There was a rather curious media release by Local Government New Zealand president Lawrence Yule today – talking about the next Government Policy Statement and its implications for local road funding:
The importance of local roads to the growth of New Zealand should not be forgotten when funding decisions are made, says Local Government New Zealand President Lawrence Yule.
Mr Yule’s comments come in response to the proposed direction of the Government’s Policy Statement on Land Transport Funding 2012/13 to 2021/22 (GPS 2012) released yesterday.
I’ve had a bit of a dig around the Ministry of Transport website and I certainly can’t find any release of the proposed direction of the next GPS (Even though Radio NZ seem to have a copy of the draft GPS). However, fortunately from the same OIA information that informed these two recent posts, I do have a very detailed document prepared by the Ministry of Transport that relates to local roads and how they may be considered by the next GPS. You can read that document here.
But before we get into the details of what that document contains, it’s worth taking a look at some further things Mr Yule says:
Mr Yule says the GPS 2012 released yesterday proposes to direct most funding to the state highway network and roads of national significance, to the detriment of local roads.
“Once again local roads, and therefore many smaller communities, lose out to roads of national significance. But this doesn’t have to be the case.”
Mr Yule is urging the Government to prioritise road funding with the big picture in mind. He would like to see a more equitable spend which takes into account the areas from where money is generated.
“If money is coming from local roads it should go back into local roads. We need to look at our roading network as a whole. At the moment there is a focus on state highways and roads of national significance. They may well be a vital part of the network but we also need to take into account the contribution local roads make to the New Zealand economy,” he said.
From reading through the various documents prepared by the MoT that will inform that next GPS one thing comes through extremely loud and clear – that the RoNS projects are placing an enormous financial strain on the transport fund, making it very difficult to find adequate funding for other things it’s meant to help pay for – like the contribution to local roads (which are paid for roughly 50/50 between NZTA and the local council). This is outlined below: It’s a pity that a part of the paragraphs outlined above has been excluded (to enable free and frank advice, as always), but one can logically ascertain what it’s likely to be saying – that taking money away from local roads to help fund state highway improvements seems to be simply transfering the congestion and safety problems from the state highways onto the local roads. This is pretty obvious in Auckland, where projects such as the widening of the northwest motorway are going to do nothing to solve the real bottlenecks on the roads feeding into the motorway: like Te Atatu Road and Lincoln Road. In fact, evening peak congestion on those roads is likely to increase as the widened motorway simply funnels more and more cars onto an already congested and overloaded arterial road.
One thing in the above section that did capture my interesting quite a lot was the assertion that traffic growth on local roads has increased more than on state highways in recent years. That’s illustrated very clearly in the graphs below: It would be interesting to see the 2010 traffic flows, let alone those so far in 2011 (NZTA monthly data provides more up to date information region by region, but only for state highway volumes).
When the data is broken down even further, it seems that local urban roads are where the highest levels of traffic increase are to be found – and particularly in the Auckland area: The next graph shows how much Auckland’s local road traffic dominates the VKT across all local roads in the country – I guess because in the smaller centres it’s difficult to drive too far without eventually ending up on a state highway: One interesting thing the document also looks at are measures of congestion – in Auckland it seems that morning congestion has worsened while evening congestion has alleviated somewhat over the past few years: The footnote (5) is relevant because it says that this is only congestion on the state highway network. Overall, one might conclude that our state highway policy of the past few years has been an utter disaster in Auckland. It goes something like this:
- We have spent vastly more on building new state highways: up from around $200 million a year in 2005 to around $500 million a year in 2010.
- Traffic on those state highways has remained relatively steady, grown slowly or declined.
- Despite the huge amount of extra money spent, and little new traffic, congestion on the motorways has only become worse (see graph above).
Moving along, the remainder of the document really focuses on the risks outlined earlier in this post of having a transport policy that focuses so much on building new motorways. A significantly greater chunk of the local road spend over the past few years has been dedicated to maintenance an renewal, rather than new projects – probably because there simply isn’t much money available to build new local roading projects. The MoT seems extremely concerned about the impact of these trends on the achievement of general transport goals – such as reducing (rather than shifting) congestion and improving (rather than shifting) road safety.
Personally I question the need for many local roading projects quite often – such as Penlink – and it would seem that the current Auckland Council may have a desire to spend less on new local roads in order to free up money for public transport improvements (at least that’s what their rhetoric seems to say, the Annual Plan reality looks quite different). But good arterial roads, with bus lanes, cycle lanes, safety improvements and whatever else is needed, really are the essential link-points in a city like Auckland. The motorway network is just about complete here, what we need is a well functioning arterial road system to support the state highway network (plus obviously a far better public transport network); rather than a growing mismatch between a hugely over-spec state highway system and a vastly underfunded local road network.
But yet again the Minister seems to see things differently, and would rather focus on building motorways between Cambridge and Taupo.