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Blinglish’s boondoggle bridge

Written By: - Date published: 11:15 am, July 29th, 2014 - 34 comments
Categories: assets, bill english, national, privatisation, same old national - Tags:

Rob Salmond at Polity has a real scoop that clearly shows how National Politicians think that running the country should be done for the benefit of themselves and their ilk.

Remember Key’s announcement at the National Party conference of a $212 million package for even more roads? This was the centrepiece of his Conference speech and was essentially a list of projects that the asset sales proceeds were to be used to accelerate.

Rob has asked for details of the projects and has come up with some very surprising details the most jaw dropping of which is that one of the projects is the Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown. Its actual benefit is hard to fathom although it will allow English to get to his Queenstown home quicker from the airport and will presumably improve the value of his holding.

I say that its actual benefit is hard to fathom because with a benefit cost ratio of 1.1 this means that the amortised economic benefits of the project are slightly higher than the cost of the bridge.  These benefits are because of slightly quicker travel time for people in the area.  When you think that we sold perfectly good income earning power company shares to do this you have to question the economic literacy of this Government.

Rob Salmond puts it well:

NZTA considers a benefit cost ratio of 1 as an absolute minimum, as anything below that involves the country actually losing money by doing the project. Usually, of course, benefit cost ratios have to be much higher than that to attract funding, because there are so many possible good things a government can do with its limited money. That is why Budget time is a time of tension. And that is also what makes funding these marginal projects so criminal. What other Future Investment projects, in roading or elsewhere, will fall by the wayside so Ministers can make these low-return or no-return investments?

The cherry picking of projects in Ministers’ seats makes a mockery of the current funding system.  Theoretically we are meant to have a funding system that allocates different sums of money to different types of projects and then ranks the projects according to criteria such as safety, efficiency and value for money.  It is meant to display a sense of social and environmental responsibility when making decisions, act in a transparent manner, and have systems and procedures in place to ensure that this occurs.  Projects are meant to compete for limited funding so that those that display the best combination of features get funded.

This decision trashes all of this.  We may as well go back to a system where politicians make decisions about what roads are built.

Rob also highlights two other matters of concern.  It is clear that the Government has put considerable pressure on the officials.  The Kawarau Bridge briefing for instance implies strongly that it should not be proceeded with.

And the projects are put in two bands, those with a BCR of 0 – 2 and those with a BCR of 1 – 3.  The Kawarau Bridge with a BCR of 1.1 should normally be put in the 0 – 2 category but is in the higher category for some strange reason.  And shouldn’t the second category be for projects with a BCR of 2 – 3?  What was it a typo?

Hopefully the Taxpayer’s Union will be along quickly to denounce this extreme politically motivated waste of public money.  Waiting …

34 comments on “Blinglish’s boondoggle bridge ”

  1. fender 1

    Waiting for the Taxpayers Union to denounce any hair-brained idea National come up with is like waiting for Key to start telling the truth…

  2. karol 2

    Kawarau Bridge in Queensland.?

    A bridge too far?

    • Draco T Bastard 2.1

      Heh, was thinking the same thing 😈

    • Te Reo Putake 2.2

      The accidental Queensland connection might be Joh Bjelke Peterson. He had the taxpayers of Queensland pay for a highway to his farm in Kingaroy because an international visitor expressed an interest in a one-off visit. The massive benefit to Joh’s business was entirely coincidental, of course.

      [Now corrected. I got it right twice … 🙂 – MS]

      • ghostwhowalksnz 2.2.1

        In the late 50s and early 60s, roads in the central North Island for hydro schemes were either built to benefit land holdings of National party ministers or they bought land cheaply with the knowledge that the land would massively increase in value.

  3. greywarbler 3

    While on the subject of expensive roading and bad planning decisions on a cost effective basis Rod Oram this morning had some sensible things to say about Wellington’s flyover likely to cost $90 million.

    It has been thumbs down for it and Rod said that Land Transport hadn’t done a wide-ranging study of all the options, and then of the best ways to meet problem s of congestion – it would have saved 1 minute of morning’s bus time and 39 seconds of evenings – and the world recogniation of the importance of good town planning for cities was not being recognised in lessening the scenic value of this historic, well used bit of green belt.

