Transport Minister Michael Wood has assured Wellingtonians and Aucklanders that the Government is committed to funding its share of their transport packages, and has hit back at "baffling" criticism from the National Party.
Advice from Waka Kotahi the NZ Transport Agency published in the Herald warned that funding pressures at the agency were so severe it might struggle to meet part of its commitment to ATAP and Let's Get Wellington Moving - the Auckland and Wellington transport projects funded jointly by councils and the government.
To avoid the funding crisis, the Government gave Waka Kotahi a $2 billion loan, tiding it over for the next three-year transport package. But Waka Kotahi has warned the funding issues will re emerge when the next transport plan is put together in three years' time.
"We are committed to our share of both ATAP and LGWM to help unlock our cities," Wood said.
Wood also weighed in on the question of Waka Kotahi's funding. Currently, the agency gets about $4 billion a year to spend, mainly from fuel excise duty and road user charges.
Waka Kotahi thinks that its funding is on shaky ground as fewer people drive and the cost of infrastructure escalates beyond the ability of Waka Kotahi to pay for it.
It thinks this funding cliff is fairly imminent, and this year asked for an urgent review of its funding. The Government accepted that request and said Waka Kotahi, Treasury and the Ministry of Transport would look at its funding model and how it might be replaced.
But Waka Kotahi is not the only game in town. The Ministry of Transport has also been keeping an eye on the sustainability of fuel tax revenues since the last Government, and it has been planning for their eventual demise.
Interestingly, there's a strong disagreement between the Ministry of Transport and Waka Kotahi about precisely when the fuel tax system becomes unsustainable.
The Ministry of Transport thinks the tank will run dry around the end of the decade, while board papers from Waka Kotahi have warned "the issue is more imminent".
Wood cited the Ministry's modelling to the Herald, noting it said fuel taxes were suitable until the next decade.
"The Ministry of Transport advises current funding model is suitable for the next decade, but we are continuing to work on what the future of transport funding could look like to ensure we can keep NZ moving," Wood said.
Wood also took a swipe at his opposite number David Bennett, who had accused the Government of funding public transport at the expense of road maintenance.
"David Bennett is right that Waka Kotahi has put a high priority on public transport services." Wood said.
"Our government expects them to do so in contrast to the previous government's myopic focus on ever more roads."
Wood went further, accusing Bennett himself of freezing funding for road maintenance when in Government.
"His assertions are baffling given when he was associate transport minister they froze road maintenance investment and ran our roads down," he said.
"We're boosting road maintenance after years of neglect, and stepped in to provide $2 billion of financing to keep our roads up to scratch.
This has been warmly welcomed by councils across the country, business groups, and Federated Farmers."