RNZ is reporting that National has spent $216m just on the investigation and design stage of its Roads of National Significance so far (and that’s only 5 of the 7 projects). Most of it on outside contractors Look, I get this kind of shit can be surprisingly expensive. But nearly quarter of a billion dollars just for investigation and design? With these projects involving a 260km of highways that’s nearly a million dollars per kilometre, a thousand dollars per metre, just on planning!
$216m would employ around 4,500 average workers fulltime for a year. Even if a transport planner is worth the same as a cabinet minister (and I don’t doubt many of them are worth a lot more than this current lot) then that’s still 1,000 person/years of planning work in just 3 years, which would mean that every kilometre of RoNS has had a planner working on it fulltime for 3 years!
Actually, I suspect there’s far less work actually been done than that – the papers on the NZTA website certainly don’t suggest millions of work/hours have gone into them.
The reason the cost is so high is the nature of National’s RoNS programme. The biggest motorway building project in the country’s history, all in the next 8 years. Transmission Gully, I’m told would require all the earth-digging equipment currently in the country, which means that all the simultaneous projects would necessitate importing more equipment at huge cost for a one-off bulge in demand. The strain that trying to do everything at once brings means inflated costs per unit of output. The same will be true with skilled people.
This is a golden era for transport planners where NZTA has an open chequebook and the Government only wants to hear the answers it wants to hear – the country’s entire capacity for road planning consultancy work must be soaked up and I don’t doubt that the government is contracting in foreign consultants too. It’s a classic recipe for inflation. If you were a transport consultant, you would be hiking your rates while the hiking was good too. Hell, the amount we’ve paid them, they’ll all be able to retire in the next couple of years once the work dries up.
By compacting all these projects into a very short timeframe, the Government is stoking sector inflation and we the taxpayer get to pay the price.
That might be OK, if the projects themselves were worthwhile and urgently needed. But they’re not. Most of them don’t make economic sense under the official, optimistic (cf above) benefit cost ratios. They definitely don’t make sense in reality.
And, of course, we know that many of these projects will never be built. The Otaki to Levin Expressway (who knows how much was spent on investigation and design for that but the Wellington Northern Corridor, of which this was part, has had $92m spent on planning) won’t be built. More RoNS will be chopped in the next couple of years too – and then the Labour+Green government will can most of the rest.