We strike a blow against the Herald paywall by bringing Phil’s article to a wider audience

The Spinoff’s daily newsletter to subscribers today reports an interesting note of feedback from a reader yesterday.  At issue was the NZ Herald putting comment pieces by politicians behind the paywall.

Reader John told The Spinoff it “seems antidemocratic” to do so, in referring to this piece by Phil Twyford being blocked.

According to the headline, Twyford contended his government was spending more on roading projects while prioritising safety.

But non-subscribers would have to cough up to read beyond the Minister’s first few sentences.

At Point of Order we wondered if we could skirt the paywall by asking the Minister’s press secretaries for a copy of the article.

No problem.  A copy could be found on the Minister’s Facebook page, we were advised – but here was a copy for us –  

The Minister wrote:

There has been a lot of commentary and confusion on the Transport Agency’s 12 re-evaluated projects, so I’m setting the record straight.

Firstly, people like Heather du Plessis-Allan are saying the Government isn’t building these roads. Not true. All the projects are either going ahead unchanged, have been re-designed so that they give taxpayers value for money and prioritise safety, or will go ahead in the future when funds are available. The only highway that is still being re-evaluated by NZTA is the East-West Link, which was going to cost an eye-watering $327 million per kilometre under the last government. We know that there needs to be better access for freight to that area, so that’s why we left $800 million in the Auckland Transport Alignment Plan to fund a more cost effective option.

Sam Stubbs repeated the claim that the 12 projects NZTA re-evaluated were ‘shovel ready’ under the last government – this is simply not true.  Even just going through the project pages on the NZTA website shows that most of them didn’t even have a preferred route before the last election. He also said that ‘the 12 roading projects passed the economic return test a long time ago’ – again, not true. Some hadn’t even had a benefit cost analysis done.  Sam mentioned that ‘…the business minds want roads,’ which isn’t 100% accurate either as Group Managing Director of Mainfreight Don Braid said last year that rail is a necessity and that it can be second corridor to take the load off the roading infrastructure.

Sam also argues that ‘no new rail should be built’ because it’s uneconomic. This completely ignores the benefits that rail brings. The EY Value of Rail Report found that rail prevents at least 271 safety incidents per year by reducing the number of trucks on the road. It also found that tonne of freight moved by rail delivers a 66 percent reduction in carbon emissions compared with trucks. This doesn’t even take into consideration how much congestion it prevents by giving commuters a real alternative to driving. You only have to look at the chaos on the roads when it breaks down to see how vital it is for Auckland and Wellington.  

The Business Advisory Council suggested we use private investment to fund over $12 billion worth of four-lane motorways which the previous government left unfunded. The idea that private investors are like a source of free money is ludicrous. Borrowing money to build infrastructure is not a problem, getting the money to pay off the debt is the challenge. Tolling will not do it either as none of these roads would have the traffic volumes to generate enough revenue to service the debt. Building these 12 projects as four lane motorways means that there would be no money left to do anything else in the transport budget.

However, when the Business Advisory Council said that we should have “a comprehensive, scaled up solution of rail and roads and coastal shipping and other modes,” we agreed because that is exactly our Government’s transport policy. Our Government is taking a balanced approach and investing more than ever before in local roads, public transport, rail, walking and cycling after years of 40 percent of the transport budget being taken up by seven handpicked motorways that only carried 4 percent of vehicle journeys.

Our Government is actually spending more in total on local roads and state highways through the National Land Transport Programme than the last government. The truth is that the previous government underfunded road maintenance. It’s no wonder that truckies are getting frustrated with the state of our roads. NZTA are now playing catch-up and our Government has doubled the amount of lane kilometres being brought up to scratch every year. In total, we’re spending around $2 billion to operate, maintain and renew over 80,000 kilometres of local roads – 22 percent more than the previous government. This is on top of the over $2 billion we’re spending maintaining our state highways, which is 18 percent more than the previous government. We’re also investing $1.4 billion in installing safety upgrades on over 1,500 kilometres of our most dangerous roads to prevent 160 deaths and serious injuries every year after the road toll blew out by over 50% under the last government.

Even though we are spending more on roads than any government has before, we are also prioritising safety, reviving the rail network, and reducing congestion by building modern public transport. That is a balanced transport policy. 

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