The recent Government Policy Statement (GPS) for transport shifts focus from state highways to road safety and public transport.
Although these goals are undisputed, the reality is that the state highway network is our lifeline and also the area most needing safety improvements. We need state highway funding.
Hamilton has grown in recent years due to the link with Auckland. The $2 billion Waikato Expressway has kick-started our growth and the next steps are to link with Tauranga through the state highway network namely the $400-$500 million extension of the Waikato Expressway from Cambridge to Piarere.
This project is at real risk of being dropped under these new priorities. Instead funds from our region will be diverted to pay for Auckland public transport initiatives.
The state highway network sees a substantial reduction in funding from its current $1.55b per year to $500m per year. In comparison, public transport increases from $530m to $830m in that time and mass transit solutions start at $340m and peak at over $1b in three years' time.
The Government has signalled a new agenda for transport that denies significant infrastructural investments in the state highway network. This should be met with anger and disappointment across New Zealand. It removes around $5 billion from the state highway construction programme over the next 10 years.
Not only does the Waikato lose this major infrastructural investment, but there is a $1 billion gap in funding for proposed transport funded through higher excise taxes, so Waikato motorists will be paying higher taxes for less investment.
The proposed increase in petrol tax for regional New Zealand will be up to 12 cents a litre more in three years alone. In addition, Hamiltonians could be paying an additional 10 cents a litre under the regional fuel tax legislation the Government introduced last week. That means drivers could pay an extra $10 to $15 every time they fill up.
The GPS also leaves Waikato Regional Council with a lot of work to do. Its current priority is the Expressway extension but to meet the GPS requirements it will need to change focus to an inter-regional rail service.
The $5-10 million rail link subsidy is no substitute for a $400-500 million Expressway extension.
Waikato residents can rightly question the benefit they will get from this every time they pay more to fill up their cars.
Even though the Expressway roads are some of the safest in the country, the Government's safety focus is being used as a reason to end them. Instead we will see a range of speed limit reductions to 60 or 80kph which will limit our productivity and add congestion. Median barriers on local roads are also proposed on state highways, which reduce safe passing opportunities and frustrate drivers behind slower vehicles.
Overall, the plan shows the Labour-Green Government doesn't understand regional priorities. We will be paying for Auckland infrastructure, whilst settling for clogged up local roads and less infrastructure that would restrict the future growth potential of Hamilton.