COMMENT: Transport Minister Phil Twyford mounts his defence against claims the Government is turning its back on roading.
There has been a lot of commentary and confusion on the Transport Agency's 12 re-evaluated projects road.
Firstly, people like Heather du Plessis-Allan are saying the Government isn't building these roads (Herald on Sunday, July 14). Not true. All the projects are either going ahead unchanged, have been re-designed so that they give taxpayers value for money and prioritise safety, or will go ahead in the future when funds are available. The only highway that is still being re-evaluated by NZTA is the East-West Link, which was going to cost an eye-watering $327 million per kilometre under the last Government. We know that there needs to be better access for freight to that area, so that's why we left $800m in the Auckland Transport Alignment Plan to fund a more cost-effective option.
Sam Stubbs repeated the claim that the 12 projects NZTA re-evaluated were "shovel ready" under the last Government – this is simply not true. Even just going through the project pages on the NZTA website shows that most of them didn't even have a preferred route before the last election. He also said that "the 12 roading projects passed the economic return test a long time ago" – again, not true. Some hadn't even had a benefit cost analysis done. Stubbs mentioned that "…the business minds want roads", which isn't 100 per cent accurate either as group managing director of Mainfreight Don Braid said last year that rail is a necessity and that it can be second corridor to take the load off the roading infrastructure.
Our Government has doubled the amount of lane kilometres being brought up to scratch every year. In total, we're spending around $2 billion to operate, maintain and renew over 80,000km of local roads – 22 per cent more than the previous Government.
Stubbs also argues "no new rail should be built" because it's uneconomic. This completely ignores the benefits that rail brings. The EY Value of Rail Report found that rail prevents at least 271 safety incidents per year by reducing the number of trucks on the road. It also found that tonne of freight moved by rail delivers a 66 per cent reduction in carbon emissions compared with trucks. This doesn't even take into consideration how much congestion it prevents by giving commuters a real alternative to driving. You only have to look at the chaos on the roads when it breaks down to see how vital it is for Auckland and Wellington.
The Business Advisory Council suggested we use private investment to fund more than $12 billion worth of four-lane motorways which the previous Government left unfunded. The idea that private investors are like a source of free money is ludicrous. Borrowing money to build infrastructure is not a problem, getting the money to pay off the debt is the challenge. Tolling will not do it either as none of these roads would have the traffic volumes to generate enough revenue to service the debt. Building these 12 projects as four-lane motorways means there would be no money left to do anything else in the transport budget.
However, when the Business Advisory Council said we should have "a comprehensive, scaled up solution of rail and roads and coastal shipping and other modes," we agreed because that is exactly our Government's transport policy. Our Government is taking a balanced approach and investing more than ever before in local roads, public transport, rail, walking and cycling after years of 40 per cent of the transport budget being taken up by seven handpicked motorways that only carried 4 per cent of vehicle journeys.
Our Government is actually spending more in total on local roads and state highways through the National Land Transport Programme than the last Government. The truth is that the previous Government underfunded road maintenance. It's no wonder that truckies are getting frustrated with the state of our roads. NZTA are now playing catch-up and our Government has doubled the amount of lane kilometres being brought up to scratch every year. In total, we're spending around $2b to operate, maintain and renew more than 80,000km of local roads – 22 per cent more than the previous Government. This is on top of the more than $2b we're spending maintaining our state highways, which is 18 per cent more than the previous Government. We're also investing $1.4b in installing safety upgrades on more than 1500km of our most dangerous roads to prevent 160 deaths and serious injuries every year after the road toll blew out by more than 50 per cent under the last Government.
Even though we are spending more on roads than any government has before, we are also prioritising safety, reviving the rail network, and reducing congestion by building modern public transport. That is a balanced transport policy.
• Phil Twyford is the Minister of Transport and Economic Development.