National, Labour in duelling transport policy releases

Labour confirms it would back a regional fuel tax.

National and Labour released transport policies this afternoon, with both piling on spending for Auckland.

At a rally at Auckland's Wynyard Quarter, new Labour leader Jacinda Ardern confirmed rumours her party would re-animate its previous policy to allow the council to introduce a regional fuel tax.

The 10 cents per litre tax would raise around $160 million per year: not enough to pay for various new policies announced this afternoon — the most ambitious of which was light rail from downtown Auckland to the airport within 10 years. The first leg, linking Wynyard Quarter (several blocks along from the CRL under construction) to Mt Albert via Dominion Rd would be built in four years, Ms Ardern says. At a later date, it would be extended in the opposite direction to the North Shore (bringing Labour into line with the Greens' plan for rail to the Shore).

Ms Ardern outlined $3.3 billion in spending, which she said would be a net $2.2 billion after scaling back the currently planned "East-West" link project to a "reasonable cost" (such a saving implies the party would scrap the East-West link's a new four lane road on the northern side of the Mangere Inlet connecting SH20 at Onehunga and SH1 at Mt Wellington, aimed at easing congestion in that light industrial area, currently one of the most gridlocked in the city. The entire East-West project is costed at $1.2 billion to $1.85 billion and has recently been under fire over cost-benefit analysis and success fees).

Labour would also introduce a new bus lane from Howick to the airport, largely by appropriating existing infrastructure and "invest in more electric trains and build a third main trunk line urgently between Wiri and Papakura."

Mr Ardern at one point called the proposed regional tax "crowdfunding" — too cute for some, but Millennial-friend language. And with news-camera savvy, she packed the area behind her with waht seemed to be a carefully-chosen mix of supporters.

The fuel tax — recently pushed by mayor Phil Goff — would be implemented by Auckland Council. Labour would also give the council the power to raise bonds and introduce targeted rates increases to help pay for transport infrastructure projects.

Ardern won Sunday's media duel party through dumb luck (the sun was out for Labour's transport launch, but the weather had started to close in by the time of National's). And partly through better planning. Both events drew a decent crowd, but much of Bill English's audience was hidden under a railway station roof as he spoke against a bleak light industrial backdrop while Labour packed the space behind its leader with supporters in the US presidential rally style. For better or worse, perceptions matter in politics, and Ardern made the most positive impression. (Photo: RNZ)

National's commuter rail package
With most of National's $2.6 billion in new transport spending leaked to media on Friday, prime minister Bill English took to the platform at Papakura Railway Station to announce more detail on an element of that package: a $267 million "commuter rail" plan that includes:

  • $130 million to electrify the track between Papakura and Pukekohe 
  • $100 million for a third main line from Wiri to Westfield, dedicated freight line.
  • $37 million for a series of initiatives to upgrade rail around Wellington, easily the largest of which is a plan to full double track on the Hutt Valley Line between Upper Hutt and Trentham

Last year, the government committed to funding half of the City Rail Link (CRL) project for a new, mostly-underground line linking the Auckland CBD and Mt Eden. The project is now estimated to cost between $2.8 billion and $3.4 billion.

On Friday, National released its broader plan that includes:

  • $955 milllion for a new highway alongside the Southern Motorway for $955
  • $835 million for a Northwestern Motorway busway
  • $615 million for the "Ameti" project for new roads, bridges and intersections around south-east Auckland

With Auckland Council more than $7 billion in hock and close to its debt-ceiling, Transport Minister Simon Bridges acknowledged on Friday that most of the new spending would come from central government.

The $2.6 billion plan drew a mixed reaction from business leaders canvassed by NBR. Read NBR's full report on business reaction here.

RELATED VIDEO: Susan Wood quizzes Finance Minister Steven Joyce on infrastructure, Auckland's in particular, at the post-Budget breakfast (May 29).
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