A mistake to the tune of $59 million was revealed today in youth organisation Generation Zero’s submission at the hearings on the Wellington Regional Land Transport Programme (RLTP).
The draft RLTP, put out for consultation in March, states a total project cost for the Mackays to Peka Peka Expressway of $571 million. However, according to the NZTA website the best estimate as of January 2012 is $630 million.
The $59 million mistake is more than the total funding devoted to public transport infrastructure and cycling and walking facilities for the next three years in the draft RLTP ($55.71 million).
Speaking at the oral hearings this morning, Generation Zero spokesperson Paul Young suggested that the higher actual cost might constitute a “significant” variation to the RLTP under the significance policy. If so, this would require that the Expressway be consulted on again with the correct price tag.
“Regardless of the statutory answer, we think this raises questions about whether there has been fair and adequate public consultation here,” said Mr Young. “An extra $59 million might sound like small bikkies in the scheme of things, but it will place more pressure on an already squeezed transport budget.”
In its submission, Generation Zero called for the Expressway to be delayed to allow for greater certainty about future oil prices and for the expenditure to be properly weighed up against rail-based freight alternatives, and also against projects to emerge from the Wellington Public Transport Spine Study next year.
“Our big concern is that with all the money set to be poured into the Roads of National Significance, there will be nothing left for smart transport projects that will help free us from oil-dependent travel and reduce carbon emissions,” said Mr Young.
This Tuesday, Generation Zero launched its 50/50 campaign calling for a more balanced transport budget than the current one, which will see roughly $14 billion of taxpayer money spent on new State highways compared with just $0.5 billion on new infrastructure for public transport, walking and cycling.
“The case here is a perfect example of the unlevel playing field created by the Government’s unbalanced transport priorities,” said Mr Young. “Throwing another $59 million at a highway project with a low benefit-cost ratio hardly raises an eyebrow, while far less costly public transport and cycling developments have to fight for the crumbs from the table.”
If such an error has happened, it wouldn’t necessarily be surprising as transport agencies seem to have a habit about making such mistakes. Last year the Ministry of Transport managed to miss a cool $180 million in their calculations – for example. But perhaps the more startling revelation is that the “rounding errors” of a single state highway project in Wellington is more than what will be spent there over the next three years on all public transport infrastructure, walking and cycling projects.
Generation Zero seem to be doing some pretty good work raising the profile for smarter transport spending, with a pretty successful, and highly ingenious, protest earlier this week.