Deeply embedded in the DNA of politicians, it would appear, is a love of spending on roads. It’s the cross-party unifier.
Driver-voters love roads. Politicians love voters. It’s a political no-brainer.
The present main object of road lust in Hawke’s Bay these days is the Expressway, or as some would have it, the Distressway.
Our four major party candidates – Labour’s Anna Lorck and Mark Hutchinson and National’s Catherine Wedd and Katie Nimon – all agree: we must have a four-lane expressway!
BayBuzz queried them and I’ll relay their responses in a moment.
The only surprise here is that no one opted for six or eight … or god forbid, three!
We can all see that the traffic (and congestion) is all in one direction in the morning (to jobs in Hastings) and one direction after work (back home to Napier). And of course the normal situation has been aggravated seriously by the loss of two alternative bridges over the Tutaekuri River.
Experience the world over demonstrates that adding roads delivers one result – more driving. Until we can beam ourselves around the place with a few taps on our mobiles, cars will remain a necessary accessory. Still, a more nuanced view of our region’s transport needs would at the very least condition any adding of roads/lanes to a package of specific car driving-reduction and alternative transport measures. More on that to come.
After a variety of hands-on-heart platitudes about really caring for the environment and really determined to curb those nasty GHG emissions elsewhere (than transport), each candidate opts for the short-term political gain – placate car drivers by adding lanes.
At least these candidates are consistent with their parties’ past (unfulfilled) pledges. Adding lanes has been a predictable comet passing through the Hawke’s Bay skies every three years. Labour promised a four-lane expressway during the Clark era, and National promised the same during the Key regime. Neither delivered the asphalt.
Leaving present candidates to struggle with feigning (or more charitably, reconciling) environmental concerns while pressing the pedal to the metal. Sort of like saying, drive all you want, but recycle. Better to inconvenience the planet than a driver.
Here are their views.
Tukituki Labour MP/candidate Anna Lorck
A very long-time supporter of four-laning the expressway, I’ve always strongly advocated for this and as the local MP for Tukituki, I have so directly to decision making ministers and I believe they are listening.
WE do have to get the balance right – we need to bring down emissions as a country and we are bending the curve, but we also need to be investing to make sure people can get around and businesses can get product to market.
Importantly this four-lane project already has the land to build four-lanes thanks to the Labour Government at the time having the foresight to plan ahead for the future of a four lane expansion, so that’s significant for a project of this scale.
Along with reducing travel time and congestion, four lanes will also enable better public transport choices which have been incredibly limited in our region.
The more we use public transport options and the more electric vehicles New Zealanders buy the less emissions there are.
Building more resilient roads, highways and bridges is a vital part of the recovery from Cyclone Gabrielle to enable our region to connect and grow, along with creating jobs.
Tukituki National candidate Catherine Wedd
We are fully committed to meeting our climate change goals but that doesn’t mean forcing New Zealanders out of their cars by allowing our roading infrastructure to decay.
Over the coming decades, what we drive will change as more New Zealanders switch to electric vehicles, but we will still need modern, fast, high-quality roads to drive on. Part of our plan to achieve our climate goals is through our Electrify NZ policy, which will see buses, cars and trains powered by clean electricity.
I’m really excited about our announcement to build a Four Lane Expressway between Napier and Hastings which will bring significant efficiency and resilience to Hawke’s Bay. This announcement provides hope for our communities and businesses in Hawke’s Bay and will improve the resilience of the roading networks, unlocking certainty for our regions’ road transport operators.
Upgrading the Hawke’s Bay Expressway will improve our region’s resilience and this commitment shows only a National Government will deliver for Hawke’s Bay.
A four lane expressway between Hastings and Napier is going to significantly improve productivity and efficiency in a food producing region which relies so heavily on this main road between our cities. This will hugely support regional growth.
Thousands of people are currently gridlocked on the expressway each day and are waiting hours on a road that needs an upgrade. Four lanes are so desperately needed to get Hawke’s Bay moving.
We need a productive and resilient expressway to bring Napier and Hastings closer together and create a stronger economy. The gridlock on the expressway is also affecting our public transport system. We have a hospital, a police station, a sports park all shared by our two cities and we should be connected by a reliable efficient road.
We want people to live and work across the region and not feel constrained by where they live.
Napier National candidate Katie Nimon
There are multiple ways a four-lane expressway helps reduce emissions. It cuts down idling time, makes public transport more efficient, and not to forget that EVs drive on roads too! Ultimately, we want to help people get around our region safely and more efficiently, no matter what mode they choose. We’re at a point people are struggling to access work, health, and education, and we need to do something about it. National’s commitment to building a four-lane expressway is an investment in Hawke’s Bay’s future.
Napier Labour candidate Mark Hutchinson
Our focus on reducing transport-related emissions and traffic congestion has included delivering record investments in public transport, walking and cycling initiatives, encouraging the uptake of electric vehicles, investing in developing hydrogen fuel technology for heavy vehicles, and providing the infrastructure for EVs. We’ve also introduced the Clean Car Standard to increase the supply of cleaner cars in New Zealand, and our Clean Car Discount is making it cheaper for Kiwi families to buy electric and low-emission cars.
With all that in mind, I have been advocating strongly for a four-lane highway between Napier and Hastings. While research suggests increasing the numbers of lanes on a highway generally results in increased emissions, those studies are usually based on locations where there are viable public transport options.
In my view, the current situation where drivers face lengthy delays traveling between Hawke’s Bay’s two cities is not only a barrier to economic development but causes increased emissions as people idle for an hour or more on the congested two-lane expressway.
With Napier and Hastings residents being dependent on travel between the cities to get to key infrastructure (the hospital in Hastings and the airport in Napier, for example) I believe having a robust and resilient transport artery between the two cities is essential. Four-laning would also improve access for emergency vehicles and allow for faster, more frequent bus services. The inclusion of bus priority lanes should be a key consideration in the four-laning project.
While National’s claim that it will four-lane the expressway aligns with my own views, I view their promise with considerable scepticism, given they have previously failed twice to honour election promises to fund and deliver this project.
When National closed Napier Hospital in 1998, it promised a resilient four-lane route between the two cities as part of its assurances that Napier residents would continue to have full access to health service. Cyclone Gabrielle showed us that this promise should have been kept.
When the Key government prioritised spending on its Roads of National Significance Policy in 2009, with much of the funding taken from the national road maintenance budget (resulting in the subsequent deterioration of the road network and increased pot holes we are seeing now), the Napier-Hastings highway did not make the cut. It was finally added in 2017 – an uncosted pre-election move, much like National’s recent announcement.