The government has made it abundantly clear they’re addicted to the smell of new asphalt. On Tuesday they introduced a new term to the country’s roading lexicon, the Roads of Regional Significance (RoRS), a little brother for the Roads of National (Party) Significance (RoNS).

Driving ahead with Roads of Regional Significance

The coalition Government is launching Roads of Regional Significance to sit alongside Roads of National Significance as part of its plan to deliver priority roading projects across the country, Transport Minister Simeon Brown says.

“The Roads of National Significance (RoNS) built by the previous National Government are some of New Zealand’s most successful State Highway corridors, reducing congestion and improving safety.

“Expanding this programme to roads that are regionally significant will ensure that our cities and regions are well-connected, and our economy thrives.

“Similar to RoNS, Roads of Regional Significance will single out essential routes that require prioritisation.

However, looking at the announcement this really feels mostly just a case of rebranding exercise in order to take the credit for a bunch of projects started by their predecessors.

“Roads of National Significance and Roads of Regional Significance will replace the NZ Upgrade Programme (NZUP) which was severely mismanaged by the previous government. NZUP was subject to significant cost blowouts that resulted in project cancellations and delays across the country.

“When we came to government, we were advised that there would be a significant funding gap of up to $1.5 billion to deliver the NZUP projects. This is in addition to the cost increases which resulted in major project cancellations under the previous government, such as Mill Road,” Mr Brown says.

National are not wrong here. The NZUP projects were first announced in early 2020, just before COVID hit, as a $6.8 billion investment in a range of road, rail, public transport and active mode projects. This largely felt like a response to National’s continued push for large roads while in opposition and despite the rhetoric from National and the media, about 75% of the money was still for large road projects.

However, just over a year later the costs had already blown out, in some cases significantly with some projects more than doubling in cost. The worst of these was Mill Rd which went from $1.354 billion to $3.5 billion which is why the project was split up and the funding redistributed. Labour also added an additional $1.9 billion in funding bringing the total package to $8.7 billion. This announcement seems to confirm the rumours that further significant cost blowouts had occurred.

Despite the issues noted above, most of these projects are well advanced or already under construction.

The RoRS naming leads to some weird outcomes, like why is the Takitimu North Link (in Tauranga) a nationally significant project but SH1 between Papakura and Drury only a regionally significant one. At least from an economic point of view, the latter has a far bigger impact on the economy and on New Zealanders.

To give the government a bit of credit, putting a cost cap on the programme and giving Waka Kotahi decision over the scope makes sense. Having an unlimited scope is a bad way to run projects and also what led to the absurd proposals for the light rail and harbour crossing projects.

Finance Minister Nicola Willis and Transport Minister Simeon Brown have agreed to delegate all decision-making responsibilities around project scope and delivery to the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA), with Ministers no longer determining project scope and funding decisions which was leading to project delays and scope creep under the previous government.

“We are therefore changing how decisions are made on these projects and NZTA will be progressing with two RoNS and ten RoRS. Two further projects will now be incorporated into the Mill Road and Whangarei to Port Marsden Roads of National Significance listed in the draft Government Policy Statement on land transport 2024.

“In order to continue to deliver these projects, difficult decisions were made to keep costs within the existing $6.54 billion funding. We have made clear to NZTA that it must deliver these projects within the existing funding envelope, as there will be no additional Crown funding,” Mr Brown says.

The government seem to have learnt that having ministers set the scope is not a good way to design and build a transport project. Yet Simeon Brown has done exactly the same thing by requiring all of the RoNS be “four-laned, grade-separated highways” in the draft Government Policy Statement, even though some of the projects included in their list, such as the East-West Link, were never designed to that standard. Will he now drop that requirement from the final version of the GPS?

There’s also no information on what is happening to the rail projects that were part of NZUP, such as the new stations in Drury or the rail link to Marsden Point – which I fully expect they’ll cancel.

Perhaps by separating out just the road projects for this announcement it them look even more road mad, but then again, perhaps that’s the plan. They do seem to like leaning into that narrative.

