Last month the government announced it would be spending $212 million on regional roads. Every single one of the priority projects (and eight of nine lower priority projects) is in a National-held electorate, which suggested immediately that this was pre-election pork-barrelling. But now thanks to Rob Salmond and the OIA, that suspicion has been confirmed:
But local MP Bill English – who has no Ministerial responsibility for transport – requested and received two NZTA briefings in 10 days about [the Kawarau Falls Bridge]. And, lo and behold, the project has received the blessing of the normally tight-as-a-drum Minister of Finance, Bill English. It is now at the head of the queue.
English has made sure that, despite its low efficiency and low benefit cost ratio, taxpayers will spend up to $25 million on his Kawerau Falls Bridge anyway. Who wants to take bets on the name of the new bridge?
Similar Ministerial interference is likely elsewhere, too. Nick Smith in Nelson has long been an advocate of the Nelson Southern Link, despite the Environment Court rubbishing it in 2004 and NZTA panning in 2014 (Cost: Up to $50 million. Benefit cost ratio “0 to 2,” page 32.).2 And Anne Tolley in Gisborne is getting the now infamous “let's replace the Motu bridge we’ve only just fixed” project (Benefit cost ratio "0 to 2", page 32), which even the Gisborne council and local truck drivers think isn't a good idea.
They're also spinning the benefit-cost ratios; the Kawarau Falls Bridge (BCR 1.1) is classified as "1 to 3", which is just a little misleading. And if they're doing that to something which barely breaks even, the ones classified as "0 to 2" are probably all below 0.5.
These roads are basically pure pork. They are assessed as costing more money to build than they will ever produce in benefits, even using NZTA's infamously overoptimistic assessments. But they've been approved because National MPs and Ministers want to be seen as delivering something for their electorates before the election. So much for assessing needs based on merits.