The Road Ahead – an economic development study into State Highway 3 north of Taranaki – finds that the funding models used for regional roading development are not maximising economic growth.
The report, released by Taranaki’s Regional Development Agency Venture Taranaki, pulls together research by NZIER, with support from BECA Infrastructure, to complete the most comprehensive review of the economic development impact of the route.
“The Government has set an ambitious goal of boosting exports from 30 to 40 per cent of gross domestic product by 2025. As a nation we’ve historically struggled to get beyond 30 percent, so achieving this will require a new approach, not just to innovation, but right across our economy,” says Venture Taranaki Chief Executive Stuart Trundle.
“This research project reflects a need to think differently about investment into regional infrastructure to deliver significant, long term economic returns.”
“Our perception research has consistently shown the road north as a key constraint to visiting, living and doing business in Taranaki. This quantified report backs that up and looks at the economic development constraints and potential of the route to present a solid case for both immediate and long-term investment and improvement,” Stuart says.
“Taranaki’s importance as the only oil and gas producing region, as well as the significant contribution that our engineering, primary, and dairy and meat processing sectors make to wealth and export development mean that the region has an important role to play in New Zealand’s economic transformation.”
“Effective and efficient infrastructure is critical to Taranaki’s growth. Connectivity between Taranaki and other regions is equally vital to New Zealand’s growth,” Stuart says.
The report finds that four main constraints affect the route – it is relatively unsafe, it is difficult for freight movements, it presents a major challenge to effective urban flow, and the route is vulnerable to closures from crashes and slips.
“The business case for a radically improved road is certainly compelling, but there is no silver bullet.”
“The report does, however, identify a number of achievable measures to improve the links between Taranaki and the Waikato and beyond,” Stuart says.
Beyond overdue enhancements to New Plymouth’s Waiwhakaiho bottleneck and South Taranaki’s Normanby Overbridge, a series of immediate remedies are proposed within the report that include widening some sections to better accommodate heavy engineering products transported nationally and trans-Tasman, and general safety improvements such as increasing passing lanes to alleviate car-truck frustration.
These are affordable solutions that need to be actioned to maximise economic gains. The report contains quantified evidence that demonstrates that the costs of these improvements are outweighed by the economic benefits.
The report also proposes a series of more strategic measures aimed at monitoring impacts and reprioritising funding models.
“While the design and condition of SH3 North has been largely dictated by the challenging landscape, its greatest restriction comes from the lack of strategic priority on the route from a central government perspective, and respectively, the economic potential that a better road could deliver for the Taranaki and national economies.”
“The role of infrastructure as an economic driver within the Government’s growth equation cannot be understated.”
The real challenge of improving SH3 lies in the value the nation as a whole places on the economic potential of the Taranaki region, and recognising this in prevailing funding and policy models.
Existing initiatives, such as the Roads of National Significance (RONS), prioritise the reduction of congestion in major urban cities. They do not routinely deal well with transport problems that stifle local economic development, utilise roading as a lever in wealth creation, or appreciate the valuable connectivity that exists between the regional networks and the broader fabric of New Zealand’s regional economic agenda.
“There is a disconnect between the Government’s economic growth strategy and the RONS strategy, as the much needed wealth generation and export development will come from added-value primary and natural resource development, which largely stems from the provinces.”
“The statement last week from Minister Brownlee on the funding of local roads further demonstrates the short term thinking on this issue, and does not confront the challenge for regional roading beyond 2015,” says Stuart.
“Mechanisms such as R-Funds provide necessary flexibility at a regional level, which is critical to enable roading projects that meet wider strategic factors, ultimately benefiting both the region and the national network. The continuation of this scheme, or a suitable equivalent, is essential.”
“The road to growth must negotiate the long-term potential with the short-term financial realities, and this report provides a line in the sand from which to bring this discussion into the 21st Century.”