For a long time there was a joke that the last government’s Roads of National Significance (RoNS) were missing the word ‘Party’ from the name. That amended name seems even more appropriate now following National’s latest move, to start a number of petitions asking the government to build the roads National promised during the election.

“Roads from Northland right through to Ashburton are being ‘reviewed’ while the Government attempts to divert billions of dollars to pet light rail projects.

“The National Government committed to a large number of important regional highway projects right around New Zealand as the next stage in the successful Roads of National Significance programme to build a modern highway network. These would greatly improve safety and travel times, better connect our regions and boost regional economic growth.

“But Transport Minister Phil Twyford now says a number of these projects are under review. That’s not good enough – our regional communities deserve them and the National Party is committed to fighting for them.


“These are the most crucial transport linkages in their regions and the Government has wrongly thrown them into doubt. You can’t argue that you support regional New Zealand and then immediately take these key projects away.

While some of the projects they list have been debated for a while, like the East-West Link, most of them weren’t even on the radar until National announced them in August as part of their election policy. It’s absurd to suggest these are planned projects when many have never been assessed and no money was budgeted for them. So it’s beyond hypocritical that they call out light rail, which has already been though business case processes, as being a pet project when they’re wanting investment in a bunch of projects, many of which have never been looked at before. Here’s the list of projects.

  • The upgrade of the Redoubt-Mill Road corridor from Manukau and Flat Bush to Papakura and Drury
  • The extension of the Waikato Expressway from Cambridge to the foot of the Kaimai Range, and from Cambridge to Tirau
  • The continuous four lane extension of the Northern Motorway from Warkworth to Whangarei.
  • An East West Link Road project between the Onehunga-Penrose industrial area and State Highways 1 and 20
  • The Tauranga to Katikati Road project as a continuous four lane State Highway with wide lanes and safety measures
  • The four laning of the Napier to Hastings Expressway
  • The Otaki to north of Levin expressway road project
  • The Christchurch Northern Motorway between Belfast and Pegasus
  • The construction of the four-lane State Highway 1 link between Christchurch and Ashburton

It’s unclear how the East-West Link and Mill Rd are about improving the regional economies given they’re both in Auckland.

It’s also unclear how many of these are “the most crucial transport linkages” given many of them are barely used. For example the road from Cambridge to the foot of the Kaimai’s carries only around 5,000 vehicles per day. As I pointed out at the time, while some of the initial RoNS made sense, the second batch were definitely scraping the bottom of the barrel and a lesson in diminishing returns.

That’s not to say that these roads don’t need upgrades, many certainly do, just not four lane motorway/expressway standard upgrades.

This all seems very desperate from National.

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  1. I recently explained to a visitor from Colorado that the Roads of National Significance were mostly of significance to Auckland bach owners, and making it that much easier to reach their luxury leisure pads. The proposed Kati Kati to Tauranga being a good example. As with most National Party policy, keep the privileged feeling privileged and the less fortunate grateful to have food on the table every now and then in a damp, cold house with holidays nothing more than a dream. Rail is of true nationwide value and the more that Minister Twyford can siphon out of the tarmac and into regional and urban rail, the better, for all of us. Not just those with a house in Parnell, a bach in Omaha and a getaway in Hawaii. Desperate indeed.

    1. So there’ll be hordes of people lining up to use these regional rail routes when they open?
      Let’s hope there’s more than the numbers who wanted to use rail to Helensville the last time it was tried.

      1. Helensville, population: 2,600

        North Waikato, Hamilton and Tauranga, population: 380,000.

        Probably a slight difference in demand there, just guessin’.

  2. Four laying of Napier-Hastings is definitely not needed. Total boondoggle. One of Joyce’s more silly suggestions. Strike that one off the list. Absolutely not needed, although the odd passing lane wouldn’t go amiss.

    What would be good there, however, is a better public transport link between the two cities. There are a few buses, but the buses also get caught in the (very small) rush hour traffic jams. Train tracks sit there, un-used for public transport, and could easily be brought into service for far less cost than two-laming the entire corridor.

