Michael Barnett and Kim Campbell: Transit mess holds back growth

In the first of two articles Michael Barnett and Kim Campbell argue for new thinking on Auckland traffic.

An artist's impression of the Ameti busway. Photo / Sarah Ivey
An artist's impression of the Ameti busway. Photo / Sarah Ivey

The building of infrastructure should lead and guide where new resources are to be unleashed. Auckland has a lot going for it.

More than a million people from nearly 200 countries have moved here since the mid-1960s. Projections show the population will keep on growing twice as fast as the rest of New Zealand for the foreseeable future - 1.6 per cent every year compared to the country's average 0.9 per cent.

Another million people will call Auckland home within 30 years. No wonder demand for housing is rising in Auckland along with pricing.

Auckland is also growing in ways very different to the rest of New Zealand. As other big cities do for their countries, Auckland is New Zealand's major economic engine. The Christchurch rebuild and other regions depend on Auckland to keep growing.

All New Zealand needs an aspirational Auckland to realise their ambitions for better living standards.

But Auckland's attractiveness and rapid growth is also its greatest risk.

The 25,000 new residents added annually need 12,000 new homes built every year.

Housing of reasonable quality must be located near efficient transport systems for getting to and from work and schools. Solving our transport and housing woes are inextricably linked.

Rapid population growth, a lack of affordable housing, and underinvestment in transport combined, have the makings of a perfect social and economic storm.

To avert it we need a radical change of approach to how we fund and build basic infrastructure.

Traditionally, central and local government policies go about building transport and other infrastructure to service developments once they have occurred. It's totally the wrong way around and extremely wasteful.

Building infrastructure is itself both a major driver of growth as well as the trigger for encouraging new enterprises, housing and other economic action. But the building of infrastructure should lead and guide where new resources are to be unleashed, not provided after the event.

Our existing old approach measures the benefits of infrastructure such as transport over a relatively short time frame, 20 to 30 years, section-by-section. It explains why, after more than 50 years, Auckland's motorway network is still incomplete. It is this approach that has held back Auckland's capacity to sensibly exploit and manage our huge growth potential. Instead we should take to heart the Chinese proverb: "To get rich I build a road first."

Specifically, by measuring the benefits of major transport projects over their realistic life using discount rates of say 100+ years, the attractions of investing in Auckland's top priorities, as signed off in our Auckland Plan - the Auckland Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative (Ameti), with the East-West Link, the Central Rail Loop (CRL), and an additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing - become compelling.

If Government had used the Treasury modelling they use today to model the Auckland Harbour Bridge back in the 1950s, it would never have been built. Building it set off a construction and business-led growth boom on the North Shore so much so the bridge had to be widened within a few years of its completion.

The same sort of growth would be triggered by the Ameti/ East-West Link and the rail loop, projects which are crucial for Auckland's transport of goods and housing development. The Auckland Plan directs they be delivered by 2021 - just nine years off.

In this article we discuss the importance of the Ameti/East-West link.

Developing the Ameti/East-West Link has been on Auckland's transport plans from the 1950s, with land reserved for a portion of the route since 1965 and a connection on paper to the Western Ring Route (SH20) at Onehunga and the Southern Motorway.

At present, local roads in the vicinity carry more heavy freight vehicles than most of New Zealand's state highways. They represent the start and end point for many upper North Island freight services, both road and rail. The link is required to improve access to the rail freight hub at Metroport, New Zealand's third largest container port, and the many major employment and distribution businesses nearby.

Freight traffic in the locality is about to double. With many local roads already congested for much of the working day, an efficient integrated Ameti and East-West Link is urgent.

Some limited work is under way, but we have major concerns at the lack of progress to plan, design and build an integrated corridor as the Auckland Plan directs.

Our immediate concerns are:

Ameti (Stage 1) and planning for the East-West Link are being run as separate projects. Instead, the legacy Ameti sections are being developed primarily as a corridor for bus transport while the East-West section is being investigated with freight in mind.

The East-West section investigation presumes government funding will apply, which we strongly endorse, while the unfunded Ameti sections are not.

The disjointed approach is unacceptable. This route development will generate high productivity benefits by easing heavy traffic congestion, including to the MetroPort rail freight terminal, and it's obvious that a reconfigured and integrated design of the whole link project is vital.

The project has also been consulted to death. Now a comprehensive integrated design package is called for, with a supporting overall business case, and a clear timeline to complete it by 2021.

The integrated Ameti/East-West Link is expected to cost $2.5 billion but generate the level of productivity benefits that easily justify it. Among them is a faster return on the multibillion dollars we have already spent on the new Manukau Harbour Bridge, Spaghetti Junction, the Newmarket Viaduct and Victoria Park Tunnel.

Investment in it is long overdue, if on the basis of nothing else than its large potential to make money and grow the economy.

So we have written jointly to the Prime Minister and Auckland mayor seeking their priority attention to it, and to other, big game-changing projects, plus about six other smaller projects that are stalled by funding constraints and slow planning.

Meeting Auckland's challenges is less about a funding shortfall and more about Auckland delivering future value by leveraging off our existing resources.

The investment programme of the scale, focus and urgency we envisage will create an enduring business environment with many diverse employment benefits.

But without work on these projects starting soon, and as an integrated package, Auckland will be high and dry, continuing to miss out on the transformational steps needed to cope with our population and housing growth.

Michael Barnett is chief executive of the Auckland Chambers of Commerce.
Kim Campbell is chief executive of the Employers & Manufacturers Association.

The case for the city rail loop

- NZ Herald

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