The Government yesterday announced it plans to spend over $200 million on a series of regional roading projects. This is clearly a result of trying to keep the regions happy from a potential backlash after they announced a motorway splurge in Auckland last year. Like the Auckland package these projects are being funding outside of the National Land Transport Fund and in this case the money is meant to be coming from their asset sales fund.

Prime Minister John Key has this morning announced $212 million from the Future Investment Fund for a package of 14 regionally important State highway projects.

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee says the government is committing up to $80 million from the package to accelerate five critically important regional projects, with work beginning next year.

These five projects are:

  • Kawarau Falls Bridge, in Otago
  • Mingha Bluff to Rough Creek realignment, in Canterbury
  • Akerama Curves Realignment and Passing Lane, in Northland
  • State Highway 35 Slow Vehicle Bays, in Gisborne
  • Normanby Overbridge Realignment, in Taranaki.

“These projects are fully investigated and designed, and address current safety, resilience or productivity issues, but construction wasn’t due to begin until late this decade or after 2020,” Mr Brownlee says.

“Following today’s announcement construction on these projects could begin in 2014/15, and be completed by 2016/17.

“The government is committed to fund the next six projects with an additional $115 million and subject to the usual investigations, construction would be expected to begin within three years on each of these projects.

The six projects are:

  • Whirokino Trestle Bridge replacement, in Manawatu/Wanganui
  • Motu Bridge replacement, in Gisborne
  • Opawa and Wairau Bridge replacements, in Marlborough
  • Taramakau Road/Rail Bridge, on the West Coast
  • Loop road north to Smeatons Hill safety improvements, in Northland
  • Mt Messenger and Awakino Gorge Corridor, in Taranaki.

“A further $12 million will be available to accelerate investigation and design of three large projects in Hawke’s Bay, Nelson and the Bay of Plenty,” Mr Brownlee says.

These projects are:

  • Port of Napier access package, in Hawke’s Bay
  • Nelson Southern Link, in Nelson
  • Rotorua Eastern Arterial, in Bay of Plenty.

“Each project could then be considered for funding under the proposed Regional Improvements activity class in the next Government Policy Statement on land transport.

“By directly funding some of the most crucial State highway improvements, the government is freeing up more funding in the Regional Improvements activity class for other priority projects.

“This funding package also strongly complements the government’s Roads of National Significance programme, ensuring people and freight reach their destinations quickly and safety,” Mr Brownlee says.

Here is a map of roughly where they’re each located.

Govt Accelerated Rural Road Package

I imagine that some of the projects on this list actually make sense and were probably only so far away from being fund through normal procedures due to the Roads of National Significance sucking up all the new State Highway spending . The Ministry of Transport go further by saying that all of the projects in the first group have a BCR of greater than one and in some cases it’s more than four. That would put them better than some of the RoNS like the 0.2 for the Kapiti Expressway. The MoT say the next six projects are still being investigated and are expected to “also be high quality projects” however this document from 2013 shows the Whirokino Trestle Bridge replacement to have a BCR of 0.5 or 0.6 depending on what option is chosen.

What seems to be a common theme amongst many of the projects is that they are replacing bridges that aren’t able to carry the new super heavy trucks the government allowed a few years ago.

Perhaps the most worrying thing about this announcement isn’t so much the projects themselves but that the government is getting more and more involved in picking projects rather than leaving it up to the NZTA to decide on spending based on merit. It started with the RoNS and last year we got the Auckland package.

Even for the projects in the top 5 which are said to be ready to go there is very little information available. The only two I could find are the Karawau Falls Bridge and the Mingha Bluff to Rough Creek realignment.

The Karawau Falls Bridge is expected to cost $20-25 million and will replace the current 88 year old single lane bridge which they say could be renovated to provide a walking and cycling connection.

Kawarau Falls Bridge Artist Impression 2

Mingha Bluff to Rough Creek realignment is roughly a 5km realignment of SH3 south of Arthurs Pass

SH73 Arthurs Pass (Mingha Bluff realignment)

Lastly here are some tweets from John Key’s twitter account when announcing this further road spend up.

It’s completely disingenuous to say that good roads are good for public transport. None of the roading projects pushed by the government over the last 6 years have had any benefit to public transport and many (like those in Wellington) will actually work against the PT system. What all of the projects have primarily been about is moving bigger and heavier trucks.