    1. +1, rail service along the corridor and median and side barriers on the expressway would achieve far more for a far lower price.

    2. Based on the NZTA Passing Lane Strategy, the recommended upgrade based on the AADT of each section is as follows:

      Westshore to Taradale Rd – passing lanes, potential 2+1 road
      Taradale Rd to Kennedy Rd – 2+1 road
      Kennedy Rd to Meeanee Rd – 2+1 road, potential 4 lanes
      Meeanee Rd to Pakowhai/Links Rd – 4 lanes
      Pakowhai Rd to Omahu Rd – 2+1 road
      Omahu Rd to Pakipaki – passing lanes.

      1. thanks LC Mortensen – much obliged. I can tell that you have got some good data – more than I can find – NZTA’s national telemetry site profiles (thanks for the reference) gives a number for Hawkes Bay (Taradale) as having about 25,000 traffic movements daily in 2016 (up 20% since 2007). Looking back at the figures from NZTA data from 1975-84, what would appear to be the same length of road is listed as having 2580 vehicles in 1975 and 3980 in 1984. Am I reading that right? Seems like there are more cars on the roads since the 70s, but surely not 10x more cars? I think I would have noticed ten times more cars….

        Second question – NZTA note that the suitable configuration for 25,000 cars a day is a 2+1 road. What exactly is that? The current SH50 configuration between Napier and Hastings is a single lane each way, with a wide painted central lane which can be used for overtaking. Is that the 2+1 they speak of? In which case, they already have a 2+1 in place already. Or is there something I am missing?

        1. I am struggling to see what relevance anything that NZTA says has. That’s where the impetus for the RoNS has come from and the rationale for those has been misguided.

          I used to live in Napier/Hastings and population growth has been limited since. I suspect that Guy M is right that the limited congestion probably warrants little improvements other than public transport and safety improvements.

          Napier and Hastings are one of the few cities where the train goes from city centre to city centre and so this may be an economic option although neither place is particularly centralised.

        2. The RoNS was National’s idea – the NZTA is a Crown agent so therefore can’t criticise the government of the day.

        3. @Guy M “wide painted central lane which can be used for overtaking”.
          I’m afraid you’re mistaken here. There is a single section of 1km stretch from Prebensen Dr to Taradale Road along the expressway that has a 1metre wide “central lane”, that is too narrow to be used for passing and certainly isn’t designed for such. The remaining 19km or so of the expressway just has the painted line dividing the lanes – no “central lane”.

    3. Four-laning the Napier-Hastings expressway is the only part of RONS 2.0 that makes any sense and should be built. It has ~17,000 vpd, while the rest are less than 10,000. The threshold for dual-carriageway is ~15,000vpd, so this road qualifies for this.
      The geometry of the current road with long sweeping curves means sight-lines for passing are bad and there are no passing lanes along the entire length. So people pass in stupid places or get frustrated.

      Re: trains – hard to imagine that could ever stack up economically shuttling between the two main stations. Could build a 2nd or third in Napier as it winds through the suburbs and Westshore, but I can’t see how patronage would be attracted.

      Buses would be great if they were more frequent and cycle lanes are being painted/built, but would be better if they didn’t disappear at each intersection leaving you to fend for yourself.

      1. I definitely think that there are more opportunities in Napier/Hastings. One station in Hastings at Frederick Street; two in Napier at Ellison Road, and at Taradale Road, and one at Napier airport.

  3. The national party is digging itself a hole.
    The 10 RONS were guessed at $12 billion.
    I’m sure they didn’t include the Mill Rd.,Transmission Gully over runs, the new State Hwy out of Wellington major resurfacing , the renewal of the Palmerston N gorge Rd, the repairs to Thames Rd and more roads that are threatened by high tides.
    So all up their spending wouldl be $20 billion or more.
    My cost estimates are as good as theirs because they kept their figures secret.
    Its much better to invest in transport infrastructure that gives the best returns.

