Nelson’s congestion and road safety problems are getting worse because of the growth in population, exports, and visitors. The extraordinary message from the new Government’s ten year transport policy last week is Nelson is going to have to pay more but get less.
Petrol tax is to go up from 70c to 80c per litre meaning it will cost an extra $5 dollars each time to fuel up. This will increase the amount Nelson and Tasman road users pay from $100 million to $110 million a year.
The first problem is Labour promised no new taxes during this term of Parliament. PM Ardern is arguing it is a duty and not a tax. That will not wash with the public. It is also hollow for the Government to argue that it is not a new tax on the basis that it is just putting up an existing tax. On this basis she could put income tax and GST up. This extra 10 cents a litre fuel tax will hit families’ car running costs by $250 per year but also add to the bill for groceries through increased transport costs.
The killer blow for Nelson is how they intend to spend the money taken in petrol taxes and road user charges from cars and trucks. Funding for improved State Highways upgrades nationally is to be cut 70% from $1375 million in 2018 to $425 million in 2028.
It is a $5 billion reduction in new highway construction. New light rail projects in Auckland and Wellington are to get $4 billion and other rail an extra $1 billion. The other changes are an increase for road safety policing, walkways and cycle ways and funding for Council roads but are small by comparison. The big change is taking billions more off road users across New Zealand, slashing highway funding and giving it to Auckland and Wellington tram and train commuters.
This 10 year plan means the chances of seeing any significant upgrades of SH6 or SH60 in our region are close to zero. We have done the Richmond Deviation in the 1990s, the Stoke Bypass in the 2000s and the Ruby Bay Bypass in 2012. National had budgeted $135 million for the Southern Link starting before 2020 and that was without the 10 cents hike in petrol tax.
I worry about Nelson and Tasman’s future with this plan. Our vehicle fleet is projected to grow from 100,000 to 120,000 over this decade, but without roading investment it means more congestion and more accidents. Taking an extra $10 million a year out of households in the region will also negatively impact our economy. This plan from Nelson’s perspective is nothing short of highway robbery.