Finance Minister Grant Robertson devoted special attention to Auckland's infrastructure challenges in his speech to the Auckland Chamber of Commerce this week.

It was good to hear because, despite some progress in the past year, the city needs more focus from central government.

Robertson talked up the cost of gridlock on Auckland roads ($1.3 billion) and the lost productivity cost of an inflated and speculative housing market. Despite being a southern man he clearly understands the economic value of Auckland and sees why the city needs to be functioning efficiently for New Zealand to really fire on all cylinders.

He outlined some of the fresh approaches the new Government will be taking.


Broadly he talked about "turning on the tap of infrastructure finance". That will involve innovative funding solutions like "infrastructure bonds serviced by a targeted rate".

He outlined plans for tolls — although he studiously avoided the word. The Government would be "investigating a GPS-based network or transport pricing system".

"This will allow us to fully internalise transport costs so that roads and motorways aren't a disguised subsidy for sprawl."

That sounds like tolling to me, but that's fine. That's a continuation of work that the last Government was also committed too.

Robertson indicated the Government may move soon on legislation to enable new tolls. It has already moved to enable a regional fuel tax.

There are bold plans for rail which will enable the city to leverage the City Rail Link when it is completed

The East-West link has been canned but alternative options are being explored.

"We will be making an investment in that corridor, but not the $2b option proposed by the previous Government," Robertson said.


It is important that the change in government doesn't stall the momentum already under way. The problems facing Auckland are too pressing for a stop-start again approach.

And, despite the concerns, some things are working.

I've written before about the Waterview Connection being an example of planners getting something right — in advance of its opening. After six months or so it's fair to say it has very much lived up to billing.

There is a wave of residential building under way and Auckland's housing affordability has actually started to improve. Photo / File
There is a wave of residential building under way and Auckland's housing affordability has actually started to improve. Photo / File

Having put up with years of traffic disruption while it was being built I now find myself in what is presumably a privileged position as an Auckland commuter with nothing to complain about.

I survived the worst of the build by dodging traffic on a motorbike.

But for the sake of my own longevity I've switched back to the buses after a decade break.

The improvement on the Western routes has been staggering. The biggest improvement in travel time has been achieved by removing the wait at the bus stop.

Buses arrive every six minutes during peak times. In most cases they are new double deckers, uncrowded, with air-conditioning and fantastic views.

I also have the option of getting on my bicycle. I'm lazy but it is good for me and the Western cycleway really makes it hard to find excuses. The cycle path is almost door to door from home to work. It is a pleasure to ride.

Both the buses and the cycleway are also likely to get better in the next year.

New bus stops that keep buses out of the flow of traffic are being added along Great North Rd.

The cycle way is being upgraded, to avoid one of the steepest hills up and over Newton Gully.

So I'm good. I have access to world class transport options.

The point of this positivity is not to imply that Auckland's gridlock is not a problem.

I know I am lucky to live on a major transport route.

I recently tried to head south for a weekend away on a Friday afternoon. My frustration during the two-hour crawl out of the city was tempered only by my sympathy for those around me who clearly faced this kind of commute on a regular basis.

But it is worth acknowledging that there has been good progress made in the past few years — and some of us are seeing it.

Critics of the National Government — including many within the business community — felt investment in Auckland infrastructure was too slow and too conservative.

The same sentiment surrounds National's housing policy. But, likewise, there has been progress.

There is a wave of residential building under way and Auckland's housing affordability has actually started to improve. It is vital that momentum is maintained.

Shifts in policy direction may alter the path to a better city. But there is no time to stop and start again.

The new Government has different priorities and different values about how things should be achieved. We know we can expect more focus on rail.

With any luck we'll see new solutions to the lingering problems that don't undermine existing work.

Listening to Robertson talk about Auckland, it is clear that the long-term goals for building remain much the same. We need more affordable housing, built around transport hubs. And we need to carry residents along on the journey.

When Auckland get it right — which it does more often than it gets credit for — it's a truly world class city.