Nats and Labour go head to head on road vs rail
By Pattrick Smellie
Aug. 21 (BusinessDesk) - The contest of transport policies between the National and Labour parties has heated up again with Labour leader Jacinda Ardern announcing plans to introduce passenger rail services between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga a day after National outlined $10 billion of investment in new state highways.
National's announcement that it would extend its 'Roads of National Significance' policy to a new set of major roading projects was intended to upstage yesterday's election campaign launch by Ardern in Auckland, which drew thousands but contained no new policy announcements.
However, Ardern this morning countered with a regional transport investment policy that focused on creating passenger rail services in the upper North Island's 'golden triangle' of three major cities as well a doubling of funding "to help complete important regional roading projects".
An initial $20 million would be invested in passenger services between Auckland, Hamilton, and Tauranga and "if justified by demand, upgrade it in stages to a rapid rail network throughout the Golden Triangle". The policy roughly matches a Green Party policy announcement last week.
"If stage one (of inter-city rapid rail) is a success and demand justifies it, Labour will look to invest in stages two and three of the Regional Rapid Rail plan, delivering passenger and freight services travelling up to 160 kilometres per hour throughout the regions, and south to Rotorua," said Ardern.
Transport Minister Simon Bridges attacked the plan as a waste of public money, saying Labour had picked up an Auckland transport lobby group's proposal without fully examining it.
"The Auckland-Hamilton-Tauranga rail line is our busiest freight route and simply doesn’t have the capacity to also be a commuter rail line,” he said. "The only way you could use it for both would be to double track large sections of the line, and Labour doesn’t have any plan to invest for that. Labour would kick economy-fuelling freight off this important line and replace it with empty commuter carriages."
On roading, Ardern announced it would double funding currently committed to regional transport projects to between $140 million and $280 million a year.
"Our regions are growing rapidly and our roads are struggling to cope with increased heavy traffic and tourist vehicles," she said, promising an "urgent roading summit with councils to work out a shared plan to accelerate projects that would otherwise be delayed or never be built. We will particularly focus on fixing accident blackspots."
That announcement followed the unveiling yesterday by Bridges and Prime Minister Bill English of a $10.5 billion extension to the National-led government's Roads of National Significance policy, which Labour's transport spokesman Michael Wood slammed as "slapdash" and made "without a business plan".
The projects selected for the policy, which comes on top of $12 billion already committed for seven other RONS projects, are: Wellsford to Whangarei; the East West Link in Auckland; Cambridge to Tirau; Piarere to the foot of the Kaimai Range; Tauranga to Katikati; Napier to Hastings; Manawatu Gorge; Levin to Sanson; Christchurch Northern Motorway; and Christchurch to Ashburton.
RONS projects are defined as roads that have lane separation to keep opposing traffic apart and that have two lanes in each direction and Bridges said they would be "substantially completed" within a decade. Both Crown funding and public-private partnerships, usually involving road tolls, would be used to pay for them.
"Strong transport connections are critical for our growing regions and support New Zealand’s economic prosperity," said Bridges. "We are investing now to encourage future economic growth rather than waiting until the strain on the network becomes a handbrake on progress."