SIMON BRIDGES, MINISTER OF TRANSPORT
The government is making a record investment in transport infrastructure, while preparing for new technologies that will change how we travel.
TRANSPORT INFRASTRUCTURE is essential to our economy, our communities and society. As an export-led economy with a sizeable tourism sector, our prosperity depends on the efficient movement of both people and freight.
The transport network is an $80 billion asset, comprising our roads, rail corridors, cycleways, ports, and airports. To maintain and improve this asset, central and local government invest around $4 billion in our transport system every year.
The Minister of Finance recently released the government’s Thirty Year New Zealand Infrastructure Plan, setting out a long-term vision. As Minister of Transport, my priorities for investing in the transport network are to improve economic growth and productivity, road safety, and value for money.
Improving Auckland’s infrastructure
As home to a third of the country’s population and our largest importing port – as well as being the point of arrival for the majority of tourists and new migrants – Auckland presents unique transport challenges.
The government already invests around $1 billion each year in Auckland’s transport system. These investments are producing significant and real results. In recent years, Auckland’s public transport patronage has grown rapidly and congestion has been relatively steady while the population has continued to grow.
In 2015, we made substantial progress on motorway projects as part of the government’s Auckland Transport Package, including Alice’s – the giant boring machine – completion of the twin tunnels excavation for the Waterview Connection.
The $1.4 billion Waterview Connection provides an alternative to the busiest sections of the Southern Motorway, and is the country’s most expensive transport project. It will deliver significant benefits for passengers and freight traffic, providing a motorway link between the central business district and the airport, reducing dependence on the Auckland Harbour Bridge, and creating an alternative motorway link between Albany and Manukau.
This highway investment has been complemented by investment in Auckland’s public transport and walking and cycling infrastructure. The $1.6 billion investment to upgrade and electrify Auckland’s metro rail network and to support Auckland Council to purchase 57 new electric trains has helped encourage a strong increase in rail patronage. The Nelson Street, Beach Road and Glen Innes to Tamaki Drive cycleways (totalling around $20 million) are highly visible examples of cycling’s popular re-emergence.
Investing for the future
While good progress is being made, the government is also looking to the future – where Auckland is likely to continue growing much more rapidly than other regions.
Seamless integration is needed between the investment made by government and the investment made by Auckland Council. A shared set of priorities for Auckland’s transport future is needed, and we are developing this through the Auckland Transport Alignment Project.
Our challenge is to develop a transport system that provides increased access to jobs and services, copes with the wide range of trips that people want to make, and does all this in a safe way that makes the best use of the public funds that are available.
Outside of Auckland, the Prime Minister and I opened the Tauranga Eastern Link in July 2015. This is the second Road of National Significance (RoNS) to be completed, and the Bay of Plenty’s biggest ever roading project.
In 2016, construction will start on the final section of the Waikato Expressway, while Wellington’s Transmission Gully – part of the Wellington Northern Corridor RoNS – is New Zealand’s first transport sector example of how public private partnerships (PPPs) can improve value for money.
We’re also advancing another 14 regionally strategic projects through the Accelerated Regional Roading Package, while new funding specifically targeted to regional improvements was included in the Government Policy Statement on Land Transport, which came into effect earlier in 2015.
Value for money and productivity
It is important that each of these investments delivers a good return for the road users, taxpayers and ratepayers who fund them.
Achieving this involves a combination of tools such as the One Network Road Classification system (which helps ensure infrastructure is fit for purpose), alternative procurement methods such as PPPs, and making better use of the assets we already have.
During 2015, the government introduced new rules allowing high capacity buses – and the uptake of high productivity motor vehicles continues to increase. With freight levels expected to grow by 75 percent over the next 25 years, allowing trucks to carry more per trip could reduce the overall number of trips heavy vehicles will need to take.
A review of the Vehicle Dimensions and Mass Rule, which regulates the size and weight of vehicles, is looking to reduce compliance costs and improve heavy vehicles’ productivity further still.
In addition to our investment in roading, earlier in 2015 I announced 54 projects that will receive funding under the Urban Cycleways Programme. Leveraging the National Land Transport Fund and local government contributions brings total investment to $333 million across 15 urban centres.
This is the largest cycling investment ever made in this country, and one that will change the face of cycling across the country. It is an investment that is already paying off, with some projects now complete and open to the public.
The new technology frontier
Innovation and enterprise have delivered amazing advances in transport technology. Many of these developments already affect the choices we make about how we travel.
Looking ahead in 2016 I expect to see the uptake of electric vehicles continue to grow. These vehicles are ideally suited for New Zealand, which has plentiful renewable energy and relatively low average travel distances.
Our 240 volt electricity network and high levels of off-street parking will help make it easy for people to charge vehicles at home. I am pleased to see several private sector providers establishing public charging stations around the country, with a number already available in our main centres.
Ride sharing is also likely to increase, with technologies such as smartphone apps allowing us to order up an ever-growing range of transport services on demand. The government’s review of small passenger service vehicles (such as taxis, shuttles, and private hire cars) is striving to encourage innovation, while ensuring vehicles and passengers are safe.
Coming years will also see the continuing evolution of autonomous vehicles. These will offer particular improvements to road safety (as human mistakes are removed from driving) and efficiency (as computer-controlled vehicles can travel in very close proximity and reduce traffic congestion).
We can see many other beneficial new technologies which have the potential to change our transport system, and there is no doubt there are several which have not even been imagined today.
By ensuring flexibility in our regulatory environment and carefully choosing strategic priorities, the government is able to invest in high value infrastructure now, while preparing for the radical changes we might see in passenger and freight travel over the years to come.