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Roads to nowhere

Written By: - Date published: 3:34 pm, March 1st, 2012 - 22 comments
Categories: Gerry Brownlee, infrastructure, transport - Tags: ,

To be a Nat seems to require tunnel vision and the ability to ignore reality. Case in point, National’s fixation with roads. Repeat after John: “Roads are good!”, “Roads are good!”, “Roads are good!”. Except, not so much:

Billions spent on big road projects show poor return

Transport officials have highlighted a dramatic reduction in the cost-efficiency of the Government’s multibillion-dollar spend-up on new highways.

But Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee says he is not concerned about what he expects will turn out to be only a short-term movement, and insists the Government is on track to keep the country moving.

Labour’s transport spokesman, Phil Twyford, has pointed to a graph in a Ministry of Transport briefing paper as evidence of “poor-quality spending” on highways led by the Government’s Roads of National Significance programme.

But Mr Brownlee told the Herald that Mr Twyford was wrong calling changes over a mere two years a trend, and said he was satisfied highway projects planned for Auckland would produce great benefits both for the region and the national economy.

According to the graph, prepared by officials for their incoming minister, approved highway projects expected to yield high economic returns dwindled below 10 per cent in 2009-10 compared with more than 75 per cent two years earlier.

More than 60 per cent were accorded low cost-benefit ratios and about 30 per cent were expected to provide only medium-level returns on investment.

Asked by Mr Twyford in Parliament whether he was concerned by the trend since Labour was last in power in 2008, the minister said he was not. …

“I’m not concerned about those graphs at this point – I don’t think they indicate a worrying trend at all.”

I haven’t seen the report, but maybe the Ministry of Transport can see the blindingly obvious truth that the Nats can’t. Peak oil is here, and the cost of our personal transport is going through the roof. Know what would show better returns for the country than billions on holiday highways? Put the money into public transport. Or schools. Or almost anything else really.

(PS: If you want to know how truly dodgy the Nats’ numbers are on this issue, go read this excellent piece by Rod Oram from 2010.)

22 comments on “Roads to nowhere ”

  1. fender 1

    It’s great that National are keen to spend on new infrastructure, but selling the cream of state assets to fund it is backward. One of the most aggravating aspects of the way they operate is the way they fund studies and get advice from experts but in the end they do what they had their mind set on from the outset.
    And their RONS plans would be fantastic if we were living in 1970, but times have changed, and National are stuck in the past. I think these egomaniacs just want to leave their mark on the landscape as evidence of their great achievements.
    The planned expressway through Kapiti, while being welcomed by many to ease congestion, seems poorly planned and has not taken into account the adverse effects of those who will have to live next to this monstrosity. The Kapiti Council had their own roading plans to alleviate problems but Joyce has ridden roughshod over them to get his idea of sculpture built, maybe so he can fly around looking at his great work from above.

  2. DH 2

    They never added up. They’re long term projects that won’t provide a financial return and we’re running a serious operating deficit with a poor short term economic outlook. As stimulus spending it’s one of the worst infrastructure projects you can get, they don’t hire many people for the money involved and there’s bugger-all flow-on benefits.

    They’ve borrowed eleven billion dollars for these roading projects and they have the gall to tell us they need to sell assets to balance the books. The interest bill alone on this economic sabotage is $600million a year.

    I’ve wondered if someone has been bribed, it’s about the only conclusion I can reach that makes sense to me.

  3. shorts 3

    how are the big road freight companies doing…. its all for them isn’t it?

  4. Jenny 4

    What did you see, my blue eyed son?
    And what did you see, my darling young one ?
    I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
    I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it

    And it’s a ruined, and it’s ruined

    It’s a ruined world we’re gonna leave, our children.

    That is, if we don’t rein in the roading lobby and the fossil fuels lobby.

    All power to Lucy Lawless, Te Whanau te Apanui, Greenpeace, the Maritime Union.

  5. james 111 5

    Your so right they should build no roads.Everyone should just walk or ride a horse across other peoples property.Or even fly to their holiday destination blowing carbon emissions int the atmosphere

    We should never use Electric cars in the future unless they can hover above the ground.There should be a train track to everyones letter box as we wont be able to drive there or deliver goods by truck. As you dont advocate roads. Civilisation will come to a standstill yea right sound loopy sure is

    • DH 5.1

      A typical moronic comment from someone who can’t think for himself. They’re not building roads. They’re merely improving existing roads. Any economic gain can only be incremental. There’s no great new business opportunities to be had, no magic bullets to be shot with, we already have roads we’ve had them for over century.

      To add to Jenny’s post…”a hard rain’s a gonna fall”

    • McFlock 5.2

      Take heart, James. One of these days your comments will be coherent, logically consistent, literate and and relevant to the thread.
      You might not ever get 100%, but I’m certain that a mid-range “Fail E” will be achieved any day now!

    • framu 5.3

      james, notice how the argument in the post is miles away from what you think it says?

      F – must try harder

      teacher will see you after class

      • lprent 5.3.1

        Yeah, he walked over the edge into trolling yesterday. RedLogix gave us a respite from it.

        • fender

          Yes but he kept posting after he was given a week off, further proof of his inability to comprehend.

          [lprent: Yep. 3 comments. But is likely that he hadn’t seen the comment with the ban when they were written. He wasn’t in the auto-moderation queue. Two of which I just wiped the contents with a link to the comment because they’d been replied too (if there wasn’t a reply then I just trash them).