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  1. Pretty clear pork barrel politics in this announcement. Just one clarification on the Auckland package in that all govt is doing is giving NZTA money for interest so it can borrow earlier for the Auckland package.

    In other words, NZTA will have to pay the money back which will constrain what they can build in the early 2020s.

    1. Pork barrel is right. It could have been worse I suppose, like interest free student loans, or giving social welfare to working families or even a taxpayer subsidised pension savings plan.

  2. “On good roads you get better public transport” – talk about taking the piss. They really don’t deserve to get away with that one.

  3. All fine and dandy to replace bridges and what not ahead of their scheduled time to take 50+ tonne HPMVs.

    But what about the ongoing lack of maintenance on the rest of the (currently) usable roads? Which even Fed Farmers last year was sounding warning alarms about due to diverting funds from regional mantainence for RoNS.

    Seems to me that we will end up with gold plated bridges allright, while the roads either side fall into rack and ruin due to starvation of basic maintenance money.

    Also dislike the funding for this coming from the “Future Investment Fund” (i.e. from asset sales cash), take it out of something else if you feel its so important to have it done sooner.
    If anything transport related should be being funding from the Future Investment Fund, the CRL is the ideal poster boy for such long term intergenerational projects, just like the power companies were back in their day.

    Even Brownlee was pretty open about it being pork barrel – basically said if you don’t like it don’t vote for our policies.

  4. Somewhat tangental to the main issue, but judging by the visual of the Kawarau Bridge above we’ve given up designing elegant bridges now. That is a beautiful point at the head of the Kawarau River and that plodding post and beam effort breaks my heart. NZ has a proud history of clever and graceful civil engineering projects in difficult terrain and always to a budget. We can do better than this.

    1. Im not sure where the footpath on the kawarau falls bridge is going to join up to as there is no footpath on either side of the road on either side of the river.

  5. “Team Key has always been very focused on roads,” Key said,

    Damned right and for once he is telling the truth!

  6. Conveniently, National have managed to find a road to support in nearly every region in the country. That may reflect the spread of voters they want to attract, but it’s unlikely to reflect where there will be increased demand. The Gisborne, Manawatu-Wanganui, Marlborough and West Coast regions all have negligible or negative population growth.

      1. Quite right and worse is that two of the projects have been targeted at Labour held electorates, about the only two rural ones they have, so its spend up asset sale money to one up the Opposition. Fiscally responsible, not so much, reprehensible, definitely!

  7. Pleased to see the Whirokino Trestle getting some funding – that bridge is in diabolical condition. Super narrow, the concrete barriers at the sides are filled with crumbling holes, and prone to closure in floods, cutting off the lower half of the North Island. It’s lived a good life, but it’s time to get rid of it.

    1. Yes, but the nearby NIMT rail Bridge 36 over Forest Lakes Road (an old timber trestle bridge), is in similar need of renewal but is having to wait its turn under KiwiRail’s limited funding. Why does National not announce the fast-tracking of this? No votes in it, maybe? No pork-barrel leverage?

    2. Perhaps Labour or Greens should promise $424 million of regional roading upgrades – – – – in return for cancelling $10 billion worth of Roads of National’s Extravagance.

    3. Cutting off would imply that it is the only road north for the lower North Island, which I presume you know not to be the case. Given the very low incidence of flooding that tops the bridge deck this isn’t a reason for replacement.

      1. Well; cut off is a relative term. If you’re in Levin and wanting to head north, but all the Manawatu River crossings are blocked, it’s a heck of a long trip down to Wellington, than up and across. Also; I didn’t say I agreed with the manner in which the funding is allocated – it’s totally pork barrell politics. These are intentionally crowd-pleasing, sychophantic projects, and they won’t win my vote. All I said is that I was pleased that the bridge is going to get some repair work done.

        I’d be happy to see 424m in regional roading upgrades for the Roads of Significance to National to be cut.

        1. If there’s floods bad enough to close every upstream bridge, including in Palmerston North, it doesn’t seem like any new bridge would be able to stay open, either.

        2. Depends on the bridge, I guess. The current bridge is pretty close to the river level, because the floodplain is so vast. There’s a safe cycle path running along the flood plain, but this closes far more frequently than the bridge does – and the constuction of a new bridge would be an opportunity to remedy this. Would be nice to have a greater level of lane width as well; it’s a pretty tight squeeze at the moment if you meet a truck in the middle.

