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Are we on the right road?

April 4 2022 by Paul Taylor

Are we on the right road?

I’m not sure I get the whole arterial roads project.

Work began in earnest on stage one - linking Frankton Road to Gorge Road via Melbourne St and Henry St - last week, and we can expect years of traffic jams as a result.

The original budget was $65.9 million, with $50m coming from Jacinda’s Shovel Ready Funding. But, as you could probably have guessed, that’s already blown out to $86.6m, including $1.46m for a massive retaining wall. And that uplift is all being covered by the council, who quietly approved changes to the Ten-Year Plan back at a full council meeting in October without much public discussion or debate.

Now council budgets are a bit of a snore-fest and to be honest the detailed line-by-line financial breakdown may as well be written in Klingon, such is my grasp of numbers. What I do know is the council’s contribution is now $37m-ish. That’s my council rates for the next 12,333 years.

For what? I get that the vision is to take the traffic off Stanley St where there will be a huge new public transport interchange. But couldn’t that be incorporated into the Project Manawa, the public / private project on the Ballarat St block? Stanley St is pretty wide, with parking down one side for much of it. Couldn’t we just stick in a bus lane up the hill between Ballarat St and Melbourne St?

It just seems to be huge amount of money. You can applaud the council for landing $50m from Government, but at the end of the day that’s public money too. And this is just stage one. How much will it cost when stage two and three are complete? $300m? You could use that money to make public transport free. That would be a statement of intent to tackle climate change, encourage people to leave their car at home, or just not own one at all. No loading Bee Cards, no tagging on, just travel for free. Maybe buses are cheap enough already, though. Usually just $2, trips are now only $1 for the next three months, after the Government halved the price of all public transport in response to spiraling living costs. What can you buy for a dollar these days? You could travel into town and back out again for a working week for the price of a pint of craft beer.

Much better would be to use the money to improve the capacity of the service, through partnership with Otago Regional Council. Orbus bosses are already warning there might not be enough space at peak times over the coming months, due to driver shortages and the impact of Omicron. Or what about a fleet of electric buses? They cost $850,000 each, so instead of stage one, we could have bought 100. It’s too late now, but stages two and three need a rethink.

Paul Taylor
Queenstown Media Group

- Paul Taylor