So a few things of note have happened in recent days. First, the government announced that it was taking advantage of its favourable financial position to spend up on infrastructure (mostly road and rail) to the tune of $6.8 billion. No details have yet been made available on what projects this may yet entail, though it was stated that the funding would be used to progress “shovel ready” projects. Second, the opposition (National) released their own plans for transport on Monday (see articles here, here and here for a summary).
National’s transport announcement
While the document is overly roads focused (claiming it will “complete” the original Roads of National Significance (RoNS) and says it will introduce a suite of second generation RoNS, not to mention it is light on solid public transport proposals) it nevertheless does have some good points. Included in this is a move to a more user pays based system for funding roads rather than fuel taxes (sure to sound good to voters, but actually more fair and equitable if done right), creating of independent transport authorities for Wellington and Christchurch, a national integrated ticketing system, road use charges moving to how much you drive, and a congestion charge for larger cities revenue neutral). Yet, the proof will be in the pudding. Many of these initiatives failed to gain traction under their steam from 2008-17, so be wary of promises (see the lack of progress on the current government’s Auckland light rail project as an example of what can happen), while many are already underway in some form.
As for the new RoNS they propose, they are as follows:
- Whangārei to Warkworth
- East-West Link in Auckland
- Cambridge to Tirau
- Piarere to the foot of the Kaimai Ranges
- Tauranga to Katikati, including the Tauranga Northern Link
- Napier to Hastings
- Levin to Sanson
- Manawatū Gorge
- Christchurch to Ashburton
- Christchurch Northern Motorway: Belfast to Pegasus
And, yes, these are new. None of these were RoNS in the first place, just election promises that hadn’t been costed or evaluated. Furthermore, some of these are underway, and may be covered under the governments $6.8 billion spend up anyway (which is rumoured to be roads heavy). In Greater Christchurch, Waimakariri MP Matt Doocey, for instance, is pushing for the Christchurch Northern Motorway extension to be built through this funding. Overall, the focus on roads is concerning, and the document feels like it pays lip service only to rail and public transport. Still, it is, to be honest, a little more open minded than I thought it could be, though nothing in this document surprises me a great deal.
Shovel ready projects for $6.8 billion funding boost
Indeed, anything “shovel ready” will be a possibility under the government’s latest announcement. That includes some of the RoNS2 listed above, plus potential some other roading projects. Perhaps Mill Rd in Auckland? Melling interchange in Wellington? What of other projects? Rail was mentioned in the government’s announcement, so perhaps funding for additional tracks in the Auckland and Wellington metro areas, station upgrades, Wairarapa track upgrades. Beyond that I would assume projects would go towards regional rail improvements, such as bridge replacements, trackwork etc. The national network is in dire need of investment, so it makes sense when the role of rail in the national land transport network is being promoted for more use. Anything else? Perhaps cycleways in urban areas might get an arm up?
But how “shovel ready” are we talking? If a business case could be whipped up nice and quick, could something else be put on the table? Perhaps commuter rail in Christchurch? The answer is “probably not” in that case, but worth a dream or two. Nevertheless, I wonder if some projects that are relatively easy to progress, even if they are not quite what you would term shovel ready, could be included. If that’s the case, there might be some surprises (though my prediction is that there won’t be).
We have a Draft Rail Plan!
And that brings me to another document that has been released. The Draft New Zealand Rail Plan. This proposes funding rail projects through the National Land Transport Fund, a good move in my opinion, and a step towards putting rail on an even playing field with road transport. It also outlines a vision for rail in New Zealand, and how rail in metro areas and regional passenger rail will be managed into the future. A notable absentee is Christchurch/Canterbury in this set-up, only a brief mention of extending the process of management to other regions being an acknowledgement that things might change in that regard. It’s really an indictment of Canterbury leadership that rail is not – at the very least – seen as a part of future transport solutions for the region. This is especially notable when you consider that the government offered money on the table for commuter rail, yet there have been no takers. See here for further analysis of this.
NZTA getting serious about mode-shift?
And this leads me to the last piece of news, and that is NZTAs “Keeping Cities Moving”, a strategy to advance mode-shift in major and fast-growing cities in New Zealand (Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington, Queenstown – yes, really – and Christchurch). It basically sets out the need for change, and outlines how that will happen. Essentially, the broad approach is to shape urban form, make shared and active modes more attractive, and influence travel demand and transport choices (see what I mean when I said the opposition’s policies are kinda not new?). In all, this is a really cool document and seems illustrative of the shift in thinking on transport and urban form. Yet, the proof will be in the pudding. Of course.
Also, check out this post on Greater Auckland for more analysis on Keeping Cities moving! A couple more interesting shots from that report below. Cheers!