  8. So we sold revenue generating state assets to buy tarmac. Some of it not even proposed to be built in the next 3 years.

  9. Off course the one project this country really needs, but is not even talked about due to the scary numbers that would be required is a direct road/rail link between north and south islands. Long overdue and one project that needs to debated.

    1. The reason it isn’t debated is that it is science-fiction impractical. Cook Strait isn’t like the English Channel, where you can build a tunnel through chalk under a shallow earthquake-free channel. And it is far too deep for the supports required for a bridge.

      I’ve checked out most of the projects that the government are proposing. Most are a lot of really dodgy old bridges around the country. One even had a wood deck. And they address some serious accident blind spots. It’s a collection of Project Lifesavers around the country. It’ll be a shame to sort out the single lane road and rail bridge on the West Coast though. That was eccentric enough to stop and take photos when I passed through a few years ago.

      1. And agree with you that most of these projects make sense. The only reason they need special funding is that NZTAs funding is misdirected to massive duplication projects with dubious returns, rather than this form of incremental route improvement.

        1. Yes this is the point. First reasonable funding for local road projects was taken away and redirected to the overblown RoNS monster, then the gov congratulates itself for funding these specially chosen projects in important electorates.

          Additionally it really is way passed time that the RUF’s Ken Shirley stops talking about user pays and the trucking industry. This is out and out subsidy.

    2. Why think small? What we need is a direct motorway and high-speed rail link to Australia, and then onward through south-east Asia to the rest of the world.

  10. This is all about upgrading roads so they can carry heavy vehicles. Several of the bridges mentioned are major pinch points stopping the roll out of extra long and heavy trucks across the country. For examples Whirokino trestle bridge is a bit dodgy, but not in need of urgent replacement, and has a very high cost. Only issues is can’t take 50 tone trucks, and requires Auckland Wellington heavy vehicles to divert 10km or so. So this really is a big subsidy for the trucking industry, as no way that extra RUCs will cover this investment.

    1. its gotta get through a whole lot of hands before people in the regions end up buying it though – and the economic orthodoxy isnt so much sell it at a cost that reflects its value, but at a cost that wont stop people buying it, but still as high as possible

      its the exact same issue with the fast tracking of housing development land – make it sound like theres going to be savings – but dont mention that your only looking at a single link in the chain

    2. Cheaper trucking means probably 1 cent less on your parcel delivery costs, and for that privilege we will pay millions and millions to upgrade otherwise perfectly usable roads and bridges.

      Sound like a reasonable return to your tax dollars? Doesn’t seem that way to me or to most here.

    3. So why are we then wasting so much money on urban motorways?

      Also, good rural roads that can take large trucks AREN’T cheap. Cause maintenance for trucks is expensive. Something our government also cut, because – short-term press release policies.

  11. “Perhaps the most worrying thing about this announcement isn’t so much the projects themselves but that the government is getting more and more involved in picking projects rather than leaving it up to the NZTA to decide on spending based on merit. It started with the RoNS and last year we got the Auckland package.”

    You need to get out more. Political selection of highway projects has been the norm throughout not only the National government but also its predecessor the 1999-2008 Labour government. The forecast programme for 2003-2013 makes for interesting reading.
    We do rightly ridicule National for the RONs but Helen Clark’s govermment was doing the same type of thing albeit with a bit more money into NZTA. They poured a huge amount of money into highways in Auckland and that was their key focus for funding.

    1. Of course government has always set the roading projects politically, and that’s even what they should do to a degree.

      But I would bet that Labour gave more than lip service to Benefit-Cost-Ratios, and wouldn’t have built shocking stuff like much of the RONS. They just don’t have quite the unabashed chutzpah to shovel the money as blatantly into private interest’s coffers, those lefties.

      1. Or against people’s interests in what transport projects they actually WANT. I mean, it’s clear that the RONS projects haven’t really hurt National’s standing at the polls. But does anyone actually feel they have helped gain them any votes – except for a few people in the construction industries? These urban motorways generally aren’t vote getters, they’re mostly ideology, which sadly most NZ citizens do seem pretty blase about, despite the horrendous costs.

