Auckland

Why won’t National fund the most obvious transport project for Auckland?

National has released its $2.6 billion dollar plan to fix Auckland’s traffic Armageddon. Hayden Donnell clutches his head and screams into the void over it leaving the single most obviously popular and important transport project for the city off its funding list.

National had to rush out its plan to fix Auckland’s transport on Thursday after it somehow fell into the hands of The Herald’s Super City reporter Bernard Orsman. The party is promising to spend more than $2.6 billion on five transport projects – a list of which I have obtained from Orsman’s report:

  • Mill Rd highway: $955m
  • Northwestern Busway: $835m
  • Ameti: $615m
  • Rail to Pukekohe: $130m
  • Third rail line: $100m
  • Total: $2.635b

The thing is, none of this is really new. All of those projects are already in Government and Auckland Council’s overarching transport plan ATAP, which stands for “Acronym That’s ActuallySoBoringItWillMakeYouNotCareAboutThis Plan”. But the announcement is important because it clarifies which transport works National thinks are worthy of funding as priorities.

Some are good. A Northwest busway should’ve been included as part of motorway widening works currently underway, and tacking it on late will cost millions and millions of dollars more – which is incredibly stupid and frustrating and why does this stuff keep happening – but funding it now is a smart move and I am not bitter. The inclusion of a third rail line is extremely funny, given KiwiRail recently redacted the option from its report on freight options in South Auckland seemingly to avoid embarrassing the Government.

Leaked google search strings may provide a clue about government funding priorities

But the single most expensive project in the plan – the Mill Rd highway – is, according to a meticulous cost-benefit analysis by me, “a despicable godless travesty that should be consumed by fire”. This is a relevant passage from my report:

At a cost of $955 million, the Mill Rd highway holds the Guinness World Record for “most expensive toilet”. As with many other Auckland roading projects, it was designed after transport planners looked at a clogged motorway and decided: “what we need is a clogged motorway next to this clogged motorway”. The four-lane road is scattered with features that seem intentionally designed to repel humans, like this roundabout, which is known as “Satan’s antechamber”.

IN DEFENCE OF THE MILL RD HIGHWAY, IT’S STILL BETTER THAN THE EAST-WEST LINK. PHOTO: NZTA

Planners have mercifully included 14 centimetres of space for bike lanes on either side of the highway, but overall, the project feels like the last wretched moments of our decades-long addiction to building motorways over every available surface in Auckland.  The Government appears to be an addict at the end of his rope, scraping around in increasingly far-flung parts of the city for trees to tarseal over. Soon there will be no places left to build roads, and it will be forced to tarseal animals or even people.

That report may be slightly biased, and the highway is admittedly a safety upgrade on the existing road. 

But even less partisan sources should be frustrated by the fact its funding seems to have come at the expense of a much more important and popular undertaking. That project, which rhymes with Dail Do Dhe Dairport, has popular support, and would provide useful public transport options for people in congested parts of the city fringe. It would be popular with tourists, who would no longer be faced with taking a long bleak van or taxi ride as their first act in Auckland. And it would link more people to the thriving business precincts near the airport. 

(For an actual sober analysis of the Mill Rd project please click here)

Under ATAP, light rail to the airport isn’t expected to be built for another 30 years. That’s a bizarrely long time for a project that seems face-palmingly obvious. The top explanation I can think of for the government’s reluctance to fund it is that City Rail Link denier-turned-finance minister Steven Joyce was bullied by trains when he was young. However I’ve taken the time to power rank several other possible reasons he hates spending on extremely logical rail projects:

5. A train orchestrated the plot to throw a dildo into Steven Joyce’s face.

4. A train trashed Steven Joyce’s beautiful urban garden.

3. Someone in the road freight industry is holding Steven Joyce’s family or garden hostage.

2. Steven Joyce will die if he doesn’t fund four economically unfeasible roads per month.

1. A small demon administers an electric shock to Steven Joyce’s kidneys every time he spends a dollar on rail.

None of these are a good enough excuses for not funding the most obviously important and electorally popular transport project in Auckland. If Joyce and transport minister Simon Bridges won’t do it, maybe someone else will do it for them. I hear Labour has a big transport announcement tomorrow…


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