NZTA director of regional relationships Steve Mutton faced some tough questioning from a sceptical audience.
Local politicians turned up to voice their opposition to tolling of the new Puhoi to Warkworth motorway at a public meeting at the Bridgehouse bar and restaurant on July 16.
Northland MP Matt King (National) led the charge, saying most other roads in the country were not tolled, but Northlanders were one of the few who were already obliged to pay a toll when travelling along the Northern Gateway through the Johnstones Hill tunnels.
He said introducing a second toll on the Puhoi to Warkworth section of the motorway would unfairly penalise Northland, which was already a poor region. He said a four-lane highway was sure to drive economic growth, but this would be stymied if the road was tolled.
Helensville MP Chris Penk (National), who will contest the Kaipara ki Mahurangi seat at the next election, agreed, re-iterating that other parts of the country are not “double-tolled”.
“People in this area are paying taxes no less than anywhere else, so I’m damned if I should see why people in this area should be paying over and above that which others are paying,” he said.
He added that talk of tolls could not have come at a worse time, with many suffering financial hardship due to Covid-19.
Meanwhile, Labour list MP Marja Lubeck said that the Government had no committed view on tolling, and it was her job to take community views back to the Government.
ACT candidate Beth Houlbrooke chided fellow election candidates for “lack of imagination”, saying those who opposed tolling offered no alternative solution. ACT’s alternative solution would be to introduce congestion charging in place of tolls. She said congestion charges “incentivise” when motorists travel on roads, ensuring their most efficient use.
NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) director of regional relationships Steve Mutton told the meeting that NZTA’s role was to gather community feedback on a proposed toll and report back to Government. The decision on whether to toll rested with the Government and NZTA made no recommendation either way.
In response to questions, Mr Mutton said NZTA was obliged to pay contractor NX2 a monthly fee from the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF) for designing, building and operating the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway over the next 25 years. If the road was tolled, then the revenue generated from tolls would mean less money would need to be drained from the NLTF. This, in turn, meant more money was available for other projects nationally.
Asked about double tolling, Mr Mutton said money from tolls could only be used for the piece of infrastructure that applied the toll. Hence, tolling on the Northern Gateway could only be applied to costs associated with that section of road. If the Government decided to use tolls to fund the Puhoi to Warkworth section of the motorway, a second toll would be required.
Commenting on the lack of tolling on other roads around the country, Mr Mutton said if it could be shown that a toll “took away from the value that the new road is creating”, then it would not be tolled.
This was true of Transmission Gully in Wellington. Mr Mutton said in this case the potential revenue benefits of tolling were unlikely to make a meaningful contribution to the cost of the road. He added that implementing a toll on Transmission Gully would likely divert traffic along a coastal route that would be detrimental to the environment and the safety and access to that route for communities situated along it.