We have been pretty critical of the Roads of National Significance over the last few years for a number of reasons. The key reasons being that many of them will have very poor economic performance and that are sucking up huge amounts of transport funding which means other areas in the transport budget are being neglected. A few days ago we saw what may be considered the turning point on the RoNS as the NZTA announced that it was no longer going to build an expressway between Otaki and Levin and instead focus on improving the quality of the existing road through a series of safety upgrades. The decision has also delivered considerable cost savings with the price of that section dropping from ~$400m to $100m but also means that the upgrades can start sooner giving further benefits without having to wait for the whole project to be completed.
Naturally you would expect blogs like this to be happy to see this news but in news that must be concerning for the government, it appears that the trucking groups also support this. Here is part of the press release from the Road Transport Forum (RTF).
“The road freight industry fully supports the Government’s RONS programme and welcomes the major investments being made in long-term projects. On the other hand we want roads which are fit for the purpose and not gold plated as some projects appear to have been. The Otaki-Levin savings are significant and will free up money for other much needed money for other projects, so in principle we support the move.
“But we are concerned that the RONs programme appears to be absorbing all the investment funding in the land transport fund leading to inadequate money for renewal and upgrading of other state highways and local roads.
That is a pretty strong statement from some of the biggest supporters of spending on roads and it must surely make the government nervous. This is likely why we have seen Steven Joyce out telling Northland to push for Puhoi to Wellsford as he must sense people are waking up to the fact that the project isn’t worth it in its current form and wants to gets it built. Has there ever been a government minister campaigning in this way to get something built? There are now calls from across the spectrum to scale back the RoNS and as these calls get louder it will place more pressure on them and the NZTA to do just that. Spending more money on upgrades to local roads like Tiverton-Wolverton St will likely have far greater impact on the movement of freight and people and the economy yet money for those kinds of projects is actually being cut. The disparity if funding is shown in the graph below which is based on the funding groups from the Government Policy statement.
Of course being the RTF they can’t be seen to just take a swipe at the RoNS and the rest of the press release looks like it is driven by ideology.
So we question the Agency’s recent decision in principle to boost funding to subsidise public transport by 30 percent, which will only benefit those few urban centres with a local bus or train service, but with only minimal increases for road renewal and maintenance. Road users provide this funding and their needs should have priority. The roads are self funding by users but public passenger transport is heavily subsidised”
What they conveniently ignore is that local governments pay for significant proportions of local road improvements out of rates meaning that we also subsidise local roads. Further by subsidising public transport we take people out of cars which helps to free up space for freight. In Auckland for example there are over 200,000 trips on PT every week day, how much extra would we be having to spend on on roads just to accommodate those extra trips?