Here's a sobering thought. The $28 billion the Government and the Auckland Council plan to spend on transport in this city in the next 10 years will not clear congestion on the roads. With a fast-rising population it will, they hope, do no more than hold congestion at 2016 levels.
The $28b will come roughly two-thirds from central government and one third from the council. It relies on a regional fuel tax, levied by the council, that will bring in $150 million a year: $1.5b over the 10 years. More importantly, that money will be leveraged. It will attract a 1:1 subsidy from government and development income as well, taking it to an expected $4.3b.
That's a remarkable win for Auckland: we'll pay 10c a litre, plus GST, and get almost three times as much benefit from it.
Not, though, according to National's transport spokesperson Jami-Lee Ross. He's not having a bar of it.
"Aucklanders deserve better transport links and National proved they could be delivered without imposing major new taxes," he said last week. "National was delivering a record infrastructure package without new taxes because we managed the books well and made practical investments."
This is fanciful. When the National-led Government's 10-year transport package was announced in 2016, it was worth $24b and they admitted they did not know where $4b of that was going to come from. That gap grew in the next year to $5.9b. The Government and council between them simply did not have the money to fund the projects they were committed to.
In total, their plans were $9.9b adrift of what the new Government has come up with now.
Ross also claimed the new plan was basically National's own plan. "The Government has just re-announced National's Auckland transport package," he declared. On grounds of funding, priorities and overall strategy that was wildly fanciful.
The new plan will shift the spending plans of the previous Government sharply towards public transport, local arterial roads, cycling and walking, and road safety. The heart of the strategy is to create a rapid transit network for the city. They want to encourage people to leave the car at home, by making the alternatives more attractive.
The heart of National's strategy is to provide more roading capacity for people to drive. National had proposed to spend far more on "Roads of National Significance" and other highways, including the proposed East-West Link from Penrose to Onehunga.
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff is head cheerleader for the regional fuel tax, and not just because of how lucrative it will be. He told council this week there is a principle at stake: the city, he said, has to pull its weight. Government support was essential, but Auckland had to be prepared to pay a reasonable share of the costs of the extra transport spending.
We can't do it with rates, he said, because that would require them to rise by 14 per cent. The regional fuel tax was a far better option.
National opposes the regional fuel tax. Ross says government taxation should cover it. If you're reading this in Timaru or Taihape, his message boils down to this: Auckland doesn't need to find that money itself because the rest of the country can pay.
One councillor, by the way, disagrees with Goff about the rates. Daniel Newman, representing Manurewa-Papakura, said he would prefer a 14 per cent rates rise.
The council voted to put the fuel tax proposal out for public consultation this week and will vote finally on it on May 31. It seems unlikely Newman will get any support for his position. But although all councillors seem to be keen on the transport plan, it is possible several of them will vote against imposing a regional fuel tax to help pay for it.
If their view prevails, proposed transport projects all over the city will be defunded. As the table on this page shows, the tax is not for big-ticket items but will mainly be channelled into a whole lot of local improvements.
The biggest item ($225m) is safety on urban and rural roads. There'll be more red-light cameras, redesigned intersections, speed management, roadside barriers and so on. The target is ambitious: a 60 per cent reduction of deaths and serious injuries over 10 years.
The CRL should be completed early next decade, allowing greater frequency on all the rail lines. They've already ordered 15 new trains, now $213m is allocated for 20 more.
The biggest allocation of the tax to a single project is $201m for the Eastern Busway: a rapid transit link from Botany to the big transport interchange at Panmure. Jami-Lee Ross will surely be pleased: Botany is his electorate.
Other roading improvement projects specifically named in the plans include Lake Rd, Matakana Link Rd, Lincoln Rd, Smales and Allen Rds and Glenvar Rd. Penlink and Mill Rd, the big new arterial routes announced earlier, will be part-funded by the regional tax.
Public transport will benefit with more Park and Rides, more T2/T3 lanes, more frequent and more regular bus services and a new downtown ferry terminal. Cycling and walking routes will get a big boost, with the city-based network spreading further out, new routes in many outer suburbs and more shared paths around schools and parks.
Ross has consistently linked the regional tax to the light rail line from downtown to the airport, but that service will be entirely paid for by the Government. Besides, that line will primarily be a commuter line that serves as part of the much bigger network. It's not an indulgence, but integral to the whole project.
Auckland desperately needs this new plan and therefore it needs the regional fuel tax to help pay for it. It's easy for opponents to cry "no more taxes" and to dismiss light rail as a "trolley". But Auckland deserves better. We need all the parties of Parliament to be forward-thinking about the future of this city.
Have your say on the Regional Fuel Tax
Public submissions are open till May 14. Visit aucklandcouncil.govt.nz and search for Regional Fuel Tax.