Tuesday, September 8, 2009

At some stage

$1 BILLION EXPRESS DELIVERY blared the front-page
headline of the Waikato Times on 27 August, above
a story that began:

Waikato roads are about to get a near $1 billion boost
with a third devoted to finishing the long-awaited
Waikato Expressway.

The Government today announced details of a $938m
package, $300m of which is earmarked for fast-tracking
the Waikato Expressway from Auckland to Cambridge,
including bypasses for Te Rapa, Cambridge,
Ngaruawahia and Rangiriri…

[New Zealand Transport Agency regional director Harry]
Wilson said the announcement this morning sealed a 32
per cent increase in roading funding for the region on the
previous three years' spending.

'This is tremendous news for the region and New Zealand,'
Mr Wilson said, adding it would likely contribute major
economic growth to the wider Waikato region…

Hamilton East MP David Bennett, who described the
announcement as 'a big win for the Waikato'…also said it
would be a catalyst for economic growth.

What we see here, pure and undiluted, is a mindset so
entrenched that it goes, literally, without saying. The
newspaper itself has totally signed up to it. The equation
runs something like: roads=development=growth=jobs
=more money flowing into the region=higher living
standards for the people of Waikato—and the bigger the
roads, the better for everyone. And why not? In most
people’s minds, this apparently simple arithmetic has
served New Zealand well so far. For most of us, it's
virtually automatic to think that way. To not think that
way is to somehow feel that you're going backwards into
a darker, dirtier past. Horse-drawn traffic. Poo on the
streets. People wearing sandals. That sort of thing.

Hovering over the whole equation like a golden halo is
the spirit of Progress, which, as Bill McKibben says at
the start of his book Deep Economy, has for most of
human history been predicated on the idea that we can
have More and Better at the same time. Objectively, the
double whammy of peak oil and global warming has put
paid to that idea, but the realization that from now on it
has to be More or Better is taking time to get through to
our comfortable, cushioned minds. It has barely disturbed,
for instance, the collective mentality of the current New
Zealand government, which is cheerfully pouring money
into highway development as if there were no tomorrow—
which, in their minds, on this evidence, there clearly isn't.

Of the $938 million allocated to Waikato by the Transport
Agency with the government's blessing, $25.6 million will
be spent on public transport and $4.4 million on cycle and
pedestrian projects. Weep if you may. The story is being
repeated in other regions around the country.

Four days after publishing the above, the Waikato Times
a paper, by the way, that I generally admire—editorialized
excitedly about the roading spend-up: ‘The handbrake has
come off… a spectacular result for the region… Bulldozers
could be on the Te Rapa bypass next year.'

It would be interesting to know, reading this, what planet
the Waikato Times imagines its readers belong to. The
editorial goes on to ponder, briefly, the merits of a train
service between Hamilton and Auckland but dismisses the
immediate need for that by briskly concluding that a train
service is a 'want' but a completed expressway is a 'must.'
The real kicker, however, comes in the last paragraph,
when the writer loftily declares (my italics): 'At some stage,
Waikato and the country in general are going to have to
address public transport issues.'

Ah yes. At some stage. That's the day after tomorrow, isn't
it? Or is it the day after that? Your guess is as good as mine.
But it's no guess that the world's oil is running out fast, and
that alternative technologies for petrol replacement haven't
a bolter's show of fuelling the volume of traffic that's
supposedly going to be zapping up and down the Waikato
Expressway within the next few years.

'Surprisingly,' noted the Times, to its own apparent
bemusement, 'there has been muted reaction to the [big
roading spend-up] moves. Hamilton Mayor Bob Simcock,
a former National MP himself, while acknowledging the
impetus it would provide, lamented the lack of commitment
to public transport.'

Perhaps the paper could now produce another front-page
story, only this time one that tries to find out just why there
has been 'muted reaction.' Could be there's a change in the
air out there that the Waikato Times—which normally
strives hard to reflect what its readers want—hasn't picked
up on yet, and that the mayor has. The Romans loved
building more and better highways too. Most of them are
walking tracks now.

1 comment:

Sanctuary said...

I commute a lot between Auckland and Napier. I welcome with open arms the idea of bypassing Smallville, Waikato on my way down to Hawkes Bay. i reckon this expressway already has knocked 20-30 minutes off the journey, and completing as advertised will knock 30-40 minutes off the trip.