Govt: National Party transport plan ‘misleading’

In News9 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineAugust 4, 2023

The Government says the National Party’s newly unveiled transport policy is “breathtaking misleading”, with Transport Minister David Parker saying the price of just four of the projects comes up between $2.8 and $4.8 billion short.

Opposition leader Christopher Luxon unveiled the Transport for the Future plan on Monday, and said a National government will build “key transport connections around the country, slashing congestion, unlocking housing growth, boosting productivity and lifting incomes”.

“National’s vision is for New Zealand to become one of the world’s leading small, advanced economies and our transport plan will help drive prosperity and lift the standard of living for all New Zealanders,” he said.

“With National’s Transport for the Future plan in place, New Zealanders will be able to get where they want to go faster and spend less time in their cars and more time doing what they love. Luxon said the plan will enable freight  to move more efficiently around the country, improving productivity.

National’s Transport for the Future plan comprises:

New Roads of National Significance – including four lanes from Whangārei to Tauranga, Mill Road in Auckland, Petone to Grenada and the Cross Valley Link, Belfast to Pegasus and the Woodend Bypass north of Christchurch.

Public transport – including a rapid transit network in Auckland with transport corridors in the North West, Botany to the airport and the full Eastern busway.

Rebuilding regions and improving resilience – including priorities for rebuilding flood and cyclone-damaged regions like Northland, East Coast and Hawke’s Bay, and upgrades to transport infrastructure in Ashburton, Queenstown, Otago and Southland.

The $24 billion package will be funded through reallocated money from the National Land Transport Fund, additional government investment and other innovative funding tools like value capture – where developers who benefit from new infrastructure contribute to the cost, and equity finance opportunities for local and global investors.

However, Minister of Transport David Parker said National’s costings for the new roading projects are “literally billions of dollars short, and their explanation of how they will fund them is woefully light”.

“The shortfall in their costings for just the four projects they announced yesterday is at least $2.8 billion, and as much as $4.8 billion. You can bet it’s much higher when their other projects are included,” Parker said.

“National has form in this area – when they were last in Government, they paid for new roads by slashing the road maintenance budget. That created a long-term resilience problem for our roading network, including the pothole explosion that this Government has had to fix.

“Then they announced a $500 million pothole repair fund, paid for by raiding the road safety budget – things like traffic police, road safety barriers, passing lanes and signage would be compromised,” he said.

“Now they are putting up poorly costed roading promises across the country in their desperation to get a headline. They say they will fund it all through the National Land Transport Programme, but that is laughable.”

Parker said National would have to “fill the potholes” in the roading projects budget by slashing maintenance spending and hiking road user charges and fuel excise duties.

“But they are not telling the public that – they should come clean on where they money is going to come from,” he said.

Parker said many of National’s estimates appear to be based on old data and fail to take account of real-world escalations in road construction costs.

Between March 2021 and September 2022, roading material costs rose as much as 45%, labour costs went up 7.5%, diesel was up 90% at peak, steel up 57% and bitumen prices rose by 104%.

Looking at the four projects National announced:

Tauriko West SH29 – National has put the cost at $1.9 billion. Waka Kotahi’s latest estimates put the cost range at $2.5 – $3.25 billion ($600 million – $1.35 billion short).

Warkworth to Wellsford Expressway – National says $2.2 billion. The latest Waka Kotahi estimate is $3.5 – $4 billion ($1.3 – $1.8 billion short).

Cambridge to Piarere – National says $721 million. The latest Waka Kotahi estimate is $1.5 – $2 billion ($780 million – $1.28 billion short).

Whangarei to Port Marsden – National says $1.3 billion. The latest Waka Kotahi estimate is $1.41 – $1.67 billion ($110 – $367 million short).

“Private-public partnerships would not make any difference – they are subject to the same cost pressures. The taxpayer is still paying for Transmission Gully,” Parker said.

Meanwhile, National Road Carriers is applauding the policy. CEO Justin Tighe-Umbers said transport policy is focused on bringing back roads of national significance, resilience projects and better public transport.

He said NRC “applauds the National Party’s approach of stopping wasteful spending on non-essential nice-to-haves such as traffic slowing judder bars and projects that don’t focus enough on productivity such as Let’s get Wellington moving and light rail to Auckland Airport”.

“We need to get roading back to a place where the freight industry can efficiently and effectively deliver goods and services for the benefit of citizens and our export economy. Efficient roading contributes to emissions reduction because there is less congestion. If we build once and build right, it will enable the economy to transition to low emissions and deliver all the goods and services we need,” he said.

Luxon also said that National would “absolutely” kill Wellington’s long-awaited transport plan Let’s Get Wellington Moving if elected.

LGWM is a three-way partnership between Wellington City Council, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency. The Government’s preferred option for the plan includes light rail to the south and a second Mt Victoria tunnel.

Luxon said National would commit to scrapping the plan and just building a second tunnel through Mount Victoria.

Wellington mayor Tory Whanau said it was “disappointing” to see National “revert back to its tired, old National Roads of Significance policy” with a four-lane highway to and from Wellington Airport.

“It will do nothing to grow the city, make it more liveable or tackle the climate crisis,” she said.

“Ramming through a four-lane highway and tunnel won’t win the votes of Wellingtonians who have shown consistent support for light rail in the city.”

Meanwhile, the Green Party said National’s Transport Policy is a “rehash of failed ideas.”

“The National Party’s “visionless obsession with highways is the exact opposite of the smart investment Aotearoa needs in zero-emissions transport infrastructure,” Green Party transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter said.

“The time is now to prioritise smart, green, transport infrastructure that will benefit communities,” she said.

“You cannot build your way out of traffic congestion by making more roads. The more you build, the more people drive.”