Traffic jam greets Nats' transport plan

By Mathew Dearnaley

Traffic delays of more than 30 minutes were reported on Monday. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Traffic delays of more than 30 minutes were reported on Monday. Photo / Brett Phibbs

National's strategists should perhaps have taken note of warning signs and adverts before releasing their transport policy on opening day for Auckland's new motorway tunnel.

Especially as their campaign chairman, Transport Minister Steven Joyce, presided over one of the region's biggest jams three summers ago after declaring the Northern Gateway toll road free for its first two days.

Now - as then - the Transport Agency has been urging drivers to be careful and patient as they queue to reach the new tunnel through congested peak-hour traffic. Delays of more than 30 minutes were reported on Monday.

That was when two lanes through the tunnel - the first of the Government's seven Roads of National Significance (Rons) - were opened to traffic, with a third lane left coned off until March.

"Victoria Park Tunnel is opening this weekend - expect delays," said agency newspaper advertising.

It referred to temporary closures, but prudent campaign planners should perhaps have taken it as an omen not to count their chickens too early.

"With the opening of the completed Victoria Park tunnel for the first time today, it is timely to look forward and start assessing additional opportunities to upgrade our roading network," Mr Joyce said in releasing National's transport policy.

But as he promised to put National's foot to the pedal in evaluating four more projects as possible Rons, Transport Agency officials were emphasising a phased approach to opening the tunnel.

"This is the first stage of quite a large project - it's a sequence of works," regional assets manager Steve Mutton said of the $406 million tunnel and associated motorway improvements.

Labour is promoting itself as a public transport party, vowing to pull the tarmac rug from under "unnecessary" highway projects it says would lock New Zealand into a high-carbon future.

It has taken a big swing at the Government's flagship roading programme, vowing to ditch the so-called "holiday highway" between Puhoi and Wellsford and to use $1.2 billion of the $1.7 billion price tag to pay a half-share of an inner Auckland rail tunnel.

Both Labour and the Greens have borrowed from a Campaign for Better Transport proposal for the highway to be abandoned in favour of allocating $320 million for a Warkworth bypass and safety improvements to the existing main road north.

But although Labour also wants trains and coastal shipping to carry far more freight, it promises to keep investing in "vital" roading such as an east-west heavy traffic corridor from East Tamaki to Onehunga, a priority of Auckland business leaders.

The Greens want a moratorium on big new urban highways and for the money to go on "more sustainable" projects such as regional transport centres and walking and cycling infrastructure to be fully paid for by the Government rather than partly by ratepayers.

National is accusing Labour of planning to abandon projects promising economic growth and of reversing its own initiative before the 2008 election in dedicating all fuel taxes to the national land transport fund.

It says Labour would sabotage KiwiRail's $4.6 billion "turnaround" plan by requiring rolling stock to be bought at a premium to support local jobs.

But Labour says National is squandering an opportunity for rail to help build a more sustainable New Zealand.

PARTY POLICIES ON TRANSPORT

National
Evaluate four more highway projects to add to the seven-strong Roads of National Significance (Rons) programme. Complete Auckland rail electrification. Continue support for $4.6b KiwiRail "turnaround" plan to which the Government is contributing $750m. Continue SuperGold Card funding. Extend exemption from road user charges for fully electric cars until 2020. Introduce tougher restricted licence tests.

Labour
Oppose widening Rons programme. Scrap the $1.7b 'holiday highway'. Pay half of Auckland's $2.4b central rail tunnel with savings from the cancelled highway. Support a Hamilton to Auckland commuter train and maintain non-trunk rail links for freight. Reduce the alcohol limit for adult drivers from 80mg of alcohol to 50mg per 100mils of blood.

Greens
Up to 100 per cent funding for public transport, cycling and walking and regional transport centres. Moratorium on building large new urban highways or motorways. Push next Government to pay for 60% Auckland central rail tunnel. Encourage freight on to trains or coastal shipping. Make emissions testing part of vehicle warrant inspections.

Act
Avoid locking into "large and inflexible" transport investments such as trains. Introduce road pricing to reduce congestion as technology permits.

United Future
Support public-private partnerships for urgent highways projects for which there is strong community support. Complete the Rons programme. Increase subsidy rate to councils for building and maintaining local roads. Encourage "walking buses" within 2km of every urban school. Emissions tests at vehicle warrant inspections.

Maori
Spend fuel taxes on reducing the environmental effects of transport, including investing in public transport, rail and sea freight.

Mana
Affordable and comprehensive public transport with $1-a-day fares. Main cities to own and control public transport, but receive Government subsidies. Affordable rural public transport.

- NZ Herald

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