The announcement of funding for a whole pile of new motorway projects in last week’s budget has once again highlighted the hypocrisy the government shows over the funding of transport projects.
First up here are the key parts to the government’s press release last week.
The projects will address congestion in our largest city, capitalise on the benefits of major roading projects already under way, such as the Western Ring Route, and improve access to Auckland International Airport.
“No Government has invested so heavily in transport infrastructure across all transport modes,” Mr Brownlee says.
“But with freight demand forecast to grow by around 50 per cent across the country in the next 30 years, and by almost 80 per cent in Auckland, and with a growing population, we’ve decided to bring a number of important projects forward.”
“Some of these projects were up to a decade from starting, but we’ve decided they simply must begin sooner to give Auckland the best opportunity of moving people and goods around the region,” Mr Brownlee says.
The $375 million will be transferred to NZTA as an interest-free loan, to be repaid to the Crown by funding currently allocated to these projects in the National Land Transport Fund up to 2026/27.
So the government are saying the projects were on the plans but weren’t expected to be built for a long time. The government believes the predictions that traffic will always grow including the suggestion that freight demand will increase by a massive 80% and so has made a decision to bring forward spending on these projects. Effectively they’re using the traditional predict and provide method that has been a staple of road building for decades.
The problem is we know the predict and provide model hasn’t been working that well lately as in many places traffic volumes are still below their pre GFC levels. In terms of freight, the recent Freight Demand Study showed that while the amount of stuff moved had increased since 06/07, the tonne-kms (the amount of time on the roads) had actually dropped.
Contrast that stance with the one they have taken with the City Rail Link. They announced their support for the CRL at the same time as they announced the motorway projects however pushed the start date back from when it was planned. In doing so they questioned the predictions used in the assessment of the CRL – despite their own officials being involved. They then imposed a couple of arbitrary targets that need to be met before they’ll even consider funding it - and I’ve heard that even those are a smokescreen. At the time John Key said
“We will consider an earlier start date if it becomes clear that Auckland’s CBD employment and rail patronage growth hit thresholds faster than current rates of growth suggest.
“I realise 2020 is not what the Council leadership is wanting, but while we may differ on timeframes, there is clear recognition by the Government that the project will be needed to address access to the Auckland CBD and improve the efficiency of rail,” says Mr Key.
- an increase in Auckland CBD employment of 25 percent over current levels, which is half of the increase to 2021 predicted in the 2012 City Centre Future Access Study
- rail patronage is on track to hit 20 million trips a year well before 2020
Note: I actually think the patronage target will be achieved but not the employment one as developers simply won’t be able to build enough office space in that time-frame (hence why that target was imposed).
One of the problems though is that while we won’t have exhausted the post electrification capacity by 2020, it’s likely we won’t be far off it and so delaying the start till then will likely mean years of at/over capacity services.
So we have two completely different sets of criteria being applied depending on the mode. For roads, despite there having been low/no growth in some cases for over a decade we get told we need to build new projects to ensure that future growth can be accommodated. For rail it’s the opposite and we have to wait till after the growth has happened (and therefore the network is at capacity) before we can even consider new projects. To me either the CRL targets need to be dropped and the government accept the predictions or they impose equivalent targets for the motorway projects.
In addition the press release from Gerry Brownlee talks about the motorway projects capitalising on what has been billions the government (including the previous one) has poured into the motorway system over the last decade. Yet there’s seemingly no desire to capitalise on the investment in the rail network that has been happening. This is important as the combined cost of the various motorway projects is almost equal to what the government’s share of the CRL costs would be.
To make matters for the CRL even worse, last night on Sky New John Key said the CRL was in competition with another harbour crossing to be the next major project in Auckland. This is a new development as even in previous government statements any additional harbour crossing has always been considered to occur well after the CRL. Traffic volumes across the bridge have been flat for almost a decade (peaked in 2006) while rail patronage has soared (with the exception of a bump in large part caused by the RWC and the HOP implementation).
All up there seems to be a growing hypocrisy from the government towards transport in Auckland. Will the opposition parties actually to anything to highlight this (or win and change it). What about the mayor and council or will they continue to gleefully turn up to motorway project sod turning events with a smile and speeches praising the government?