    Other ways are cheaper, it was not the panacea supposed, and not having it is not the tragedy that the mouthy business group head excitedly claimed.

    Tuesday – Business with Rod Oram ( 16′ 21″ )
    11:10 Rod discusses the OCR and dollar; the Kiwi who has been picked to run Walmart’s US stores; and the Basin Reserve flyover decision.

  4. One Anonymous Bloke 4

    Double Dipton up to his usual corrupt tricks.

  5. Richard 5

    Not wanting to sound like I am defending Bill English, but you would be hard pressed to find any regular user of the Kawarau Bridge who would not want it replaced. It is a dreadful bottleneck. It is the only route between Queenstown and Te Anau, Milford Sound and Remarkables skifield.
    What does suck is the pork-barrel politics announcement of its replacement just before the election, and not part of a planned upgrade, and at the expense of other worthy projects.

    • KevinWelsh 5.1

      I agree Richard. Having travelled over this bridge many times I find it hard to believe that there is still a one lane bridge serving one of the busiest tourist destinations in New Zealand. In peak summer and winter traffic, it is a major bottleneck.

    • Bearded Git 5.2

      With respect Richard I live in Wanaka and have used that bridge many times.

      The queues you get at the traffic lights now installed on the bridge are usually short or non-existent-something an Aucklander driving would encounter many times every day.

      Short term peaks when skiers are heading up/down from the Remarkables are not a good reason to spend millions on a bridge, and my guess is, in this day and age, this could be handled with “smart” traffic lights that could be programmed to allow for winter ski traffic peaks.

      • Paul Campbell 5.3.1

        But the Kawarau bridge at issue is not on a route to Wanaka at all, it’s on the route out of town south down the lake, the one you take if you want to get from the airport to Dipton.

        In general Otago has some terrible bridges, over the past 30 years money for upgrading them has continuously been transfered north to Auckland. The one way wooden Beaumont bridge on Hwy 6 over the Clutha scares the crap out of me every time I use it, at least they finally found the money to put traffic lights on it a couple of years ago.

  6. McFlock 6

    It it still that single-lane wood plank thing from years ago?

    Moderately surprised it’s only 1.1 ROI, frankly. Although if they’re buying q’town land, the devil might be in the land costs rather than the lack of use.

    • ghostwhowalksnz 6.1

      It may be in Englishs electorate but it does seem to be a bridge that needs replacement. Its on a state highway and is better or worse and major link around Queenstown.

    • ghostwhowalksnz 6.2

      Just checked the proposed alignment, virtually no land required as it runs mostly over the river very close to existing bridge.

      Not sure why short 2 lane bridge is so expensive.

  7. Wayne 7

    I think this is a good example of what Josie Pagani meant by not chasing every passing car.

    It looks a bit stupid to complain about replacing a one way bridge in a major tourist area. Whose votes are you going to get by emphasizing how opposed you are to replacing the bridge that you don’t already have.

    In contrast it is the sort of thing that is pretty much guaranteed to turn off middle voters, who probably think it is pretty sensible that the state highway system should not have one way bridges.

    • mickysavage 7.1

      But Wayne the problem is that we have a system which gives priority in accordance with a legislative scheme to ensure that the most worthy of projects gets built. By doing this the Government has prevented more worthy projects from being built and a project that barely gets off the ground gets priority.

      As for your Pagani quote perhaps you could pass this suggestion onto Cameron Slater and tell him the same thing. Besides at least we bark at scandals that are real.

  8. Wayne 8


    We are talking about a State highway.

    Speaking from experience, one of the reasons the Nats went for the Highways of Significance was to get a strategic perspective to spending the money on our roads.

    The problem of the rigid focus on BCR for every little aspect of each job, is that the system is incapable of looking at the macro-picture. As an example, different parts of the expressway from Auckland to Hamilton had different BCR’s, meaning that it was going to be nearly 2040 before the whole job was done. But that was a ludicrous way of looking at the overall economic significance of the road, and the overall growth impacts of the road.

