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Stuart’s 100 #5: A Traffic Free Queen St for Christmas

Stuart’s 100 continues:

5: A Traffic-Free Queen Street for Christmas

5_Traffic_Free_Queen_Street_for_Christmas

What if Queen Street stayed closed to traffic after the Christmas Parade?

Every year for one Saturday in November Queen Street is closed to traffic for one of Auckland’s greatest traditions, the Christmas Parade. Wouldn’t it be great if we started a new tradition: keep the street closed to traffic for the rest of the day?!

xmas Queen St_7438_reduced

Queen Street as the crowd disperses just after the Christmas Parade, 2013

Why would you want to chase away 100,000 + people as soon as the parade is over? Encouraging them to stay a while could be a great boost for city centre retailers to promote Christmas shopping in the city.  It could also be a quick win to pilot future changes to Queen Street.

West End VIP Day

Traffic Free Christmas Shopping Day Oxford St London.

 

Sign up to increase cycling funding

In June the Draft Government Policy Statement (GPS) on transport was released by the Ministry of Transport. The GPS outlines where transport funding will go over the next 3 years. Sadly it considered the business as usual of focussing on the handful of Roads of National Significance projects, with everything else left to pick up the leftovers. Cycling funding was miserable with funding at set at between $15 and 33 million, and rising at $1 million per year. The midpoint of this figure is a miserable 0.7% of the total annual budget.

This led the cycling advocacy community around the country to get together to campaign for cycling to get a fairer share for cycling. They have launched a website called “On Yer Bike” making it really easy to make a submission on the Draft GPS. This has the support of at least 17 cycling advocacy groups across the country, so the aim is to get tens of thousands of submissions as a real show of force.

On-Yer-Bike

The petition is calling for the cycling budget to be at least tripled to somewhere between $45 and $90 million per year, with the wording as follows.

Dear Minister Brownlee,

I would like to see the walking and cycling budget in the 2015 Government Policy Statement on land transport increased from $15-30 million per year to $45-90 million per year for the next 3 years with progressive increases after that. This is a small increase relative to the total budget of $3.5 billion per year, but would start to make a real difference for cycling. The NZ Transport Agency should take an active leadership role in improving cycling, and should help kickstart local councils by funding more than the usual amount for cycling-specific projects.

 More and more people are taking up cycling despite the risk, and surveys conducted in Auckland, Dunedin, and by the Automobile Association all say the same thing: more than 60% of Kiwis would cycle around town if it were safe. Recent investment in the New Zealand Cycle Trails has been great, but people like me also want to be able to cycle safely around the cities and towns in which they live.

Cycle networks and safe infrastructure like protected cycle lanes are being proposed around the country. These have the potential to give people a viable choice about cycling and are the way of the future, but we’ll never get there without some real investment. Despite the clear demand, the draft Government Policy Statement proposes to spend well under 1% of the budget on walking and cycling. Please triple the cycling budget for all New Zealand.

Note that if you have more time please consider writing a fuller written submission, which can be emailed to GPS.2015@transport.govt.nz. We outlined some of the other issues with the GPS when it was released if you are looking for hints.

AT drops Newton Station for cheaper CRL

Auckland Transport have announced they are cutting the Newton Station from the City Rail link in favour of an upgraded station at Mt Eden.

A significant design change to the City Rail Link (CRL), will save over $150 million, improve the reliability and journey time of train services, minimise construction disruption in Symonds Street and reduce property purchase requirements.

Auckland Transport (AT) has decided to redevelop the existing Mt Eden Station and connect it to the CRL rather than build a new underground station at Newton.

AT chairman Lester Levy says that since the City Rail Link’s concept design was developed two years ago, there has been concerted effort to optimise the design and drive value for money.

“The change that has resulted from this focus will reduce cost by removing the very deep Newton station, which will also reduce construction disruption in upper Symonds St by 12 to 18 months.

“The improved design will connect passengers at Mt Eden Station to the CRL which previously bypassed them and improve operation reliability through the provision of a separated east-west junction so train lines won’t need to cross over each other.”

