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Road cone war: Wayne Brown seeks to slash $145m spend on AT traffic management

Tom Dillane,
Publish Date
Sun, 19 Mar 2023, 10:05am

Road cone war: Wayne Brown seeks to slash $145m spend on AT traffic management

Tom Dillane,
Publish Date
Sun, 19 Mar 2023, 10:05am

Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown has called on his own council organisation, Auckland Transport, to reduce its “unjustifiable” $145 million spend on road cones and traffic management in the hopes of filling a massive budget hole.

Brown has spoken to AT and utility and energy companies Chorus, Vector and Watercare about a four-step approach to reducing the frequency of lane closures and cones for road works, which he described as “excessive and unnecessary”.

As part of the plan, Brown is looking at potentially fining contractors who take up too much road space.

The mayor’s office estimates that the overarching Auckland Council Group spends at least $145m on temporary traffic management each year.

 “I do not accept the mantra ‘safety at any cost’. It cannot continue to hold back improvements to temporary traffic management, which is a costly and annoying imposition on the daily lives of Aucklanders,” Brown said.

“Contractors appear to take up more space on the road network than is necessary for their own parking, material storage and lunchrooms, increasing the cost of disruption to road users at minimal cost to themselves.

“This is an absurd and unjustifiable burden on ratepayers, consumers and road users. Fixing Auckland requires us to address exactly these sorts of systemic failures.”

Brown’s plan is: Come up with a temporary traffic management plan that is more “tailored and targeted to risk” based on the guidelines of Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency’s draft New Zealand guide to temporary traffic management that was put forward in 2022;

  1. Explore a “one-pass” approach by contractors doing maintenance wherever possible, and improve planning around this;
  2. Look at incentivising contractors to reduce the road space taken up by temporary traffic management through a system of financial charges and penalties;
  3. The mayor’s office will commission an independent report “that would quantify the costs and benefits of the existing temporary traffic management approach and the more flexible trialled approach in terms of road safety, cost, delivery time frames, and user experience”. This report will inform the roll-out of Auckland Transport’s eventual temporary traffic management system.

Brown said under AT’s current protocols, the closure of lanes and laying down of cones is similar regardless of whether it’s being done for an event or for road repairs on the road or footpath. There is also no distinction regarding whether it’s an urban or rural area.

“The proliferation of road cones is the result of an overly prescriptive temporary traffic management regime, where little to no adjustment is made for the actual level of risk, and this is where I see an opportunity for more immediate progress,” Brown said.

“I am determined to reduce the unjustifiable economic and social disruption caused by the existing approach. The length of time that roadworks take and frequency of lane closures, together with the number of road cones used, is excessive and unnecessary.”

The mayor’s office and the council’s governing body are now receiving public submissions for the 2023-24 draft budget.

The council is looking to address a $295m hole in its books, and the axe has already started to fall on jobs across the organisation - about 20 positions are to go at the property development arm as a starting point.

To produce a balanced budget required by law, Brown is proposing a mix of measures, including selling the council’s airport shares, increasing rates by less than inflation and asking council bosses to cut costs and services likely to affect amenities such as swimming pools, libraries and the zoo.

“Road repair and maintenance work is essential and unavoidable, and we must accept some traffic disruption as the price of building and maintaining Auckland’s infrastructure network, but the price we pay is too high,” Brown said.

“I was elected by Aucklanders to achieve five things – to fix Auckland’s infrastructure, stop wasting money, take back control of council organisations, get Auckland moving and make the most of our harbour and environment. It’s been a devastating start to the year, but it feels good to start some making progress and building momentum around delivering on my promises to Aucklanders.”

Road cones on Queen St. Photo / Michael Craig

Road cones on Queen St. Photo / Michael Craig

Automobile Association policy director Martin Glynn said he was broadly in support of the mayor’s plan to reduce road cones and unnecessary incursions into the streets.

“We’d probably like them [AT] to do a bit more to make sure that they’re being really efficient with their use of road space,” Glynn said.

“I think it’s really looking at the start of a job what’s needed. A lot of jobs [road works] seem to go over time. So there is a need to keep heat on contractors. I don’t think [they] necessarily recognise the costs they’re imposing on everybody.

“We’d like [AT] to be mindful of the main routes into the city centre - that’s particularly Hobson, Nelson and Fanshaw Sts. But for the city centre to thrive, they’re going to need to recognise that general traffic is part of that mix as well. They’ve gone pretty hard over the last few years.”

The Herald has reported extensively on the level of road works in Auckland’s inner city over the past five years. The City Rail Link construction and extensive infrastructure work for the 2021 America’s Cup have caused widespread disruption.

In 2020, a group of landlords and business owners in Queen Street also filed an unprecedented High Court action against Auckland Council to stop the ongoing Queen St pedestrian trial they argue is illegal and has caused “significant economic harm”.


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