New Zealand needs to choose. It can be a place with third world roads, lawless communities, inflation, and division, or we can start taking positive steps towards towards having the country New Zealand could be. On Sunday ACT proposed one positive step towards that goal: open up the way roads are funded, financed, built and maintained.

The state of New Zealand’s roads is shocking. Maintenance lately has left people dodging potholes like pinball wizards. The damage to vehicles and frustration with third world conditions has been top of mind in provincial New Zealand. Labour’s answer is to lower the speed limits, National apparently wants to fill the holes with money. New Zealand needs fresh new thinking.

Any of us who live or have lived in provincial New Zealand, from Kaitaia to Invercargill, know what poor roads mean. They mean that other places are far, far away. It’s not just the time. It’s the mental energy, danger, and expense of driving on windy roads with oncoming traffic passing at 100km/h just a few metres away.

If you’ve also lived overseas, you’ve probably experienced driving on separated highways with speed limits over 100. They are straight, they are smooth, and if you want to go somewhere that’s say, 200km away its just under two hours of easy driving. Here it’s three hours of winding.

That’s not to mention that the road toll has been static for a decade after falling sharply from about 2000-2013. If cars weren’t getting safer, the road toll would be rising.

The problem is the way roads are financed and funded in New Zealand. If the Government has enough money in the kitty (National Land Transport Fund), that it hasn’t been siphoned off for cycle ways and speed bumps, then maybe a project will get built.

But what if there’s a project that people would pay to drive on? It might even reduce petrol and road user charge revenue, as the Northern Gateway between Orewa and Warkworth has. The answer is it wouldn’t get built. Nobody gets extra revenue for building it, so it’s not funded. The Government doesn’t have enough headroom on its balance sheet, so it’s not financed.

Even when a road makes economic sense, New Zealand is a country where the Governments says ‘we can’t afford it.’ Motorists need a Government that asks ‘how can we afford it?’ That is the essence of ACT’s policy.

The Party has long said central and local Government need to work harder on long-term infrastructure planning. It proposed 30 year partnerships between the Government and councils of each region, to set out what needs to be planned and funded. But what happens if the Government cannot afford a project that many people would benefit from?

Well, fortunately there are retirees all over the world looking for investments. Infrastructure makes sense for them. That’s why the Canada Pension Plan made an unsolicited bid to build light rail in Auckland. Imagine if the New Zealand Government actually welcomed such investments instead of rebuffing them?

A classic example would be the later stages of SH2/29 North and West of Tauranga. It’s not clear when Government will build them. Imagine if Government said ‘this is part of our plan in the Bay of Plenty. We can’t afford it in the foreseeable future. Who in the world would like to build it?’

There might be no bids, the bids might involve tolls too high to be fair. The quality of construction might be too low. But what if there was a bid that would give people choice and make their lives better? Wouldn’t it be nice to get that road built and give people the choice?

That’s what’s happened with the Northern Gateway. 80 per cent of people use it and 20 per cent go the old way, presumably to avoid the toll. Everyone is better off as a result. The people who use it save a collective 1.2 million hours a year. It’s six kilometres shorter, so they use less petrol and emit less carbon. It’s one of the safest roads in the country.

That’s how Ireland got 35 per cent of its motorways. New Zealand could have a lot of new roads like this, if we made it our policy to draw up the roading wish list and invite the democratic world to make us an offer on the ones the Government cannot fund and finance. It would be a sign of a mature, outward looking country that wants to do business with our friends arund the world.

This is the kind of real change New Zealand needs to go up a gear. Free Press hopes you’ll support ACT with your Party Vote to make this and other dreams a reality in only 82 days on October 14.

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