Dr Levy says the changes also will result in an improved customer experience with the CRL platform at Mt Eden now to be built in a trench similar to the New Lynn station, and be open to the sky, rather than deep underground as was the case for the proposed Newton station location. This open air location and the separated train junction will also lower operating costs.

“This is all good news, at a time when patronage is increasing and people are really seeing rail as a travel choice*. We are definitely moving in the right direction to meet government targets for CRL funding,” he says.

In addition, fewer surface properties will be required. Owners affected by the new design have been contacted directly by Auckland Transport about the change.

As well as these significant community, cost and service benefits, the development potential associated with Mt Eden Station will not be limited by volcanic cone view shafts and heritage buildings which constrained the Newton location.

Changes in the rail track alignment will also reduce vibration and noise effects on surrounding properties and improve travel times.

Dr Levy says AT’s on-going design improvement focus included a comprehensive review of all project elements by an international “challenge team” of experts.

He says information on the design changes and upcoming milestones for the CRL will be explained to the community at open days in the project area in late August/early September.

*The year to June 30 saw a 13.9% increase in rail patronage in Auckland, to 11.4 million trips.

Here’s a plan of how the Mt Eden station will work. You can see the tracks for the CRL come in underneath the ones for accessing Newmarket which lead to the station in the trench. You can also see a new road will be built that will connect the station to Mt Eden Rd. Sometimes it seems like we can’t get a PT project without having to add a new road somewhere to appease the transport gods.

Mt Eden Station Plan

And here’s an artistic impression of it.

Mt Eden Station Artistic Impression

From this information I can see two major differences between the old Newton plan and the new Mt Eden design:

Firstly, while Newton station would have been located deep under the main street of the Newton town centre area, Mt Eden station is located about 500m further south by the existing rail line. This shifts the focus of the station, and subsequent redevelopment, to the Eden Terrace area instead of Newton. This no doubt means revisiting various area plans and growth strategies, and probably requires changes to pedestrian and cycle networks and bus connections.

Secondly, Mt Eden will be located on the west side of the the new junction, which means trains running from the south to the city via Grafton and Newmarket physically can’t stop there. This is unlike Newton which would have been on the north side of the junction and a stop for all trains using the CRL. So relative to Newton, Mt Eden loses connectivity to the south and gets less frequency to the remaining city stations.

Effectively this ‘downgrades’ Mt Eden to being the first suburban station on the Western line, while Newton would have been a proper City Rail Link stations with the same service and connectivity as Britomart, Aotea and Karangahape. The design does however include a second set of platforms at Mt Eden to allow trains to run between the west and south without going to the CRL. It looks like AT plan to make up for the loss of service and connectivity by running extra crosstown trains over the top of the regular lines, more on this below.

I have quite mixed feelings about this as there appear to be some good and bad aspects to the decision.

The Good

First and foremost it’s good that AT have managed to find ways to save money on the project – although it’s not to a level that the government are suddenly going to agree to funding it starting in 2016 like the council plan. The savings which total about $166 million are made up of $152 million in reduced construction costs and $14 million in property purchases. On the latter it means AT will no longer need to buy sites around the station entrance and that the tracks can be moved slightly closer together saving on sub-surface purchases. When I spoke to them they were initially a bit hesitant to say exactly how much the project will cost but they eventually said the non-inflation adjusted price was $2.069 billion which equates to an inflated price of ~$2.7 billion (compared to the $2.86 often quoted in the media). AT are also not to buy extra trains quite as early as planned saving an extra $330 million from the upfront budget.

The change allows for a grade separated junction at Mt Eden which can help in reducing delays from trains. The one downside to this is that there will still be five other flat junctions across the network which could cause issues for trains so it doesn’t mean there still won’t be issues.

