Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Road sanity then madness

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Stuff reports that Treasury has backed up the costings commissioned by Transit New Zealand on the comparative costs of the coastal expressway upgrade between Paremata and Mackays Crossing, compared to Transmission Gully. The real dispute is "which projects are included in each option", because Porirua City Council claims a whole series of projects don't need to proceed if Transmission Gully is built, which is wrong as Transmission Gully - untolled - will still see around 40% of current traffic remaining on the current highway. A tolled Transmission Gully would probably see around 70% of traffic on the current highway. So hopefully the debate will cease to continue to be silly.
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However, it will be - because politicians know sweet bugger all about roads - just as they wouldn't know what clothes to order for the nation or the amount of vegetable soup that people would consume. They are not professionals in producing ANYTHING, and they are not trying to convince you to pay for something out of your own choice - they are trying to convince you to elect them every three years to spend your money and tell you what to do and what not to do.
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Just to prove it, naive new National MP for Wairarapa, John Hayes wants a road tunnel under the Rimutakas. He could have gone to the Wellington public library, or asked the Transit regional office or even the Regional Council for some background, but no. A road tunnel was investigated thoroughly about 15-20 years ago, along with other options and was ruled out as ridiculously uneconomic. John Hayes has no idea about the cost, but the reported $1 billion would be conservative, as modern standards for tunnel safety would mean a wide tunnel, with shoulders, about the width of the Terrace Tunnel. Even if traffic doubled to 8000 vehicles a day, it would still be a toll of around $20 a trip to pay the capital cost and interest to fund it - and the private sector is free to have a go - but I doubt if it will, unless there is a keen interest in a property developer wanting to open up Wairarapa for commuters.
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No - Mr Hayes doesn't know much about roads - he should probably go back to his earlier work as an economist and do some thinking before he talks. If he thinks it is a good idea, find some private investors to put a proposal together - if they wont, and people aren't prepared to pay a toll for it, then give it up - don't just ask for some taxpayer pork for your electorate! Roads aren't special.
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As Mayor of Masterton Bob Francis (and former MP Wyatt Creech) know well, after the study undertaken many years ago, the focus shifted to the Kaitoke hill realignment now nearly completed, and easing some of the worst bends on the hill road, with some longer passing lanes. There is a longer term proposal to gradually upgrade the whole hill road to a 60-70km/h standard with continuous uphill passing lanes - but frankly, at easily $200 million, that would be a dog of a project too, in terms of net economics.

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