Monday, October 20, 2008

Get your pork, Waikato

Oh dear, National disappoints again. It's decided, based on ignoring objective analysis, that it will direct the Waikato Expressway to be built.

Is it the best use of road users' funds? No. Why? Because there are lots of other projects which have a lower profile, do more good for the dollar. Don't know what they are? Of course not, you're no better than a politicians - why would THEY know?

Politicians the world over have played this game. The high profile big road like a totem they support, Peter Dunne has Transmission Gully. The Nats have the Waikato Expressway.

So given I know a bit about it, let's examine it. given National's bizarre policy! The Waikato Expressway HAS been getting built by Labour, albeit a little haphazardly.

Labour says it will build three more sections within 10 years, the sections worth building in fact:
- Rangiriri Bypass: A small section to link the existing section of expressway with a rather well built 3 lane section of highway. Basically means the highway is of a good standard all the way from Huntly to Auckland.
- Ngaruawahia Bypass: A very valuable shortening of the highway, bypassing the deadly slow section through Ngaruawahia.
- Cambridge Bypass: Another valuable bypass, avoiding heavy traffic through this small town and making for a far more direct route south of Hamilton.

Now it would make sense to consider accelerating those, but beyond that National would push these projects:
- Longswamp to Rangiriri: An expensive, very poor value project, unnecessary because accidents along here have been largely avoided by some smaller upgrades. Money could be better spent on saving lives elsewhere on Waikato roads, particularly SH2 and SH3.
- Huntly Bypass: A very expensive hilly bypass of Huntly. Basically to relieve the township of through traffic, but at what cost? Over $300 million? The congestion isn't that bad, at all. Again, that money could be spent on plenty of congestion relieving projects in Hamilton city itself.
- Hamilton Bypass: An even more expensive pie in the sky project. Hamilton has a rather half complete western bypass. Parts are being upgraded and more is to come. That's because much traffic entering Hamilton starts and finishes there. However what National wants to support is a big four lane motorway to the east of Hamilton, going nowhere near it. You'll notice there is a signposted eastern bypass already called SH1B, it is far from congested today. At best this project has a benefit/cost ratio of 1:1, meaning that, if all goes to plan, if it doesn't go over cost, it will generate enough savings to motorists to be worthy of the cost.

However what is telling about ALL of these is National isn't willing to use tolls to fund them. A Hamilton eastern bypass could never be built as a toll road given current traffic predictions because there isn't enough willing to pay to justify spending over $400 million on the road. The same for the planned mountain range climber Huntly bypass. If the likely users wont pay, why the hell should you?

National once passed legislation that prohibited the Transport Minister from ever influencing what road projects got funded, to avoid this sort of nonsense. National once supported taking the roads even further from political hands, and the highways being run as a commercial business - setting tolls, and enabling motorists and trucking companies to contract directly for road services, and getting fuel tax refunds in the process.

Now it's back to old Muldoonist style Think Big projects, showing it isn't thinking, it's buying votes with stinking pork. Don't be fooled, these big projects seem glamorous, but they take money from the roads fund that would otherwise go on hundreds of smaller projects, to fix dangerous bends, add useful passing lanes, strengthen bridges, and not a few better value larger projects - like the Maramarua bypass, Petone-Grenada link road and Schedewys Hill bypass north of Auckland.

However not enough people have heard of those, unlike the Waikato Expressway and I suspect Transmission Gully. On this, National is no better than Labour.

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