The New Zealand Transport Agency is eyeing up tolls on four uncompleted roads which it says could support their successful opening and smooth the way for user-pays road pricing, documents released under the Official Information Act show.
Transmission Gully, the Tauranga North Link, Puhoi to Warkworth, and Petone to Grenada meet the criteria for tolling, such as making sure the fee doesn't deter motorists from using the road, that there's an alternative route, and that it's in line with the government's objectives, a paper to NZTA's investment and operations board committee in March shows.
Tolls on those roads could raise more than $28 million of extra land transport revenue a year, which would rise over time with increased road use and economic activity, and could be seen as a "step towards a modern road pricing system", the paper says.
Excluding Petone to Grenada, the routes have approved National Land Transport Programme funding the extra revenue and tolls "would increase the likelihood of these projects being completed successfully, especially given risks around decreasing revenues from existing funding streams such as fuel excise duty and road user charges."
The report shows the Tauranga Northern Link has the best benefit-cost ratio at 3.1 untolled, dropping to 1.3 with a toll, followed by Transmission Gully at 1.6 untolled and 1.1 tolled.
The Petone to Grenada route, which has subsequently been sent back to review after falling short in the project evaluation, had an untolled ratio of 1.5 and Puhoi to Warkworth 1.03. The latter two roads did not have tolled ratios confirmed at the time of the report.
At a March board meeting, NZTA's directors supported an intention to toll the four roads, subject to ministerial approval, with the user-pays model "a key demand management lever in managing the demands of the transport system," minutes published on NZTA's website said.
In July, Auckland Council and the then-government agreed to terms of reference to establish smarter transport pricing to better manage demand and ease congestion, and NZTA's board was told a key issue was to see how tolling fits with that project.
Officials warned the board that because Transmission Gully and Puhoi to Warkworth, which are both public-private partnerships, were under construction, further work that had to be done put the opportunity to impose the charge at risk by push up against the completion dates.
NZTA's board "noted the committee's request for advice to the board on the actions that can be taken to pursue or protect the option to establish a toll road for Transmission Gully in Wellington, including the process, timeline and critical path elements," the minutes said.
A report to the board in May by NZTA group manager highways and network operators Tommy Parker outlined a revised tolling programme for Transmission Gully, which delayed the start date of surveys until October this year, while still allowing approval and implementation before the scheduled opening in April 2020.
A separate document shows Transmission Gully would probably be "a different type of toll road" to others with more than one tolling point and would need different functions, such as the back office design and construction, website and contact interface, customer experience, PPP interface, and consenting.
In October, Fairfax New Zealand reported NZTA was holding informal talks with Porirua City Council about tolling, noting that a decision wouldn't be made until late 2019 and would include feedback from the community.
NZTA reiterated the point that no decision had been made in a letter accompanying the release of the documents, saying there were "very prescriptive requirements" before a decision can be made, including "extensive public consultation" to figure out the level of community support.
"The information provided to the board indicates that the four key projects being considered meet the criteria for tolling as far as can be determined at this stage, and that further investigations are needed and business cases developed," senior manager project deliver Chris Hunt said.