There’s never been a bet­ter time to build roads

New Zealand Truck & Driver - - Front Page -

NREADERS will know by now that the Road Trans­port Fo­rum is not shy in ex­press­ing its opin­ion that NZ re­quires a far bet­ter road­ing net­work than what we have cur­rently. RTF chief ex­ec­u­tive Nick Leggett and for­mer lead­ers Ken Shirley and Tony Fried­lan­der have been beat­ing this drum for years.

And while there have been a few no­table suc­cesses, such as the Water­view project in Auck­land and the Waikato and Kapiti Ex­press­ways, RTF has largely been dis­ap­pointed at the lack of pri­or­ity given to road­ing in­fra­struc­ture.

Says Leggett: “Frankly, gov­ern­ments of both stripes have a lot to an­swer for when it comes to the par­lous state of our road­ing in­fra­struc­ture.

“The Clark-led Labour Gov­ern­ment spent a whole lot of money need­lessly, buy­ing back the failed Ki­wiRail – while the last Na­tional ad­min­is­tra­tion talked up a big game with the Roads of Na­tional Sig­nif­i­cance….but didn’t ac­tu­ally get many of them done.”

The re­cov­ery from COVID-19, how­ever, presents this Gov­ern­ment with an un­prece­dented op­por­tu­nity to make up some of this in­fra­struc­ture deficit by in­vest­ing in crit­i­cal high­way projects, Leggett be­lieves.

“The Gov­ern­ment has asked a group of in­dus­try lead­ers to seek out in­fra­struc­ture projects that are ready to start as soon as the con­struc­tion in­dus­try re­turns to nor­mal.

“RTF has pro­posed that the Pe­tone-Gre­nada Link in Wellington, the

East-West Link be­tween One­hunga and Mt Wellington in Auck­land, and the Sel­wyn to Ti­maru high­way up­dates in Can­ter­bury should all be on this group’s agenda – to boost eco­nomic re­cov­ery from the hit of COVID19.

“We have also asked the group to rec­om­mend that leg­is­la­tion be used to fast-track both th­ese and other projects to avoid un­nec­es­sary holdups and con­sent­ing. Th­ese projects have had sig­nif­i­cant in­ves­ti­ga­tion, de­sign and plan­ning to date and both their con­struc­tion and re­sult­ing open­ing would stim­u­late pro­duc­tiv­ity through bet­ter move­ment of peo­ple and freight.

“It is just so im­por­tant that NZ in­vests ap­pro­pri­ately for the re­cov­ery pe­riod we have ahead. In­fra­struc­ture projects pro­vide an im­me­di­ate eco­nomic stim­u­lus, but the Gov­ern­ment needs to care­fully se­lect projects that build and sus­tain in­creased eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity and re­duce re­liance on the Gov­ern­ment it­self as the longterm sal­va­tion.

“A bet­ter road­ing net­work will al­low us to play to our nat­u­ral eco­nomic ad­van­tages as a food pro­ducer, by mak­ing it eas­ier to get our ex­ports to mar­ket. This must be the pri­or­ity.”

As NZ con­sid­ers its op­tions, it is worth re­flect­ing on the suc­cess that then Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt’s New Deal in­fra­struc­ture pro­gramme had in the United States – not only in pulling the coun­try out of the Great De­pres­sion, but as a key in­gre­di­ent in Amer­i­can eco­nomic suc­cess for the next 60 or 70 years.

Says Leggett: “Ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics I have seen, the US built over a mil­lion kilo­me­tres of road and 78,000 bridges dur­ing that pe­riod – along with tens of thou­sands of schools, util­i­ties and pub­lic build­ings.

“This meant un­em­ployed Amer­i­cans were put back to work. And then, as the econ­omy picked up, it was su­per­charged by a road­ing net­work that al­lowed for the ef­fi­cient move­ment of peo­ple and freight.”

There is no great se­cret to the suc­cess of road build­ing as an eco­nomic stim­u­lus ei­ther, he adds: In fact it is a well­worn script that has been ap­plied, not only in re­cov­ery sit­u­a­tions, but to as­sist de­vel­op­ing coun­tries all over the world to kick-start their economies.

“The prob­lem road­ing ad­vo­cates find is that ev­ery time new roads are pro­posed we are met with de­risory op­po­si­tion from rail ad­vo­cates and en­vi­ron­men­tal pres­sure groups, ar­gu­ing that roads are a fast-track to en­vi­ron­men­tal ruin.

“Even dur­ing the COVID-19 lock­down we had the Greens com­ing out ad­vo­cat­ing for high-spec, high-speed re­gional rail com­muter ser­vices from places like Ash­bur­ton to Christchur­ch. De­spite his­tory telling us that this ini­tia­tive would end up be­ing a hugely ex­pen­sive whiteele­phant, such is the de­ter­mi­na­tion to force peo­ple and freight off the roads that some­how the Green’s pro­posal is seen as cred­i­ble.

“Maybe I am miss­ing some­thing, but where is it man­dated that the ve­hi­cles and traf­fic that travel on our roads in the fu­ture will have car­bon-pro­duc­ing diesel and petrol-pow­ered in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gines?

“The re­al­ity is that the roads built as part of an in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment pro­gramme to­day will spend the ma­jor­ity of their 50 to 60-year ex­is­tence car­ry­ing elec­tric, hy­dro­gen or other new-tech­nol­ogy ve­hi­cles that are just as en­vi­ron­men­tally-friendly as elec­tri­fied rail and are a lot more prac­ti­cal for NZ’s eco­nomic pur­poses,” says Leggett.

“So, let’s not al­low our re­cov­ery to get caught up in the day-to-day pol­i­tics that have driven us into this in­fra­struc­ture deficit. Let’s in­stead get NZ back to work by in­vest­ing in the kind of in­fra­struc­ture that will keep pay­ing it for­ward many decades into the fu­ture.”


EW ZEALAND TRUCK & DRIVER Roads are the crit­i­cal ar­ter­ies of our econ­omy

The suf­fer­ing cre­ated by the Great De­pres­sion and the suc­cess of Roo­sevelt’s New Deal have been im­mor­talised in the likes of this bread line memo­rial. Photo by Son­der Quest on Un­splash

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