There are other benefits the engineers have managed to get out of the design including:

  • Previously all of the proposed stations were planned to be on a slight grade but now they will be able to be level.
  • They’ve improved the track alignment allowing for slightly faster trips (up to 30 seconds faster per trip from the west)
  • They’ve managed to squeeze slightly more width out of the Aotea station island platform. It will now have a slight curve on it and at it’s widest will be about 9.5m wide.
The Bad

In my view shifting the station back to Mt Eden significantly weakens the potential catchment and development potential of the station. It means that most of the land immediately south and within 800m of the station will be the existing standalone houses that are not able to be developed due to the zoning and heritage rules. It also means that the potential developments north of the original proposed station are not as likely to happen as they won’t be in as close proximity to the station. In saying this it also made me think that if we could improve access across the CMJ then it is possible some of that potential growth might be able to be served by the K Rd station which is likely to have a station entrance on Mercury Lane.

For their part AT say they think the change in station will allow for development to happen quicker on the large site that will be left after the CRL is completed. What’s more the land in the area bounded by the railway line, New North Rd and Mt Eden Rd doesn’t have the volcanic view shaft requirements on it allowing for taller buildings than in other areas around Newton. All up they say the construction will leave about 2.7ha of developable land almost right next to the station. Further as the council will own that, it’s the one who will get significant improvements in property values from the presence of the station. That fits in nicely with Michael Barnett’s correct suggestion of developing council land near stations to help pay for the councils share of the project.

Perhaps the biggest concern I have with this suggestion is that it may lock us in to having to always run West to Newmarket/South trains for perpetuity. With a Newton station it would have allowed us to run a simple network at high frequency with those going to Grafton, Newmarket or other points south doing a quick transfer across a platform. Because there is no platform on the eastern side of the Mt Eden Junction it means people transferring either have to go in to Karangahape Rd – adding at least 5 minutes to their journey – or we run direct west-south services. The problem with the latter there’s not likely to be enough demand to run them at anything other than every 20 minutes which is not turn up and go frequencies. It thumbs it’s nose at the New PT network being implemented by AT which focuses on concentrating service on core routes and encouraging transfers expand the reach of the system.

Here is what Newton may have looked like, because of it’s depth it was planned to be accessed by a series of high capacity lifts.

Newton station image

So what do you think of the change?

Update: here’s a video showing the change

Stuart’s 100 #4: Aotea Arts District

Stuart’s 100 continues:

4: Aotea Arts District

Day_4_Aotea_Arts_District

What if Aotea felt like an Arts District?

The area around Aotea Square is home to a surprising number of performing arts venues. I say surprising because it’s not often that you feel you are in an arts or theatre district walking around the square or that stretch of Queen Street between The Civic Theatre and Town Hall.

Welcome-to-Theatreland-Main-Image-663x389

Wouldn’t it be good if future changes to the area brought this arts focus to the fore? For starters, how about a ticket kiosk near the Queen Street edge of the square selling tickets for all the nearby venues? More prominent digital arts media and promotion?

ST JAMES

Restoring the St James, while big a big ticket item, also ultimately seems a no-brainer. Imagine if you had landmark restored heritage theatres on both sides of Queen Street, with future changes to provide more room for outdoor dining, gelato, and more leisurely strolling under atmospheric lighting strung across the street. Then it could really start to hum.

Print

Boston image: Khoury Levit Fong Architects (http://www.khourylevitfong.com/ )

Traffic still at 2007 levels

Gerry Brownlee’s media release yesterday trumpeted up traffic levels in 2013 surpassing those in 2012 – apparently this is a sign of New Zealand’s economic recovery that we’re driving a bit more.

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee says increases in vehicle travel and vehicle registrations reflect New Zealand’s economic recovery and growing population.

“Total travel [measured in kilometres travelled] was flat between 2005 and 2012, but growth returned in 2013 with a 1.6 per cent increase in total travel nationwide, and more recent data suggests larger increases are on the way,” Mr Brownlee says.

“Data collected by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) on State Highway usage from the first six months of 2014 suggests we will continue to see increases in travel demand.

“The highway data shows a 3.6 per cent increase in Northland and Auckland, and a 5.4 per cent increase in Canterbury in the six months to May 2014, compared with the same period a year before.

