You can tell it is election time, because politicians are promising to complete their pet transport projects. This important issue shouldn’t be used as a political pawn – it is time to depoliticize transport funding.
Should we build a rail line to Marsden Point as Winston suggests?
Could we shut down or move the Port of Auckland?
Should we solve the Manawatu Gorge problem with road as Labour suggests, or trains as the Greens suggest?
Should we dig a tunnel through the Ngauranga Gorge as Peter Dunne postulated?
What about National’s East West Link in Auckland?
The answer to all these questions is maybe, but we don’t really know. They are all cynical examples of pork barrel politics – where politicians use taxpayers’ money to buy votes through promising benefits to a particular constituency, regardless of the merits of the project.
Take Winston’s rail line for example: we don’t even know how much it would cost. Some say $100m, Kiwirail says the full cost might be nearer to $1billion.
Transport infrastructure is hugely important to our economy, society and environment. These decisions will affect our lives for decades, and are incredibly expensive. We shouldn’t be putting all that at risk by leaving the decisions to politicians and their pet projects.
We should place our infrastructure spending where the greatest return on investment lies. The fact is that all the political parties have no idea what they are talking about on this subject. Sure, some parties have transport experts such as the Greens’ Julie Anne Genter, but even she doesn’t have access to the complex modeling required to make these decisions. Politicians simply shouldn’t be allowed to use these incredibly expensive and important projects to score political points.
When did the rot start?
The original idea of New Zealand Transport Agency was to make infrastructure decisions without political interference, based simply on the best return on investment. This concept seems to have gone completely out the window in recent times.
National can’t point the finger at other political parties on this one when they have interfered so blatantly in the transport system with their Roads of National Significance (RONS). Those pet projects have so distorted our transport investment that it may take decades of investment in other modes to make up for the lost time. Yes, the evidence suggests National have overinvested in roads and underinvested in public transport. Does that mean the Greens should promise investing in a particular rail line? No, because the business cases haven’t been done.
Of course you could go back further and lay the blame at Helen Clark’s feet when she stepped into the decision over the SH20 motorway in Auckland. She said it would go through her electorate (Mount Albert) “over my dead body” and ordered a multi-billion dollar tunnel to be dug instead. It seems politicians of all hues just can’t keep their hands off our transport purse strings.
Restoring the integrity of NZTA
We urgently need to restore the integrity of NZTA. Politicians simply shouldn’t interfere in these decisions. TOP’s policy is quite simply that transport spending should go where the return on investment is best.
We urgently need to tackle the long-term transport issues that we face as a country. We need to move people and freight around in the least costly way possible – and when we say cost that includes time, accidents, and environmental damage. That means we need to think about where the best return on investment is, right across the portfolio of investments; road, rail, ports and even regional airports.
Take the Port in Auckland for example. Given it can’t be expanded clearly it is time to put that land to better use and either move or close the port entirely. The sooner we sort this out, the better; in fact our Fair Tax Reform policy would make sure that happened pretty quickly as the Port is such an uneconomic use of the valuable land. Of course such a decision is too tricky for politicians, so they don’t even want to look at the issue. As a country we need to invest in a proper study that looks at the key options and develops a business case for each.
Anyone who tells you anything different is using pork barrel politics to buy votes. Such promises are seductive but cynical political moves, and should be rejected by any voter that cares and thinks about the country’s long-term future.