We keep coming up with lists of projects to address Auckland's rapidly worsening traffic congestion but then blame a funding shortage for not delivering them quickly. That's no solution to what is Auckland's No 1 problem.
But how real is Auckland's funding shortage?
Auckland Council cites a tight debt-to-revenue ratio constraint for its limited capital investment programme. It is quietly supporting central government providing the capital to get a package of (non-State Highway) "ready-to-go" projects under way.
Government on the other hand rightly points out that it already provides Auckland with around $1.2 billion a year for transport compared to Auckland Council's $650 million; a share that government argues is declining in proportion to its increased revenue from ratepayers.
These arguments get us nowhere. Someone needs to step in and lead a fresh look at identifying practical funding solutions that a seriously aligned Auckland-Wellington leadership could immediately apply to deliver the transport projects council and government took two years to agree were needed.
Most obvious, has anyone seriously looked at how Auckland Council could circumvent its debt-to-revenue ratio brake? It doesn't seem credible that a city with $60b-plus of assets could use this constraint as an excuse for lack of investment action.
Otherwise the Crown is an obvious party to "take over" Auckland Council's inability to fund the critical transport infrastructure Auckland (New Zealand Inc) needs, and do so on its terms.
Second, what about debt funding? Government and council annually allocate around $2b to Auckland transport. They could use this lump sum to debt-fund, say, a 10-year programme to implement all the projects they agree are required immediately. And then use subsequent annual allocations to pay the interest cost. The benefits to Auckland would be immediate - for commuters looking for action on congestion, contractors wanting construction programme certainty, investors and workers wanting assurance that Auckland is taking steps to remain an attractive city.
Another option is an Auckland transport infrastructure bond issue. Talked about for years, it would be a long overdue innovative step in the right direction. I don't profess to have all the answers to how it would work, but other cities use this approach. I am aware that there is significant private sector interest, including among Aucklanders.
Auckland has an agreed $24b list of transport projects that government and council want to do over the next 10 years, of which $4b is unfunded. So why not raise a $4b infrastructure bond issue to immediately close this gap? Another option is to tie the bond to a specific "ready-to-go" project where there is a revenue source.
Other options include council extending the transport targeted rate until the proposed permanent "user-pays" or demand funding scheme being jointly developed by council and central government is ready.
Then there are numerous "value capture" options that many cities use. These range from substantial revenue from multi-storey tower blocks over "park-and-ride" and train stations, apartments along rail and road corridors where council or government have surplus land, and other productivity benefit options.
An Auckland lottery is another idea - Brisbane in Queensland has funded a motorway corridor by a dedicated lottery.
Public-private partnership options with big potential include KiwiSaver, ACC (already investing in motorway projects), and multiple international firms keen to invest here.
My point: The money exists to pay for the transport infrastructure that Auckland critically needs. It's about how we organise ourselves better to tap all practical conventional and innovative sources available.
Finally, it is clear to me that if the council and especially government continue to be unwilling to lift the pace and investment needed to solve congestion and other transport issues Auckland has - it won't just be our transport crisis that will continue to get worse, but the city's employment and other social problems exacerbated by the cost and frustration of moving around the city.
The funding options I have put up don't need a prolonged debate. Most are proven. What's needed is action - now.
- Michael Barnett is chief executive of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the Auckland Business Forum.