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Transit and tolls

After a public outcry last month at Transit New Zealand’s announcement Auckland roads would be delayed because of a funding shortfall, the government decided to increase funding by $685 million.

Government motorway builder, Transit, produced its 10-year plan for public consultation last month. The plan was “unacceptable and extremely disappointing” to the Auckland Business Forum.

Forum chairman, Michael Barnet, who is also chief executive of the Auckland Chambers of Commerce, said: “Holding a “toll gun” to the heads of Aucklanders as the only option for building the Western Ring Route by 2015 is intimidation, unacceptable and a huge distraction to getting Transit NZ focused on the job it should be doing.

“We are being treated in Auckland as if tolls are the only viable option to address the funding gap.”

Debt funded activity is included at a similar level as in Transit’s August forecast, chief executive Rick van Barneveld said, and Transit proposes to repay debt through revenue from a comprehensive tolling scheme.

In particular, $860 million relates to the Western Ring Route, an alternative to SH1 from Manukau to Albany.  Transit is committed to completing this by 2015 but it will only be possible with support from tolls.

Tranist has approval to toll the SHI extension from Orewa and collect the tolls for itself. The electronic collection system being developed is expected to be operational by 2009 when the road is built.

Barnett also said promoting a draft programme which fails to confirm the goal agreed with Government to achieve major progress during the next decade was unacceptable.

“Giving some comfort is the strong likelihood Government will find this document as unacceptable as we do.

“Some radical changes will be likely before the draft is finalised.”

The Forum suggested a backstop solution is for Transit to make greater use of debt funding. “They have $12 billion available of which a small portion could be used to service a borrowing programme to ensure the Auckland programme proceeds without any threat of delay or need to toll the western corridor projects.”

The Employers and Manufacturers Association (Northern) agreed.

Chief executive, Alasdair Thompson said: “Aucklanders have indicated their support for equitable tolling, for example in AA surveys.

“The cut backs are said to be due to lower fuel taxes collected owing to higher costs and more fuel efficiency, but the figures and any analysis of them are nowhere available.

Transit New Zealand’s Draft 2006/07-2015/16 10-year State Highway Forecast consists of a one-year programme, a three-year plan and a 10-year forecast for large projects.

The Forecast, built on indicative funding forecasts from Land Transport NZ and an estimated share for each region of the “regional distribution funding” (the extra funding for land transport from the tax on petrol) going to state highways.

Van Barneveld said, “The draft forecast is a national planning document requiring extensive consultation and we want to encourage people’s input.

“It is a working document that will be adjusted and revised based on the feedback we receive and once we have a clearer picture of funding from the National Land Transport Fund.”

This draft forecast proposes to continue the trend begun in 2005 for increased investment in state highways - $12 billion over 10 years.

Copies of the forecast and submission forms are on www.transit.govt.nz.

The closing date for written submissions is March 24.
The finalisedHighway Forecast will be released at the end of June.