By Azeem Khan, Senior Policy Advisor, Infrastructure New Zealand
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 Minister 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.
Minister 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.