It is said that nothing in this world is certain, except for death and taxes. But according to Waka Kotahi NZTA, that saying needs to also include motorway widening.
The Ministry for the Environment advised the Government not to fast-track the upgrade of State Highway 1, because it could increase carbon emissions.
But the Papakura-to-Drury upgrade was fast-tracked anyway, after the Government received contrary advice from the New Zealand Transport Agency, Environment Minister David Parker told Stuff.
Road transport is New Zealand’s fastest-growing source of climate pollution, with a new Statistics NZ report this week revealing transport makes up 37 per cent of New Zealand households’ emissions.
NZTA told the Government the upgrade was going to happen regardless, so fast-tracking it wouldn’t make climate pollution any worse than it was already going to be.
“What it does is bring forward the timing of a roading project that is going to be built anyway, so on balance the Government thought, and I thought, that it should be included in the fast-track,” said Parker.
“You can argue that if there’s less traffic congestion [there’re lower emissions].”
Firstly it’s positive to see the Ministry for the Environment taking note of the impact of transport decisions as it feels like it’s an area they’ve generally been far too quiet on – not that it seems they’re being listened to.
The $423 million Papakura to Drury project is to add a third lane in each direction to the motorway for about 6km south of Papakura to about halfway between the Drury and Ramarama interchanges. This is essentially a continuation of what has just finished between Manukau and Papakura and they eventually want to continue all the way to Bombay. Though the NZTA like to pretend it’s a multi-modal project because they’re also adding shoulders that they say could be used by buses, not that we need it to run buses because there’s already a rail line there
The project was announced in January as part of the NZ Upgrade programme and at the time it was noted how road heavy that programme is. Of the $6.8 billion in transport projects that were included, just over $5 billion (75%) of that is for large roading projects.
What is particularly galling about article is the NZTA’s assumption that these projects are considered to be inevitable and therefore should just bypass climate considerations. It reflects poorly on the government that they just took this line without challenging it.
To me there are a few key issues that are relevant here.
As I pointed out yesterday, the models behind these assumptions are often flawed and don’t take into account issues such as induced demand. The whole thing can be a vicious circle. Congestion leads us to widen the roads, which allows for people to drive faster thereby encouraging more people to drive, or drive at different times, leading to more congestion.
The issue is almost perfectly captured in this video from the Australian show Utopia. Though the models are nowhere near as sophisticated as it makes out.
For this particular project, and it’s $1.3 billion also to be supersized neighbour, Mill Rd, which is needed to make it easier to move aggregate from quarries to support the supersizing of Mill Rd, there is then the issue of all the growth that they’re meant to enable. Like with induced demand, there’s a vicious circle that occurs where the motorway is widened to allow for growth, which then encourages planners and developers to push for auto-dependant sprawl to make use of that infrastructure.
The council and government along with their respective agencies love to talk about how these developments will be focused around good public transport but even with a high level of PT modeshare, many of the future residents of these areas will continue to drive and that will obviously put pressure on these roads.
The issue of climate change and transport is one that will only become louder in coming years so it’s also worth highlighting Arataki, the NZTA’s “10-year view of what is needed to deliver on the government’s current priorities and long-term objectives for the land transport system“.
What is notable firstly with it, which was updated in August, is that in the section of tackling climate change, the first focus is on adaption, in other words, making sure the network can cope with things like sea level rises, landslips and flooding. Only later do they talk about mitigation. In that they say
Our approach to reducing transport greenhouse gas emissions is shaped by the Avoid – Shift – Improve Model:
- Avoid/reduce: help people avoid or reduce reliance on private motor vehicles through integrated land-use and transport planning.
- Shift the travel of people and freight to low-emission modes, public transport, active and/or shared transport modes.
- Improve the energy efficiency of the vehicle fleet, through things like fuel standards and incentives to support the uptake of low/no emissions vehicles.
In terms of what that means:
Key activities that Waka Kotahi will lead, or partner on, to reduce GHG from transport include the following:
- Ensure GHG reduction is embedded in all decision-making, strategic assessments, and planning.
- Ensure planning for urban growth and intensification manages transport demand to reduce emissions.
- Optimise urban networks to manage demand and reduce emissions.
- Support road pricing in high growth urban areas to manage demand, support mode shift and reduce emissions.
There are many more activities listed than this but these four seemed the most relevant here. I wonder if they addressed any of these points in their own internal assessments before they pushed for the government to include the projects in the funding list.
Finally it seems that the Ministry for the Environment staff fell back on a plea to at least choose the least worst one between this widening and Mill Rd but as we now know, the government decided they’d do both.
Documents released to Greenpeace under the Official Information Act, seen by Stuff, show environment officials put the project on their ‘do not recommend’ list when the Government was mulling which options to go for.
“This is a significant roading project and has significant environmental risks,” the ministry said.
It raised a similar objection to an upgrade of Mill Road near Papakura, to ease SH1 congestion, noting the area south of Auckland had large, greenfields housing developments underway, and people in the area were already low users of public transport.
Upgrading Mill Road “has potential to lock in greenhouse gas emissions that are contrary to New Zealand’s climate change objectives,” it said.
At some point, the ministry appears to have been told that some kind of roading project was on the cards, and advised that, if the Government was going to include a roading project, it should choose either SH1 or Mill Rd. Fast-tracking SH1 was deemed the lowest environmental risk, because it was due to start construction in 2021 anyway.
The Prime Minister once talked about climate change being the defining issue of this generation but it certainly doesn’t seem like it when they make decisions like this.