Last month, Mike Harrison started as the new roading manager for the Waitaki District Council. He chats to Oamaru Mail reporter Gus Patterson about the challenges and opportunities of his role.
Q Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Born and bred in Dunedin, I am an Otago lad – my wife and family are also Dunedinites. I spent many years working for the Dunedin City Council, Christchurch City Council and other councils off and on for the past few decades. I have come to Oamaru as an opportunity for the family and to get back into roading, which has been my work area for the past few decades.
Q Where were you most recently before you started at the WDC?
With Fulton Hogan. I was the pavement construction department manager.
Q Why Oamaru?
We are now in a position, with the children away setting up their lifestyles, to look for opportunities to do things that are different. We thought, ‘why not?’. My wife and I sold the house in Dunedin and moved up here and are enjoying it; it’s great.
Q What was it about the lifestyle that appealed to you?
We have been so busy, but we are now into taking the opportunity to see the countryside, to meet people – we have some brilliant stuff in Oamaru with the Oamaru Opera House here, we have the heritage business zones and a community that is starting to grow and develop. There is an opportunity to do things outside the square. I actually spent some time in 1989 repairing the breakwater, so I do have some history here.
Q What do you see as the major challenges here in terms of roading?
We have a continual demand to maintain an infrastructure and keep that developing towards the future needs of the community. We need to stay in a good position that is safe and sustainable.
Q How has roading changed since you first started in the industry?
The asset management, and ensuring that there is going to be an asset there in the future, has become very promminent in the past few years. It has always been there, but it has really taken a whole new level. It is looking around what we do today, why we do it and making sure it is the right thing we are doing for the long term. Making sure it is sustainable to the future is the big challenge.
Q What’s an example of making something sustainable?
We have a reduced amount of funding for maintaining our assets, and making that dollar stretch has become the continual challenge for everybody. It is a matter of making sure we do the right thing and only do it once. The other challenge we have is that we have a workforce that is ageing. We have to make sure we have training and development for the new workforce that is coming through, and make sure Oamaru is an attractive place to come and work.
Q What is the difference between a road now and in, say, 1990?
The major difference now is we have a changed vehicle fleet, and there are certainly more vehicles on the road. It used to be one or two vehicles per family, now it is one or two vehicles per person. The customer’s needs are around a smoother and safer road environment. We have far too many people who have been killed or seriously harmed on our roads. To target zero we need to reduce that accident rate, and that is by having a good road infrastructure, a good roadside, safe vehicles and good driving training. It is not just about building a road, but building an environment.