The National Party has announced an election promise to build a $1.5 billion 4-lane expressway between Christchurch and Ashburton (also see here and here for more). This would include two lanes in each direction with a median divider, new bridges crossing the Selwyn, Rakaia, and Ashburton rivers. It will run south, directly from the soon-to-be-completed Christchurch Southern Motorway extension at Rolleston to – presumably – just south of Ashburton. In essence, it would likely be similar to the Waikato Expressway or Kapiti Expressway.
“This will be a transformational project for Canterbury,” – Todd Muller, National Party Leader
Now, I’m all for improving safety of our State Highway network, but this is kind of ridiculous. Other interventions could suffice for a fraction of the price to improve safety, and the number of vehicles per day along this section of SH1 is only around 12,000. That’s far fewer than many other roads that aren’t having proposals to spend $1.5 billion on them, including many in Christchurch, and is well below Waka Kotahi advice that 25,000 vehicles per day is the threshold for expressway upgrades. I can’t even see this being justified if it has a user toll.
It’s promised that planning would begin in National’s first term, and construction begin in 2023. Given that many of the Roads Of National Significance (announced in 2009) have yet to be finished more than a decade later, I highly doubt such an expressway that will require some serious bridging (the current Rakaia River bridge is the longest in New Zealand) will be finished any time soon. Factor in the lack of a business case, planning, funding and so on, and I hazard a guess 2023 won’t be when it starts either. Incremental road upgrades might be a goer, but a single $1.5 billion proposal for a 4-lane Christchurch to Ashburton isn’t just a giant economic basket case of a project, it’s also fundamentally tone deaf.
Meanwhile, Christchurch has embarrassingly low public transport use, the cycleway network has been delayed, and the city remains one of the most car dependent in Australasia, and is the LARGEST METROPOLITAN AREA IN NEW ZEALAND OR AUSTRALIA WITHOUT RAIL OR RAPID TRANSIT. This leads me to consider what else $1.5 billion could be spent on in the area that would have a far better economic, social and environmental impact, and probably be much more palatable to the electorate to boot (remember, I said it was fundamentally tone deaf):
- Regional commuter rail linking Christchurch to Rangiora and Rolleston
- MRT along Papanui and Riccarton roads
- Buying and running more buses in Christchurch and beyond
- Rolling out more bus priority like bus lanes
- Completing and expanding cycleway networks in Christchurch and across Canterbury
$1.5 billion would probably be enough to do three or four of the above. You could even whack on some (more sensible) road projects for good measure. ##%@!#!#!!! Tone deaf.
Check out the following previous posts for more on some of more thoughts on the above:
- A look at the Green’s regional rail proposal
- Roads or rail?
- My thoughts on implementing commuter rail in Christchurch (includes links to previous posts)
- Why is it so hard for New Zealand to not do roads?
- An Accessible City 2.0?
Also, check out this website (if you dare) which claims the expressway in question was “shelved” by the current government. The road that hasn’t even been planned, hadn’t been funded, etc. Yikes.
Look out in the coming weeks for a more intensive post I am working on the present day implications of the legacy of Roads of National Significance (consider this a warm up!). Also, Dunedin Commuter Rail Part II, a retrospective look back at Dunedin’s suburban trains, is (hopefully) on its way very soon. Apologies for recent delays! I am the George R.R. Martin of blogging, it seems.