Government Promises Record Spend, Cuts Highway Funding

The Government has announced a $16.9bn investment in New Zealand land transport over the next three years.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford announced that the record investment would serve to deliver a “safer, better connected, and more resilient transport system that would get New Zealand moving.”

The National Land Transport Plan (NLTP) details increased investment, particularly into modes of transport that deviate from previous governments.

The NLTP comprises $12.9b from the National Land Transport Fund, generated through fuel excise, road user charges, and other revenue sources; $3.4b from local government, generated through rates and Auckland’s Regional Fuel Tax; and $557m in other Crown investments.

“This record investment in our transport system will help grow our regions, make it easier to get around our cities and save lives on our roads. It will deliver the best results for our transport dollar,” says Twyford.

“Our Government is making safety a priority. $4.3b of investment will go into programmes and projects that will save lives by preventing accidents or reducing their severity. This will include revamping intersections to stop collisions, installing median barriers in high-risk areas, and increasing road policing. Roads receiving safety upgrades will include Dome Valley, Drury to Paerata, Waihi to Tauranga, and the Hawke’s Bay Expressway.

Most roading investment will go to the regions, rather than the big cities.

In total, regional roads will receive $5.8b of funding, a $600m increase. This compares to $5b for roading in metro areas. A further $300m will be invested in the regions in non-roading projects.

Nearly $4b will be invested in public transport, rapid transit, and rail, with a further $390m for walking and cycling. Which the minister claims will fund projects like the AMETI busway, renewal work on Wellington’s rail tracks, the Skypath and Seapath walk/cycleways, and investigation of a new commuter ferry service in Queenstown.

“State highways continue to receive the largest share of funding with a total of $5.7b. We will invest $3.5b in new state highway projects like Puhoi to Warkworth, the Waikato Expressway, the Mt Messenger bypass, the Manawatu Gorge replacement, Transmission Gully, and the Christchurch Southern Motorway. A further $2.2b will be invested in state highway maintenance,” says Twyford.

The Government's re-prioritising of budgets for land transport show a considerable shift away from highway building says Road Transport Forum chief executive Ken Shirley.

"There's some good stuff there especially the road safety but we're very disappointed with the 11 percent cut in highway expenditure, the biggest single item by far.

"There were a lot of key projects in the pipeline right around the country that are on hold now.

"It's a huge funding diversion towards rail, especially light rail, and potentially to coastal shipping."

This is a dramatic shift away from what the National Land Transport Fund was intended to be for, a user pays model, where motorists and freight companies pay for the road.

This has been diverted to other modes of transport he says.

"They say its modal neutrality, but the money should go where there's true commercial advantage. We've had a huge increase in population and freight. Big losers were the Auckland to Whangarei Central Auckland east-west link, the alternative Tauranga to Katikati motorway, Otaki to Levin, and replacement of the Rakaia Bridge."

He said the National Government's 2018 – 2021 National Land Transport Programme was a missed opportunity.

"Road user taxes such as fuel excise, road user charges and vehicle registrations are being diverted to pet political projects of dubious economic merit."

"On the bright side, it is good to see projects such as the Mt Messenger Bypass and the Manawatu Gorge replacement route receive the necessary funding."

However, Shirley welcomes the Government’s interest in road safety improvements but believes that improved roading infrastructure is the best solution.

"The road transport industry will continue to support modal separation, median barriers and the development of other infrastructure to help improve the overall safety of our roads.

"It's just a shame that the Government has had a bob each way on safety because one of the biggest contributions to safety comes through the development of new highways that are designed specifically to separate traffic and provide safe connectivity between communities."

The Tauranga to Katikati motorway was a case in point, he says.

"The road is experiencing ever-increasing traffic volumes and is extremely dangerous. While the Government has earmarked some safety improvements the only real solution is a four-lane motorway with appropriately controlled access points and separation of opposing traffic," Shirley said.

The National party says that cuts to highway funding will harm the regions and New Zealand’s economy as a whole.

“Major cuts to state highway funding could not have come at a worse time,” says National’s transport spokesperson, Jami-Lee Ross.

“Cuts to roading projects alongside a record level of car sales and an increasing use of state highways is a recipe for regional economic downturns and gridlock,” he says.

The Government’s Transport policy has seen a $5 billion cut in funding for state highway projects which may mean less benefit to the regions in the long run.

“New vehicle registrations are continuing to tick up to record levels and the volume of traffic on our state highways is rapidly increasing with Kiwi’s travelling up to one billion kilometres in the past year – an increase of 5 percent according to Infrastructure New Zealand,” says Ross.

Many were also disappointed that there was a distinct lack of investment in an upgrade of State Highway 2 between Tauranga and Katikati, New Zealand’s deadliest stretch of road.

Tukituki MP Lawrence Yule says the Government's National Land Transport Plan confirms Hawke's Bay's worst fears.

"This year will see the first of three rounds of fuel tax increases that will hit Hawke's Bay families hard and increase our cost of living.

"This reaffirms the Government's priority to fund large projects in Auckland at the expense of regions like Hawke's Bay."

Yule claimed Twyford's priority was the new trams system in the Auckland city centre.

"Despite Mr Twyford's claims the regions will see 'record investment,' the major investment in his transport policy is major new trams in Auckland being paid for by cuts to regional highway projects and tax increases.

"National's plans would have seen investment in Hawke's Bay that would have supported our future growth and made our roads safer."

“The same can be said about major projects between Cambridge and Tirau, Whangarei to Wellsford and Ashburton to Christchurch as well as many other plans now stalled under this Government,” says Ross.

“National’s transport plan would have seen a halt to rising fuel taxes and the progression of our ambitious next generation of Roads of National Significance, with ten major regional highways being constructed across New Zealand,” he says.

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