Setting aside the question of whether it makes any sense whatsoever to celebrate people driving more, further details in the release tell a more interesting story of what’s happened over the past few years:

newzealand-vkt

As you can see, the total level of vehicle fleet travel (known as “vehicle kilometres travelled or VKT) in 2013 finally made it back to 2007 levels after a sustained period below 40 billion kilometres.

Of course New Zealand’s population has grown quite significantly since 2007, which means that VKT per capita is well below the levels in early years – despite a slight uptick in 2013:

vkt-per-capita

It will be interesting to see the 2013 figures specifically for Auckland, as generally Auckland has seen a faster drop in per capita VKT over the past few years than other parts of New Zealand.

Development opportunities after CRL: Will Newton become a second Newmarket?

A couple of weeks ago Auckland Council quietly released a new version of its Capacity for Growth Study. The CFG study is an important and interesting document – it models the potential for future residential and business development under current or proposed planning rules. In other words, if you want to figure out what’s possible under the proposed Unitary Plan, take a look at the CFG study.

For example, the CFG study identifies opportunities for future residential development for throughout the Auckland region. Based on a detailed analysis of planning rules, property parcels, and existing buildings, it finds that Auckland could add up to 38,000 new dwellings on vacant lots within the urban boundaries and another 58,000 dwellings through infill development:

Capacty for growth

The CFG study also presents maps showing development potential in each local board – which is helpful for all us visual learners. Here’s the map of development potential in the city centre. The coloured areas represent vacant or partly vacant plots of land that could be developed under the proposed Unitary Plan:

Capacty for growth CBD map

One of the most interesting things about the CFG study is that it lets us get a sense of the development capacity around the three CRL stations – Aotea, K Road, and Newton. As a reminder, here’s a map of the three stations:

Alignment Map

The CFG study really highlights the potential of Newton Station – there is a lot of vacant or underused land that could be redeveloped to a high standard. Here’s a zoomed-in map of the area around Newton and K Road Stations. The Newton station catchment is, roughly, the area immediately to the south of the white motorway cordon:

Capacty for growth Newton map

The dark blue plots represent vacant lots that could be developed, while the light blue represents lots with the potential for additional buildings. Compared to the map of the full city centre area, you’ll see that Newton has more development potential than almost anywhere else around the city centre. Certainly more than K Road, which is mainly built out at this point. It helps that the area’s zoning under the proposed Unitary Plan allows for medium-height development of 8 story buildings.

The Capacity for Growth study shows that Newton Station will really be a game-changer for the area. The CRL will put Newton on the map – and once connected directly to the rail network, perhaps with an associated bus interchange, it could easily become a second Newmarket.

Stuart’s 100 #3: Plane Tree Avenues

Stuart Houghton’s 100 ideas for Auckland continues

3: Plane Tree Avenues

Day 3

Franklin Road, with its historic plane trees, is one of the most loved streets in Auckland. What if plane tree avenues defined all the major city fringe streets?

This could be interpreted more broadly, that a programme of street tree planting could be part of a wider programme of works to enhance these streets that play a key role for walking and cycling between the city centre and city fringe.

The post touched a nerve with some around natives versus exotic trees. This taps into some deep-rooted parts of the New Zealand psyche at this point in history. It would be great if we could find a way to have a mature and broad-based discussion about what all this might mean for planting trees in the highly modified urban environments of our cities.

Franklin_Road_Credit_Craig_Flickr_stream_10240761194_c0e14a455e_o

Franklin Rd, Freemans Bay: photo credit Craig Flickr photostream (https://www.flickr.com/photos/craigsyd

Jervois-Tram-and-Trees

Jervois Rd before the removal of both the trams and the London Planes in 1949. Photo: Graham Stewart

 

Submit on the Draft Parking Discussion Document

Auckland Transport have had their Draft Parking Discussion Document (2mb file) out for consultation over the last couple of months, but this closes at midnight on Thursday. This covers the full range of parking issues around the city, including on-street, off-street and park and ride. The aim is to have a more standardised approach around Auckland, and simplify the large range of legacy rules in this area. It also should be noted that this is an overarching discussion document, with detailed consultation to be undertaken on individual and local proposals once the strategy has been finalised.

