Sunday, June 30, 2013

Congested and polluted: Auckland's death by tarmac

This week, the government did an about-turn on Auckland Mayor Len Brown's pet transport project, the CBD rail link, and let slip that it will pay some of the cost after all. Sadly, when this well-timed leak was confirmed, it also said that this wouldn't be till after 2020, and only if certain conditions were met. Which sort of dulled the feel-good factor, but is nevertheless a start.

Queue mounting excitement coming up to Friday when the PM was due to make a 'major announcement' on Auckland's transport funding. Another helpful rumour pointed in the direction of funding for a second harbour crossing from the North Shore to Auckland proper. 

What Auckland actually got was a classic bait-and-switch: the promise of a rail link but in actual fact funding for a MASSIVE motorway building programme - roads on 'roids. The region's Mayor was delighted because this means central government will stump up for the big roading projects in the Auckland Plan. The usual suspects fell over themselves to give thanks for National's endless bounty: the Employers and Manufacturers Association (applauded the "candid recognition" of Auckland's traffic issues); the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development (whose members will doubtless be toasting the PPPs they imagine will provide their deserving selves a taxpayer-backed cash flow in perpetuity); South Auckland local body politicians who still think motorways reduce congestion; the AA; the National Road Carriers (the main beneficiaries of this largesse); and a bunch of others with their snouts in the trough or in line for leftovers.

The big losers in this are the Labour party and its affiliated environmental advocates. Because they can't or won't question the Mayor's transport priorities, these now find themselves supporting a transport programme with not a cycle lane in sight (indeed with the noble exception of the Campaign for Better Transport's Cam Pitches, opposition has been non-existent). In effect, Labour's endorsement of this tarmac travesty limits the possibility of political support for any opposition to the Greens. And Labour wonders why its poll numbers suck.

The project that the PM had the most to say about and has the business community boned up is something called AMETI East-West. AMETI is the resurrected Eastern Highway which no longer runs through the back yards of wealthy Remuera-ites but terminates in Glen Innes. I'm reliably informed the modelling assures us the traffic will, from there, just vanish into the ether. 
Trucks good. Everything else, bad.

What's new is the 'East-West' bit (Auckland transport blog has proposed route maps etc here). This is a motorway conceived of by the freight lobby because the traffic pinch point around the intersection of Church Street/Nielson Street/Southern motorway gets congested once a day, and especially on Friday afternoons.This congestion could be dealt with cheaply and effectively should the various players choose but cheap and effective appears not to have been seriously considered. The subtlety overlooked by the unquestioning and sycophantic mainstream press coverage so far is that something that looks like an election bribe is in fact a REALLY BIG taxpayer/ratepayer-funded bone for the trucking and infrastructure lobbies. 

The fact that Labour now finds itself cornered into supporting these polluting, wasteful projects is gobsmacking given that the freight and road building lobbies are major National party donors, and it was the freight lobby that pulled off that grubby little pre-election stunt back in 2008. Aucklanders will still be required to stump up a significant portion of the cost of these projects, and Labour's core voters will come out worse off as a result of the inevitable tolls and other road user charges. In the meantime plenty of Aucklanders, including some in Len's old stomping ground of Mangere, will find themselves with no means to oppose the bulldozers in their back yards because naturally the government has waited to gut the Resource Management Act before pushing these projects through.

So will any of these motorways help make Auckland the world's most liveable city? No, it will become even more of a divided, congested and polluted clusterfuck. Gen Y hipsters, it's time step up and stop this death by tarmac because you will be the ones who will pay. And pay. And pay.