Opinion: Mythbusting motorways with Julie-Anne Genter


I'm a big fan of roads. I support the Transmission Gully project. I support the Waikato Expressway projects. I support the Waterview project.

I've grown up with motorways being a successful solution to a grid-locked Tauranga city. I've even helped build those motorways, working at SmithBridge, HEB Precast and Fletcher Construction while I was at university.

It's not because I'm a car-lover - I don't own one. It's because I like getting places fast when, and hate being stuck in traffic.

When I do need a car of my own, I plan to buy an electric one and I don't want to be stuck in traffic heading north from Wellington.

It doesn't mean I hate rail or buses or planes or trams. I just think we need roads. Good roads.

Enter Green MP Julie Anne Genter. We've clashed on the importance of motorways on numerous occasions around the Parliamentary precinct, especially Transmission Gully.

I've promised her for a while that we need sit down and discuss it on camera so she can bust the Transmission Gully motorway myths. She managed to convince me. So here it is.

"That's not just Transmission Gully, it's the entire Wellington northern corridor project, which is costing about $3 billion. You could spend $3 billion in the Wellington region and cut travel times between Levin and Wellington Airport by offering fast, frequent public transport options. It would not only save time, but also the cost and hassle of having to drive.

"You can already drive from Levin to the airport. You cannot take the train from Levin to the airport. If more people use the train, fewer people will be using the road. It's better bang for your buck.

"I do dispute the 40 minute figure. They haven't said what they're comparing. That's probably not the average journey, that's probably the busiest time of year journey."

"Yeah that's potentially true but is it the best way to spend billions of dollars? Probably not."

"Yes there are lots of little congestion points along the current route. But all of that traffic on Transmission Gully will eventually hit the roads in Wellington and you've got limited capacity to upgrade those roads in Wellington. You're just shifting the congesting from one point to another.

"Traffic volumes haven't grown at all on that highway for 10 years. Potentially, they'd be declining if we were investing in alternatives.

"The congestion is caused by a large number of people trying to leave Wellington at the same time a few times a year. The money's better spent on better options for people every single day."

"There haven't really been enormous problems on the current road. I do think it needs upgrading and it needs work."

"That sounds pretty ridiculous to me. It sounds like a lot of green-washing. The big environmental impact is in the construction of the road, there's a huge amount of earthworks happening, it's affecting an area that was relatively pristine, and it's going to affect the water catchment.

"The biggest impact will be the carbon emissions from cars that need to drive on it."

"No because if you travel at a higher speed, you burn more fossil fuels. The optimal speed for fuel efficiency is around 80km/h. Most of the current route is already 80km/h.

"No buses don't. In well-run public transport systems, you have your core spine which would be the railway network. Then you have feeder buses to that railway network. You don't get long-term passenger services using motorways in well-run public transport systems.

"Regarding electric cars, we already have roads for the electric cars to drive on. Electric cars won't deal with the issue of congestion. Building more roads won't deal with the issue of congestion. "

"If you go back 50 or 60 years, the only way to get around New Zealand was on trains and public transport. We have electrified trams in a number of cities and that was when the populations were smaller. The only reason people drive so much now is because there's no alternative. If you put the money in the alternatives, people will use it.

"There will always be people using roads and there's nothing wrong with that."

"Yep, that's true. It's something they talked about 70 years ago. That doesn't mean it's the right option for the next 70 years."