16 December 2009

Think Big hits Wellington

It seems Rob Muldoon and Bill Birch are back with big road building plans for Wellington's State Highway 1.

The list is enormous, and it is justified based on agglomeration benefits. The same benefits the UK government has long used to justify a whole range of highly borderline rail projects. Quite how agglomeration benefits the economy when it is about a city primarily set up for the state sector is beyond me.

After all it is $2.4 billion we are talking about, around $7000 per Wellingtonian. My back of the envelope estimate is that the net benefits from these projects will be less than $2 billion. So National is going to destroy wealth on a scale akin to the purchase of Kiwirail.

The project are listed in three phases.

Phase 1

Aotea Quay-Ngauranga extra lane: In other words, a subsidy to peak car commuters. After all this section of motorway flows freely the rest of the time. Price it properly and you wouldn't build it. Any chance this lane will be tolled? No. What will be the result on the local Wellington streets that don't quite have the capacity to cope now? Blank out.

Four laning SH1 Peka Peka to Otaki: Four laning of the current highway will make a big difference to safety. Not probably the highest priority though, as the Ngaruawahia Bypass on SH1 north of Hamilton ought to be more important. Still not a bad project, just wonder whether it is worth doing now.

Kapiti bypass: Essentially a four lane expressway between the current highway and the coast bypassing Paraparaumu and Waikanae. The Kapiti Coast District Council, now dominated by environmental radicals, is against it. However, it is desperately needed. Undoubtedly the best project in the package, will greatly relieve congestion in the whole District. The only reason this hasn't happened before is because previous governments left the problem to the council!

Basin Reserve flyover: A stunted portion of the Inner City Bypass Wellington should have done. Basically gets rid of the conflict between airport/eastern to region traffic and southern to city traffic. Opposition is driven partly by lies around it "destroying" the Basin Reserve, when there have long been plans to build this, as part of a proper motorway to connect at the Terrace Tunnel. On it's own, it's not really worth it, it should be part of a proper bypass of Wellington, but there is little real vision to take through traffic out of the city, to reduce the width of the waterfront route and enable Wellington to properly connect to its harbour. So what's more important?

Phase 2

Transmission Gully: Half the total cost of this package of roads is in this one road, bypassing Porirua, Mana, Plimmerton, Pukerua Bay, Paekakariki on a road just as long as the current one, with hills as steep as Ngauranga Gorge. Why? It's called politics over economics

Phase 3

Mt Victoria Tunnel duplication with 4 laning to Wellington Road: Finally, Wellington's long standing bottleneck between the airport and the city will be removed. Again though, the traffic will be dumped on an el cheapo one way system that the Greens opposed that opened only a few years ago. Again, this project is probably not worth it until a proper bypass of the city is built.

Otaki bypass and four lanes to Levin: An Otaki Bypass is no doubt good for Otaki, to some extent, and four laning is good for safety, but again this should hardly be a major priority.

Terrace Tunnel duplication: Perhaps Wellington's last bottleneck after everything else? So will all of Wellington's traffic problems be fixed? No. Ask yourself whether two or three lanes of traffic dumped from a motorway onto Vivian Street to make its way to the Basin Reserve is really going to work. Yes, it is probably worth building - with a bypass.

Given all this being funded, I can hardly imagine a big road project NOT being approved. The engineers suggest it, the Nats will fund it. A crying damning waste of money. Whilst Labour pissed money down a hole on railways (which the Nats are only slowing rather than stopping), National now pisses money down the hole of roads.

Yes there are parts of the road network that could be improved, but with a system where everyone pays the same regardless of location or time, you will get congestion. With a system that means that those who pay have no relationship with those who build the roads or run the roads, consumers will not always be happy, and the producers will waste because they don't get signals from consumers about what they are prepared to pay for.

Roads are just an economic good, like any other piece of infrastructure. You let politicians and bureaucrats make decisions about how to spend the money taken from you for using them, and now, the money taken from you for NOT using them.

The Greens will be furious, and notwithstanding their irrational hatred of motorised road transport (and hypocrisy over railways), there will be a point. Roads shouldn't be subsidised by non road users.

However, no believer in free markets, private enterprise or capitalism should applaud what is an enormous transfer of money from taxpayers across the country to road users in the capital. It is at best the grand visions of central planners gone mad, with the irrational "Roads of National Significance" moniker used to justify gold plating State Highway 1. At worst it is cynical vote buying, securing the support of the unprincipled political minnow of Peter Dunne, ensuring Labour can't promise any more, and giving National MPs some big projects to open, Stalinist style, to applause - whilst those who paid for it don't notice just a few dollars each week less in their pockets.

UPDATE: David Farrar shows his own economic illiteracy by wanting Transmission Gully to have been built two DECADES ago, when the business case would have been far far worse, with far less traffic.


Anonymous said...

Peter Dunne, a man for all seasons.
Spent a day on Auckland trains recently. Reasonably fast, on time and well patronised, they will only get better as improved infrastrucre is installed. The new station at Newmarket is very impressive and points the way forward in a city that will feel the inevitable bite of rising oil prices as the world economy cranks up again. Didn't make me want to live there agin though. Ian

Seamonkey Madness said...

Why oh why? - repeat ad infinitum.

I thought National were a party of businessmen were out to make money for their business mates? Well obviously the folks at FH/Higgins/Opus/other contractor/consultant will make money, yes - but at what cost to the country and its future generations?

Great words - a crying, damning shame indeed.