Few would have escaped noticing that not one new major roading project has been instigated by Waka Kotahi in the four years since Winston appointed the Labour Government in 2017, and they are doing all they can to stave off the opening of the biggest National Party project, Transmission Gully.
That’s right, all the money has been diverted to rail and cycleways, and the roading projects that were started by National have been cancelled unless they were past the point of no return.
The other thing that’s recently become apparent is that ‘NZ Transport Agency’ is back in vogue as the organisation’s name but that’s another story.
A more serious problem is the transport funder’s lack of funds, which is affecting the progress of a number of long-promised safety improvements. Only a small fraction of the planned wire rope central barriers are underway – that’s not necessarily a bad thing, ask any motorcyclist – but the net result is that the promised ‘zero road deaths’ target promoted by former Associate Minister, Julie-Anne Genter, is even more impossible than ever.
In short, the future of roading in our country is up in the air, and I don’t mean in flying cars. Yes, Covid is responsible for a lot of cost increases, material shortages and lack of qualified engineers, but there are a couple of elephants in the room.
One is the diversion of funding towards things other than roads. Underutilised cycleways continue to be a blight on our major cities and there is no end to the amount of money being tipped into their construction at the expense of the interests of motorists.
Then there’s the obsession with light rail, a concept that might work in the old, densely populated cities of Europe where nobody owns a car, but is totally irrelevant in New Zealand. It worked here 100 years ago when cars were rare (it was called a tram then) but was rightly discarded in the 1950s.
We thought we dodged a bullet when they abandoned the ludicrous cycle bridge across Auckland harbour but now, unbelievably, they’re thinking about spending more than twice as much on an UNDERGROUND light rail system from the Auckland CBD to the airport. Similar nonsense is proposed for Wellington, with billions to be spent and not one extra lane for cars.
No wonder there’s no money to spend on roads, and it will get even worse when a large percentage of the populace will be cooped up in little rabbit hutches with no garages or even parking spaces for vehicles.
Then there’s the matter of how to fund the NZ Transport Agency. The traditional funding source for roading is petrol tax, with vehicles that don’t pay petrol tax (diesels) being subject to road user charges. These charges are supposed to apply to electric cars when their proportion of the fleet reaches two per cent. With the current hysteria over electric cars this is likely to happen sooner rather than later, but there’s no indication that this is being included in the forward planning, and petrol use continues to decline as people shift to smaller, newer vehicles and drive them less.
The money is running out and the day of reckoning will come. Electric cars cannot continue to get a free ride forever, but there’s no evidence that the current Government will have the courage to make them pay their share.
The other worry is that the current Transport Minister, the deeply unimpressive Michael Wood, is being touted in some circles as the eventual replacement for Jacinda.