A great op-ed by Mt Albert Labour MP David Shearer in the NZ Herald today – talking about the Puhoi-Wellsford “holiday highway”. Here’s a couple of particularly good extracts:
… I just can’t agree with Transport Minister Mr Joyce’s recent announcement to start preparatory work on a new Puhoi to Wellsford motorway.
Nor can I agree that this road is needed above all other priorities where the Government could – and should – be spending money.
Dubbed the Holiday Highway, the project is a colossal waste of $1.69 billion (possibly rising to $2.04 billion) of taxpayer money.
With that sort of money we could transform New Zealand’s economy with research and development, provide real backing to our most innovative companies, increase skills, run a train to Auckland airport, build an underground rail link into Auckland’s CBD – you name it.
Instead, Mr Joyce is proposing to build a new motorway to run alongside State Highway 1.
Here is what $1.69 billion buys you: motorists will save seven minutes’ travel time to Warkworth and eight minutes on to Wellsford...
Shearer goes on to talk about the economics of the road just simply not stacking up particularly well:
Does a new motorway make economic sense? It’s very marginal.
According to the cost-benefit calculation used by the NZ Transport Agency we get less value back in dollars than what we spend on the motorway.
If the “wider economic benefit” to the region is factored in, one dollar spent will bring $1.10 in return.
That makes it financially viable, but barely. And any economist will tell you that estimating the wider economic benefit is notoriously difficult.
That’s why I oppose this road. The economic case simply doesn’t stack up.
There is also a broader question whether building more motorways is a good idea. Last year the OECD released a report called “Infrastructure Investment” that studied New Zealand’s transport system in comparison with other countries.
It concluded that there is no measurable economic benefit from new motorway construction in New Zealand whereas investment into other types of roading and rail infrastructure does generate growth.
In other words, there are much better ways to spend infrastructure money. This Government should take a look at it.
Ah yes, that would be this study, that I commented on in a recent post. The relationship between transport investment and economic growth is outlined in the graph below: The maths are fairly complicated I think, but in a nutshell this study shows that for New Zealand, investment in non-motorway roads and railways is seen to have an economic benefit, whereas investment in motorway standard roads is shown to not.
As David’s opinion piece goes on to say, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do anything to upgrade the Puhoi-Wellsford stretch of State Highway 1, but rather that we need to be a bit more sensible about it. Would a bypass of Warkworth and $150 million of safety upgrades solve 90% of the problem for 10% of the cost? If the answer is even maybe, then surely that’s what we should be doing?