA has organised that includes a series of workshops with representatives from the transport sector, community, council and government agencies. What we come up with is supposed to then be checked with the public before being confirmed.
“The announcements yesterday undermines whatever the outcomes of that process are.”