National plans to dust off plans to build the Mill Rd and East-West highways in Auckland once it gets back into government, says new transport spokesman Simeon Brown.
In his first major interview since being handed the transport portfolio by National leader Chris Luxon, Brown has started his new role with the same "I'm very clear about what I stand for" approach he brought to his previous role as police spokesman.
He's right on message with National's thinking on transport.
There will be a push for new sections of highway between the Upper North Island cities of Auckland, Whangārei, Hamilton and Tauranga, public transport projects will continue in Auckland but not light rail, and National will develop a new transport funding model for next year's election.
National will also scrap plans for light rail under the Let's Get Wellington Moving project, with Brown saying the $7 billion cost will only return 40 cents in the dollar, "throwing 60c in the bin", and serve fewer people than live in his area of East Auckland.
Brown, who the Herald's senior political correspondent Audrey Young says "clearly gets under people's skin", makes no bones about the need to build more roads in Auckland.
"Having an ideological opposition to just building a road is the wrong approach. The reality is they are going to be critical for the future.
"We are a city on an isthmus, a very constrained geographical place. That means we have to invest in our roading infrastructure and create more capacity on the network over time."
He's in favour of better public transport and giving people choice, but says the 2018 census data shows the vast majority of people still drive to work and just 13 per cent of people work in the CBD.
"I get frustrated with the narrative of one mode versus the other mode. People drive cars and people use bikes and go on buses. The narrative getting pushed is it is the dirty private motor vehicle when it's people who drive those vehicles to get to work and pick up the kids," says the MP for Pakuranga.
Brown said National's key priority for Auckland is a second harbour crossing to build resilience into the transport network and the opportunity for rail to the North Shore.
This is not dissimilar to Labour, who are progressing long-running plans for a second harbour crossing, which has undergone eight studies since 1998 and is a good 15-plus years away.
Where the main parties are miles apart are on the Mill Rd highway and the East-West Link.
In June last year, Labour scrapped plans for a four-lane highway down Mill Rd from Manukau to Drury parallel to the Southern Motorway after the cost ballooned from $1.3b to $3.5b and because of climate commitments.
It has also gone silent on the East-West Link after promising to re-evaluate the project in 2016. The consented highway is intended to carry vast numbers of trucks through the city's industrial heartland between SH1 at Penrose and SH20 at Onehunga.
Brown says National will build both highways, saying they are critical for the growth of South Auckland - the East-West Link for freight distribution and tens of thousands of jobs and Mill Rd for a rapidly growing population along the 21km corridor.
"Dithering" is how Brown describes the Government's revised plans for a two-lane, safety-focused upgrade Mill Rd, which, he said, is going to have to be built as a four-lane highway sometime in the future. In the meantime, it is critical to complete route protection for the project, he said.
"Without route protection, it is only going to increase in cost, very quickly."
When it comes to public transport in Auckland, Brown said National's priorities are completing the $1.3b Eastern Busway in one of the city's most car-dependent areas, which happens to go through both his electorate of Pakuranga and Luxon's electorate of Botany.
From there, National plans to extend the busway from Botany to the Airport and build a busway to West Auckland - something the last National government chose not to do when upgrading the Northwestern Motorway.
A spur from Puhinui to the airport is favoured by Brown, who said National will scrap the Labour Government's $16 billion light rail project and look at building a busway down the Dominion Rd corridor.
Light rail from the CBD to the airport does not stack up, says Brown, saying the indicative business case is full of holes, it only just scrapes across the business case ratio of 1 and relies on tens of thousands of homes being built without taking into account the cost of the infrastructure.
On cycleways, Brown says they are a great alternative for people and would like to see more in cities, but does not subscribe to the idea that cycleways are all about modeshift.
"The priority needs to be about giving people choice, not simply building one mode over another," said Brown, who used to bike to school but stopped cycling when it came to catching the train to university.
Brown is keen to resume National's "Roads of National Significance" programme in the Upper North Island in and out of the Super City to Hamilton, Tauranga and Whangārei.
"That is effectively the growth corridor of much of New Zealand," said Brown, singling out the next stage of SH1 between Cambridge and Pairere as a priority.
"My focus as transport spokesman is having a plan on these corridors, which is clear and, to be honest, will take time and will cost money."
Talking of money, Brown said the current funding model for transport is not sustainable and becoming less so with more electric vehicles on the road and a more fuel-efficient car fleet.
He said people who use the road should pay for it and that National would reverse any changes to legislation the Government made to allow the National Land Transport Fund to pay for rail.
A more road-user charge funding model is on National's radar.
"Christopher Luxon has made it very clear to me, we need to have a policy at the next election around the funding model," said Brown.
One funding model that will not survive under National is Auckland Council's Regional Fuel Tax of 11.5c a litre, which raises about $150 million a year.
"I don't think there is a case for the fuel tax," said Brown, saying less than half of it had been spent and the rest was sitting in the council coffers.
Since being introduced in July 2018, it had raised $454m in its first three years, of which $255m was unspent at the end of June last year. Council said that was due to timing differences between the collection of the tax and planned projects.
Asked how the council would make up the lost revenue, Brown said the solution is renegotiating the council and Government's transport plan for Auckland(called ATAP) and a new funding model for transport.
Brown said future-proofing Auckland's transport infrastructure is going to cost money, require investment and a balanced pipeline of work into the future.
"Auckland is coming to a grinding halt at the moment.
"My overriding message in terms of what Aucklanders need is the future-proofing of our transport infrastructure, both for now and for future generations. It's not just about building roads but improving access to public transport and giving people more choice."