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Hodgson Speech: Wellington transport package

Hon Pete Hodgson
Thursday, 27 January 2005

Wellington transport package

Announcement of Wellington Transport Package, Duxton Hotel Ballroom, 170 Wakefield St, Wellington, 08:30.

Mayors, parliamentary colleagues and councillors, good morning.

Building world-class infrastructure is a key element of the government’s growth and innovation framework. Today’s Wellington Transport Package represents yet another significant investment in land transport in New Zealand by this government.

This government has taken major steps to boost land transport funding after years of underinvestment and neglect by previous National governments.

This year government spending on transport nationally is running at over 50 per cent more than it was in 1999/2000. In the Wellington region, it is up by more than 88 per cent.

Initiatives to date have included the Moving Forward package in 2002 that is set to deliver a $1.56 billion boost in transport spending nationally over the next ten years. This was followed in December 2003 with the Investing for Growth package. This will deliver another $2.84 billion for transport over the next ten years. Wellington's share of this is $220 million. Both these cash injections are already having an effect with many transport projects now being scheduled for an earlier start.

It is action like this that resulted in this government announcing in June last year the largest ever land transport spending package - $18.7 billion over the next ten years. But in the case of Wellington this is still not enough. The infrastructure deficit in the city is serious, particularly with an aging rail network that will need significant investment in the next few years to maintain services at current levels. Wellington is also now seeing serious road congestion on strategic corridors.

Congestion in our major cities costs the whole country money and is a brake on economic growth. A sharp look at this was needed. That has been done in Auckland, and now in Wellington.

Wellington is already a model city in terms of transport infrastructure, planning and usage. However, more investment is needed to keep and improve upon this position.

Rail and bus patronage is already high as is pedestrian mode share. High passenger transport usage, along with walking and cycling, reduces pressure on our roads, and brings considerable health, community and environmental benefits. It also makes us better prepared to deal with the economic and social impact of higher oil prices.

Today's package does not include the Western Corridor. The Western Corridor is an issue of major importance that is yet to be addressed. A final study is now being undertaken by GWRC and Transit with preliminary results due in April. Government has undertaken to respond to those results.

But today is about the Wellington Transport package. This government believes it is critical to address the transport issues which affect Wellington, affects that are, therefore, felt throughout the country. That is why I am delighted to announce that the government will be putting an extra $225 million, excluding GST, into the region for land transport over the next ten years.

Before I hand over to my colleague, the Minister of Transport to explain a little more about the project, I like to thank all those involved in securing this extra money for Wellington. It is very pleasing to see government, Wellington's Labour MPs, GWRC, Mayors, territorial authorities and officials working in partnership with the support of the Greens and United Future. Together we are making a big difference.

Thankyou.

This government is making a concerted effort to correct the years of underinvestment of the late 1990's. We realise how important it is to communities and business to have world-class infrastructure.

We've already achieved a lot. As Dr Cullen said, transport spending in the region is up over 88 per cent this year than under the last year of the former National government. There are many completed and ongoing projects such as the refurbishment of the English Electric rail units, the Plimmerton-Paremata (Mana) upgrade, the Kaitoke realignment, the Wellington Inner City Bypass, the Mackays Crossing overbridge and the replacement of carriages for the Wairarapa line; and so the list goes on.

We've also bought back the rail infrastructure and fronted $200 million to improve it.

All of these are important steps in correcting the underinvestment of the 1990s. That is not just important for Wellington, but for the whole country.

Congestion in Wellington costs everybody. Whether it be delays in goods being shipped internationally or between the North and South Islands, people delayed in getting to work or business stuck in jams, the whole country feels the effects. That's why it's important to get on and sort it out.

In Wellington, the key to this is having good passenger transport, improving the roading network to reduce congestion and making better use of our existing networks through traffic management and smarter travel.

World-class passenger transport for our cities is a vital component of this government’s vision for New Zealand. Rail and bus patronage is already high, and increasing in the Wellington region, as is pedestrian mode share. High passenger transport usage, along with walking and cycling, frees up our roads, and brings considerable health, community and environmental benefits.

It also helps with the twin challenges of climate change and preparing for the forthcoming peak in global oil production. This does not mean an oil-less future, rather a future with less affordable oil.

Then there is the issue of the region's geography. This puts practical limits on what can be achieved.

Last year Greater Wellington Regional Council, with the support of the Wellington region's Labour MPs came to government to say that, despite the additional $220 million in regional funding, the region's public transport, particularly rail, was in need of significant further investment. This was not only to ensure the existing services are maintained, but that so capacity could be increased to cope with anticipated demand growth. This was the genesis of the Wellington Transport Project.

This is a government that listens.

