By Azeem Khan, Senior Policy Advisor
The government has announced the new Ara Tūhono – Puhoi to
Warkworth motorway north of Auckland will not be tolled when it opens around
May 2022. The new road will extend State Highway 1 by 18.5km, from the
Johnstones Hill tunnels to just north of Warkworth.
Transport Minister Hon Michael Wood has said he
declined a tolling proposal from Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency. A primary
factor in the minister’s decision was that 80 percent of the affected community
opposed a toll.
Another key reason cited by Hon Wood was that commuters
could be forced to pay two tolls given the Northern Gateway is already tolled
between Silverdale and Orewa, and especially since there is also no southbound
exit from the road before the Northern Gateway.
Hon Wood has stated that tolling is a useful tool that
can help fund the construction and maintenance of new roads or significant
upgrades to existing roads, so it warrants investigating but adds it is
important there are adequate alternatives for drivers.
The minister’s position is relevant to Parliament’s
Transport and Infrastructure Committee’s Inquiry into congestion pricing in
Auckland, vis-à-vis what happens if majority of Aucklanders say they do not
want any form of road/congestion pricing, particularly given the prerequisite
infrastructure for alternative transport modes is not currently in place. The
current absence of adequate prerequisite infrastructure and
infrastructure services would likely result in Aucklanders viewing
road/congestion pricing as a punitive tax paid on top of petrol excise duty, road
user charges and a regional fuel tax.
The timeframe for final recommendations from the inquiry is
yet to be confirmed.
On a similar note, the government has somewhat acknowledged
through Hon Grant Robertson that bringing forward the construction of a
multimodal harbour crossing instead of the $785 million walking and cycle lane
across Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour would be a better investment. Last month’s
edition of InfraRead ran a scathing editorial on the proposal, making
clear Infrastructure New Zealand’s position on the ill-informed project.