Phil Twyford defends rapid transit as NZTA looks to pump millions into highways

Phil Twyford insists the Government is spending plenty on highways despite the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) wanting millions more put into them. 

Twyford, the Transport Minister, confirmed in Parliament this week that NZTA suggested reallocating $313 million into highways from of the more than $400 million it had planned to spend on light rail. 

The AA's Barney Irvine said more spending on highways is "something we've been calling for - so we'd be really pleased to see it happen". 

He told Newshub there are a "number of desperately needed state highway safety projects around the country that have been held back due to a lack of funding".

He said a big reason for that is the amount of money that's been allocated to rapid transit.

But Twyford said the Government's focus has been on "maintaining" state highways, and is spending more than $2 billion doing so. 

He highlighted the Government's $1.4 billion investment over the next three years in targeted road safety upgrades across 3300kms of state highways, announced in July

He told Newshub New Zealand "can't go back to the days of spending 40 percent of the transport budget on a few projects while the number of deaths and serious injuries increases". 

Barney Irvine.
Barney Irvine. Photo credit: The AM Show

Irvine pointed to delays in rapid transit, such as Auckland's promised light rail, which is reported to have had construction delayed until 2022 due to the city hosting APEC that year. 

This was echoed by National's transport spokesperson Chris Bishop, who said NZTA's recommendation came "because of the Government's bungled delivery of the Auckland light rail project". 

He said the reallocation "can't happen quickly enough given the infrastructure crisis created by the Government's inept handling of the transport portfolio and broken promises around light rail". 

But Twyford insists things are on track with upgrades to the Puhinui train station interchange getting underway. It will see rapid transport every 10 minutes to the airport via buses. 

"The project will be completed within 18 months and it will ease the pressure on Auckland's transport system that events like hosting APEC will create," Twyford said in Parliament on Thursday. 

"There will be a bus service using dedicated lanes and in the future, it will become part of a rapid transit route connecting Manukau and Botany with Puhinui and the airport."

Labour promised in opposition to build light rail from Auckland's CBD to the airport within a decade. It was PM Jacinda Ardern's first major policy announcement as Labour leader. 

National's Chris Bishop.
National's Chris Bishop. Photo credit: File

Irvine said he wants to see upgrades to high-risk stretches of highway like SH2 between Tauranga and Waihi, SH1 Otaki to Levin, Sh1 Whangarei to Port Marsden and SH58 in Wellington.

He said those highways have some of the highest rates of deaths and injuries in the country, and the "only handbrake" has been the lack of funding.

"The lack of movement on these projects so far has been in a kick in the guts for our members around the country, and clearly illustrates that the Government hasn't had the balance right."

How the funding works

Last year it was announced $16.9 billion would be invested in transport over the following three years through the NZTA's National Land Transport Programme (NLTP).

Funds are collected from petrol excise, road user charges and vehicle registration and licensing fees.

Twyford told Newshub the Government is one-third of the way into the three-year $16 billion rapid transit programme, "and there are always under and overspends across a dozen activity classes". 

NZTA can reallocate funding from rapid transit to something else as long as it doesn't breach the funding limit set out in the Government Policy Statement on Land Transport (GPS). 

The GPS is where the Government sets out where it would like funding for transport to go. Most transport projects are funded by the NZTA which manages the National Land Transport Fund. 

In the Government's GPS announced last year, a new "rapid transit class" was added, and it would be funded by reducing state highway spending. 

It led to a number of highway projects being stalled.