  4. I didn’t include the Kaikoura repair.
    Maybe $1 billion.
    I hope NZers don’t want to spend all our hard earned money just on roads

    1. I believe the Kaikoura repair was largely funded by insurance KiwiRail had for that area from way back. So it was no great move financially by the previous government, rather a fortuitous one.

  5. The only “Pet project”ness about Labours proposed list is the Light Rail on SH16, in that the full on straight to Light Rail instead of Buses then Light Rail specific Business case is not yet fully done.

    But even so what business cases and other work that has been done on this particular corridor with bypassing the buses then light rail is far more than any of the other RoNS ever got or any existing or future RoNS would have got if National got back in.

    So thats hardly the “pork barrel” decision it is portrayed as.

    If National felt these were so urgent that they had to be built, they could have included allocations for funding investigations into them in the 2017 Budget, instead they opted for Tax cuts.

    So they can hardly cry “unfair” when these bad decisions are tossed out like a well-past -its-use-by-date bottle of milk.

  6. Yes, it’s odd to whip up regional concerns when there are none south of Ashburton and all of them are within 90 mins of the countries five largest cities, with the exception of the semi-urban Hawkes Bay Expressway.

        1. No, Tauranga is the 5th largest:
          1) Auckland
          2) Christchurch
          3) Wellington
          4) Hamilton
          5) Tauranga
          6) Napier-Hastings urban area
          7) Dunedin

  7. Christchurch to Ashburton would be an obvious candidate for a 2+1 road, with a new Rakaia Bridge that can handle pedestrians and cyclists.

    A bypass of Woodend to the north of Chch would certainly be of value but it doesn’t need to be four lanes wide.

    1. +1, Woodend bypass needs a central and side barriers and some passing lanes with most side roads bridged over and a few safe roundabouts where intersections are needed.. Won’t need four lanes for 100 years.

    2. Canterbury, given its large geographic size from Kaikoura south to somewhere near Oamaru is a huge area with a lot of distance and large volumes of vehicle and freight traffic.

      And it clearly needs a lot of safety improvements.

      Last year it recorded 55 road deaths, which put it 3rd behind Waikato and Auckland in 1st and and 2nd place respectively, by region, if such a competition is one you ever want any region to “win”.

      Yet the places where the RoNS were and are being built are usually not in the areas with historic or currently high road tolls, despite the argument being advanced that a large reason for expensive RoNS is safety related.

      I don’t think a gold plated 4 lane highway to Ashburton is the best use of the road money to be spent there in Canterbury. Far better to put in continuous 2+1 with barrier roads and extend it as far south as you can [past Ashburton towards Timaru] than a few dozen km of 4 lane motorway.

      And of course we also need to get more stuff moved around by coastal shipping so we’re not just trucking stuff all the way up and down SH1 all the time.

      The cheapest lanes of roads you will ever build – are the ones you never need to build ‘cos there are existing alternatives you make good use of.

      So while RoNS focusses on road, lets not forgetting that in most parts of the country there is a perfectly usable and efficient 1+1 rail network with passing loops to allow two way rail movements that needs fixing up too.

      But of course National never considered Railways to part of any RoNS [except where they could pinch the rail corridor for use for roading], as the R in the RoNS lexicon only ever stood for ROADS.

    3. Rolleston to Ashburton and Waikuku to Kaiapoi (Lineside Rd) both meets NZTA’s threshold for a 2+1 road, but both are well off the threshold for four lanes.

        1. Interesting. Its ~12,000vpd only just scrapes through as a 2+1, it needs to be almost double that to meet this justification for 4-laning. The traffic breakdown shows it only ever nearing capacity on Friday evenings or holiday weekends. Most days capacity doesn’t look likes it’s an issue.

          Even on holiday weekends, max capacity is set by the intersections at each end through Ashburton and Rolleston: adding more capacity on this link between them wouldn’t really do anything from a network capacity perspective.

