Twyford: 'It's not about rail vs road'

Transport Minister Phil Twyford announcing the Draft Government Policy statement. Photo by Lynn Grieveson.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford argues against the idea that his new transport policy is only about rail and against roads. He says it's about having it all.

Newsroom’s Bernard Hickey last week described the Government’s proposed new transport investment priorities as a clash between the “rail Government” and the “motorway Opposition”.

He’s wrong. Rebalancing our funding for transport doesn’t have to be an either/or argument between rail and motorways – it’s about having it all.

The main change being consulted on the in draft Government Policy Statement on land transport is that our Government is demanding value for money. The Government will fund the best projects – the projects that will make the biggest difference to congestion, safety and economic efficiency – irrespective of whether they are road, rail, light rail, bus or any combination of these transport modes. Our Government is a Government of change, we’re going to build a modern transport system that meets the needs of 21st Century New Zealand. We will not “picking winners” or build a road because that is what we have always done, as the former government did.

This means that National’s election promise of a blank cheque for more gold-plated expressways will not be cashed by our Government. Projects won’t be backed unless they stack up. National spent the lion’s share of the transport budget – or $11.3 billion – on just seven of these hand-picked super-highways that only 4% of the country’s driving is done on. These seven expressways had more to do with electoral benefit than economic benefit. That’s not a good way to decide how we spend taxpayer money.

While National paved their seven roads with gold, the maintenance of local and regional roads was neglected. This is where the worst of our road deaths occur. And no Bernard, wanting our roads to be safer is not a “motherhood and apple pie statement”. Safety will now be the dominant factor in setting budget priorities, project design and assessment.

Our Government makes no apologies for wanting to save the lives of our family and friends. The number of people dying on our roads has increased every year since 2013. That is a national disgrace and we must do all we can to reverse it.

In fact, initial work by the New Zealand Transport Agency suggests for half the cost of the proposed East-West Link, we could invest $800 million into projects on local roads that could save up to 160 lives per year.

Despite National’s shameless scaremongering, there is only an average difference of $90 million per year in spending on roads between our GPS and National’s last GPS in 2015. Instead of all of that money going into seven roads, we will invest in hundreds of roads throughout the country. We want to invest in the roads people actually drive on. That’s why we’ve increased funding for local and regional roads – doubling the amount spent on regional roads in three years.

These new transport investment priorities also allow us to invest in the most cost-effective ways to move people and freight. It is sad that in this day and age that is being painted as controversial. We should be as responsible with taxpayers’ money in roads as we are in every other area of Government. Could you imagine a school being built without the pupils to justify its creation? Yet we build roads without traffic volumes that justify their cost.

This could be commuter rail in Christchurch, improvements to the rail lines by the Tauranga, Marsden and Auckland Ports to move freight faster and more efficiently, light rail in Auckland and Wellington, more bus services in Whangarei, Hamilton, Dunedin, Invercargill and Tauranga, inter-regional rail and walking and cycling infrastructure to support tourism. And even this so-called ‘rail Government’ acknowledges that in some situations, this will be investment in roads. A balanced and efficient transport system is a view long-championed by advocates, planners and businesses such as Mainfreight. Because it makes sense.

It is only through responsible investment will we stem the increasing productivity losses caused by congestion and reduce the ever-rising number of road deaths in New Zealand. We have inherited a massive, but not insurmountable, infrastructure deficit in our cities and regions. The first step to tackling this is rebalance our transport investments. The next is to continue our work on new ways, such as public-private partnerships, to finance the infrastructure our cities and regions so desperately need.