Steven Joyce spent billions on highways, you won’t believe what happened next

It’s almost like a bad joke. Steven Joyce, our Minister of Finance and previous Minister of Transport, insisting his government is the “Infrastructure Government.” They’ve had this electoral strategy since the 2008 campaign, and nearly 9 years later it is ringing ever more hollow.

If only it were true. New Zealand does have an infrastructure deficit. Now is the perfect time to be embracing 21st century green infrastructure. We in the Green Party wholeheartedly support increased investment – transport, housing, stormwater, wastewater, energy efficient buildings, renewable electricity. It all represents a huge opportunity for transformation – not just to reduce pollution, but to improve people’s lives, to reduce inequality.

National are all about the branding and the spin. They believe if you say something enough, ‘we are investing in infrastructure’, people will assume it is true. And it has worked so far for them.

I think it’s getting more difficult to fool people now. Joyce’s announcement, $11 billion on new infrastructure, is actually more than 80% projects that have previously been announced, and $1 billion on reparations to road and rail in Kaikoura. There is not much in this announcement, not unlike the supposed $1 billion infrastructure fund to help council’s deal with growth that was mostly loans – not actual capital.

So, no. National isn’t seeing the light and increasing public investing in infrastructure. But it’s even worse. Because as we’ve long suspected, although Joyce has tacked ‘rail’ into his speeches, these few paragraphs waxing lyrical about visiting the pet highway projects he insisted on 8 years ago.

The sad thing about these projects is they represent more than $10 billion of gross misspending of taxpayers money. All that money on – at best – a few hundred km of state highway that only speeds traffic up until they get to the next bottleneck. Joyce claims these projects are saving time for motorists. Perhaps in the off peak when he visits them… but there have been reports of commuters in Kapiti switching to the train after the expressway opened because it made the journey time longer. The Waikato expressway was $2 billion spent so people travelling north get to a queue in South Auckland about 10 minutes sooner.

The Waterview Connection is about to be a huge scandal: the $2 billion tunnel has been so poorly designed, it will have ramp signals on the tunnel itself. Rumours have it that the opening has been delayed because shoddy concrete under a ventilation tower has collapsed, and that the ramp signals are needed to prevent people asphyxiating if traffic gets backed up. Of course, the few kilometres of extra motorway connection were never going to do anything to reduce congestion anyway – as population has been growing. I suspect NZTA have just realised all hell is going to break loose when the connection actually opens.

Meanwhile, Kiwirail has a limited capital budget that extends a year or two into the future, a few hundred million dollars if they are lucky. No ability to do long term planning and make investments that would take more heavy trucks off our roads. Recently Kiwirail has committed to doing the unthinkable, ditching electric trains on the main trunk line to revert to diesel. This is when every other country in the world is gearing up to switch to electric rail. A little bird assures me that their own analysis shows that buying new electric locos is the best solution – but they are impossibly constrained by National’s disjointed approach to transport funding.

It’s time for a paradigm shift. We have enough money in the transport budget to build world class public transport in our towns and cities. We have enough to invest in rail, to get heavy trucks off the road. We just need the political will and foresight to build the projects that will actually make a difference to how people live and get around.

Time to change the government!