Uneconomic motorways – one thing Brash and I agree on

There aren’t many things that Don Brash and I agree on however one thing we have in common is we both share concerns around the Government’s massive motorway infrastructure projects.

In the media statement on the latest 2025 Taskforce report it mentions “Public investment in big projects needed to be justified, such as the spending on the Transmission Gully highway north of Wellington.” And later “There was no evidence the project would provide a net benefit to the economy, Brash said.

While I think Brash’s economic analysis is overall out-dated and discredited he is yet another prominent voice challenging Steven Joyce’s big gamble on the Roads of National Significance projects (RONS). The fact is many of these projects like Transmission Gully and the Puhoi-to-Wellsford ‘Holiday Highway,’ with Benefit Cost Ratios of 0.6 and 0.8 respectively are uneconomic using current economic tools but that’s even without a more comprehensive analysis that takes into account oil price risk, climate change, and externalities like pollution, road safety and even obesity rates.

Others like the Kapiti Expressway, that was the cause of a protest this morning and the Waterview Connection are deeply unpopular locally and will damage the local communities all in the search for a 1950s-type economic vision where motorways = growth.

The Government cries ‘Stop, we need to wait for the spatial plans’ in response to the unified voice of the Auckland Super City calling for the CBD Rail Loop, which would actually achieve more for Auckland’s congested motorists that the Holiday Highway, but is prepared to borrow billions to ram through the Roads of National Party Significance, even though many don’t have positive business cases, they are extraordinarily expensive compared to the alternatives and more jobs could be created in public transport infrastructure.

Brash’s views by themselves wouldn’t matter much, but on top of all the other criticisms of the RONS projects should make the Government sit up and take note.

11 Comments Posted

  1. Isn’t it sound economics to build infrastructure when you need it? That is, not to leave it until well after it’s needed (in that the lack of that infrastructure holds back development) but perhaps equally important that we should not build infrastructure well before it is necessary. This is because of opportunity cost – in that we could have spent that money on something more needed.

    We might need Transmission Gully is 80 years time, but really we don’t need it now. Therefore we should spend the money on something we really need now.

  2. Surely if petrol is in short supply and expensive. Then in places where it must be used. Areas where it is the amount of freight or travel does not justify shipping or rail. The roading network should be as fuel efficient as possible.
    We should be talking about a transport system that uses at 50% or less fossil fuels than it does now.
    Better graded and shortened roads will play a part.
    Places where there is a lot of population and travel are better served by mass transport such as rail.

  3. The Grade… it is not impossible. Annoying and difficult for trucks and worse for heavy rail, but feasible and to my way of thinking, fixable. Even if it isn’t going to be done perfectly, that obsession of New Zealanders has to go. (where is it when it comes to building houses I have no idea ).

    At JPL we had a phrase… “you have to know when to shoot the engineer” which reflects on the fact that we are never satisfied and will keep on designing and improving and tweaking forever… but for a project to have value it has to actually find its way to the shop and get built… and next year’s technology does NOT get included.


  4. That’s funny John-ston, but the hill road comes down through Pauahatanui and gets drowned in the end anyway. SH58 will go first.


    Of course, the Wellington rail yards aren’t looking so hot either.


  5. First of all, we need to stop trying to be so cheap when it comes to infrastructure. For instance, at this very moment, the Queensland State Government is consulting on a transport plan for South East Queensland that would involve the spending of A$120 billion over the next twenty years on various transport items – this includes both improved roads as well as improved rail. This comes after decades of investing in transport infrastructure for the entire state as well, investment that is serving them well at the moment.

    On the other hand, here in New Zealand, we are arguing about whether we should spend $1 billion on a road, or $1 billion on a rail line – I say, spend $2 billion on both, and then some more!

    My primary concern about Transmission Gully comes down to its prevailing grade; it would be too steep for trucks, and for me to be comfortable with it, you would need to have a road that will be able to get all the trucks out of places such as Pukerua Bay and Plimmerton where they currently run on local roads where people are also trying to live, work and play.

    Perhaps an approach such as what Zen Tiger proposed is a good idea – why not construct Transmission Gully, while at the same time improving the existing railway line to eliminate the nasty curves and grades that exist? That would save millions per annum, as there would no longer be the need for bankers on trains heading out of Wellington, and of course there wouldn’t be the unnecessary slowing down of a thousand tonne freight train to go around a 25km/h curve. Not only that, but train weights would be able to increase and would improve capacity on the North Island Main Trunk – and that I seem to recall is the route that the government is focussing on with Kiwi Rail’s Turnaround Plan.

    Bjchip, I wouldn’t worry too much about State Highway One being drowned – sure, in the event that sea levels increase, it will go under, but there is already an alternative route, the Paekakariki Hill Road which served as the main route north of Wellington before the Centennial Highway was built.

  6. You are right about Transmission Gully, but if you are going to quote economic efficiency you need to be careful when you are damning road projects that have good cost/benefit rations.

    The Kapiti Expressway is one of those, one of the best in Wellington and would almost entirely be built on land that has been set aside for over 50 years for a motorway. It isn’t about commuters primarily, it is about acknowledging that a coastal community cannot thrive when its town centres are being strangled by local and through traffic, essentially Kapiti has outgrown its network, and there is a desperate need for a second river crossing and for half of the traffic to move off the highway.