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44 comments

  1. Most significant thing I felt was how short the list was, how many of the roads on it are already underway, and major projects like the East West link were missing.
    All in all, very restrained.

    1. The East West link is missing as it was challenged in court and the court agreed that not enough consideration had been put into alternatives for the protection of the foreshore. Its been sent back to the drawing board. It would have been otherwise.

  2. It is all so wasteful.

    Trains are the only thing that make economic sense, and to ensure they are ready for the future, our money should be going towards infrastructure to ensure that our regions can also be connected to the bigger towns.

    We are dealing with generation aeroplane and for now we need to think about reducing air travel, as some companies are pushing towards electric and other sustainable ideas for flying.

    Trains remain the safest, most enjoyable, and memorable method by which to travel. These are the things we remember from great cities, and large countries.

    Bikes are excellent for personal transport, and the brave parents who move their children this way deserve maximum respect. But it is frightening even to a relatively experienced bike rider to think of carrying such precious cargo with the irresponsible drivers who rush about in their cars.

    We need trains, trolley buses, light rail, heavy rail, trams…whatever you want to call them…we need things that run on tracks…not more opportunity for suicidal driving, and other risks to our health and survival.

    I believe that this government does not prioritize life, I believe that this government believes in survival of the fittest, which is an outdated science. I wish this government could read; literature, science magazines, and appreciate rock n roll. But they are the neo-liberals and they are numerately illiterate.

    bah humbug

    1. Your love for trains is sadly misplaced

      They are massively costly and struggle to attract 50% farebox recovery. Te Huia is running with huge subsidies at just 3% farebox recovery. Those subsidies would produce much better climate outcomes if redirected to more efficient means.

      Greece embarked on a massive train building project that became such a fiasco it was sighted as a factor in that countries economic collapse! The expected patronage did not eventuate and the huge operating costs combined with crippling debt ensured mass failure.

      When we invest in modern, 4-lane highways the effects have been incredibly positive. Transmission Gully and the Waikato Expressway are such outstanding success stories it’s no wonder New Zealanders want more. To my knowledge nobody has died on either road, an outstanding outcome.

      I’m all for trains where they make economic sense. Sadly those situations are rarer than what some on this forum think.

      1. Wow, Real Matthew, a realist on this site. You will not be popular with the leftists for stating the bleeding obvious.

      2. Where did you get the the 3 % farebox recovery from? You wouldn’t have to look far to find it’s considerable more than that.

        1. Just like Orsman, it doesn’t matter where he found it or where better numbers exist, he likes 3% so he’ll stick with it.

      3. 4 people have died on the 110 km/h section of the Waikato Expressway.

        However, that’s a minor quibble. The real issue is the cost (including opportunity cost) of the new expressways. It was decided not to toll Transmission Gully on the grounds that even at $2 per trip (about 10% of the cost of provision), not enough people would use it. In other words, people do not want it at even a fraction of its true cost. They only want it if it is “free”.

        1. lets not forget that thanks to National’s PPP financing of transmission gully, a$1B asset will cost $3.5B over 25 years. Shocker – transfer of nz funds to foreign corporations. So bad its almost like it was corrupt.

      4. Since it opened in full fuel tax gathered on the Waikato Expressway has bought in $40 million of the $2.7 billion cost, farebox recovery there has been pretty poor to.

        I agree it is a good road to drive and on balance will be worth it in the long run, but I think exactly the same of passenger rail between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga.

        1. Sorry, you’re supposed to conveniently ignore the enormous transfers from areas which pay fuel tax and have received pennies of capex for decades, to the few that regularly use these two corridors.

          Also ignore the opportunity costs as the returns of other roading projects not actioned is many times higher than either expressway.

        2. It’s the same old blinkered problem.

          Rail must be justified only on cost, cars only on value, never the other way around. Or, heaven forbid, a balanced discussion on both.

        3. Jack – as I mentioned, I don’t think it is covering it’s costs through user charges.

          However, I think the traffic volumes justify this level of road, the one exception being the Hamilton section, which has much lower volumes than other sections. It should have been built as a 2 + 1 road with roundabouts rather than interchanges.