      2. Liberty Scott has posted the history of this here previously. We used to have a system where politicians weren’t involved in picking projects, but this was done using an evidence-based approach by public servants. The last Labour Government changed this. The Greens supported them. Labour wanted to preference Auckland motorways. Labour and the Greens now pretend to be outraged that the government are progressing the transport projects they prefer. That is their right, but they shouldn’t pretend that this is a matter of principle. I wouldn’t have any problem with them reverting to the old system, but they’re already promising specific projects so I suspect there is fat chance of that happening.

        In terms of votes, I’m not sure roading projects win votes. But I suspect threatening to cancel them is a way of losing votes. I suspect that they’ll start construction of Transmission Gully before the election, as a challenge to Labour… do they support the project and piss off the Greens, or do they threaten to pull the plug on the thing and piss off every voter in the Wellington region that has ever been stuck in a traffic jam merging at Pukerua Bay. Len Brown understands the politics… He hasn’t opposed any Auckland motorway and is happy to appear at the opening of them.

        1. obi – the trouble with Transmission Gully is that it will cause many more voters to get stuck in traffic, but at Ngauranga and central Wellington rather than Pukerua Bay, as NZTA well knows.

        2. That may well be the case. Doesn’t change the politics, though. It’s a popular project.

          My folks live in Kapiti. They’re opposed to the expressway. Before the last election they told me that a lot of people were angry and they thought Nathan Guy might lose the seat for National. In reality, he picked up a 3% swing, while the Labour candidate who campaigned against the road had a nearly 8% swing against.

        3. “… threaten to pull the plug on the thing and piss off every voter in the Wellington region. . .”
          I can assure you it won’t piss off every voter in the Wellington region! There are quite a few far-sighted people down here still!

          Interesting that before Joyce et al came along and promised Transmission Gully, most people had accepted that it was not a goer and we needed to find better alternatives. National getting in in 2008 has taken us all backwards 30 years and many short-term thinkers appear to have been sucked into the Gully Trap.

  12. “Over the last six years, our Government has invested heavily in vital infrastructure to make up for years of underinvestment.”

    I actually don’t know what they are talking about. This is supposed to be a reference to these roading projects, but the underinvestment mostly happened when National was in office.

  13. Yes, that bridge is a bit terrifying, especially at night. I think you’d be brave to do 100 over it, even without a truck coming the other way.

    I’m sure we could build a replacement that stays open more than the current bridge. What I doubt is whether you could build one that stays open even if it’s so bad all the upstream bridges are closed – which is what makes the difference about whether you need to go via Wellington. You’d need to both build a way higher bridge and build up the road level the whole way across the flood plain.

  14. I live in Blenheim and it seems near impossible to get NZTA funding for anything here. The local council is fully funding road safety improvements on SH6 for example, putting in two roundabouts and some turning bays at another busy intersection. Applied for funding from NZTA but got rejected. They are getting NO NZTA funding at all for this, despite it being a state highway. Now suddenly National finds the money for two new bridges???

    Apparently the amount of money for the region from NZTA for maintenance has been stagnant for several years, and some maintenance has been deferred as a result. How about they start increasing the money to maintain the road network here instead of reducing it and suddenly throwing money around in election year for a few new bridges. (Incidently, both bridges are on SH1, the main road between Picton and Christchurch and are old narrow bridges which cause trucks problems when they pass each other. Both bridges run parallel to the railway line…..)

    1. Malcolm – the two Blenheim bridges on SH1 are to allow the heavier so-called High Productivity trucks that the government insists will reduce the number of trucks on the road. Of course, real High-Productivity transport is provided by ships and trains…

  15. These all look like projects that should have been done anyway. It shows how much money the RONS are sucking up that these are being especially funded. These could all have been done already for the price of one of the cheaper RONS.

    1. These are all projects which need to be done at some point in the future (like the next 10 years). And some (like the Whirokino bridge) have a BCR of under 1 (0.6 for Whirokino) which means it costs 40 cents a dollar more than the projected benefits it will return so you’re spending more than you’ll save and the NZTAs own criteria for projects is a BCR of at least 1.0.

      There is no pressing need to do these based on the limited info released (which is in itself quite telling about how ready they are for actual “building”) during the next 3 years.
      Except for allowing them to be used as election bribes.

  16. If you want a perfect example of pork barrels gone mad, look no further than Japan. Years of cosy ties between the LDP-dominated Japanese Govt and the construction industry make Think Big look like a sandcastle, and have contributed to the highest public debt in the G20.

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