No life but lots of free parking. Shaddock St, Eden Terrace.

No life but lots of free parking. Shaddock St, Eden Terrace.

Feedback on the parking strategy can be made on the Auckland Transport website here. Today AT announced that over 2000 submissions have already been made. However I suspect a large amount of these would have been made by vocal local residents groups, so it would be great to have a wide range of submissions, so I encourage our readers to submit.

Albany Mall - Aucklands most modern Metropolitan Centre...

Albany Mall – Aucklands most modern Metropolitan Centre…

The feedback form asks people to rank each of the 7 issues identified, then ask for specific comment if people like or dislike any issues. There is also the option on the final page of adding any supporting documents with a full written submissions.

The 7 issues identified are as follows:

Managing demand for parking in the City Centre, metropolitan and town centres
Competing demands for parking in residential streets
Managing off-street parking facilities
Inconsistent on-street parking restrictions across Auckland
The conflict between parking on arterial roads and improving public transport provision
Managing the demand for parking permits amongst competing users
Addressing the shortage of park and ride facilities to support public transport patronage.

Things I will be writing about in my submission include:

  • ensuring inner city parking buildings are not undercharging or encouraging people to commute to the city at peak times
  • issues with free on-street parking for local residents
  • need to remove parking on certain roads to allow for bus lanes and cycle lanes
  • supporting charging of park and rides once feeder buses and integrated fares rolled out
  • questioning need for major investment in new parking and rides in the urban areas, and ensure new park and rides
Albany P and R

Albany Park and Ride – bus station hidden behind sea of parking. Is this what we want in our urban areas?

The blog has already covered some of the issues in depth is if you are writing a submission may be worth reading over some of these posts.

Please submit online here to ensure a wide representation of voices are heard, you have until midnight Thursday to do so.

Guide to economic evaluation part 3: What is agglomeration?

Debates over major transport investments often get caught up in arguments over benefit-cost ratios, or BCRs. In recent years, projects such as the Transmission Gully and Puhoi to Warkworth motorways and the City Rail Link have been criticised for their low BCRs. These debates have often raised more questions than they resolve. So it’s necessary to ask: What is a BCR, how is it calculated, and what does it mean?

The good news is that there is a manual that explains it – New Zealand Transport Agency’s Economic Evaluation Manual (EEM). The bad news is that it’s tediously long and not written for a general audience. This series of posts aims to provide a guide for the perplexed:

In part three of this series we take a look at agglomeration, which is a potential benefit of transport projects that isn’t captured in traditional evaluation procedures.

So we’ve gotten through the most boring part of this series – the previous post on conventional transport benefits. To briefly recap:

  • Conventional transport appraisal focuses on monetary and non-monetary benefits for users – i.e. travel time savings and vehicle operating cost savings
  • However, there are also externalities associated with transport behaviours
  • Some of these externalities, such as health benefits and environmental externalities, are pretty simple to describe and analyse
  • However, other externalities which have an effect on economic activity – the so-called “wider economic impacts”, or WEIs – are a little bit more complicated.

As I said last time, NZTA has sought to incorporate transport-related externalities into their evaluation framework. As part of this work, in 2011 they commissioned a report to identify and quantify the WEIs. The report (pdf), which was written by economists Duncan Kernohan and Lars Rognlien, found evidence for three main types of WEIs: agglomeration externalities, imperfect competition benefits, and labour supply benefits. Each externality arises as a result of changes to transport costs, as follows:

Transport user benefit Externality Economic outcome
General transport time/cost reductions Agglomeration Effective density of employment increases; firms become more productive
Business travel time/cost savings Imperfect competition Firms pass on savings to customers, plus an additional amount to reflect price-cost margins
Commute time/cost savings Labour supply effects Easier commutes encourage some people to enter the labour force; they pay more income taxes as a result

If you want to understand the WEIs in more detail, I suggest you take a look at their paper, which is technical but not totally inaccessible. Here, I’d like to focus solely on agglomeration externalities – what they are, how they happen, and why we might want to include them in transport evaluation.

