People are driving less because of high fuel prices. That means less road tax for the government – a $120m shortfall in the last two years -, which pays for the transport budget. The biggest slice of the transport budget – the uneconomic roads of national significance. So, National is quietly delaying the RoNS until after they know they’ll be out of government.
New Zealand Transport Agency documents show the timeline for the RoNS being pushed out three years – to finish in 2023-24, rather than 2020-2021. Crucially, they show start dates being delayed beyond 2014.
That means that when the Labour-Greens government comes to office in 2014 it won’t be locked into spending. There won’t be a bunch of half-built motorways sitting around, which it would be more economic to finish than scrap. This will give the new government a much freer hand to direct transport money to where it actually delivers value for money, rather than pouring billions into motorways with costs that exceed their benefits.
Of course, National isn’t going to come out and say that they can’t afford to build the RoNS anymore. They’ll pretend it’s all on track. In fact, they’ll add more stupid motorway projects to be built in the never-never.
And when they are booted out, National will still be able to kick and scream when the new government scraps the programme.
But politics aside, this is great news. We have this one last chance to get a future-proof transport system in place, or as much of one as you can buy with $12 billion. To have squandered that money on motorways that only a handful of people would use would have been a massive tragedy.