For whom the road tolls: Transmission Gully motorway could become user-pays
Motorists could find themselves having to pay to use the $850 million Transmission Gully motorway north of Wellington after the New Zealand Transport Agency began investigating the idea of a toll.
Porirua City Council says it has had ongoing informal talks as recently as last week with NZTA about tolling as part of a broader conversation about the roading network.
There was the potential to charge drivers on the four-lane, 27-kilometre motorway between northern Wellington and the Kapiti Coast when it opens in April 2020.
Council roading manager Geoff Marshall said "informal talks" with the agency about a user-pays system were continuing.
The agency also confirmed a toll was still a possibility, but said a final decision would be at the discretion of the Minister of Transport, and would not be made until late 2019.
The outcome of negotiations to form the next government could have a major bearing on that decision. Labour does not support a toll, while National's caretaker transport minister Simon Bridges is staying quiet for now after playing down the possibility back in 2014.
Any decision to toll Transmission Gully would include feedback from community consultation, the agency said.
Porirua Mayor Mike Tana did not support a toll, saying it was not the "Kiwi way" of doing things.
"Personally, I find toll roads a real headache and they're not a New Zealand thing. They're not what we do in this country."
Tana understood the motorway, which is being built for the Government by a private consortium, needed to be paid for.
But a toll would likely encourage more drivers to keep using the existing two-lane coastal SH1 route, as well as other local alternative routes that Porirua City Council is responsible for maintaining.
"Those roads could be compromised in an earthquake ... we're proposing that NZTA maintain some of it for emergencies. It looms on our horizon as a huge issue that could affect ratepayers."
Bridges' office would not comment other to say a decision on tolling would be made by the future Government.
Labour transport spokesman Michael Wood said the party did not support tolling the motorway.
"My understanding is that past modelling has shown that a toll on Transmission Gully risks making the road so poorly used that it defeats the purpose of building it in the first place."
Green Party transport spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter said tolls were fair as long as there were other transport options for those who could not afford the cost.
That would come in the form of improved train services, she said.
Former Porirua mayor and acting Chamber of Commerce head, Nick Leggett, said a decision to toll should provoke a complete rethink of the revocation process.
"Porirua has laid down everything for Transmission Gully. A toll would radically impact the city by keeping at least a third of traffic on the existing state highway."
At the other end of the motorway, Kapiti Mayor K Gurunathan said he welcomed a toll because people would travel through his district to avoid it.
Automobile Association spokesman Mike Noon said it would not be a surprise if the road was tolled, and he expected little opposition from motorists.
"We expect it to come out and be consulted on. It would be a little odd given the road is already being built but it's not a new concept."
THE TOLL IT TAKES
* Only three toll roads exist currently in this country - the Northern Gateway north of Auckland, the Takitimu Drive Toll Road south of Tauranga and the Tauranga Eastern Link. Transmission Gully would be Wellington's first.
* It costs cars $2.30 and trucks $4.70 to travel on the Northern Gateway. The charges for Takitimu Drive are $1.80 per car and $4.80 per truck. Cars on the Tauranga Eastern Link Toll Road pay $2 and trucks $5.
* The toll points are electronic, using cameras and sensors to capture an image of your vehicle's registration plate and assign the correct toll.
* If your vehicle is linked to an account, the toll is automatically deducted. If it isn't, the system records the toll and may send a payment notice to the registered vehicle owner if it isn't paid within five working days.
* Without a toll, Transmission Gully is expected to take 20,000 vehicles a day off the Porirua section of the existing SH1. No research has been done by Porirua City Council about how a toll would change this.