Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Billions more to be spent on roads

Decisions announced today should delight the trucking industry.

A new four-lane highway will be built through the Kapiti Coast, along the western link road designation. The New Zealand Transport Agency announced this morning that it would build the Sandhills Expressway along the contentious Western Link Road route, running beside the coast from Raumati South to Peka Peka. It will cost between $380 million and $500 million, and will affect between 20 and 50 properties. The current State Highway 1 will become a local road.

And that old much vaunted "grand project", the Transmission Gully bypass, has also been given the green light. Along with improvements around the Basin Reserve and new Wellington tunnels, a total of $2.2 billion will be spent.

Well, despite the fact that the Transmission Gully route involves some pretty steep gradients, it will please the trucking industry no end. For car users, it is a mixed blessing. On the one hand the four lanes involved will mean they will be able to get past the many trucks that clog this section of State Highway 1 more easily. On the other hand, it will be them who will be massively subsidizing the truckies.

If $2 billion was spent instead on improving the rail system... ah yes, much fewer trucks on the State Highways, less road repairs, fewer accidents, less fuel imported, less trucks imported, less carbon emissions, less pollution generally. A beautiful dream and that's all it is going to remain by the look of it.

We should point out that we are not against the trucking industry, and in fact we make a lot of use of it moving our books around the country. We know that road cartage charges are proportionately much cheaper in NZ than what they are in Australia and margins aren't great. Obviously trucks are necessary when it comes to short distance haulage; they should be much less necessary than they are now for long distance haulage, however. What we are against are misleading and distorted economic arguments based on partial considerations. It isn't a question of state versus private enterprise either. In much of Europe the state owns both the roads and the railway lines (and in the west maintains both to high standards), but private operators have their own freight trains. We want honesty and fairness.

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