Guide to the RONS: a transport commentator is interviewed by a normal punter who is confused
That’s the Roads Of National Significance if you are Steven Joyce, but I’ve also heard roads of national silliness from some less enthusiastic punters.
But how does he know they are nationally significant?
Because he said they were, and he put that in a Government Policy Statement. So it’s not for you to say otherwise. And he’s putting lots and lots of the Government’s transport funding into them – in fact so much money that local authorities are starting to complain about not being able to afford things like road maintenance.
Ok, I guess he’s in charge and can decide. The road to Cape Reinga is obviously nationally important. Is that on the list?
No. There are only seven, and they probably won’t attract tourists looking for a good day out. Unlike the national cycleways. So here’s the list:
- Puhoi to Wellsford – State Highway 1
- Completion of the Auckland Western Ring Route (including Waterview)
- Auckland Victoria Park bottleneck – State Highway 1
- Waikato Expressway – State Highway 1
- Tauranga Eastern Corridor – State Highway 2
- Wellington Northern Corridor (Levin to Wellington) – State Highway 1
- Christchurch motorway projects.
So we get one in Wellington?
We sure do, whether we want it or not. And in fact, mostly we don’t seem to want it, and the Government seems a bit miffed by that. And there have been some councillors in Wellington who are also a bit miffed, because they are worried that the Government will take all that nice money away if we say we don’t really want a flyover.
But councillors need not worry, as Mr Joyce is clear that we are getting them anyway. And NZTA…
Sorry, who’s NZTA?
NZTA is a new transport agency that funds roads, public transport, walking and cycling. They took over the old Transit (that used to run state highways) and other bits of transport so they could provide for an integrated approach to transport planning, that had a balance between road building and other things.
You mean by putting all the money into big roads and refusing to fund Auckland rail?
Um…well….Anyway as I was saying, they are consulting on questions like “how close to the Basin Reserve do you want this huge noisy ugly flyover to be?” or “which route do you want your new expressway to go as it bisects your town and ruins your property values?”, although of course they don’t phrase it quite like that. Answers like “I really want Western Link 1 instead, please sir” are not going down about as well as Oliver asking for more porridge.
But we will get lots of money spent in Wellington?
Yup, currently about $2.2b worth. But the price will change. After all, Transmission Gully was $210m when first designed, and is now costing around $1.1b.
I know about the Basin Reserve, but that isn’t $2.2b is it?
No. Here’s what you get for that money:
- Levin to MacKay’s Crossing – a massive new expressway that would replace the existing State Highway and have lots of exciting flyovers and other bits of concrete. It has had a few names, like Peka Peka and Sandhills Expresways and I’ve even heard things like “that horrid new motorway”, but I probably just move in the wrong circles.
- Transmission Gully Motorway, which would take the State Highway inland from MacKays Crossing, through the edge of Battle Hill Regional Park, around the back of Pauatahanui, and back to the motorway near Kenepuru. Actually this one has been supported by locals, because they think it will get traffic out of local communities along the coast. Pity that NZTA’s own work decided that only 30-40% of trucks will use the new road, and no-one seems willing to reduce the amount of road down the coast. So we might just end up with two busy roads. And of course in the meantime, the road builders have to move 6.6 million cubic metres of dirt. That’s a lot of dirt, and a lot of it will probably end up in Porirua Harbour, which is already filling in. So you might get a nice new ex-Pauatahanui Inlet playing field as well.
- And of course the new roads around the Basin Reserve, including a new Mt Victoria tunnel, massive widening of the road south of the tunnel (Ruahine and Wellington Roads), a flyover at the Basin, a second Terrace Tunnel and some changes to Cobham Drive.
So why do they want all these new roads. I mean, congestion is a bit of a nuisance, but that’s a lot of road?
Mostly for economic reasons. NZTA’s website says “Infrastructure development is one of the Government’s key planks for economic growth. A key departure from road planning in the past is that the RoNS projects represent a ‘lead infrastructure’ approach. This means the Government is investing in infrastructure now to encourage future economic growth rather than wait until the strain on the network becomes a handbrake on progress.”
In other words, we don’t need these roads right now, but we are sure we will need them someday, so we are building them now. The trucks will come.
So will they be good for the economy?
Economic benefits are normally assessed using a thing called a Benefit Cost Ratio – or BCR. Get two economists in a room and you’ll probably get 10 different ways to determine a BCR, because there are a lot of different things you can measure and a lot of assumptions. But NZTA has a methodology for doing this, and has produced some figures – Transmission Gully for example has a BCR of 0.66.
What that means is that for every $1 spent, you get 66c worth of benefits. As another punter said, why not just invest in Hanover Finance and then you would have wasted your money but wouldn’t have to live with a noisy road in your backyard as well.
In his evidence for a Transmission Gully hearing, an economist, Dr Pickford, said “If the project has a BCR of less than one, meaning that it would generate fewer benefits than it would cost, then I would expect it to be rejected.”
But NZTA assures us that there will be things called WEBS – that’s wider economic benefits – that will magically turn up and make it all ok.
That’s a relief, because I hate wasting money, but I also hate sitting in traffic…
Sorry, but given that traffic levels have pretty much stabilised, oil production has probably peaked and fuel prices will keep rising, carbon pricing will add to those costs, and people are voting with their feet every time anyone gives them public transport, most commentators don’t think there will be net economic gains, and the facts would suggest that investing in other things would be much much better for transport and the economy.
But the experts do pretty much all agree that there will be increases in traffic. In fact even NZTA predicted that their new roads would be congested quite soon. Internationally, traffic engineers now all agree that roads generate traffic, and more roads generate more traffic, and you therefore can’t build your way out of congestion. Only getting people into public transport or on their bikes will do that.
Pity we can’t afford more trains, buses and cycleways, because we are spending all that money on RONS….