There’s an element of “if you can do $24 billion, then we can (almost) double it” about Labour’s bulging $35b to $45b transport plan to transform Auckland’s harbour links.
After criticism for lacking the boldness of smaller parties, National and now the governing party are conspicuously Thinking Big as election campaigns near the home straight.
Following National’s highway-heavy plan to lessen Kiwi motorists’ angst, Labour is promising the works for the Waitematā Harbour in stages.
There would be twin road tunnels across the harbour and one for light rail heading north to Albany with work starting in 2029.
Changes would be made to the bridge for a mixture of vehicles, cycling and walking; the Northern Busway would extend into downtown; and State Highway 1 on the North Shore would be raised to reduce flooding risk.
Transport Minister David Parker said the crossing plan would be “essential to maximising the value of other important investments such as City Rail Link currently under construction”.
With this particular plan, there are questions about cost-effectiveness and timing. It is very long-term, taking decades to complete. The entire project or parts of it could be kicked aside by a different government before it gets under way.
While the emphasis on light rail and buses is welcome from a climate perspective, the Greens called the plan’s extra road tunnels “fuel on the fire”. And what of shorter-term, low-carbon initiatives given the urgency of reducing emissions?
Plenty would welcome another way of driving across. It would appear to be a major play for the biggest pool of voters. But it’s a huge amount of money to spend on a project mainly benefiting North Shore residents.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins highlighted the wider picture saying, “The network will become joined up, allowing Aucklanders to travel from north to south, east and west on public transport - freeing up room on the existing harbour bridge and in the new road tunnel for those who want to drive.”
Getting transportation right in New Zealand’s biggest economic area is important. Still, what about the rest of the country?
There’s scepticism also over Labour’s ability to deliver. Previous transport plans litter a pit of delayed dreams. Light rail has still to get on track.
National’s election promises so far have run into scepticism over both their likely effectiveness and the funding. Vague references mention spending cuts, investments, partnerships, reprioritisation and achieving efficiencies.
National’s coalition partner Act did provide some detail when it said on Sunday it wants to halve the MBIE’s 6000 staff and axe programmes it disagrees with.
Leader David Seymour talked of stop-work notices to ministries and listed specific “failing” projects initially to be cut. Incoming ministers would be briefed by public service bosses on their workforces, costs and activities so “ministers will then identify teams and activities they require departments to cut”.
Critics could argue this is acting without fully considering the consequences. Making thousands of people redundant would be costly and there would be other downstream impacts over government projects involving many others.
This might be music to the ears of Act supporters but, for some voters, it presents a glimpse of how Act’s influence might play out in government after October 14.