The government has today released their “National Infrastructure Plan“, which details the state of various infrastructure around the country as well as giving some guidance about where investment in infrastructure is likely to occur over the next 5-7 years. It’s not the “big bang” plan that looks 20 years into the future that I somewhat expected it to be, but in a way I think that might be a good thing. With significant changes happening in the world over the next few years – such as effects of climate change and peak oil really beginning to be felt – it’s probably a good thing that we don’t get locked into a 20 year plan that ends up being outdated before its implementation has even begun.
The “vision” section right at the start of this Plan has this to say about transport infrastructure:
Our roads, railways, ports, airports and telecommunications systems will offer New Zealanders greater choice about how we connect with each other and with the world. Our ports and airports will be competitive and accessible, and we will enjoy affordable ultra-fast broadband, opening up trade opportunities and enabling all New Zealanders to participate in society and the economic future of the country.
A variety of transport options will make New Zealand an easy and safe country to move around in and visit. The full social cost of each transport mode will be transparent and priced accordingly, enabling people and firms to make the best choice about how they move themselves, their goods and their ideas.
I like the mention that the full social costs of each transport mode will be made transparent and priced accordingly. Hopefully this will be a step away from the blinkered thinking that often leads to roads being funded ahead of other transport modes, because those wider social effects are not taken into account. As I have said many times before, transport is not just about getting people from A to B, it’s about doing so in such a way that ensures A, B and everywhere in between is a nice place to live, work and play.
In terms of particular priorities, somewhat unsurprisingly it is the roads of National (Party?) significance that are highlighted. This is somewhat frustrating considering that the very same OECD study that is often referred to as the justification for investing in infrastructure specifically shows that investing in motorways doesn’t generate growth – whereas investing in local roads or railways does. Here’s the graph: (see my original post for some further explanation of what this graph means).
It is a bit odd to see the Infrastructure Plan give such a high priority to a second Waitemata Harbour crossing, as the harbour bridge’s traffic flows have been pretty static over the past five years, and peak hour flows fairly steady since the mid 1990s. While it is probably inevitable that Auckland needs another harbour crossing at some point in the future, this need does need to be traded off against other important transport projects such as the CBD rail tunnel, rail to the airport, providing some rapid transit out to the eastern suburbs of Botany, Flat Bush etc. and so forth. I’m not quite sure whether duplicating a bridge with stable traffic volumes is really the highest priority compared to these other projects personally.
Perhaps the most promising aspect of the whole Infrastructure Plan is what is said about the need for greater integration between urban development and transport infrastructure investment:
The performance of our cities: infrastructure planning and urban form
Major infrastructure projects, especially transport projects, can have a significant impact on the location and form of economic activity in our cities: they tend to shape urban development, guiding or influencing households and firms to make particular locational choices. In this way, the decisions made about where, when and what infrastructure is constructed, whether it is significant transport investment or social infrastructure investment such as schools and hospitals, can have a significant influence on the future anatomy of a city, locking in patterns of demand for generations. The anatomy of a city can then be a significant influence on the city’s resilience – hindering or helping its adaption to changing environmental, demographic and economic conditions.
While the Government is concerned about the co-ordination and delivery of infrastructure that responds to existing problems, investments also need to be able to anticipate future needs, particularly in a rapidly-growing urban centre like Auckland. This means central and local government need to think about how to ensure the right strategic, or ‘shaping’, infrastructure is delivered at the right time and in the right place, to ensure maximum productivity and social welfare gains over the longer term. In terms of transport, this means giving thought to those projects that will produce the most desired pattern of household and firm location, reduce aggregate travel times, facilitate connectivity, and offer long-term economic, environmental and population health benefits.
Work that the Government is currently undertaking as part of phase two of the resource management reforms, drawing on previous work undertaken by the Ministry for the Environment, Department of Building and Housing, and Department of Internal Affairs, touches on these issues.