The government agreed with GWRC and the region's Mayors, that passenger transport should not be looked at in isolation. All elements of the region's transport infrastructure, including roading, walking, cycling and transport demand management should be looked at. They have been. Importantly, this has been done in the wider context of the region's growth strategy and the New Zealand Transport Strategy. This approach has meant that issues such as economic development, congestion, access, safety, the environment and public health have all been taken into account.

But what really made this great thing to do was the willingness to work together across all levels of government.

The Project was completed, to a high standard and in a short timeframe. This is due to the hard work and professionalism of officials from the Ministry of Transport, Treasury, MED, Transit and Transfund, GWRC and the territorial authorities. I thank them all for their hard work.

In early December I met with the GWRC and the Mayors to give feedback on the Project's findings, to put forward a possible package and hear their views. It was no surprise that we quickly reached agreement on what the priorities were and how money should be assigned.

The agreed priorities are:

1. The maintenance of passenger transport's mode share – ensuring existing rail and bus services can continue to serve growing demand; and,
2. Reducing road congestion and improving access.

There was also agreement that a solution for the Western Corridor is overdue. But an understanding, albeit reluctant, that it made sense to await the preliminary results of GWRC's and Transit's final study into it. Those results are due in April.

In short, there was strong agreement on transport strategy and funding priorities for Wellington between local and central government, including all the Mayors. This package reflects that agreement.

Now onto the package.

The maintenance of passenger transport's mode share was agreed as the top priority. It is envisaged that the new money will be used to upgrade existing rail and bus infrastructure and services. This is in addition to the Crown funding approved last year for replacement carriages for the Wairarapa passenger rail service.

As with all of the money announced today, individual projects need to be delivered through a process of consultation with local authorities and communities under the Land Transport Management Act, with final approval of funding by LTNZ.

Passenger transport already accounts for 33 per cent of commuter trips to the Wellington CBD. This is a very high proportion compared to Auckland and other cities and this is important to maintain. There are clear environmental and economic benefits to be had from improving this, such as helping to keep more pressure from being put on the roading network.

That is why at least $65 million of new money is being made available today for it.

I am also pleased to say that one of the reasons government is fronting this money is that GWRC's has undertaken to come to the party with an additional $95 million for passenger transport over the next ten years.

Both the government's $65 million and GWRC's $95 million are to be added to the $240 million already allocated to rail capital expenditure by LTNZ over the next ten years.

Outside of this rail improvements being targeted by the project, LTNZ has an additional $205 million of funding budgeted for passenger transport.

But passenger transport is only part of the answer. There is a need for further investment to reduce congestion. Access both locally and regionally, must be improved too, with consequent improvements for safety.

The balance of the $225 million of new money announced today will be spent on these priorities under three main headings:

1. Strategic roading,
2. Transport Demand Management; and,
3. Enhanced passenger transport.

The possible split between these three will considered by the regional land transport committee chaired by GWRC working with the territorial authorities and Transit, with LTNZ making the final decisions on funding specific projects.

However, officials envisage the following approximate allocations.

Around $100 million of today's new money could be spent on strategic roading in addition to the $442 million Transit indicated it could spend in the next ten years in the region on state highways alone in its 2004/2005 ten year plan.

Work is needed to progress the region's strategic roading network to reduce congestion around choke points. We also need to look at improving access around the region such as between the Hutt Valley and Porirua.

Around $30 million could be spent on Transport Demand Management, often known as TDM. This includes better traffic management systems, such as smart traffic lights and information systems to warn drivers of congestion in advance. This enables motorists to better plan their journeys, or warn of incidents ahead so they can take alternative routes, modes or delay their journeys. TDM is also about encouraging smarter travel through travel planning. This can encourage ridesharing, staggering journey times, instigating walking school buses or other moves to encourage people to walk, cycle or use public transport rather than always hopping in the car. Money may also be spent on improving cycling facilities.

All of this can make a big contribution to easing traffic flows and getting better use out of our existing infrastructure.

The remaining $30 million or so could be spent on enhancing existing passenger transport services.

This is about improving the scope and frequency of services, more bus priority measures such as bus lanes and priority at traffic lights, making rail stations more attractive and doing more on integrated ticketing.

All of this is about making passenger transport a more viable and attractive option for more people.

So there you have it. The next step being taken in improving transport in the Wellington region - $225 million in new money. It brings the total for projected government spending in the region over the next ten years to over $1.5 billion.

There is still a lot to be done and today's new money will help us get on with the job.

But let's just pause and reflect on how much we have achieved and on the improvements that will flow from the new money announced today. And significantly, on what all those involved with the Wellington Transport Project have achieved through working together and reaching a consensus on the priorities for the region.

ENDS

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