Imagine being able to commute to work on roads that are safe, smooth and efficient, having easy access to electric ride-sharing options, a fit-for-purpose passenger and freight rail line to Auckland and zero-emission e-buses in the central city.
Imagine being able to move our freight by rail to the port, less heavy trucks on the roads, an integrated transport network that operates seamlessly throughout our country across air, sea, road and rail.
We're at a crucial point in our transport infrastructure, where we are reducing our road speed limits in response to the poor condition of our highway network, yet we currently have no other option for heavy freight to be transported.
Northland's rail network is without a doubt one of the worst in the country, and it is long overdue for upgrading. Only this year have we seen an acknowledgement of this, with a Provincial Growth Fund investment of $300 million in provincial rail.
• Budget 2019: Shane Jones's $3 billion Provincial Growth Fund two-thirds committed
• Northland rail on track, says Winston Peters in Whangārei announcement
This funding allocation will support the upgrade of our rail network – but this is just the first step to the ideal of an integrated transport solution linking New Zealand.
A healthy, functioning rail network will allow us to remove freight transportation from our roads. A conservative estimate puts the current amount of individual truck trips on our roads at about 75,000 per year.
Having this amount of heavy freight on our roading network is not only hazardous to other drivers, but is also hard on our roads, leading to faster degrading and the need for more frequent maintenance.
We're currently able to transport 1.4 per cent of our total freight by rail, compared to a national average of 7 per cent. If we get our rail network up to a modern standard (assuming the spur to Northport and related expansions go ahead), and if more transport companies convert to rail, we could be hitting 10-14 per cent of freight being transported via rail.
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This would drastically increase the safety of our roads, reduce our local carbon emissions by thousands of tonnes per annum, drop the consumption of yet more fossil fuels and promote cleaner, more cost-effective transport options.
This is the first step, I believe, in our march towards a carbon neutral New Zealand. We need to shift our thinking to align with this goal, the steps we take now will build the future we want to have.
I am a strong supporter of zero-emission transport, and in the near future I look forward to seeing electric taxis, scooters, bikes and autonomous vehicles as our main options in Whangārei city.
These are exciting advancements for our district, and I can't wait to see the benefits to come.
• Sheryl Mai is Mayor of Whangārei District.