Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons is questioning the wisdom of building billions of dollars worth of new roads around the country, saying the rising price of oil will eventually leave them empty.
A four-pronged roading spend-up is recommended in a report commissioned by the Automobile Association which was released this morning.
The report says the economic benefits of completing a national passing lanes project, Auckland's western ring road, Wellington's regional land transport package and Western Bay of Plenty's Strategic Roading Network will be four times the cost of $2.4 billion.
The report was produced by Allen Consulting Group and Infometrics, with backing from the Employers and Manufacturers Association and the Auckland Chamber of Commerce.
"This report applies to a fantasy world in which petrol is less than a dollar a litre and where everyone owns a car and drives it everywhere," said Ms Fitzsimons, the Green Party's Transport spokesperson.
"The reality is we're fast using up all the easily extractible oil reserves and fast approaching the point of peak oil supply, after which oil will be priced beyond the affordability of the ordinary motorist."
Ms Fitzsimons said planners should be preparing for a fundamental change in transport behaviour rather than fuelling road-builders' fantasies.
"A case in point is the Western Bay of Plenty project, which is touted in the AA report as demonstrating 'the greatest benefits to its region and the nation for every dollar spent'.
"The Port of Tauranga already has an excellent rail terminal that receives 60 per cent of the freight arriving at the port. Instead of throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at building roads for trucks, we should be looking at using the existing rail network throughout the Bay and the surrounding region and building links to key industries that use the port."
"Similarly in Auckland, which has already invested in Britomart and improved rail services. The priority must be to connect the city by rail, with a city-to-airport line and a connection from Britomart to the western line, so that the city is part of a through-service and not just a rail dead-end."
Alasdair Thompson, chief executive of the EMA, said the report found the degree of connectedness provided by major urban road networks in New Zealand was lower than in comparable countries.
He said investing far more in roads would offer a long list of benefits.
"The gains would be like those achieved in Australia including lower vehicle operating costs, less time spent in travel, better safety with fewer accidents and less accident damage, better environmental outcomes, and higher work productivity.
"The benefits flowing on indirectly would be evident not only in lower costs for moving freight such as groceries, and less costs for passenger transport, but also as they translate into higher incomes and better public health."
He said the report found that value of New Zealand roads declined as a proportion of GDP by over 19 per cent in the six years between 1993 and 1999, and has since increased by around nine per cent.
At the same time over the past decade the total kilometres travelled by both passenger vehicles increased by 113 per cent with distances travelled by commercial vehicles increasing 122 per cent.
Mr Thompson that despite recent increases in road funding, the annual spending on roads in New Zealand was still below the OECD average of 1.3 per cent of GDP.
"This indicates if we don't accelerate our commitment to road construction, our standards of education and health will continue to slip backwards compared to other OECD countries."
National Party transport spokesman Maurice Williamson said the report showed the time for talk was over.
"This report supports the view that huge benefits will be gained by pushing on urgently with key roading projects, and it is clear the Government must move now," he said.
"Unlike most other areas of policy, the Government could have a win-win-win by listening to these findings."
The four major projects studied by Allen Consulting would all eventually be built anyway but this report showed what massive gains could be made by front-end loading the funding through infrastructure bonds and completing these projects by 2012, Mr Williamson said.
Act Party leader Rodney Hide said the report highlighted "woeful underfunding" of New Zealand's road infrastructure, with the cost counted in lost lives and economic opportunities foregone.