    Oddly enough, you would think that Labour would embrace such a big picture approach to strategic infrastructure. But over the last few years the approach is to criticize pretty much everything the Nats have done, and not work out which things one should agree with, and which are the things to oppose.

    One of the outcomes of the 2005 election is that the Nats, (esp once John became the leader) was to take a strategic approach to policy, to work out what we supported and what we should oppose. So we adopted nuclear free, WFF, interest free student loans, most of ERA and a few other things. We then focused on what we would do; tax reform, 90 day bill, RMA reform. Now I appreciate that commenters here won’t believe the Nats actually went through that process, but take it from me that I know what we did during that period.

    Labour seems not to have gone through this process yet. And this seems to be one of Josie Pagani’s key points, and seemingly now also Chris Trotters, if Bowalley Road is anything to go by.

    I guess the election will show whether Labour will need to do this after September 20. Or will Labour have convinced the voters that what is currently proposed will do the job?

    • mickysavage 8.1

      But Wayne the system does not rely solely on BCRs. It is sophisticated to take into account strategic and environmental imperatives. But it is a system that is there to make sure that politicians do not cherry pick individual projects to suit themselves or their constituents.

      Here is sections 20(2) and (3) of the Land Transport Management Act:

      “(2)In approving a proposed activity or combination of activities, the Agency must be satisfied that—
      (a)the activity or combination of activities is included in the national land transport programme or qualifies under subsection (4); and
      (b)the national land transport programme continues to meet the requirements of section 19B; and
      (c)the activity or combination of activities is—
      (i)consistent with the GPS on land transport; and
      (ii)efficient and effective; and
      (d)the activity or combination of activities contributes to the Agency’s objective; and
      (e)the activity or combination of activities has, to the extent practicable, been assessed against other land transport options and alternatives; and
      (f)the relevant consultation requirements of this Act have been complied with.
      (3)In approving a proposed activity or combination of activities, the Agency must—
      (a)take into account—
      (i)any national energy efficiency and conservation strategy; and
      (ii)any relevant national policy statements and relevant regional policy statements that are for the time being in force under the Resource Management Act 1991; and
      (b)act in accordance with its operating principles.”

      The decision making process you will see is very sophisticated and the desire to remove political interference obvious.

    • Lanthanide 8.2

      Yes, private, in the sense that it seems to be a pure vanity project, much like the John Key Memorial Cycleway was:

      But local MP Bill English – who has no Ministerial responsibility for transport – requested and received two NZTA briefings in 10 days about [the Kawarau Falls Bridge]. And, lo and behold, the project has received the blessing of the normally tight-as-a-drum Minister of Finance, Bill English. It is now at the head of the queue.

      English has made sure that, despite its low efficiency and low benefit cost ratio, taxpayers will spend up to $25 million on his Kawerau Falls Bridge anyway.

      • Colonial Viper 8.2.1

        Telling ya, on some matters being Minister of Finance makes you at least as powerful as anyone else in the Cabinet, incl the PM

        • Murray Olsen

          Since the first ACT government, the Minister of Finance has often been the most powerful member of the administration, with the partial exceptions of Helen Clark and John Key. With Cunliffe we already see Finance making the stupid and damaging decision to raise the retirement age.

  9. john 9

    What a total idiot Rob Salmond is.

    1/ The Kawarau Falls single lane bridge has 6000 vehicles a day across it, and when busy delays add 20-30 miniutes to a five minute trip..

    2/ It’s on the main highway between Queenstown and Invercargill.

    3/ It’s the only link to the Remarkables Ski field.

    4/ When the rickety old bridge is closed for maintenance (as it was at night time for six weeks in April and May), or crashes, Queenstown residents on that side of the bridge have an additional 180km get into the centre of town – normally a 5-10 minute trip.

    5/ Closures and traffic delays can severely effect emergency vehicles attending crashes on the dangerous Devils Staircase just south of the bridge, or house fires, medical emergencies, ski field accidents etc.

    6/ It is nearly 90 years old with a rickety wooden deck, so it will not last much longer anyway.

    7/ Full weight trucks can’t even travel on the main road between Invercargill and Queenstown because of the limits on the old bridge.

    8/ Ditto with oversized loads – they have to travel the extra 180km.

