TRAINSPOTTING: Latest motorway madness



Two recent reports have highlighted the economic insanity of the Government’s motorway programme. You may think “insanity” is a bit OTT, but I use it to mean something quite precise: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Nothing sums up current transport policy better. (NB, this is not the technical legal definition as in S23 of the Crimes Act.)

The first is an article in Policy Quarterly by former Commerce Commission chief economist Mike Pickford. It catalogues the fall in economic efficiency of state highway projects since National took office.

It is a very conservative analysis. It simply looks at the fall in economic efficiency according the traditional method of economic evaluation – which still overstates the benefits of highway projects generally.

new WNC RoNS BCROne interesting point is the decline in the benefits of the Wellington Northern Corridor. This is arguably the worst of the RoNS (roads of significance to National) because it is hugely expensive and will damage many communities in the Wellington region. It includes gems like, the Basin Reserve Flyover, Mackays to Peka Peka (aka the Kapiti Expressway), and Transmission Gully.

The benefit to cost ratio (BCR) listed for Mackays to Peka Peka and Transmission Gully in the table to the right have still been exaggerated to the highest possible value, and yet the whole project still can’t get enough benefits to offset its costs.

Yesterday the Dominion Post lead with a traffic engineering report commissioned by Greater Wellington Regional Council, which demonstrates that National’s motorway plans for Wellington will indeed result in greater car-dependence. This means more spent on imported oil, less cost-effective public transport, and possibly greater congestion.

I say possibly because it is entirely likely that the cost of motoring will get higher over the next three decades, and demand for vehicle trips will not grow as fast as projected in the report.  ‘Phew’, you may think, ‘well why are you claiming it will make congestion worse?’

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The issue is the projects are being justified on the claim that they will reduce future congestion. But they won’t. If all the conditions we have now hold or oil prices decline, these projects will make congestion worse.

But what if conditions change? If we spend $3 billion (or $5.4 billion if National goes ahead with the private loan for Transmission Gully) on these motorways and petrol gets so expensive people can’t afford to use it, we’ve really screwed ourselves over. It means we don’t have the money to spend on projects that would enable people to get around without spending heaps on cars and petrol.

It will mean that people will be forced to travel less, or spend more to engage in the same amount of travel, and either way that isn’t good for the economy or people.

Wlg travel patternsOf course the craziest part of this whole plan is that the Government is STILL delaying the City Rail link. So, while we expect rapid population growth in Auckland (growth equivalent to the population of Wellington), and that is clearly the place that needs game-changing investment, National is plowing ahead full steam with ill-conceived motorways that will destroy communities in Wellington. Where there isn’t much population growth, and traffic volumes have declined 9% over the past decade.

So, if National gets their way, ten years from now it will be the fuel taxes of Aucklanders stuck in traffic (because they have no better option) that will be paying $15 for each car that uses Transmission Gully.

Insane is too polite a word for this.





  1. Julie Anne – we are up against “life style” and “habits” and claimed “privilege”, and that most if not all grew up with the motorised car obsession here in NZ.

    Coming from Europe I know a different way, although most of Europe also has for decades gone “car mad”. At least in most towns and cities there public transport is the norm. Here we do get a bit of that in the larger centres like Auckland and Wellington, possibly Christchurch, but it is still not comparable.

    NZers have been smelling the car exhaust since they were born, it is part of life and daily usage and the psyche. Nobody is seriously considering doing away with private motor cars, as they never learned anything else but suburbia and the one to two car household, where babies, kiddies and teen students get driven everywhere, unless of course, they are dirt poor and the parents have to work and no time and money to do this.

    Maybe where you come from it was a bit similar. But anyway, to change things in NZ, I fear it will not work that easily to convince with logic, as most human behaviour is NOT guided by logic.

    They simply cling to what they are used to, like a drug, and carry on, until there is NO other way to carry on.

    So in this case, nobody will vote for Greens or others to bring in higher road user charges, higher taxes, levies, and what else is needed to change behaviour, because they do NOT want to change.

    This is shocking, I know, but it is the sad reality, and only a minority catch buses and trains. It will require a global economic and energy crisis to change this I fear, and the same applies for the living habits in general. I could well imagine another society, as I grew up on a farm, with ideas of sustainability and more, but most urban dwellers are only having “romantic” or “bizarrely illogical” ideas about environmentalism, sustainability, alternative energy and lifestyles.

    I hope that this will all change, but my hopes have been fading over recent years, as the assassin and his aggressive political blitzkrieg government push and press ahead with a force, that does not even allow most the time to think about what is going on.

    We are being politically, economically and socially RAPED, that is the truth of what goes on in NZ!

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