Roads to nowhere paved with your gold

Written By: - Date published: 8:08 am, May 10th, 2012 - 21 comments
Categories: Gerry Brownlee, infrastructure, transport - Tags:

You know how the government’s short of cash, eh? We’ve all got to accept the cuts, we’re told, because things are so tight. And this government is utterly committed to eliminating low-quality government spending.

Well, Gerry Brownlee is spending $14 billion of your money on highways that don’t make sense on the government’s rosy numbers. They barely break even if rapid traffic volume growth happens – something that hasn’t happened for the past seven years. What’s even more fiscally irresponsible is that he isn’t even going to consider whether they’re still a good idea now the IMF says petrol is heading to $5 a litre. Here he is in the House yesterday:

GENTER: “Does the recently published IMF paper The Future of Oil, which shows real oil prices doubling in the coming decade, sending petrol prices here to $5 a litre, cause him to reconsider the economic rationale for the so-called roads of national significance; and if not, why not?”

BROWNLEE: “I am the Minister of Transport, not an oil speculator for the futures market; therefore, I have no comment on that.”

Nor is he concerned about $6 billion of funding shortfalls because that’s in ‘the future’, which also happens to be when the Roads of national Significance will be built and used – because he’ll be out of office by then (seriously):

GENTER: What is the plan to pay for the Government’s transport expenditure given that the Ministry of Transport’s Briefing to the Incoming Minister warns of a funding shortfall of $4.9 billion if high oil prices and low GDP growth continue?

BROWNLEE: The shortfall referred to by the questioner could occur in the years between 2021 and 2030. It was included in the briefing to the incoming Minister to indicate that if those conditions persisted, it might exist. We are not making plans now for what might happen in 2021, but I do acknowledge the member’s commitment to this Government dealing with these problems in 2021 through to 2030.

GENTER: Is he saying that he is not concerned that his Government’s expensive State highway programme will cost New Zealanders billions, as long as the funding shortfall is well beyond his term?

BROWNLEE: I think my answer is yes, because the roads will cost what they cost, and until we get to 2021, or to some time in that 10-year block out to 2030, we do not know whether there will be a shortfall.

GENTER: Given that the Ministry of Transport officials have consistently warned that there will be a funding gap between revenue raised from road users and planned expenditure, even in this decade, how does he propose to make up the funding shortfall? Will he raise taxes on fuel and road users, will he borrow more, or will he cut some projects?

BROWNLEE: I think the advice that the member has referred to as coming from the Ministry of Transport lacks the ambition that this Government has for growth in the New Zealand economy.

GENTER: I seek leave to table this document from the Ministry of Transport—the Government policy statement 2012 draft Cabinet paper and engagement document—which states that there will be a deficit of about $1.5 billion between forecast revenue and target Government policy statement expenditure before 2020.

That’s just reckless. A complete lack of responsibility. And he’s playing with our money.

21 comments on “Roads to nowhere paved with your gold”

  1. Lanthanide 1

    It seems Gerry is saying that these highways are only designed to last until 2021 and after that, all bets are off.

    I thought highways were significant infrastructure that should last at, at the absolute minimum, 60 years once built?

    • Deano 1.1

      The crazy thing is that Transmission Gully and Puhoi won’t even start being built until 2015/16 and won’t be completed until 5 or more years later

    • Draco T Bastard 1.2

      He’s not saying that, he’s saying that he doesn’t care about the fact that the RoNS are white elephants, he’ll spend our money anyway which is what you get from dictators.

  2. tsmithfield 2

    Firstly, if the new roads are shorter, and allow higher traffic volumes than the existing roads, then distances travelled will reduce, as will log jams with cars idling. Thus average fuel consumption will reduce.

    Secondly, technology is improving to reduce fuel consumption. This will mitigate the effect of the increase in fuel prices. For instance, the other day, my wife and I test drove a hybrid Honda. That had a fuel consumption rating of only 4 litres per 100 k and had features such as shutting down completely at intersections etc to minimise fuel consumption. Greater fuel economy will offset the rise in fuel prices.

    Thirdly, some of the roads are definitely needed. For instance the Southern Motorway, and Northern Arterial in Christchurch will ease a lot of congestion on the north side of the city where the population base has tended towards since the earthquakes.

    • Deano 2.1

      “allow higher traffic volumes than the existing roads” – but traffic volumes aren’t growing and will plunge at $5 a litre petrol

      “then distances travelled will reduce, as will log jams with cars idling. Thus average fuel consumption will reduce.” that’s already accounted for in the shitty BCRs, which only get shittier with $5 a litre petrol

      • tsmithfield 2.1.1

        “allow higher traffic volumes than the existing roads” – but traffic volumes aren’t growing and will plunge at $5 a litre petrol

        People will always use roads. The technology by which they are used will change. If we go to say electric cars, which at the moment travel less distance than conventional cars before needing recharging/refueling, then shorter distances will definitely be beneficial.

        • Dr Terry 2.1.1.1

          Damn! And I thought we were going to get cycle tracks! They were supposed to create so much employment!

        • Deano 2.1.1.2

          the MED forecasts that 95% of vehicles will be petrol or diesel in 2030. Sorry, but electric cars aren’t going to make the RoNS viable

          • tsmithfield 2.1.1.2.1

            Well, it can’t be all ways. Either new sources of fossil fuels will be found that keep petrol cars viable. Or the price of petrol will go through the roof, driving new technologies. Either way, we will still need roads.

            • Deano 2.1.1.2.1.1

              Um. No. You’ve assumed that people will find a way to drive, no matter, what no matter what the cost.