        4. The $2.7 billion cost doesn’t include the Bombay Mercer section. Plus the endless remediation of pavement in certain areas.

      5. I suspect that with even modest tolls, nothing that remotely covers the cost of the Expressway, uptake of Te Huia would surge.

      6. “Waikato Expressway are such outstanding success stories”
        What’s the outstanding success? There has been a tremendous transfer of wealth from the tax payer to the limited number of people who use it.
        And if those people are deriving huge benefits, why don’t they pay for it?

        1. This is only an issue if its for rail and cycleways. When its roads its “good value”….

  3. I sincerely worry that the cost cap – under this govt at least – will lead to cutting of any footpaths and cycleways components for these projects. Even those already designed / consented.

    1. It’s certainly a risk, however given these parts of projects don’t cost a lot it won’t make any meaningful savings.

      I think Simeon is discovering the realities of promising expensive road projects, while trying to keep within budget constraints.

      One thing he deserves credit for is making it clear there won’t be any further taxpayer funding.

      1. Cycleways often require extra land acquisition though, and wider bridges – which is where things do get “expensive” (if you consider bikes a luxury, rather than something that should be a basic element). And then it also kills pretty much any idea of getting additional walk / cycle bridges into the mix to safely and conveniently access paths. The fact that we keep building motorway interchanges for example where cars are increasingly grade-separated with fly-overs etc, but pedestrians have a push button and then have to run across, hoping nobody ignores the red light – it’s perverse.

        1. we’re holding back the micromobility revolution as hard as we can.
          Im expecting great things from the AT team wrt Pukekohe – Drury Active Mode Corridor planned to run alongside the newly electrified train corridor. Connecting in the new business precincts via eScooters and bikes is a way to attract talent.

      2. “One thing he deserves credit for is making it clear there won’t be any further taxpayer funding.”

        Yeah right. Sure, he’s said it – and arguably it IS sensible management of an agency known for spending the mega bucks.

        But do you really think they will stop (or part-build) one of their fancy roads if the costs escalate. Nope. They will provide added money. This is where their hearts lie, and they will be much more willing to make some statements about “unforseen escalations making this necessary” and put up more money than stop one of their projects.

        These projects will blow out, like they always do.

  4. Not to mention that this “Roads of Regional Significance” announcement withdraws funding for the SH 76 Brougham Street upgrade, effectively cancelling it (if used in the same context that the National party did when they were in opposition. This is the busiest section of state highway in the South Island with an average of 45,000 vehicles, 10% of which are heavy vehicles. It is the main highway connecting the west and south of Christchurch to the city centre and on to the port town of Lyttelton.

    This project, at an expected $90m, would have removed a bottleneck at the western end before it becomes the Christchurch Southern Motorway, a staggered signalised crossing used by hundreds of cyclists and pedestrians per day by superseding it with a grade separated overbridge.

    Also it would have made traffic flow a lot better with the conversion of what little roadside parking is provided, into T2 lanes at peak times.

    If the government is worried about these projects blowing over, they could just effectively remove one project from the Roads of National Significance programme and fund about 20 upgrades of similar nature.

    1. These are the original list of 13 on the Roads of National Significance:
      • Northland – Whangārei to Port Mardsen
      • Northland – Warkworth to Wellsford
      • Auckland – Mill Road Stage 1
      • Auckland – East-West Link
      • Auckland – North West Alternative State
      • Bay of Plenty – SH29 Tauriko West,
      • Bay of Plenty – Tākitimu Northern Link Stage 2
      • Waikato – Cambridge to Piarere
      • Waikato – Southern Links
      • Greater Wellington – Petone to Grenada Link Road and Cross Valley Link • Greater Wellington – Second Mt Victoria Tunnel
      • Nelson – Hope Bypass
      • Canterbury – Belfast to Pegasus motorway including the Woodend Bypass.

