Election 2023: ACT wants to 'supercharge' road development through public-private partnerships, toll roads

The ACT Party says it will "supercharge" road development and maintenance by changing the way infrastructure is planned and funded in New Zealand.

Leader David Seymour said if his party is elected, the "ambitious" plan would invite private partners from New Zealand and around the world to build infrastructure beyond what the Government can afford.

ACT's policy would set 30-year infrastructure plans between the Government and councils in each region. If the Government cannot afford every road people want, then investors and builders from around the world would be invited to build it and toll it for a specified period before it is handed back to the Government.

"ACT is proposing to introduce a world-class toll roading system. It will use private sector financing and expertise to get new roads built faster and to maintain existing roads quicker and more effectively. Overseas countries like Ireland have successfully made extensive use of tolling," Seymour said.

"Under a world-class toll roading system, New Zealanders will have a choice: make use of new toll roads much sooner or wait for tax-funded roads to be delivered later or never."

In the party's policy document, ACT said the incentives in the current toll road system "are all wrong". It would also allow existing roads to be tolled to generate the necessary revenue to fix and maintain them. However it would only do this as long as a non-tolled alternative route is available.

ACT hopes to get public buy-in by fast-tracking projects that are able to be tolled.

"The problem at the moment is that communities are not being presented with a realistic alternative scenario. If the public were instead to be asked whether they would prefer work on developing a toll road begin immediately, or begin work on a non-tolled road in ten years' time, their answer may be very different," the policy document said.

"Being upfront about how different transport priorities compare, and providing realistic timeframes, can help inform the public's willingness to pay."

ACT's transport spokesperson Simon Court said New Zealand's existing toll roads have exceeded expectations by being safer and decreasing distance and drive times. As an example, he said the Northern Gateway has saved 1.23 million hours of travel time annually, and prior to the Tauranga Eastern Link there were 1.8 fatalities each year, compared to only 0.17 now.

"This approach would bring us up to speed with other parts of the world. Sydney has been able to fund the completion of the 110km Sydney Orbital motorway network in twenty years through making use of public-private partnerships and the collection of toll revenue. In Ireland, 35 percent of the motorway network is now operated by public-private partnerships," Court said.

He added that traffic congestion costs the New Zealand economy hundreds of millions of dollars a year since freight drivers and workers are stuck on motorways for longer.

Court hopes that by increasing the level of private sector funding, the Government will be able to maintain prudent levels of public debt.