Over the next three years we will be going full tilt writes NZTA's Geoff Dangerfield
Improving the transport system helps to get the economy moving - particularly when investment is targeted at congestion choke points around major urban employment areas, improving access to freight hubs and sea and airports, and improving connections along major growth corridors.
The Government's investment in transport will deliver tangible benefits to individual road users, and to the communities and businesses that rely on transport through the flow-on benefits that come from a well maintained and well connected transport system.
The National Land Transport Programme is a partnership between local authorities (who invest funding from ratepayers) and the NZ Transport Agency (which develops the programme and invests funds from road users). The total investment in the country's transport system over the next three years will be even greater than the $12 billion from the NLTP, as it also includes additional spending from local authorities that lies outside the programme, as well as direct investment by Government in rail, and other initiatives.
The NLTP is built off regionally-developed priorities, and it also reflects the joined-up thinking from getting around the table with public authorities and businesses to ensure that decisions about changes in land use and transport planning are integrated, and that everyone shares their ideas and pool their expertise.
Auckland and the upper North Island attract their share of investment because that's where many of the serious growth challenges are. More than 55 per cent of New Zealand's freight travels through the Northland, Auckland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty regions, and collectively these regions generate over 50 per cent of New Zealand's gross domestic product. The efficient movement of freight through the upper North Island is critical to New Zealand's economic success.
A strong, dynamic upper North Island is good for New Zealand, and to unlock Auckland's considerable potential for growth we have to take the brakes off and get the city and the region moving. It's as simple as that.
The city of Auckland has (by far) the highest traffic flows, the highest proportion of freight traffic, and the most severe congestion of any city in New Zealand. All of which has a huge effect on the efficiency of the city's transport network, which in turn has a direct impact on the level of growth and prosperity in the country as a whole. Over the next three years we'll be going full tilt to connect up key networks and provide better choices for people and goods to move around and through Auckland, and elsewhere in the country where there are significant barriers to progress.
Work is under way on the twin tunnels that are the heart of the 5km Waterview Connection. This is the final link in the Western Ring Route, and when complete it will release the full benefits of a decade of previous motorway upgrades, and provide a motorway alternative to ease pressure on State Highway 1 and the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
Commercial transport operators, businesses, commuters and tourists will all benefit from the knock-on travel benefits this project will bring. Other improvements include support for Auckland Transport's Auckland Manakau Eastern Transport Initiative (AMETI), a $1.5 billion strategy aimed at easing traffic congestion and providing much improved passenger transport links - contributing to economic growth and productivity particularly in southeast Auckland.
The Government will continue to invest in improving the effectiveness of public transport in our major centres. That includes contributing 50 per cent of the funding for passenger rail improvements like new electric trains, signalling systems and facilities in Auckland and Wellington to increase capacity and improve reliability, investing in integrated ticketing to make public transport more accessible to users as one system, and providing real time journey information for customers.
All these things will help us get the most from existing investments and make public transport a more viable travel option for commuters, particularly in major metropolitan centres. We'll also continue to invest in planning and delivering high-quality pedestrian and cyclist networks so that these active travel modes can play their part.
NZTA will continue the strong momentum of recent times to keep improving the safety of people who use the transport system.
The safe system approach we use is world best-practice and focuses on creating a forgiving road system to prevent death and serious injury rather than assigning blame.
It is all about creating safer journeys - whether it's maintaining road networks, encouraging better vehicle choices, setting appropriate speed limits, or targeting drink drivers with advertising.
There will be a continued investment in improving the efficiency of freight movements and we have been working with the freight and logistics industry to identify and upgrade freight routes and to enable trucks to carry heavier and longer loads.
Fewer truck trips for a given task gives improved safety for all road users, savings in time and fuel costs and emissions for our businesses who need to minimise their transport costs to get goods to markets competitively. Also, fewer trips mitigates congestion in our busiest cities. This initiative is also needed to cope with the forecast increase in freight volumes, which are predicted to double across New Zealand by 2040 - perhaps faster in the upper North Island.
This freight will need to compete for road space with the growing number of people living in Auckland, and current congestion levels are already reducing the productivity of the freight industry.
Earlier this year the NZTA formed a strategic alliance with KiwiRail, Auckland Transport and seven upper North Island councils to work together on finding ways to move goods more efficiently and reduce the cost of doing business.
Delivering freight efficiencies can in turn reduce the costs of trade - with the upshot being cheaper goods for New Zealanders and a competitive advantage for New Zealand importers and exporters.
By working together we know we can improve supply chains across the entire freight system in the region. It's an example of the kind of collaboration and joined up thinking that we'll need to see more of in the years ahead to deliver the high-performing transport system that New Zealand needs to grow and prosper.
* Geoff Dangerfield is chief executive of the NZ Transport Agency