Bridges to Ukraine

Dr Oliver Hartwich
Insights Newsletter
13 May, 2022

International junkets for public servants are not my cup of tea. But I will make an exception for the New Zealand Transport Agency, Waka Kotahi. Let’s send their infrastructure team to Ukraine.

Waka Kotahi’s trip will not be about showing solidarity with Ukraine. That is what politicians do. Justin Trudeau just visited Kyiv, so maybe Jacinda Ardern will soon follow.

Waka Kotahi will not share lessons from its ‘Road to Zero’ campaign with the Ukrainian government, either. President Zelensky would probably not spend $10,000 on two large red prop ‘zeros’ as Waka Kotahi has just done.

No, Waka Kotahi’s trip to Ukraine will focus on learning about infrastructure delivery.

Yes, you read that right.

While news from Ukraine has mainly been about infrastructure destruction, a small miracle is taking place in the war-torn country. As Putin’s forces continue to bombard their cities, Ukrainian authorities have already begun reconstruction.

“Ukraine is rebuilding cities as fast as Russia destroyed them,” reported the Washington Post on Monday.

The article featured stories from places like Bucha, where Russian troops had massacred hundreds. The road holes where the shells exploded have been repaired. Water and electricity are back on.

Amazingly, even large pieces of infrastructure have been rebuilt. Among them were road and rail bridges that were destroyed by the Russians in the first weeks of the war.

Irpin’s main bridge is now replaced with a temporary bridge measuring nine meters wide and 245 meters long. It took five days of uninterrupted work to complete it. Even the BBC reported about the newly restored train connection from Kyiv.

This is where Waka Kotahi comes in. In the past, it has demonstrated a passion for bridges. Unfortunately, sometimes it had trouble delivering them.

Auckland’s cycling bridge, for instance, began as an idea of an $8 million clip-on to Auckland Harbour Bridge. It then morphed into something which would have cost close to a billion dollars to build. By the time the project was abandoned, Waka Kotahi had already spent $52 million. That is a lot of money for no bridge.

I am not sure how much the restored bridges in Irpin were, but I have a feeling they were not quite as expensive. Plus, they were actually built. In a few days.

So let’s send Waka Kotahi to Ukraine. And if they find Ukraine’s infrastructure secret, we may allow them to return to New Zealand

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