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

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.