    The reason it is proceeding is because KCDC has spent years mucking around with the Western Link Road project, spending many millions of NZTA money to redesign it after every local body election, to the point that it was no longer fit for purpose. The communities it would divide are on a route that until the mid 1990s was going to be a motorway and from then was going to be a 4-lane arterial highway, hardly NIMBYism when the designation predates the homes that have been built adjacent to it when the land was rural.

    It would take through traffic away from busy heavily congested retail centres, make it far easier for locals to move between Paraparaumu and Waikanae on the existing highway, and make it far easier for locals to move between the eastern and western parts of both townships without a 4 lane at grade highway severing them. On top of that it will take the traffic away from the adjacent railway stations so that bus feeders to Paraparaumu and Waikanae wont be jammed in the nightly bottlenecks of the highway traffic interacting with local traffic.

    There are obvious environmental and social benefits of removing through traffic from towns with bypasses (at the same time as a lot is being spent on extending electrification to Waikanae, renewing the rail line and its electrics, double tracking to increase frequencies and buying new rolling stock).

    Oh and there isn’t necessarily any good reason why it will get congested eventually, as bypasses of Tawa, Porirua and Upper Hutt have all stood the test of time and there have been no serious demands for increasing their capacity (or the roads they bypassed) since they were built between 60 and 30 years ago.

  7. I thought of all people, The Greens would realise cb ratios are not the be-all and end-all.

    Transmission Gully would have an enormous CB ratio compared to some of the rail options you want, Gareth.

    Your push for rail, (in the one country in the world that is less appropriate for rail than any other) shows ideology is being pushed ahead of real world practicality.

    Where rail is more efficient, we should use it.
    Where road is more efficient, we should use it.

    The simplistic mantra “road bad, rail good” – is nothing more than that – a simplistic mantra. It has no value in the real world.

  8. I live in Kapiti, and I am VERY happy about plans for an expressway. And let’s do Transmission Gully properly – throw in a cycle way and train track next to the 4 lane divided highway. Other residents I talk to are VERY HAPPY about such infrastructure. We just don’t get fired up enough to counter the naysayers.

    As for cost, I want all the money back on countless dithering and indecision spent in this area by the government over the last 50 years. And people to be retrospectively fired for wasting our tax dollars and waiting until land is expensive and more residents will be directly affected by the construction.

    Hey, I have another idea. Why don’t we retrospectively fill in Mount Victoria Tunnel, the two train tunnels out to Porirua and the massive train tunnel through to the Wairarapa, and pretend we weren’t capable of building roads and tunnels 100 years ago to save any possible embarrassment on how useless we appear to be today?

  9. Valis – I disagree in this, because it only gets more difficult and more expensive to build this road, and the benefits of having another ROUTE with the communities and accessible land associated with it fully developed when it is finally recognized as necessary by everyone, are great enough… and FINALLY this is of a piece with all the other things that the Green Party does by reflex, this opposition to Transmission Gully when we know of a certainty that it will be needed by future generations, if only to walk their horse drawn wagons along it.

    Nor am I comfortable with the mitigation strategy when we know Copenhagen has failed and no successor agreement will even start to bring reductions before we’ve guaranteed a 3+ degree rise, being at 2+ now. I believe I said that I expect 1.5-1.7 meters by 2100. That’s enough, and waiting for the last minute means that there will be little infrastructure spread inland and uphill until that last minute… when there is less chance to do it right and the need is more urgent.

    Besides, it takes no resistance from us to stop it. It has been 30 years in planning and discussion… and shows no signs of actually getting built.

    There is no necessity to forgo public transit to build TG, and once it is a route, running light rail along it makes sense. The arguments just made by Gareth had nothing to do with your “we should do it later”. The mindset is clear – no roads are good roads – and it is sufficiently in evidence that even though I am part of this party, vote for it and work for it, I can only be disappointed when it reflexively opposes something that in the long run, we know can only be absolutely necessary.

    Opposing it on the basis of not being cost-effective for commuters, while the government is willing to build and we know it is to be needed in future, is simply not sensible… and accepting SOME roads where there is a reasonable argument to be made, will make our opposition to other roads far more credible.

    We have good reflexes… but reflexes are no substitute for intelligence in the long run, or the mongoose would be the dominant species on the planet.


  10. But it’s not today’s need, while PT is. This is about current priorities, bj. Spending billions on a road guaranteed to stay above the effects of all climate change is not needed as much as broadening our transport options to reduce emissions right now. We’re still on that part of the curve where mitigation is far more important than adaptation. And long may that last.

  11. One more time.

    Transmission Gully is not necessary to make a commuter’s trip easier or cheaper. It is about having a route in and out of Wellington. One that has been developed over time and which is immune to going under water as the ocean rises…

    …anyone would think that Greens don’t believe in warming making the ocean rise given their aversion to actually replacing roads that already become impassable with a significant storm surge.

    …there is no magical way SH1 is going to avoid being drowned.


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