1 Mar 2023

'Let's not penny pinch': Large scale investment in roading needed, Bridges says

6:51 am on 1 March 2023
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Photo: Dom Thomas

Future proofing the state highway network following Cyclone Gabrielle and flooding events should be a priority, Auckland Business Chamber chief executive and former transport minister Simon Bridges says.

Waka Kotahi said it would be months if not years of patch ups or complete rebuilds before the country's roading network was back on its feet.

State Highway 25A - a vital route into the Coromandel - will be out of action for a year.

Bridges told Checkpoint it was not so much a funding issue as a long-term planning issue.

"We do need to worry about quality, it is an investment, we don't have to do the old kind of pay as you go, we can do this over time."

The bigger issues were about ability and capability, he said, and whether we had the firms and workers to do that job.

A new visa was being set up to bring in specialist workers from overseas to assist with the rebuild from Cyclone Gabrielle and the Auckland floods.

Bridges said this was good to see but he worried about the short-term nature of the visa.

"There's some big issues here around funding but more particularly our capacity to do this.

"When we get around to this, let's do it properly."

So, how does the government pay for this?

Finance and Cyclone Recovery Minister Grant Robertson has not ruled out a 'cyclone tax' to help fund the solution and rebuild.

It was a position the National Party has criticised and the Green Party was backing.

Bridges said because it was an intergenerational issue, he thought borrowing would be acceptable.

"We do have a low public debt and I think that encourages an investment approach, that it's not penny pinching around these main arterial routes that we need to see."

Some of this issue could be depoliticised, he said.

"I sit there and think actually there should be cross party support for doing some of the urgent roads that are required at pace."

Bridges said he would be "surprised and disappointed" if parties voted against the kind of law passed following the Kaikōura earthquake "that cut through some of the red tape" as long as it didn't over-reach.

"Everyone understands these roads are urgently required to be rebuild because they're lifelines and some of those other ones might take a bit longer and not be to the same standard," he said.

"Let's think long-term, let's not penny pinch, these are investments."

During his opening statement in Parliament last week National Party leader Christopher Luxon spoke about the need for bipartisan solutions, including on cyclone response.

"If there's any special legislation that the government feels is needed that actually enables a faster reconstruction and enables critical infrastructure to get built we will be very supportive of that."

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