Diggers

I’m a boy so I like diggers. Always have. There’s something about giant machines moving large piles of dirt about the place that’s just really cool. Man (always the male) versus nature, or some such.

If diggers are cool, tunnelling machines are even more so. I left the UK before the Chunnel was built but remember watching with awe as giant science fiction machine worms burrowed into the dirt under the Channel and even shed a small tear when I read that the machines were entombed next to the tunnel on completion. They’re simply too unwieldy to remove.

The New Zealand Herald carried a piece on our own tunnel project and the machines that are coming from China to carry out the work. Despite the gushing prose, this isn’t something we have “never seen before in New Zealand” unless you exclude the Manapouri hydro scheme but it is really quite impressive nonetheless.

This project will take two years and will dig a motorway under Auckland from Owairaka to Waterview, a distance of 4.5km. The cost estimate is a cool $1.4bn.

By now you’re probably wondering why I’m prattling on about digging a tunnel. We need to ship things about the place, we have a lack of rail infrastructure and the roads are really all we’ve got for moving goods and people around Auckland, so the theory goes, which means more roads.

I drive a lot and I don’t have a problem with more roads. I know that doesn’t exactly tick the green credentials box, but Auckland is already a basket case for transport and having spent five years riding a scooter to work (and being killed twice) unless we make some fairly dramatic changes to the roads, rail and ferry infrastructure, cars are really the only answer.

By now you’ll see where this is going. The Southern Cross Cable, Pacific Fibre, the new Trans-Tasman cable and all the rest cost far less than this tunnel, yet they’re not seen as economic drivers, but a drain on the public purse, so they’re left to the private sector to undertake.

The economic lift from building a second NZ-US cable has not been determined. Will it add anything? Will the UFB add anything? We’ve got general figures from equipment makers that talk up just how much such services add to the economy but there’s been little work done on it by anyone other than those with a vested interest. I’d like to see some numbers please, because if we can pour $1.4bn into a hole in the ground, surely $400m for a cable that will help us present New Zealand as a content hub rather than a content consumer would be money well spent.