Second Auckland harbour crossing promised in National's $31 billion plan to 'smash' congestion

National is promising to begin work on a second Auckland harbour crossing and four-lane expressways connecting Whangarei, Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga as part of a $31 billion plan to "smash" congestion.

By enabling the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) to better leverage its balance sheet to borrow more, and using up the Government's COVID-19 recovery fund, National would spend $31 billion over 10 years on transport.

About half of that funding - $17.5bn - would go to the Upper North Island. That includes $12.8bn for Auckland and $4.7bn for the remainder of the region. National says it's the "first of many" announcements with projects for the South Island coming soon.

Newly-appointed National leader Judith Collins says pouring half of the money into the Upper North Island is fair because the region is home to half of all New Zealanders.

"Auckland and the Upper North Island are broken by congestion, worsened by the current Government's incompetence, and everyone knows it," Collins said on Friday as she unveiled National's transport policy in Auckland.

National wants to connect Whangarei, Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga with four-lane expressways - including tunnels under the Brynderwyn and Kaimai mountain ranges - to create a "genuinely integrated region" of 2.5 million New Zealanders.

"National's vision is to transform the four cities to be one economic powerhouse," Collins said, "unlocking their potential so the Upper North Island becomes Australasia's most dynamic region."

National's transport spokesperson Chris Bishop said National's pipeline of projects over 20 years for the Upper North Island will "smash" congestion.

"Under National, Auckland will become the world-class city it can and should be - and the Upper North Island will become an interconnected economic powerhouse."

Projects beginning 'within the decade'

  • Second Waitematā Harbour Crossing
  • Fourth Main Rail Line
  • Cambridge to Piarere
  • East West Link
  • Rail between Huapai and Swanson
  • City to Onehunga Bus Rapid Transit
  • Electrification of rail to Pōkeno
  • Warkworth to Wellsford upgrade
  • Northwest Bus Rapid Transit
  • Tauranga to Katikati upgrade
  • Puhinui to Airport Rail Link
  • Piarere to Kaimai Range upgrade

What could we expect under National?

National would go ahead with everything the current Government has announced, with the exception of light rail between Auckland Airport and the CBD, and the "probable exception" of $360 million Skypath 2.

National would also work towards an additional Auckland harbour crossing, with the intention of work beginning on the ground in 2028. It would likely be one or more tunnels and be for both road and rail.

Auckland's ferry network would be expanded to reduce congestion on road and rail, and National is also planning for new walking and cycling links, as well as expanded park-and-ride facilities.

If National forms a Government after the September election, it's promising work to begin "immediately" on $300 million worth of "digger-ready projects" in Auckland to fix potholes, roundabouts and crash corners.

What's wrong with light rail?

National says light rail has been a "failed concept" in Auckland.

Last month Transport Minister Phil Twyford announced that Cabinet had agreed to end the twin-track Auckland light rail project for now as Government parties "were unable to reach agreement".

Instead, National wants to restore funding to state highways and begin work on delivering a rail connection between the CBD and the airport by expanding rail from the airport to Puhinui and from Onehunga to the airport.

Where would the money come from?

The $31 billion would come from the Government's $50 billion COVID-19 fund, more NZTA borrowing, unallocated funding from the $12 billion New Zealand Upgrade Programme announced in January, and future capital allowances.

National is proposing a change to transport funding that would allow NZTA to borrow more on its own balance sheet, by using the $4 billion in annual revenue it gets from fuel tax and road user charges to service the debt.

What does that mean?

New Zealand's state highway network is worth about $26 billion. That asset has revenue of about $4 billion per year through the annual revenue from taxes and other charges.

The new funding model would allow NZTA as an organisation worth $26 billion, with $4 billion of revenue per year, to instead borrow and use the revenue to service the debt over time rather than funding investments with cash.

The approach will let NZTA borrow more on its own balance sheet, allowing transport funding to operate on an intergenerational basis rather than year-to-year.

The National Party provided this example: "The current approach is like a household trying to buy a house without a mortgage, but just using three years of household income.

"Instead, they typically borrow over 20 or 30 years and pay off the house slowly over that time using their household income to service the debt. No business would operate the way NZTA does."

National is also promising not to increase fuel taxes in its first term and will repeal the Auckland regional fuel tax in its first 100 days in office.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has promised no new regional fuel taxes.

What other changes is National proposing?

National wants to repeal the Resource Management Act (RMA) in its first term by splitting it into a Planning & Development Act and an Environmental Standards Act. 

Environment Minister David Parker has been working to repeal the RMA.

The Government earlier this month passed legislation allowing some infrastructure projects to largely bypass the RMA and instead be referred to expert panels that will set the conditions for approval. 

The new law will have a 'sunset clause', meaning it will be repealed two years from enactment. It was proposed to help get projects underway to help stimulate the economy during the COVID-19 economic slump.

It passed with support from National.