Auckland has New Zealand’s largest urban infrastructure aspirations. These include the Waterview Connection, the new Waitemata Harbour crossing, a CBD rail tunnel and an airport rail link. It is clear that it will not be feasible for Auckland or New Zealand to fund all these multibillion-dollar projects at the same time. The projects will need to be scoped, prioritised and phased to ensure that steady progress can be maintained while simultaneously ensuring that work continues on improving the infrastructure and networks that already exist. This will require the region to reach clear conclusions about how it wants Auckland to grow, and the balance it wants to strike between improving existing capacity and adding new capacity to the network.
That is about the best argument yet I’ve heard in favour of the CBD Rail Tunnel: that is strategically fits with the growth plans for Auckland, which involve intensification around the rail corridors (at least for now).
In terms of what the Infrastructure Plan says specifically about rail and roads it’s a bit of a more depressing picture. As per usual there’s tonnes of money available for roading, whereas for rail – while the plan recognises that Auckland has aspirations for projects like the CBD rail tunnel etc. – the plans are much vaguer. Here’s what’s said about rail capital requirements:
Future capital requirements
Subject to policy decisions about the size of the rail network and level of service the Government wishes to support, it is possible that KiwiRail will undertake further capital expenditure. For example, the current locomotive and wagon fleet is old (average age is 30 years for locomotives and 25 years for wagons) and prone to structural failure, and thus allows little or no room for revenue growth. In addition, a new interisland rail ferry is likely to be needed by 2016 to replace the ageing vessel Arahura. This may cost up to $250 million to purchase, or long-term leasing arrangements will need to be put in place.
Demand for further investment in the Wellington and Auckland metro rail systems will also continue, although this is driven by passenger demand and the investment plans of local government, rather than KiwiRail as the national rail operator. Beyond the projects already approved and under way, regions have significant aspirations for the ongoing development of their metro passenger rail systems, which would require expenditure of billions of dollars over the next 20 years:
1) Auckland is planning for an inner-city underground passenger rail loop connecting the Britomart Transport centre and the North Auckland Line near Mt Eden station, a rail link to the airport, a rail line connecting Avondale and Southdown, and a rail tunnel under the Waitemata Harbour to the North Shore.
2) Wellington is planning for the purchase of further electric trains, and ongoing improvements to rail corridors, stations and park and ride facilities, including the provision of ‘feeder’ shuttle services.
3) Christchurch is investigating the possibility of introducing commuter rail, and a commuter service between Hamilton and Auckland is also being investigated.
I must say it does seem quite strange to me that KiwiRail’s role in developing the rail networks in Auckland and Wellington is minimised by this plan. I had always thought of KiwiRail as the “rail equivalent” of NZTA, and certainly NZTA are very very much involved in planning, constructing and managing Auckland’s motorway network.
Overall, while the details of the Infrastructure Plan are extremely, but not surprisingly, roads focused, I think there is a bit of hope in some of the more strategic parts. In particular the need to align urban growth with transport infrastructure is excellent – and should prove to be a boost for rail projects like the CBD tunnel. Surely this is what “strategic fit” should mean, as opposed to “whether or not the transport minister likes this project” as seems to be the case at the moment. If Auckland was planned to sprawl to Whangarei then the Puhoi-Wellsford road would probably be a good strategic choice. But it’s not, over the past 10 years Auckland’s growth strategies have sought for it to intensify around the rail corridors, and even if that strategy is coming to an end, it’s fairly likely the changes will not deviate too much from what’s being going on over the past decade.
It’ll be interesting to see how this Infrastructure Plan works moving forwards, and how much weight it ends up having. As I have said above, there are some good bits to it and some bad bits. I suppose that I’m trying to be positive in what I can find in there that would support sensible, sustainable thinking about transport infrastructure. It’s there, if you look hard enough!
(Final note: if this post seems oddly disjointed it is because I wrote one almost twice as long but WordPress ate it. Argh!)