Transport

The rip and read: Labour brings back stalled roads

Labour-New Zealand First announce $3.5b of new roads in Northland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Wellington, Canterbury and Queenstown, including four projects touted by National and stalled in early 2018. Bernard Hickey reports.

Just a day after setting September 19 as the election date, the Labour-New Zealand First coalition Government has announced $3.5b of new road projects in Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Wellington, Canterbury and Queenstown, including four projects touted by National and stalled between late 2017 and early 2018 because the new Government had to adhere to its 20 percent net debt target.

The four projects stalled by the new Government after it took power in late 2017 included: the four-lane Tauranga Northern Link; the four-laning of State Highway One from Otaki to North of Levin; the Melling Interchange project in the Hutt Valley and upgrading State Highway 1 from Whangarei to the Port of Marsden to four lanes. The full list of stalled projects is here at NZTA.

Most were not officially funded, but could have been green-lighted with extra Government borrowing. Labour and New Zealand First and their Green support partner resisted starting them again. But pressure from provincial voters hoping for better roads and the wider business community alarmed at a potential hole in the infrastructure pipeline forced a rethink.  Last year Robertson signalled Labour would adhere to a wider debt range target of 15-25 percent of GDP. He announced unspecified plans for an extra $12 billion worth of debt-funded infrastructure spending on December 10 last year.

Money for provincial roads

This announcement fills out the detail and aims to shift the narrative in provincial areas where voters fear their roading projects are missing out because transport spending was being focused on rail investments in Auckland. The $12b includes $6.8b for road and rail, including $3.5b for roads outside of Auckland, $2.2b for roads in Auckland and $1.1 billion for rail in Auckland.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters, Finance Minister Grant Robertson, Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones and Transport Minister Phil Twyford made the announcement of the projects in NZTA's New Zealand Upgrade Programme, which includes $6.9 billion overall.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford with Finance Minister Grant Robertson. Photo: Lynn Grieveson 

That amounts includes $2.2b for roads in Auckland, including the Penlink project linking the Whangapararoa Peninsula to State Highway 1, the Mill Road four-lane project connecting Manukau to Drury and widening State Highway 1 from Papakura to Drury.

There is also $1.1b for rail projects, including completing the third main rail line between Westfield at Otahuhu and Wiri in South Auckland, the electrification of railway track between Papakura and Pukekohe and the building of two new platforms at the Pukekohe station, and the building of two new railway stations at Drury Central and Drury West, with park and ride facilities.

"This is the biggest boost in infrastructure spending in more than a generation," Robertson told a packed news conference at a law firm's office in an Auckland skyscraper.

"The big difference today is every dollar is funded," he said, hinting at how National's pre-election promises for new motorways were not locked down with funding allocated in the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA)'s programme.

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