Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Point of Order: Yes, the speed limit (on one stretch of our roads) has been lifted but Wood must do much more to rate with Bob Semple

Transport Minister Michael Wood has been busy beating his drum over the move to lift the speed limit on the Waikato Expressway to 110km/h, between Hampton Downs and Tamahere.

He points out that the Waikato Expressway is a key transport route for the Waikato region, connecting Auckland to the agricultural and business centres of the central North Island. The features making it safer for travelling at higher speeds include having at least two lanes in each direction, a central median barrier, and no significant curves.

His press statement was among those to flow from the Beehive since Point of Order’s previous Buzz, including news of further support for Ukraine:

* $4.5 million to provide Ukraine with additional non-lethal equipment and supplies such as medical kit for the Ukrainian Army

* Deployments extended for New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) intelligence, logistics and liaison officers in the UK, Germany, and Belgium

* Secondment of a senior New Zealand military officer to support International Criminal Court (ICC) investigations, and additional funding to the ICC, including the Trust Fund for Victims.

What some might find contentious about Michael Wood’s otherwise straightforward statement is his claim the government “is investing heavily in our transport system”.

In the seven years the Ardern government has been in power, it has yet to announce anything like the previous government’s Roads of National Significance, even though its haul of road taxation has been sustained, apart from the recent temporary reductions.

But even as ministers celebrate the opening of splendid new motorways like Transmission Gully out of Wellington or the raising of the speed limit on the Waikato Expressway, the news media are grimly reporting daily road crashes, among them the horrifying accident in which seven people died on the Picton to Blenheim highway.

Simon Wilson in the New Zealand Herald wrote that the serious crash rate is not normal. In nearly all other developed countries the rate is falling but in NZ (and the US) the rate is rising.

Wilson contends there are 10,000km of dangerous roads in NZ, but only 1000km of them are scheduled to get median barriers, and even that will take 10 years.

So, as the headline on Wilson’s report has it: ”Carnage on roads but safety debate drags on”.

As Point of Order sees it, the government could already be duplicating what the previous government did when Steven Joyce held the Transport portfolio and be making progress with another phase of the Roads of National Significance.

By now an expressway should be running through the spine of the North Island covering the full distance from Auckland to Wellington.

Our expressways should extend to Tauranga and Rotorua, and perhaps to Whangarei.

That kind of network not only would lower the road toll, but also would have a significant impact on the costs of the road haulage industry.

The Labour government might then have something to celebrate and Wood would have carved out an achievement to place him alongside Labour’s great Minister of Works, Bob Semple.

Instead he is left crowing that the Waikato Expressway can support higher travel speeds without compromising safety.

“This road has been selected for the increase because of its modern design and safety features, creating one of the best roads in the country.

“The Expressway will improve economic growth and productivity through more efficient movement of people and freight, as a result of increased capacity and passing opportunities.”

Over the years various calculations have been made on the cost-benefit ratio of the expressway: one which Point of Order noted shows benefits of $186.3m pa, against annual costs of $87.3m.

But this is based on a total cost for the road of $1454.4m, which omits land costs, “as from an economy-wide perspective this is merely a transfer of ownership of an existing asset”. In June 2015 the NZTA estimated the total cost of the road at between $2,200m and $2,400m.

The benefits were calculated at that time on what was said to be a conservative estimate of 18,000 vehicles saving 15 minutes per day at a cost of $25/ hour, giving a yearly benefit of around $40 million.

Point of Order is a blog focused on politics and the economy run by veteran newspaper reporters Bob Edlin and Ian Templeton

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