  8. I don’t have any figures to back up my argument here so I may be way off but I think the current “around 5000 vehicles per day” from Cambridge to the foot of the Kaimais is irrelevant to the argument for four laning this route. Currently, no one would drive from Auckland to Tauranga via Cambridge but once the remaining sections of the Waikato Expressway are completed (2020? again a guess, I can’t be bothered stopping typing to google it) then I would expect traffic on this road to increase considerably. How considerably? Don’t know but I guess this is what is driving the call to extend the expressway once the current sections are completed.

    Which would seem to point to the “Aucklanders and their bachs” argument again except that it is about an hours drive further than most are willing to travel to a bach and I suspect that outside two weeks at New Year many (most?) regular travellers between Auckland and Tauranga have family connections – either we escaped the Bay for University (my story) or our parents retired there (my next door neighbour).

    1. The NZTA considers 10,000 vpd as the minimum for 2+1 roads and 20,000 vpd for four-laning. Unless the traffic quadruples, then it is unlikely to need four-laning.

    2. You may be right, I don’t know. I just wish the same “build it and they will come” argument was accepted when Aucklanders are discussing PT or cycle improvements. Especially when we now have plenty of evidence that it is true.

    3. The impression I got is that this is more a result of lobbying from truck/ freight companies etc. than it is about actual volumes/need.

      Also I get the impression that there are number of people in National and probably NZTA who think that all of the major cities should be connected by a four lane highway regardless of need because that would be cool!? A four lanes good, two lanes bad kind of mantra.

    1. Oh that’s good! Have Ken Shirley and NZTA been grizzling in the Nat’s ear about their ‘pet’ projects lately? Have a sit down with Don Braid guys, you might learn something.

  9. “most of them weren’t even on the radar until National announced them in August as part of their election policy”

    Oh yes they were. Until 2008 the TransitNZ website had a substantial section called “Future Projects”, that contained all the roading projects that the agency had planned under the last Labour government. The list was immense. National took it all down when they came to power, but then over nine years resurrected a few of them.

    Labour have traditionally planned and built many more motorways than National. The entire Western Ring Route is Labour. They came up with the Greenhithe, Upper Harbour Bridge, Hobsonville, Waterview, Mt Roskill, Onehunga, and Manukau stages. All National did was continue with Labour projects already started, and upgrade existing sections such as around Te Atatu. Things Labour would have done anyway.

    The motorway party is now back in power. I wouldn’t expect any major cutbacks. The roading agenda will continue to move forward, and any money saved by cancelling anything will go to roads elsewhere, as there is a need to play catch up with maintenance of regional highways which was cut back under National.

  10. Re: Otaki-to-North Levin RoNS: newspapers reported in 2012 that the proposal for a 4-lane, $400m expressway on this route was dropped because of its poor business case (BCR of 0.29), and was replaced by an upgrade of certain sections, costing around $100m. The NZTA website quotes a price of $100m+, depending on which sections are included.

    However, the Horizons Regional Council Draft 10-year Transport Plan says the project is still a 4-lane expressway, costing $788,948,351. I suspect the government will review this one and my feeling is that as they are already in for two large projects in the area with BCRs much less than 1 (Transmission Gully and Pekapeka to Otaki), they may not have an appetite for a third.

    Does anyone know what is going on here? Readers from the Horizons region may wish to submit on the plan (closes 31 Jan).

    1. I agree, with the 2 big ticket items – Transmission Gully and Pekapeka to Otaki projects. Horizons Regional Council is keen to have a regular 7 day a week train service between Palmerston North and Wellington.

  11. I almost feel sorry for the National Party which is so desperately clinging to the past. They are not capable of finding answers for today’s issues and certainly do not have a vision that will enable them to solve the problems of tomorrow.

    What is needed between Christchurch and Ashburton is the return of passenger rail, making our transport system more resilient, affordable and accessible to a wider demographic. Canterbury has suffered long enough from a lack of public transport funding and it is about time that it is changed. Introducing passenger rail in Canterbury is not without challenges and will require significant investment but will offer a viable alternative to pouring more money into hyper expensive motorways which will inevitably clog up once again. I am very much looking forward to see Railways of National Significance introduced by the current government…

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