Would-be kingmaker New Zealand First upped the stakes for an underground railway through central Auckland last night by offering 75 per cent Crown funding for the $2.4 billion project.
Transport spokesman Denis O'Rourke lambasted National's plan to spend $14 billion on new highways over 10 years as reflecting "tired old policies" which he said would render Auckland one of the most polluted and costly places to get about in the developed world. He told a public meeting in Auckland hosted by the Campaign for Better Transport that NZ First would require planners of any new urban road to show that its purpose could not be better achieved by public transport.
Building on the party's previously announced proposal for a Railways of National Importance programme, which would include an immediate $300 million diversion from the Government's Roads of National Significance, he said it would provide Crown funding for 75 per cent of both Auckland's proposed City Rail Link and rail to the airport. That exceeds 60 per cent state funding proposed by the Greens, and 50 per cent by both Labour and National, which are arguing over timing.
Labour transport spokesman Phil Twyford told the meeting that if his party won office he would "be down there the day after the election with my shovel, starting to dig a hole".
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He described Prime Minister John Key's "Road to Damascus" announcement last year of Government support for the project as just a photo opportunity, given "bogus" job creation and rail patronage targets set as a condition for starting construction before 2020.
The Government had been a "one trick pony" over its concentration of investment in the seven national roading projects, despite "spreading pixie dust" recently with its announcements of $212 million to accelerate a range of regional roads and $100 million for urban cycleways.
But Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said that did not take account of about $2 billion the Government had invested in Auckland and Wellington rail electrification projects, despite considerable pressure from the global financial crisis.
"We could have quite easily taken a slash-and-burn approach -- we didn't do that," he told an audience of about 150 people.
The Government had also invested more than $1 billion in KiwiRail "and the idea we would spend that money just to shut it down is completely ridiculous".
Greens transport spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter said the Government was investing too much on "very low-value" roading projects.