          The 3rd was derogatory about RL and earned him an extra two weeks. It is a bad idea attacking a moderator. If I see them anywhere including in auto-moderation I will usually double up sentences. ]

    • tc 5.4

      Nice one James, how is the regular standup routine at the hollowmen golf and country club coming along by the way, I’m still in stitches over your pod solution for public transport.

      Worked any more sci fi into the act ? Should be good for a few extra laughs and for anyone wanting to join a large donation to the waitemata trust should secure an annual subscription.

    • Draco T Bastard 5.5

  6. Ad 6

    It’s tempting in the transport industry to believe that most hard problems can be solved with sufficient volumes of concrete, steel and earthmoving equipment -motorways being the greatest manifestation of that.

    Big engineering is necessary don’t get me wrong.

    But to me what is often neglected is the soft infrastructure, in particular the social marketing campaigns. New Zealand can be justifiably proud of the success in the last decade of the anti-smoking campaigns, anti-speeding campaigns, and more recently mental health campaigns. They take a long time to show measurable results, but we really are seeing fewer smokers and road deaths as a result of these campaigns.

    One really could imagine what our energy consumption could look like – and our decreased vulnerability to foreign oil imports – if social marketing on that kind of scale were applied to using public transport.

    I sure don’t wish an oil crash upon anyone, but when it comes time to convert a good number of the lanes on Auckland’s spaghetti junction into a garden with a cycleway, I will be there with my spade. The Auckland Plan in fact already anticipates this across a number of the current aerial off ramps.

    The Regional Land Transport Programmes (RLTP’s) for all areas of New Zealand are now out for consultation, and people we have to get our voices heard there. We may as well use the existing democratic channels available before the current Minister of Local Government determines that there’s just too much of this pesky voice-thing in the country. RLTPs will lock in transport priorities including motorways for the next ten years. Get writing.

    • Jenny 6.1

      Just google the words “The Well Connected Group” and discover who the new pyramid builders are.

      These corporate lobbyists have the ear of politicians like no other sector of the population.

      $BILLIONS for a highway made of diamonds? No problem.

      Money for public transport so we can get around our city? Get lost.

  7. BCCA 7

    While there’s a lot I don’t like about the Nats, it’s their ideology around transport that earns them my spite.

    Key was in the headlines yesterday telling Auckland that none of its funding options for the city rail link were okay. And Joyce wants Auckland to keep sprawling unsustainably, with all its implications for public transport, cycling, liveability, cost of infrastructure, etc. They really daren’t allow any new ideas take hold and so we must have more soulless developments, sparse and lifeless cities, noise and pollution, dozens of pedestrian deaths and injuries and vast areas of prime real estate as car parks.


    • DH 7.1

      Maybe I’m just an old cynic but I see making money & ideology as being mutually exclusive. When people put the activities of a Govt down to ideology they’re implicitly ascribing good motives to the actions; it might be wrong but the reasons for doing it are still right. If all Govt activities are ideologically based then there would be no corruption in Govt.

      Vast sums of the public’s money are being spent here and a great deal of it is going into the pockets of a relatively small group of businesses & individuals. It is possible to do good deeds and get filthy rich from it at the same time? I don’t think so.

  8. Georgecom 8

    I noted in one of the links a BCR for the Puhoi Holiday Highway was quoted at 1.1. Roftl. NZTA figures have it as 0.8 to 1.1. An assessment done by Aussie consulting firm, at the invitation of Joyce, costed the BCR out as 0.4. That report was ‘sent back’ to SAHA for massaging, er I mean, correction. Average NZTA and Saha and you get something around 0.7 for a realistic BCR. And Brownlee expects the BCRs to get better on his roading spend up?

    • DH 8.1

      Pretty pathetic isn’t it, and for that they’re putting the country into massive debt at the worst possible time in our economic history.

      It’s hard to figure out exactly what the BCR refers to – overall economic gain or the return to the crown on the money spent. I thought they’d need to return more than 1:3, crown revenue runs at about a third of GDP so if the loans are to be repaid they’d need an overall economic return of more than three times what they cost. Include interest & it’s even more.

      It’s the same bullshit with education, they invent ridiculous returns that anyone with a lick of common sense can see are nonsense.

      • Georgecom 8.1.1

        For the puhoi holiday highway it seems the BCR relates to whatever figure Steven Joyce thinks sounds justifiable for his massive spend up.

        • DH

          It does look that way. Wellsford isn’t a destination for many people, it will only give meaningful economic benefits when it runs all the way to Whangarei and even then it’s not a huge thing it might knock 20-30minutes off the trip in non-holiday periods. I can see why they call it the holiday highway. They’d get a much greater BCR if they just bypassed the Warkworth bottleneck.

          • Georgecom

            Yup. The Campaign for Better Transport has commissioned what it calls “Operation Lifesaver” as an alternative for that stretch of road to the ‘South Canterbury Finance’ BCR highway. OL suggests a bypass through Warkworth, extending some passing lanes and a median barrier down some parts of the existing highway. $300 to $400 million estimate.


            • DH

              That looks sensible enough, should achieve about 90% of the benefits for a quarter of the cost. If you’re interested in the issue of infrastructure spending the driving force behind it seems to be this crowd here;


              One of their replies to the Puhoi debate is here, scroll down to “Deferring Puhoi-Wellsford highway puts Northland’s economic potential at stake”


              Note the comments about tolls.

              There’s quite a bit of historical info & Nationals infrastructure policies seem to come directly from this mob.

              NZCID was founded by an Aussie investment bank who are one of the largest investors in PPPs in the world. Just a coincidence that NZCID policies are littered with references to the ‘benefits’ of PPPs and other private sector involvement, they profess to care only about NZ’s economic development. Tui?

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