      To answer your question, they still want to build that monstrosity

    2. Combination of somewhat too expensive AND they lost the court case about it, I think. The big question will be whether they will go for a fast track re-design and approval process, to override the decision that it can’t be built (as currently consented). Either way it isn’t “shovel ready” – well, many on the list may not be, but this one less so – so despite wanting it, they must have decided that it’s riskier to add it than leave it out…

    3. I think there could be a case for just the more “upgrade existing roads version” for East-West link, keeping the foreshore including the cycleway untouched.
      eg Looking at the old document:
      “Option B: Upgrade with South Eastern Highway ramp
      This option proposes an upgrade of existing roads with a new ramp connection from Church Street to SH1 at South Eastern Highway.”

      1. There was also meant to be some (greenwashing?) bus priority stuff from Sylvia Park, through Otahuhu to Mangere ie the 32 bus route. With that was some cycle lanes or shared paths.
        It’s a pity proper bus setup in Sylvia is a bit stuffed with it’s sharing of lanes with general traffic and lack of priority, fine when it’s not busy but not when it’s shopping time.
        Is it too late to build some bus-only lanes parallel with the rail line to interchange with the train there better & bypassing the clogged motorway interchange? It may have rail track space issues going forward if we want to 3-4 track it.

        1. Yes, there was supposed to be a bus-only road built from the Sylvia Park Road intersection through the caryard and under the motorway overbridges parallel to the rail line (the overbridges are long enough for this). Then a proper combined rail-bus interchange would be built at Sylvia Park station and the buses would exit back onto Mt Welly Hwy where the BK is or onto Waipuna Road by using Musket Place (depending on where the bus is going). I believe there is an AT/NZTA designation for this.

          Ideally once this is done, there should be a frequent route between Sylvia and Pakuranga via the Waipuna Bridge. I imagine this might be quite a popular connection. Commuters from Pakuranga/Howick wishing to go north can use the busway to Panmure and those wanting to go south towards Manukau can use the new route to Sylvia to join the Eastern Line there.

        2. Yes, I was thinking the same re link via Waipuna Rd Bridge.
          Re the bus interchange being near the train: The downside is the big loop around half of the shopping ctr when things aren’t busy but when there is congestion you would really gain a benefit through to Sylvia Park Rd. I think apart from the motorway interchange area itself the two mall roads nearest to Mt Welly Hwy in Sylvia Park are more blocked up so would probably work fine if managed OK.

          Regarding Musket Pl, I’d only use that for a new Pakuranga route becuase the stop pair on Mt Wellington Hwy are pretty important. Did you mean that AT/NZTA designation is for Musket Pl or the whole bus link & stop etc area?

          Was looking at this last night. You could continue to use the front bus area at Sylvia for the routes that face from the north/west that don’t go south so as to split the load, space requirement and they don’t have to travel so far around to the back where the train station is. ie the 66, 298 and 782 to Mission Bay. All of these will likely have their frequency increased over time.

          Then the rail station side bus area could take the 32, 74 & the RBE (Eastern rail replacement bus).
          Not sure where the original plan to fit a bus station was, but you could make a new bus stop area outside the Rock Shop underneath the SE Hwy. I think they could fit to loop around there, make some curb changes to allow them to turn if necessary. Use three of the four spaces currently used for car parallel parking pretty much as already laid out there. Leave one area for the Police & Accessible parking. The older rail replacement bus stop on nearest the rail track is still there for extra layover. They also have that newer layover area out on Mt Welly Hwy.

          More on the Pakuranga To Sylvia Park via Waipuna Rd idea. Yes, would be fast and compete more favourable with car travel from Mt Wgtn to Pakuranga. I had an idea to extend that route idea past Sylvia’s train interchange: So from the mall interchange along the bus-only lanes to Sylvia Park Rd, up Gt Sth Rd, Left at Church, then as an alternative coverage go via Neilson St to Onehunga. This gives a frequent good connection between three hubs, with a more residential, commercial & industrial focus around the catchment of each one. Does duplicate the 74 & 670 a bit, but that could make for some good transfers.

          Creating another leg at the Sylvia Park Rd/Mt Wgtn Hwy gives us the change to humanise it more with some pedestrian crossings. I wouldn’t expect too many pedestrians if they are concerned by traffic flow there & because it would be bus only it would just require a very quick phase.

