13 September 2009

National's big motorway through private property

The NZ Transport Agency is going ahead with the scaled down tunnel option for the Waterview connection motorway - the last stage of the Western Ring Route in Auckland. It is important to note that funding has NOT been approved for construction yet. What has been done is that the route has been decided, and so the road will proceed, once funding is approved, whether or not the property owners agree.

Now I agreed with Steven Joyce pulling the plug on the Helen Clark Commemorative Goldway, which was sheer pork barrel politics of the worst kind - putting one section of a motorway underground because it went through the then Prime Minister's electorate, when all of the rest of the route is at surface.

I also fisked a lot of nonsense from some other blogs about the project. It never had funding agreed before under the last government, and the land was NOT designated for the route.

So what's left?

In principle I agree a motorway ought to be built, one day, to connect the southwestern motorway (SH20) to the northwestern motorway (SH16). However, under two conditions:

1. It should be built respecting private property rights. Yes it was foolish for Auckland councils to abolish designations for building a motorway between Mt Roskill and SH16 nearly 40 years ago, but local property owners shouldn't bear the burden of this. If properties can be bought to build it then so be it, but those who don't wish to sell should not be forced to. Frankly given the enormous construction costs of the motorway, it may simply be a matter of being more flexible about the exact route, or offering more. $88.2 million has been approved to undertake property purchases. Hopefully that will all be achieved voluntarily. It is wrong otherwise.

2. It should be built when it is worth doing. How do you measure that? Well, without a commercially run network it is difficult. As a single tolled project it wont stack up, because the Auckland City Council has untolled roads in parallel that it uses ratepayers money to partially pay for. So a private builder faces unfair public sector competition. So I'd argue that either enough money is generated from the future fuel tax and road user charges consumed using the road, to pay for it, or it generates enough savings in time, vehicle operating costs for the users (and those on roads they once used) to make it an economically efficient project (using standard NZTA benefit/cost analysis). At the moment, it isn't worth doing.

The Mt. Roskill extension has just recently opened, and there are no reports that there are big queues between it and SH16. The Manukau extension remains under construction, as does the duplicate Mangere Bridge. Similarly the Hobsonville deviation of SH18 (last section of the Upper Harbour Motorway) is under construction. Until they are all complete, it is difficult to determine if such a hugely expensive motorway is worth building yet, with the bureaucratically based road funding system that exists. Certainly the "supercity" will not help.

$3.4 million in final investigation funding has been approved and is effectively what officials are spending now to get the route designated and go through the RMA. However, full construction funding approval is still a little off. The National Land Transport Programme shows that $22.7 million will "probably" be approved to spend on detailed design in the next two years, with $42.4 million "probably" approved for pre-construction site work for 2010/11 before the full project can proceed. The full construction cost is put at $976.3 million, to start in 2011/2012, just in time for a general election.

Assuming, of course, the property owners let it be, the RMA doesn't hold it up and the costs don't blow out of control. One thing we can sure of, the Greens will oppose it, because they think we wont need new roads when oil "runs out".

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