Transport

Heavy rail, fast buses, and a harbour crossing

The National Party has made a good fist of critiquing the Labour Party's failed plans for Auckland's transport network, and today it's told voters what it would do instead

National Party leader Judith Collins says the party would invest $17 billion in the upper North Island to make it Australasia's most dynamic region. 

The party has announced it is in favour of a heavy rail line to Auckland Airport and a 'bus rapid transit' (BRT) network for the city.

"I think that the Mayor of Auckland - having spoken to him today - is going to love this," Collins said.

"The people that live here in Auckland and have to deal with congestion every single day of their lives...they are going to love it."

Transport spokesman Chris Bishop said their plan would "put an end to the past three years of chaotic mismanagement of the transport portfolio by Phil Twyford and Julie Anne Genter". 

“Previous governments have not been ambitious enough in dealing to congestion. World-class cities have high-quality public transport networks where mass transit is a normal part of everyday life.

“Under National, Auckland will become the world-class city it can and should be – and the Upper North Island will become an interconnected economic powerhouse.”

With National's announcement today, both major parties have hopped on board a fast train to the airport. Collins has announced her party would build a heavy rail line from the airport to Onehunga, which would allow rail or bus connection to the CBD.

The party would measure the success of its transport ideas in Auckland against the goal of getting people to work within 30 minutes and across the city in one hour.

Collins promised it would also be accompanied with a repeal of the Resource Management Act and the passage of two laws: a law governing environmental standards and another regulating urban planning and development.

A fast trip to the airport from both major parties

A policy shift by Labour in favour of light metro - also to prioritise speed - means the Green Party is the only one left supporting the original concept of light rail 'street cars' along Dominion Rd to encourage urban intensification.

That still leaves Auckland with the problem of easing bus congestion in the city and connecting up more houses on the isthmus to public transport. For that, National said it would build a rapid transit network of buses or trackless trams instead of light rail at a cost of $1.2b.

Auckland wouldn't be the only centre getting new projects under National. The party has said it would build a four-lane expressway from Whangarei to the north of Tauranga. Its network of expressways in the upper North Island would involve tunnelling through the Brynderwyn and Kaimai mountains and tolling the road.

Perhaps the most controversial project of all would start in 2028: a second harbour crossing for Auckland.

An additional harbour crossing has been a popular idea in Auckland and National Party circles for some time, but the cost estimates on it are understood to be very high.

Sources connected to NZTA have told Newsroom the tunnelling and other works required could total $10b, and you would still be left with the problem of what you'd do with the extra traffic it would bring into the CBD. National's policy document lists it as "un-costed". 

Bishop said the party had set aside $5b in the first 10 years of their plans for the harbour crossing, but he acknowledged more money would need to be set aside in the second decade.

"That will be New Zealand's biggest infrastructure project."

Show me the money

The $17b package for the upper North Island would be spent over 10 years as part of a larger set of transport promises totalling $31b.

National would get NZTA to borrow $10b across 10 years to finance all of these plans on the back of the National Land Transport Fund (collected through road user charges and fuel taxes) - similar to what Kāinga Ora has done under the current Government - but the party has pledged not to increase road user charges or fuel taxes. 

That would allow the party to keep net core Crown debt low while still borrowing money, however it would also give the NZTA board control over whether certain projects went ahead or not. That could pose issues if the business case didn't stack up for projects like another harbour crossing.

The rest of the $31b would come from a mixture of the Government's Covid response and recovery fund ($7b), unallocated money in the Government's transport plan ($4b), the re-prioritisation of NZTA spending ($6b) and forward capital allowances ($4b).

National would keep the bulk of the Government's transport plans for the upper North Island with the exception of a regional fuel tax for Auckland and Skypath 2. 

A number of other lower profile, but still important, projects get the green light under National's plans too.

They would build the east west link, electrify rail to Pōkeno, construct the third and fourth main rail line in Auckland as well as a Northwest Rapid Transit Bus corridor, and complete the Eastern busway including a "proper" Reeves Rd flyover. 

National Finance spokesman Paul Goldsmith said the next package of transport announcements would be a set of proposals for Wellington. 

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