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Time to submit to better transport

by 25 Jan 2011Motorway, Transport and climate action0 comments


Taking One for the Team: While she briefly seemed set to add to Australia’s economic woes, cyclone Wilma appears content now to further drench Aotearoa and threaten the Mahurangi Regatta prize-giving and dance. Forecast Map MetVUW: Valid for 1300 29 January 2011, issued 0100 28 January 2011

It can be done online, up until midnight Friday 28 January. Feedback is sought by the New Zealand Transport Agency regarding the indicative route of the Pūhoi–Wellsford motorway.

Submissions that a motorway should not be built at all are unlikely to interest the agency greatly, nor cause it great crisis of faith. But given that not all government ministers are as wedded to motorway building as transport minister Steven Joyce, statements supporting the more cost-effective options for relieving congestion on State Highway 1, and reducing the crash rate, could well be welcomed by the finance minister.

Affordability is set to loom large. Aotearoa’s economic luck depends greatly on that of the lucky country, Australia. Although the loss of life has been mercifully light, the epic flooding there is Australia’s worst economic disaster. Whether the drop in gross domestic product will be as much as 1% (AU$13‍ ‍billion), or whether the cost of reconstruction exceeds AU$20‍ ‍billion, remains to be seen, as will be the extent of collateral economic damage sustained by Aotearoa.

But there is a far more fundamental objection to the planned motorway than mere affordability, or its impact on property owners, landscape and the environment along its route, as significant as that would be. Contemporary man has enjoyed easy fossil fuel pickings, the vast bulk of which was laid down more than 300‍ ‍million years ago. This has made for mobility on a scale that would have thrilled and astounded Mongol Genghis Khan and his 100‍ ‍000 horsemen. Few born enjoying this liberating freedom of movement give it a second though, until it is restricted briefly, such as when holiday traffic chokes at Warkworth’s excruciating eight-way Hill Street intersection.

Now, not only is the cheap energy party over, an awful toll is beginning to be extracted by the greenhouse gases released since industrialisation. And aside from the paucity of measures to reduce emissions, that already in the atmosphere will continue to trap heat for millennia. Not only does that dictate that transport must be used thriftily, and that a huge investment must be made in non‍–‍ fossil fuel infrastructure, an unprecedented mobilisation must be mounted to protect the world’s most vulnerable. This will be a stretch, even for fossil fuel and mineral ‍–‍rich Australia.

Some motorway projects should arguably be completed, as failure to do so would waste the investment to date, and the State Highway 1 between Pūhoi and Wellsford is in urgent need of safety upgrades. But the economic case for the planned motorway is weak, with the project being pursued purely through ideological zeal. Rail with trail and the Marsden Point Line is infrastructure that would boost Northland’s economy, whereas more motorway will further saddle Aotearoa with an unaffordable, unsustainable, inefficient and increasingly outmoded mode of transportation.

The Campaign for Better Transport has detailed a safety upgrade alternative to agency’s $1.7–2.3‍ ‍billion motorway, at a fraction of the cost—$320‍ ‍million. The work could be completed and saving possibly five lives a year, before the projected motorway start date of 2012.

Readers with no time or patience for making detailed submissions might consider copying and pasting something along these lines into the agency’s online submission form:

The Pūhoi–Wellsford highway should substantially adhere to the existing route of State Highway 1, with safety upgrades and bypasses such as those proposed by the Campaign for Better Transport.