              There isn’t the capacity to turn the world’s vehicle fleet electric in the next ten years. The average car on the road is 11 years old that means that today’s basically 100% oil-driven fleet will still be the majority of the fleet in 10 years even if every car sold from now on is electric. And the fact is that car manufacturers are planning to still be selling majority oil-driven cars in a decade. There simply isn’t the time or capital for the re-tooling and re-equipping that you’re blithely assuming will happen to justify the R0oNS.

              The price of petrol will be unaffordable and there won’t be enough electric cars. So people will drive less – as they already are. So the need for the RoNS – which is already too small to justify their cost – will be reduced even further.

        • Colonial Viper 2.1.1.3

          If we go to say electric cars, which at the moment travel less distance than conventional cars before needing recharging/refueling, then shorter distances will definitely be beneficial.

          Electric and hybrid cars won’t make it to 10% of the car fleet within 20 years. So your rationale is not relevant.

        • Draco T Bastard 2.1.1.4

          Can’t afford electric cars – we just don’t have that sort of generating capacity. We could get by with electric trains for long haul and electric buses and trucks for local but that, of course, means that the RoNS are a complete waste.

  3. Colonial Viper 3

    Firstly, if the new roads are shorter, and allow higher traffic volumes than the existing roads, then distances travelled will reduce, as will log jams with cars idling. Thus average fuel consumption will reduce.

    More roads encourages more cars not less. That’s what history has shown.

    That had a fuel consumption rating of only 4 litres per 100 k and had features such as shutting down completely at intersections etc to minimise fuel consumption. Greater fuel economy will offset the rise in fuel prices.

    Good for all those who can afford $50K hybrid cars.

    For instance the Southern Motorway, and Northern Arterial in Christchurch will ease a lot of congestion on the north side of the city where the population base has tended towards since the earthquakes.

    Christchurch is depopulating rapidly. 5 years from now that new road won’t be needed.

    • Jim Nald 3.1

      Gerry, after some more assistance from officials, erm consultants, should answer the questions next time like this:

      “The roads will cost what they cost, and I, erm, we do not know whether there will be a shortfall because the member who dares to question me lacks the ambition that this Government has for growth in flying pigs for the New Zealand economy.”

      By 2021, to help pay for his expensive highway programme, he will ambitiously volunteer to be a flying pig out of office to transport New Zealanders.

  4. tsmithfield 4

    “More roads encourages more cars not less. That’s what history has shown.”

    Yet the arguments I have seen here before assert that the increasing fuel price will reduce the number of cars, making new highways less viable. See Deano above for that argument. It can’t be both ways. Anyway, I think that increasing traffic volume encourages more roads, not the other way around as you suggest.

    “Good for all those who can afford $50K hybrid cars.”

    That car was a 2008 civic priced at $17k. It had a 1300 cc petrol motor supported by an electric motor. Personally, I didn’t like it because it was a bit gutless getting up to speed and sounded a bit like a lawn-mower engine. However, if the price of petrol was a lot higher, I would have probably considered that option more seriously.

    “Christchurch is depopulating rapidly. 5 years from now that new road won’t be needed.”

    Depopulation is temporary. In a few years Christchurch will be the safest city in the country, and perhaps one of the safest in the world for earthquakes given that the vulnerable areas have been abandoned, houses have to be built with appropriate foundation designs for the category of ground, and that most high rise buildings and old buildings are being demolished and will be replaced with very safe ones. So, the population will boom in Christchurch in a few years. Besides that, it is estimates I have seen are that 50000 workers will be required for the rebuild, so the short-term problem will get worse, not better.

    • Dr Terry 4.1

      Never mind about Christchurch (how do you know for sure that another quake will not hit?), the entire country seems to be migrating to Australia (ie those who can afford to).

  5. Chris 5

    Out of the mouths of babes. Programme the other night on a couple who had moved their older house out of Christchurch because they were sick of waiting for the go ahead,so just went ahead anyway.When the reporter asked their little girl of about four or five what she thought of it all her reply was “silly Gerry Brownlee”

    • Colonial Viper 5.1

      her reply was “silly Gerry Brownlee”

      Yep. That’s been the family dinner table conversation for the last 6 months I suspect.

  6. mac1 6

    If we broaden this discussion to follow up on where we would better spend $14 billion, could I put in a plug for rest home carers and other workers on the minimum wage which was discussed yesterday on Nat Radio.

    Since retirement from teaching I have become a cleaner- a satisfying, important and (for me very important) much lower stress since I am blessed with an understanding, flexible and good employer. I am paid $14.68 per hour, just above the minimum wage. I would not like to rear a family on that amount. OK for me at my time of life with resources built up and of necessity needing to destress.

    I note that cleaners rank very highly for the value of their return on wages paid. Much higher than bankers, who rated negatively. They give a much higher return for dollars invested than these Brownlee-promoted roads.

    John Key, however, said that we cannot afford to pay more to carers who have had a $4 in wages over the past five years, IIRC.

    Yet we can pay $14 billion for roads.

  7. millsy 7

    It doesn’t help that next month, KiwiRail will probably announce the closure of the railway line north of Wellsford….

    Leant on by an anti-rail National..

  8. Jasper 8

    Auckland Roading Taxes: June 1990 to June 2010. Aucklanders have paid through RUC taxes & fuel levies more than $9 Billion. The return in spending & investment into the construction of new roading & rail has being $3 billion for the Auckland region! So there should be enough money available to build light-rail & rail projects for the Auckland region?? – So Czar Joyceski, where’s the money gone?? 

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