The NZ Transport Agency Board has recommended that tolling be progressed as a funding option for the Tauranga Eastern Link project.
The Board’s recommendation means that a formal proposal to bring forward the start of construction on the $455 million project by tolling one section of the road can now be submitted to the Minister of Transport. After discussions with Cabinet, the Minister will then decide whether to recommend to the Governor General that an Order in Council (OIC) be established to toll the road.
The Tauranga Eastern Link will be a four-lane motorway from Te Maunga to Paengaroa – without travelling through Te Puke. It comprises two sections – an upgrade of the existing State Highway 2 between Te Maunga and Domain Road at Papamoa and a new motorway from Domain Road to Paengaroa. Only the completely new section of the road is proposed to be tolled.
NZTA Board Chair Brian Roche said over 80 percent of more than 3,500 submissions received during public consultation earlier this year supported advancing the project through tolling. Tolling the road would allow construction to start in 2010 with completion by 2016 – five to ten years earlier than without tolling.
Mr Roche said the Tauranga Eastern Link would bring significant benefits to the region.
“As a road of national significance it is a key piece of infrastructure that will improve connections between the Bay of Plenty, Tauranga and its port. It will allow people and freight to move more efficiently through the region, reducing transport costs and improving economic productivity.”
Mr Roche said the project would also make travel safer in the region. “The new road will be four lanes with a median barrier which will reduce the number of serious and fatal crashes. It is also expected to remove much of the heavy traffic from the main streets of Te Puke and Waitangi, and significantly improve safety on this section of State Highway 2.”
Mr Roche said the NZTA had worked closely with Environment BOP, Western Bay of Plenty District Council and Tauranga City Council to progress the project.
It is interesting to see how keen the government seems to be to apply tolling to these roads of national significance, as we heard just a few days ago that a toll is very likely for the Transmission Gully Motorway in Wellington. I imagine that if the Puhoi-Wellsford Motorway ever gets built it’s pretty likely that this route will be tolled too, and this offer some insights into why these projects are the main focus of transport spending at the moment.
Insight number one – it’s all about trucks. Trucking companies love toll roads, as the amount of toll is pretty negligible compared to the cost on them of congestion or or longer routes. If a few minutes can be saved off a trip, then that is well worth a trucking company paying $5-$10, as they can simply build that into the cost of transportation. What really matters is the ability to avoid congestion and the significant delays that can involve. So really, this really is largely about making life better for trucks.
Insight number two – the tolling system set up for the Orewa-Puhoi road really needs more toll roads for it to make economic sense. It was indicated a few months ago that administration costs eat up over half the $2 toll for that road. With more toll roads, the complex system would become much more economically ‘profitable’.
I must say I do find it interesting that even though there has been an enormous shift towards putting money into these seven “roads of national significance”, there is still not enough money to build these roads quick enough without applying a toll. I’m not absolutely opposed to the idea of road tolling, and in fact I think that putting a clear and obvious cost on the use of a road is probably a very good idea – so that people are aware of the cost to provide the infrastructure and so that there’s a bit of a dis-incentive to use it unless you feel that the benefits of your trip really do outweigh the cost of the toll. In other words, they’re fairly decent demand management tools – particularly as more modern systems have the ability to vary the toll (potentially at peak times) so that congestion can be managed more cleverly than what we see at the moment.
However, we must still remember that most of the cost of projects such as Transmission Gully and the Tauranga Eastern Link will be paid for through typical measures – where our “money from roads should be spent on roads” blinkered ideology continues to reinforce our auto-dependency.