Written By: - Date published: 8:21 am, January 11th, 2018 - 210 comments
Categories: Judith Collins, national, Politics, same old national, the praiseworthy and the pitiful - Tags: roads of national significance, RONS
Judith Collins has attempted to steal the limelight in a traditionally slow political period by announcing a new campaign for the National Party. Not against climate change or child poverty or our failing health systems or the housing crisis or …
But against the Government’s indifference to Roads of National Significance.
The roads are something of a misnomer. They should be called Roads of National Party Significance or RONPAs. Because their significance is purely political.
Collins wants to run a series of petitions to try and save projects that are meant to be at risk. Even though most of them are not properly funded. From a National Party press release on Scoop:
The National Party has today launched a series of petitions aimed at saving regional highway projects at risk because of the Government’s obsession with Auckland trams, National Party Transport Spokesperson Judith Collins says.
“Roads from Northland right through to Ashburton are being ‘reviewed’ while the Government attempts to divert billions of dollars to pet light rail projects.
“The National Government committed to a large number of important regional highway projects right around New Zealand as the next stage in the successful Roads of National Significance programme to build a modern highway network. These would greatly improve safety and travel times, better connect our regions and boost regional economic growth.
“But Transport Minister Phil Twyford now says a number of these projects are under review. That’s not good enough – our regional communities deserve them and the National Party is committed to fighting for them.
“To ensure the voice of each region is heard the National Party is launching a series of petitions so the public can show the Government how important the projects are. Each MP responsible for their road will be taking their online and physical petition to present to the Government later this year.
The affected roads include:
• The upgrade of the Redoubt-Mill Road corridor from Manukau and Flat Bush to Papakura and Drury
• The extension of the Waikato Expressway from Cambridge to the foot of the Kaimai Range, and from Cambridge to Tirau
• The continuous four lane extension of the Northern Motorway from Warkworth to Whangarei.
• An East West Link Road project between the Onehunga-Penrose industrial area and State Highways 1 and 20
• The Tauranga to Katikati Road project as a continuous four lane State Highway with wide lanes and safety measures
• The four laning of the Napier to Hastings Expressway
• The Otaki to north of Levin expressway road project
• The Christchurch Northern Motorway between Belfast and Pegasus
• The construction of the four-lane State Highway 1 link between Christchurch and Ashburton
“These are the most crucial transport linkages in their regions and the Government has wrongly thrown them into doubt. You can’t argue that you support regional New Zealand and then immediately take these key projects away.
“National Party MPs will continue to push the Government to continue these roads and I encourage the public to show their support,” Ms Collins says.
The crazy things about these RONPAs is that just about no one thinks they are a good idea. The only people who think they are good are people who own land that can then be subdivided or corporations that build roads. They really are a solution looking for a problem.
Road building in New Zealand has a long highly politicised history. Under the last Government the Land Transport Management Act was used to try and depoliticise the system and install a system where economic efficiency and environmental outcomes would determine what decisions were made. National went right against that by its RONPA system, designed essentially to give the fingers to proponents of quality sophisticated urban form, to keep the base happy and to give National Ministers really expensive ribbon cutting opportunities.
But things were getting out of control and lower and lower quality projects were being supported. This is something I said at the time that Labour announced cancellation of the East West highway:
The first bunch of RONS were bad enough. But the latest bunch really give the impression that National was scraping the bottom of a very deep barrel.
For instance the East West Link in Auckland had the unusual feature that per kilometre it was going to be the most expensive motorway ever. A corruption plagued Russian highway would have been relegated into second place.
Thankfully it will be no more, replaced by cheaper more sensible tweaks to existing roads. The Crown contribution can be diverted into really helpful projects like light rail.
Greater Auckland thought the same:
However, on one transport issue it seems the election result will lead to a lasting impact. That is the East West Link project. A re-elected National Government would have pushed on with the project as one of their next generation “roads of national significance” and by the time the 2020 election rolls around this project (unless we see the unlikely situation where its consent is declined) would have probably been under construction. In contrast, Labour have committed to significantly scaling back the project – banking around $1.2 billion of savings. Given the available alternatives to the East West Link are pretty strong and could deliver pretty much the same outcomes for far lower cost and far less environmental damage, it’s difficult to see the East West Link emerging again down the track once these cheaper and less destructive options are pursued.
Furthermore, as so eloquently explained by Infrastructure NZ’s Hamish Glenn the other week in his presentation to the project’s Board of Inquiry hearing, even in the very distant future there is relatively little demand on the East West Link project so it’s highly probable a cheaper option would be effective for a very long time.
There are some benefits in some of the projects and interestingly the Manawatu Gorge project which is vital is not on the list of projects being petitioned on. But the proposed benefits could be achieved by much more modestly scoped projects. For instance the Wellsford to Whangarei has an estimated benefit cost ratio in the realm of 50c, that is each dollar spent delivered 50c worth of benefit. And strangely the NZTA analysis which concluded the expressway is not warranted within the next 30 years and cannot deliver value for money disappeared from the NZTA website just before the election.
And there is a heavy anti Auckland subtext to the reporting. National knows that nothing annoys the provincial areas more than the thought they are losing resources to Auckland even though Auckland actually struggles to get its contributed share of the National Land Transport Fund spent in the area.
But a rational discussion on the best spend of Crown resources free of political spin is obviously more than what we can hope for.
It is going to be a long three years …