          If building this bus lane connection is done, adding a shared path or cycle only lanes parallel at the same time probably wouldn’t be too much harder/costlier & would provide a much needed safe link through the motorway interchange albeit a slight detour. Run a connecting route parallel along the southbound Mt Welly Hwy on ramp and Te Kehu Way curving up to a future *cough cough* Mt Welly Hwy path, so it would merge at about where Spotlight is. From there it’s only 200m to the unnamed cycleway that runs parallel with SE Hwy east to Gt Sth Rd, Penrose.

    1. I realised that was not going to happen in my lifetime and moved overseas. It’s not perfect but it’s definitely better

    2. I came to this country in the 1980s because I naively believed in the promises of the then Minister of Railways Richard Prebble, to “save rail”. Aha, I thought, a country that recognises the value of rail and a government which will prioritise transport spending accordingly. Clearly just the place for a transport nerd like me to move to.

      But what a rocky road it has been in the 40 years since. Rail almost died under privatisation. It was rescued by Labour, only to be kicked into touch repeatedly by National. Meanwhile new motorways have been prioritised over pretty-much everything else.

      Shattered dreams of what might have been, but I live in hope that one day the tide will turn. That we will recognise a modern electrified rail system, and an end to policies of car-dependency, could be the answer to many of NZ’s problems.
      The one consolation is that England (where I came from) has also skewed/screwed its transport strategy and continues to do so. No point in harking back there. Maybe Switzerland’s the place. . .

  5. The lack of vision and the inability to build for the 21st century is so depressing. Also cancelling the one significant Christchurch project is further evidence that this government doesn’t believe New Zealand extends south of Wellington.

  6. I wish everyone would stop using the tabloid term “blowout”. There are real reasons for project estimate change that need to be called out and people held to account for when it’s relevant.
    1) Supply costs: Wars, pandemic, climate change affect cost estimates. This covers the whole supply chain and is not controllable by RCAs. In recent years, these have affected project estimates, beyond the inflation adjustment applied originally.
    2) Resource costs: inflation, contractor price increases, competition for limited resources affect the allowances originally made for these. Some control by Treasury and GPS settings may be accountable for some of that.
    3) Land prices: many projects will have underestimated the land costs, not only market prices for the type of land, but also for the increase in price following rezoning of land, mostly rural to urban. Land the blame for that where you will.
    4) Scope creep: notorious, such as “four-lane, grade separated”. Also, when requirements change, scope may need changing. Eg. NW motorway widening after Waterview ought to have changed to include a busway, which would have changed the project cost. Would have saved money to at least acquire the land for it at the time of widening. That is needed now, at greater cost. Active Mode corridors have been included in most recent projects, obviously at risk of scope reduction. Some political and strategic change reasons behind such changes.
    5) Underestimation: When people should know better and understate the initial estimate to gain support for a project and the ‘real’ cost only shows up later, when the design gets started. Least excusable and most suitable top cop the term “blowout”.

  7. We’ve been waiting for news on Mill Road ever since the last government sat on it in Cabinet and didn’t confirm it. IT now looks like it is back as Manukau to Takanini “Access and Safety”, which is pretty much what the last government had as the project recommended by NZUP at NZTA.
    That leaves Drury to Takanini as a project that seems to have evaporated. SGA lost it to NZUP, so the part that could make sense for all the Drury development that is consented and under construction is left without even route protection, let alone a project to fund. Whether there is ever value for money in taking that further, though to Papakura and Takanini, stays questionable, but there is an obvious short length that is missing from protection.

  8. Seems they’ve done a good job of confusing people with this rebranding distraction. East West link and Mill Rd still very much on the table, but it seems many think they’re off the list.

    To clarify there are now two lists, roads of National significance (RoNs) and roads of Regional significance (RoRs). Its a great marketing exercise, aligning the marketing language with RoNs which is basically now a National party brand. I suppose they probably had marketing consultants come up with that, at our expense.

    1. Politicians love branding their policies and distancing themselves from the packaged names of the prior government even if it’s almost the same things.
      As an aside, X just must of just changed their domain to x.com from twitter.com finally.

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