Agglomeration has been a hot topic in urban economics in recent years – although, technically speaking, the theory of agglomeration goes back to British economist Alfred Marshall, who identified the phenomenon in the late 1800s. Agglomeration refers to the idea that larger and/or denser places are more productive. In other words, businesses operating in large cities tend to produce more output per worker than similar businesses operating in small towns. This isn’t just a theoretical argument – it’s an observed fact.

Conceptually speaking, agglomeration externalities arise due to the existence of increasing returns to scale in an economy. Essentially, the more people work in an area, the higher the potential for knowledge spillovers between them, the lower the cost to buy and sell goods and services, and the better the matching of workers to jobs. There’s a deep economic literature describing how this process occurs and developing theories of agglomeration, but if you’re interested in a non-technical introduction to the topic, I highly recommend Edward Glaeser’s book The Triumph of the City.

As a result of these processes, larger cities and denser, more accessible places tend to be more productive. There’s a lot of empirical evidence demonstrating this relationship. In New Zealand, papers by Dave Maré (2008) and Daniel Graham and Maré (2009) found that:

  • In 2006, the Auckland urban area was 36% more productive than the rest of the country, after adjusting for industry composition. In other words, an Auckland business would be expected to produce much more output per worker than a similar business elsewhere.
  • In 2006, the Auckland city centre was one of the most productive places in the country. After adjusting for industry composition, the city centre was 72% more productive than the rest of the country.
  • There is a substantial positive relationship between density and firm productivity – firms located in areas that are twice as dense are 3.2-8.7% more productive on average, depending upon industry.

What does this “productivity premium” look like? My colleague Kent Lundberg came up with one way of visualising agglomeration by looking at land values in and around the city centre. His map shows a sharp differences between the value of city centre land and land in surrounding, less intensive environments, with a lower peak out in Newmarket. Essentially, firms see the benefit of locating in dense places, and they’re willing to pay more to do so:

A

Firms are willing to pay for proximity.

Graham and Maré’s 2009 paper was used to establish NZTA’s parameters for evaluating the agglomeration effects of transport projects. These parameters, or agglomeration elasticities, estimate the relationship between increases to the accessibility of jobs in an area and the productivity of that area. Agglomeration elasticities are highest in knowledge-intensive industries such as finance and business services, and lowest (or nonexistent) in resource-based industries like agriculture and forestry.

However, NZTA took Graham and Maré’s analysis of agglomeration one step further, arguing that what matters for firm productivity is not just physical proximity, but accessibility of jobs via transport. In other words, business productivity could potentially increase as a result of improvements to transport as well as increases in job density. There’s some empirical support for this idea –economists have tested a range of measures (pdf, technical) and found that both physical density and transport-weighted measures of density are associated with higher productivity.

That’s why agglomeration benefits are typically calculated for both public transport projects, which are expected to enable more intensive land use, and road projects, which tend to disperse economic activity throughout a greater area.

Is this what agglomeration looks like? (Source)

Is this what agglomeration looks like? (Source)

Is this a reasonable approach to project evaluation? I suppose my view would be: possibly. There are two reasons to be cautious about calculating agglomeration benefits for transport projects.

The first is that it’s conceptually difficult to define “density” really is. The economic literature presents a range of views about what measures matter most. Is it transport accessibility, even in relatively dispersed environments, as NZTA argues? Or is physical density, such as the number of jobs you can reach in a one-kilometre walk, as enthusiasts for urbanism suggest? Or is it something else entirely, such as the overall economic mass of an entire urban area regardless of whether it is compact or sprawling. Economists have studied this question from a number of angles, finding that various different measures of density and distance can predict productivity. (It’s also likely that agglomeration is nonlinear (pdf, technical), but let’s not get into that.)

The second and more serious reason for caution is that NZTA has assumed a causal relationship between effective density and productivity that might not exist in practice. Essentially, it’s not at all clear whether you can make a firm more productive by increasing the density or accessibility of the area where it operates. Do firms become more productive when they move into relatively dense areas, or do productive firms move into dense areas for other reasons?

