Election 2023: Labour claims National is 'billions of dollars short' in its massive transport package

Labour believes it's found at least a $2.8 billion hole in National's massive transport package that it's calling on the party to explain.

National unveiled its 'Transport for the Future' policy with three headline priorities: deliver 13 new roads of national significance, better public transport, and rebuilding regions and improving resilience. The total package is estimated to cost $24 billion.

National Party leader Christopher Luxon said his party's plan will slash congestion, unlock housing growth, boost productivity, and lift incomes. 

But Labour's transport spokesperson David Parker claimed National's costings for four of the party's new roads of national significance are "literally billions of dollars short" and the party's explanation on how it plans to pay for them is "woefully light".

"The shortfall in their costings for just the four projects they announced yesterday is at least $2.8 billion, and as much as $4.8 billion. You can bet it's much higher when their other projects are included," Parker said.

In terms of where the $24 billion will come from, Luxon said the party's already announced the National Infrastructure Agency will coordinate Government funding, connect domestic and offshore investors with New Zealand infrastructure projects, and improve funding, procurement and delivery. 

He said 'Transport for the Future' will be funded through reallocated cash from the National Land Transport Fund, further Government investment and other tools.

However, Parker believed many of National's cost estimates appear to be based on old data and don't take into account real-world escalations in road construction costs.

Looking at the four projects National announced on Sunday, Parker said there were shortfalls in each of them:

  • Tauriko West State Highway 29: National has put the cost at $1.9 billion. Waka Kotahi's latest estimates put the cost range at $2.5 billion-$3.25 billion ($600 million-$1.35 billion short)
  • Warkworth to Wellsford Expressway: National said $2.2 billion. The latest Waka Kotahi estimate is $3.5 billion-$4 billion ($1.3 billion-$1.8 billion short)
  • Cambridge to Piarere: National said $721 million. The latest Waka Kotahi estimate is $1.5 billion-$2 billion ($780 million-$1.28 billion short)
  • Whangārei to Port Marsden: National said $1.3 billion. The latest Waka Kotahi estimate is $1.41 billion-$1.67 billion ($110 million-$367 million short).

Parker said when National was last in Government, they paid for roads by "slashing the road maintenance budget" which created a "long-term resilience problem" for New Zealand's roads, including the number of potholes found.

"Then they announced a $500 million pothole repair fund, paid for by raiding the road safety budget - things like traffic police, road safety barriers, passing lanes and signage would be compromised," Parker said.

"Now they are putting up poorly-costed roading promises across the country in their desperation to get a headline. They say they will fund it all through the National Land Transport Programme, but that is laughable."

He believed National will have to fill the holes in their roading projects budget by slashing maintenance spending and hiking road user charges and fuel excise duties.

The Green Party also wasn't happy with National's "visionless obsession with highways" and said this was the "exact opposite" of the investment New Zealand needed in zero-emissions transport infrastructure.

The party's transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter said now is the time to prioritise smart, green transport infrastructure that will benefit communities. 

"What National has proposed is completely nonsensical, and will make pollution and congestion worse," she said.

"You cannot build your way out of traffic congestion by making more roads. The more you build, the more people drive."

National's claims of improvements to public transport will "just be a drop in the rising ocean", Genter added.

"There are much better options for moving people and freight. We need to be connecting our towns and cities with more reliable and frequent public transport," she said.

Simeon Brown.
Simeon Brown. Photo credit: Newshub.

National has since defended its transport plan costings, saying they are "robust", the funding sources are known, and a National Government will "deliver every project".

National's transport spokesperson Simeon Brown said it was "rich" of Parker to suggest there's a shortfall.

"National used the upper figures of the Government's own range of costings that are publicly available, and we have set aside a significant contingency of $1.4 billion. We will also invite private partners to contribute to some projects, as happens regularly overseas, so the total tab does not fall on taxpayers," Brown said.

"Just weeks ago, the Transport Minister told National the latest cost estimate for a Cambridge to Piarere highway was $605 million to $721 million. National responsibly used the top of that range for its costings. Today, the minister claims the estimated cost has roughly doubled.

"Either the minister hid the cost of the project at the start of this month when we asked for it, or he's tasked officials to change the numbers to desperately justify his partisan attack."

Brown accused the Labour Government of having "utterly no credibility" on transport project delivery or sticking to a budget.

"National's entire $24 billion package is less than the $30 billion phantom light rail project for Auckland that Labour said would open in 2021. Six years later and with more than $140 million already down the drain, not one metre of light rail exists. National will can this hopeless project," he said.

"In six years, Labour has not stuck to its spending allowance in its annual Budget and it's now spending more than $1 billion a week more than National was spending six years ago, but there's nothing to show for it."

National has committed to delivering a "world-class" rapid transit network in Aotearoa's biggest city, Auckland, with three key transport corridors.

The three transport corridors include North West Rapid Transit, which will cost $2.9 billion. There's also the airport to Botany Busway that will cost $2.1 billion with $1.1 billion of Crown contribution, and the Eastern Busway will cost $717 million.