I went to Northland last Friday to visit a region which is on the front-lines of the government’s ideological attack on how we move people and freight around. The state of Northland transport right now epitomises the Government’s pro-truck ideology: more motorways and less rail.
To investigate the impacts of the Government’s push for more motorways, I met householders in Rodney whose homes and rural lifestyles will be bowled for the uneconomic and expensive plan for a tolled road between Puhoi and Wellsford. I also met locals in Kaiwaka and Whangarei who’ve pledged to campaign to stop the looming closure of the Auckland to Northland rail line.
Puhoi to Wellsford: An expensive mistake
The $1.7 billion alternative to SH1 that the government is proposing to build between Puhoi to Wellsford would almost certainly be a tolled road. The motorway would do little to improve safety or travel times for Northlanders in the short-term. It would take until 2022 (that’s 12 years) to build and would only reduce travel times for a trip between Auckland to Whangarei by about 10 minutes at most. The only time it will really make a difference is on public holiday weekends when many Aucklanders travel north.
It would also devastate the lives of many residents in Rodney, such as Bob and Jill Scott, who I met on Friday. They brought land in the country but will suddenly find themselves living next to a 4 lane motorway. The motorway will also inevitably lead to more sprawling development around Auckland – threatening the rural lifestyle most residents prefer.
Puhoi to Wellsford also doesn’t make sense economically. It was prematurely announced nine months before a business case was released. The business case that was then published shows that for every $1 we spend on the project we will only get $0.80 cents of economic benefits back. A much better, and cheaper alternative to Puhoi to Wellsford is an upgrade of the existing SH1.
Such a proposal has been developed by the Campaign for Better Transport. The proposal, known as Operation Lifesaver, would cost $360 million and include a bypass of Warkworth and Wellsford and an upgrade to safety features (such as improving median strips and road side barriers) throughout the Dome Valley and Schedwys Hill.
Campaign for Better Transport estimate that their proposal might save 40-50 lives which will be lost on SH1 over the next 10 years. The tragic death of a motorist last night in Wellsford shows that such upgrades are needed urgently – we can’t afford to wait 12 years for a new road to be completed.
Northland to Auckland rail: Under threat
The Northland rail line that links Auckland and Whangarei, is one of four lines facing closure, as part of Kiwirail’s Turnaround Plan. It’s loss would be a huge tragedy for the region.
The line is a significant community strategic asset that gives the region economic development options now and in the future. While it is not currently being heavily used for freight, the line has potential to be used more in the future. This is especially true if the government was willing to invest the $80 million needed to link the rail line to Marsden Point, New Zealand’s best deep-water port.
Upgrading the rail line and expanding the port could mean more economic development and jobs for Northlanders in the future.
Closing the line will mean more heavy logging trucks on State Highway 1 and also more accidents. Trucks are involved in 16 percent of all deaths on NZ roads, even though they comprise only four percent of the vehicle fleet.
Keeping the line open also gives us another, much more energy efficient way to transport goods if the price of oil continues to rise. Last week the New Zealand price of petrol passed $2 a litre and I think it’s vital we prepare for the end of cheap oil.
A recent Parliamentary report The Next Oil Shock states that another supply crunch is likely soon after 2012, and oil prices will stay high because low-cost reserves are near exhaustion. It warns that the world economy could suffer recurrent recessions as the price fluctuates.
It makes sense to keep the rail line in working order in preparation for future oil price shocks. Ultimately the line’s future is a political decision, and the region can send the Government a strong message to save the line. That’s why I was so pleased to meet with groups in Kaiwaka and Whangarei who are prepared to fight to keep the line open.