Yes, the speed limit (on one stretch of our roads) has been lifted but Wood must do much more to rate with Bob Semple

Buzz from the Beehive

Transport  Minister Michael  Wood   has been  busy  beating   his drum  over  the  move  to lift  the  speed  limit on the Waikato Expressway to  110km/h, between Hampton Downs and Tamahere.

He  points  out that the Waikato Expressway is a key transport route for the Waikato region, connecting Auckland to the agricultural and business centres of the central North Island.  The features making it safer for travelling at higher speeds include having at least two lanes in each direction, a central median barrier, and no significant curves.

His press statement was among those to flow from the Beehive since Point of Order’s previous Buzz, including news of further support for Ukraine:

  • $4.5 million to provide Ukraine with additional non-lethal equipment and supplies such as medical kit for the Ukrainian Army
  • Deployments extended for New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) intelligence, logistics and liaison officers in the UK, Germany, and Belgium
  • Secondment of a senior New Zealand military officer to support International Criminal Court (ICC) investigations, and additional funding to the ICC, including the Trust Fund for Victims.

What   some  might  find  contentious   about  Michael Wood’s otherwise  straightforward statement  is  his  claim the government “is investing heavily in our transport system”.

In   the  seven years the  Ardern government  has  been in  power, it  has  yet  to  announce   anything  like  the  previous  government’s  Roads  of  National Significance, even  though   its  haul of  road  taxation has  been  sustained, apart  from the  recent temporary  reductions.

But even  as  ministers celebrate  the  opening of splendid new  motorways  like Transmission Gully  out  of  Wellington  or  the raising  of the  speed  limit  on the  Waikato Expressway, the  news  media are grimly reporting daily road  crashes, among them the horrifying accident in  which  seven  people  died on the  Picton   to Blenheim  highway.

Simon Wilson in  the New Zealand  Herald wrote  that  the  serious  crash rate is  not  normal.  In nearly all other  developed  countries the  rate  is falling but in  NZ  (and  the US) the  rate  is  rising.

Wilson  contends  there are  10,000km  of  dangerous roads  in  NZ,  but  only 1000km  of them  are  scheduled  to  get  median  barriers,  and  even that  will take  10  years.

So, as  the headline  on Wilson’s report  has  it: ”Carnage  on roads  but  safety  debate  drags on”.

As Point  of  Order  sees it, the  government  could  already  be  duplicating  what  the previous  government did  when  Steven  Joyce   held  the  Transport portfolio and be making progress with another phase  of  the  Roads of  National Significance.

By  now  an expressway  should be  running through  the  spine  of  the  North Island covering  the full distance  from Auckland  to  Wellington.

Our expressways  should extend to Tauranga  and  Rotorua, and  perhaps  to Whangarei.

That  kind  of  network  not  only  would lower the  road  toll, but  also would have a  significant  impact  on the  costs of the road  haulage industry.

The  Labour  government  might then have  something  to celebrate and Wood would  have  carved  out  an achievement to place  him alongside Labour’s  great Minister of Works,  Bob Semple.

Instead  he is left crowing that the Waikato Expressway  can support higher travel speeds without compromising safety.

“This road has been selected for the increase because of its modern design and safety features, creating one of the best roads in the country.

“The Expressway will improve economic growth and productivity through more efficient movement of people and freight, as a result of increased capacity and passing opportunities.”

Over  the  years  various  calculations  have  been  made  on the  cost-benefit ratio  of  the expressway:  one  which Point of  Order noted  shows benefits of $186.3m pa, against annual costs of $87.3m.

But this is based on a total cost for the road of $1454.4m, which omits land costs, “as from an economy-wide perspective this is merely a transfer of ownership of an existing asset”. In June 2015 the NZTA estimated the total cost of the road at between $2,200m and $2,400m.

The benefits were calculated at  that  time on what was said to be a conservative estimate of 18,000 vehicles saving 15 minutes per day at a cost of $25/ hour, giving a yearly benefit of around $40 million.

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