    It’s a main state highway bridge that was built for Model T Fords and horse and carts, and can’t take modern traffic numbers, weights or loads.

    And Micky Savage claims the “actual benefit is hard to fathom “. I shake my head at the utter stupidity of that comment.

    • McFlock 9.1

      All interesting points that would have been taken into consideration when calculating the proposed replacement’s dismal 1.1 ROI. The ROI calculated by the LTSA.

      If you have better figures, feel free to provide your working.

    • lprent 9.2

      The Kawarau Falls single lane bridge has 6000 vehicles a day across it, and when busy delays add 20-30 miniutes to a five minute trip..

      I presume that you are talking about this from the bumf from NZTA.

      The daily two-way traffic counts for the bridge in 2011 were 5,906 with heavy vehicles making up 6.45% of this figure.

      That is complete bullshit. I’ve been around that area in the middle of summer, as recently as this last xmas. If there were 60 odd cars going across it every 5 minutes of so (roughly what your numbers suggest), the the queues would be kilometres long. Instead the most I have ever observed would be between 5 and 10 waiting at either end in multiple trips into the area over the last 30 years.

      Now I’m sure that there are days where there are the odd days when there are long queues. At the start and end of holidays would be my bet. But I hardly think that short peak holiday periods are really a good reason to expend large amounts of money on. I’d also bet that the number that NZTA quoted above was the highest daily value in November 2011 rather than an average, and that it coincided with the start of a holiday weekend. You know the type of period – when the car queues out of Auckland reach about 40-50km in extent on 4 lanes of motorway.

      Looking around at what is online…

      Evidentially NZTA thought the same as I do before they got completely buggered by the Bill English and other National Ministers. In December 2011 the local NZTA bod was asked why the Kawarau Falls Bridge was likely to be done after the rickety Beaumont bridge.

      “Higher priority to Beaumont Bridge” (my italics)

      The main drivers for replacing the Kawarau Falls Bridge were its traffic capacity and travel time savings, given some “localised” congestion issues on the bridge for relatively short periods during busy times, such as in school holidays and the ski season.

      “With respect to the Kawarau Falls Bridge, its remaining serviceable life as a single lane structure is well beyond the 10-year programming horizon.”

      Certain factors could affect the planned construction start dates, he said.

      The programming for Beaumont was based on anticipated serviceable life, while the Kawarau Falls Bridge was based on priority and anticipated programme cash flow.

      Incidentally, the traffic flows on that bridge even in the middle of summer are pretty damn small. Where I live in Auckland, both New north road and Newton road would probably do that 6k of traffic in way less than an hour in morning and evenings every work day.

      That is all traffic paying the road and petrol taxes that National ministers are thieving for their personal pork-projects.

  10. john 10

    The current bridge is at the end of it ‘s life and the wooden deck is under constant repair and can’t handle modern traffic loads.

    So economic comparisons between a new bridge and the old one are largely irrelevant, because soon there won’t be an old bridge that can be used.

    How do Queenstown people feel about a potential Labour govt planning to kill the plan for their desperately needed bridge as a “extreme politically motivated waste of public money.”???

  11. john 11

    lprent says “That is complete bullshit. …If there were 60 odd cars going across it every 5 minutes of so (roughly what your numbers suggest), the the queues would be kilometres long.

    That’s the problem – sometimes they are. They block the airport road. They block the Kelvin Heights Rd

    From the Herald –
    “About 450 vehicles crossed the bridge per hour, which rose to about 580 per hour in the evening peak of 5pm to 6pm. However, in the Christmas and New Year period, about 750 vehicles per hour, attempted to cross, which caused exceptionally long queues and frustration among motorists.”

    lprent says “Where I live in Auckland, both New north road and Newton road would probably do that 6k of traffic in way less than an hour in morning and evenings every work day.”

    What a ridiculous comparison – New North Road and Newton Road are not single lane roads where the traffic is reduced to one lane for BOTH directions. Even Auckland Harbour Bridge does less than 20,000 per lane per day – and they are going in ONE direction in each lane – not rotating from one direction, waiting for that to clear the bridge, before traffic going the other way can start.

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