The most likely answer is a bit of both. Research done in the UK by economists Patricia Melo, Daniel Graham and several co-authors (ungated pdf version) suggests that the causality between productivity and density runs in both directions. In other words, density breeds productivity, but productivity also breeds density. This makes logical sense, if you think about it. On the one hand, firms may be able to access knowledge spillovers and deeper labour markets in denser areas, which is likely to make them more productive. But on the other hand, more productive firms are also more likely to be successful firms. If you put a lot of successful firms in one place, that area will probably become denser as those firms hire more workers.

The upshot of this is that while there’s a good case to include agglomeration effects in transport evaluation, NZTA is using a method that probably overstates the benefits.

Next time: The dark art of demand forecasting.

$212 million in spending on roads with few benefits

A couple of days ago I received a bunch of documents from an OIA request to the NZTA on the $212 million in regional road spending announced recently. I haven’t been able to look at them yet seeing as I’m away however it looks like I’m not going to have to go through them immediately as Rob Salmond is already on the case following a similar (but not exactly the same) request to the Ministers office.

Salmond devotes a bit too much time to partisan point-scoring, as he’s an advisor to the Labour Party, but his analysis unearths some worrying facts about the economic analysis of the projects. His analysis is definitely worth reading.

As a reminder, the majority of the $212 million in new road spending was to come from the Future Investment Fund – i.e. the proceeds from recent asset sales. According to the press release, five of the fourteen “critically important regional projects” are going to be progressed immediately at a cost of $80m, they are:

  • Kawarau Falls Bridge, in Otago
  • Mingha Bluff to Rough Creek realignment, in Canterbury
  • Akerama Curves Realignment and Passing Lane, in Northland
  • State Highway 35 Slow Vehicle Bays, in Gisborne
  • Normanby Overbridge Realignment, in Taranaki.

In spite of their critical importance, Salmond finds that the projects almost all performed badly on NZTA’s cost-benefit analysis:

Five of the roading projects receive the worst kind of assessment from the officials at NZTA, an estimated benefit cost ratio of “0 to 2.” (see page 32) This means the officials cannot discount the possibility of these roads having no benefits at all, despite costing the taxpayer millions. More on this later. All the projects have a benefit cost ratio quoted as a range, partly to fudge against the public knowing the exact numbers.

Why would they want to do that? More on that later, too.

Officials estimate that up to $130 million of the highways money mooted in these projects and investigations would be wasted on roads with likely no net benefit. If some of those roads are not ultimately funded, that will represent less money wasted on roads, but more money wasted on unnecessary investigations to tell us what we already know – these projects are dogs.

NZTA considers a benefit cost ratio of 1 as an absolute minimum, as anything below that involves the country actually losing money by doing the project. Usually, of course, benefit cost ratios have to be much higher than that to attract funding, because there are so many possible good things a government can do with its limited money.

Salmond goes on to take a closer look at the analysis of one particular project, the widening of the Kawerau Falls bridge:

…the official cost / benefit ratio for the Kawerau Falls bridge was 1.1 (page 10). Officials said they have tried to recalculate this a number of times, and always come out around 1.1. So what range of benefit cost ratio appearedin the final package for Ministers to consider and promote. It looks like an obvious candidate for a “0 to 2” classification, right? 1.1 is pretty much rightin the middle of that range, yes?

No, no. Officials have instead been pressured into calling this a “1 to 3” benefit project in the summary documents (page 32). That is risible.

If a robust 1.1 becomes “1 to 3” in the sales pitch document, just imagine how dreadful the benefit cost ratios on the “0 to 2” projects really are.

There’s much more in the OIA documents that deserves careful examination and I’m keen to see what I’ve got from my requests, but it certainly looks as though many of the projects don’t add up. From the response I received it does highlight that some of the projects including the Normanby Rd Overbridge Realignment have had and Motu Bridge replacement have had no reports on them in the last 5 years.

It’s interesting to contrast this approach to roads spending with the Government’s decision to axe an extension of the highly successful Northern Busway that would have cost about the same amount.