Gully project action needed soon

KEN SHIRLEY
Last updated 05:00 15/01/2013

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OPINION: Why are Sue Kedgley and her Green Party colleagues so stridently opposed to road projects and road transport?

Her article condemning the Transmission Gully project and her physical protest against the Basin Reserve reveal a messianic zeal that surpasses all understanding.

We should all welcome public debate on these important issues, but blatant untruths by campaigners should be exposed for what they are. 

Any motorist or freight operator who has experienced the waste of time and fuel associated with the many congestion points between Mana and Waikanae on the existing State Highway 1 route will readily reject her BANANA (build absolutely nothing anywhere never again) syndrome approach.

What will be the congestion and safety outcomes in 20 years if we continue to sit on our hands and do nothing?

Kedgley acknowledges that this project has been on the backburner for decades. Her assertion that taxpayers will end up subsidising every road commuter to the tune of $18 a day is a gross distortion of reality.

What she fails to reveal is that all repairs and maintenance of existing highways and the cost of all new highway projects are paid from the hypothecated Land Transport Fund, with no general taxation funding. 

What we have is a user-pays system, where road users fully fund these activities through the fuel excise duty (FED) on petrol and road user charges (RUCs) on diesel-powered vehicles, including the truck fleet. 

The FED and RUCS are projected to contribute $4.9 billion and $3.7b, respectively, to this fund in the next three years.

In addition, about $500 million of motor-registration fees are paid to the Land Transport Fund. Road users, through their representative organisations, the AA and Road Transport Forum, support and welcome these projects, as do most local bodies. 

Kedgley should also appreciate that it is these same road users who actually fund the public subsidies for passenger transport on buses and trains.

In essence, she proposes less funding for roads, with the road users instead paying taxes to subsidise more rail projects.

I am a regular commuter on the Capital Connection train from Waikanae to Wellington, but why should road users subsidise my journey? Equally, why should the RUCs that trucks pay be used to subsidise the network?

Surely the rail network should stand or fall on its own strengths and merits with the same transparent self-funding that we have for roads. 

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The use of tolling and public private partnerships on the Transmission Gully project does not change the user-pays principle. 

Rather, all it does allow is capital funding of the new project to be better spread over future generations of users.

The current pay-as-you-go funding system imposes an excessive burden on users and severely constrains available capital for new works.

Kedgley's assertion that the steep gradient will deter use is nonsense and, with modern trucks, the proposed grades are not an issue.

Equally, her scaremongering over seismic risk is hopelessly out of context. Most of New Zealand is subject to seismic risk simply because our land mass is part of the subduction zone of the Pacific tectonic plate. On this basis, most of our towns and cities would never have been built. The same could be said for many other countries. 

The merits of Transmission Gully have been debated for decades. Decisions have finally been taken. It is time for action and not further procrastination or ill-informed obfuscation.

Ken Shirley is chief executive of the Road Transport Forum.

- The Dominion Post

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