The Government has binned part of the Northern Wellington Corridor ‘Road of National Significance’ – the four-lane expressway between Otaki and Levin that would have cost $400m. The government’s not getting enough road tax revenue and they had already cut all other transport funding to the bone – so something had to give. But it’s just the start.
Let me tell you what a poor quality investment the Otaki to Levin expressway would have been. The route carries about 14,000 vehicles a day and that number is decreasing – down from 15,000 5 years ago. That’s a pretty hefty rate of decrease. That’s $400m to basically knock a few minutes off the daily commute for around 7,000 people when the congestion points are already easing due to falling traffic volumes.
Are there things about this stretch of road that could be fixed to make it safer or get rid of chokepoints? Of course. So, invest in fixing those things. Don’t build a four-land expressway where one isn’t needed.
And that’s what is now happening, they’re going to spend $100m on upgrades instead of $400m on the expressway – not because it’s the sensible thing to do but because there’s no money and this was the least politically embarrassing thing they could cut (funny to see Nathan Guy, the electorate MP praising this as a smart move, given his previous die-in-a-ditch support for the expressway).
Making this section of State Highway 1 (along with all the other stretches back to Wellington at the same time as Hamilton to Auckland is becoming four-lane all the way) is really just about fulfilling Maurice Williamson’s arbitrary fantasy a four-lane road all the way from Wellington to Auckland (and on up to Wellsford). There’s no economic logic to it, it’s just a thing they think they ought to do because they think it wold be cool.
But economic reality is bringing that boyish stupidity crashing to earth. Road tax revenues have fallen short of budget forecasts by about $100m a year in the past two budgets. The Briefing to the Incoming Minister warned that there was a $5 billion shortfall between planned spending and (optimistically) forecast revenue in the coming decades.
This can only be the start. The whole RoNS programme makes no sense – especially the big ones, Transmission Gully and Puhoi to Wellsford. They need to be binned too. Wasting billions on these projects doesn’t make sense, especially when the money is desperately needed to build a low-carbon, low-oil transport system.