Truckers fed-up with dangerous roads

By Aroha Treacher
  • North Island: East Coast

Logging truck drivers on Te Tairāwhiti have had enough of what they say are the poorly maintained roads they are forced to use every day.

A record boom in the forest industry has seen the roads being hammered 24/7, making continued road maintenance a struggle. Truck drivers say the poorly maintained roads make for treacherous driving, not only endangering themselves but the lives of others.

The Condition of the public roads in question have its road users extremely worried.

According to one truck driver, Anthony Spencer, “It's definitely a dangerous job, in the last year we've had two drivers killed on the roads.”

All the truck drivers want is the roads to be maintained properly and regularly, driving a 44 tonne truck along poorly maintained roads is a nightmare waiting to happen.

According to a Māori businessman, Eru Wharehinga, “the problem with the roads is there are big holes, that really shake the trucks, if you don't have a load on your truck, then it's not too bad, but the shuddering really destroys the tyres, making it slippery at times in the wet.”

So we took a trip down Mata Rd, a windy, steep and narrow 19km stretch of metal road, where using an RT is your only lifeline.

For a loaded logging truck driving along this road, a corrugated piece of road could cause a serious accident.

Tom Stone of Stone Enterprises, says, “We all know that business is all about making money, and as the workers we need the money too, but we don’t want to die doing it. When I come to work, I want to return home safely.”

The Gisborne District Council has received many complaints from the public including truck drivers themselves, who say their pleas aren't being heard.

Gisborne Mayor, Meng Foon says, “We are trying our best to maintain the roads, I am listening to the community and the issues they are raising.”

Of the council's $50 million dollar annual budget, around $5 million is spent on the East Coast roads. The council admits the amount of trucks using those roads far exceeds what was predicted, so an independent audit of Mata Road is underway to identify areas that need improvement.

The forestry industry is booming, $225 million in fact for the Tairāwhiti region last year alone. The workers are run off their feet and  can barely keep up with demand.

With global demand so high, the Gisborne Port is now a 24-hour operation. Over 350 loads carried by these trucks pass through its gates every day, that equals a daily haul of 10,000 tonnes of wood product.

In 2005 the annual count was a mere 350,000 tonnes, compare that to this year's forecast of 2.2 million tonnes passing through the Gisborne Port, and those tonnes mean record profits.

It's all off the backs of workers like Anthony Spencer, who has been driving trucks for more than 20 years. He drives the East Coast roads 14 hours a day, six days a week and he's seen it all.

While solutions to fix the roads are being sought, the works continues, the drivers keep driving and members of the public keep using the same roads. The peak period of forestry harvest is expected to last well into 2024, but for these truckies, they just hope it isn't a ten year wait before a solution is found.

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