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No Economic Rationale for $760m Warkworth Toll Road

This is the fifth in a series of posts based on the Campaign for Better Transport’s submission to the Puhoi to Warkworth Board of Inquiry. The full presentation is over at bettertransport.org.nz

In this post we look at the economic justification for the Puhoi to North Warkworth Toll Road (PNWTR).

In the executive summary of the Assessment of Environmental Effects (AEE), the NZ Transport Agency has provided the following table of economic effects:

Economic Summary from the AEE executive summary

Economic Summary from the AEE executive summary

While the NZTA assert that there are positive economic effects from the project, the only evidence supplied is a letter providing a high level assessment.  The letter contains general assertions such as “there will be improvements in the economic welfare for Auckland and Northland businesses and residents”, but no quantitative analysis is undertaken.

NZTA claim that the Project will lead to reductions in vehicle operating costs, yet travel time savings for many in the Warkworth and Matakana regions will be in the order of one or two minutes.  Tolls will add significantly to vehicle operating costs, so claiming vehicle operating costs will reduce is unsubstantiated.

No evidence-in-chief has been supplied to back up any of the positive economic effects claimed in the Executive Summary.

At the Board of Inquiry,  NZTA’s Tommy Parker said the idea of the PNWTR is to stimulate the economy in the north:

It is also important for the Board to know that this is seen as a lead infrastructure so the nature of the policy is to provide infrastructure that will stimulate economic growth in areas of economic potential, and that you will be aware that the two regions that will be affected by this project is New Zealand’s most prosperous region in Auckland and one of its least prosperous regions in Northland. So the idea is to connect the two, get greater connectivity between the two to stimulate the economy in the north.

The reality is there is no correlation between travel time savings and economic growth in Northland.  In March of this year, Statistics NZ published regional GDP figures. Here is the chart for Northland:

Northland GDP (source Statistics NZ)

Northland GDP (source Statistics NZ)

 

On 25th January 2009, the Northern Gateway Toll Road (NGTR) opened, offering a travel time saving of up to 9 minutes.  This is a far greater travel time saving than that offered by the PNWTR, so you would expect to see a corresponding increase in GDP for Northland if there is a linkage between road building and GDP.

You can see that immediately after opening, GDP in Northland dropped, before rebounding to the 2009 level.  There was clearly no correlation for the NGTR, so it is likely that the PNWTR, with smaller travel time savings, will also have no correlation with economic growth.

NZTA have not quantified how project travel time savings equate to economic benefit. Table 7 of the Traffic Assessment Report shows Northbound travel time savings:

Table 7: Northbound travel times in minutes

Table 7: Northbound travel times in minutes

The third column is headed up “2026 Project using fastest route”, because in the bottom three scenarios the fastest route is via SH1, not the toll road. The use of percentage figures gives the impression that travel time savings are significant. However, the travel time savings for the Warkworth, Woodcocks and Eastern Beaches routes are miniscule – just one or two minutes at most times of the day. (Ignorning HS and HE which stand for Holiday Start and Holiday End). It is unlikely that these travel time savings will equate to any meaningful economic benefits.

Here are the Southbound trips from Table 8:

southboundtts

Travel time savings are claimed to be greater, but the odd thing here is that this is because the base case travel times are so much more than for the north bound trips. No reason is given in the report for this.

It may be related, but there is a bit of an anomaly with the routes used determine travel times. The report says the 2026 Base Case assumes that the Western Collector will be completed. This is shown on the map below.

Warkworth Western Collector, forecast to be complete by 2021

Warkworth Western Collector, forecast to be complete by 2021

The Western Collector should offer travel time savings to Woodcocks and possibly to the North for trips on the existing SH1. However, looking at the travel time routes used for the 2026 scenarios, the Western Collector clearly isn’t used to determine the base case numbers above.

Figure 15: 2026 Travel time routes of the Transportation Assessment Report

Figure 15: 2026 Travel time routes of the Transportation Assessment Report

Instead of turning opposite McKinney Rd, trips to and from Woodcocks are modelled to take the long route. This will be overstating the Base Case travel times for trips to the Woodcocks area and possibly to / from the North as well.

Contrast the complete lack of economic evidence for the PNWTR with the evidence-in-chief supplied for the Basin Reserve Board of Inquiry. Here is what NZTA’s economist has to say about that project:

From Basin Reserve BOI Evidence In Chief

From Basin Reserve BOI Evidence In Chief

NZTA acknowledge that economics are relevant considerations under the RMA for the Basin Reserve Flyover, but apparently this is not the case for the PNWTR. You could argue that a Benefit Cost Ratio of 1.2 is hardly a ringing endorsement of the economic worth of the Basin Reserve flyover, but at least NZTA have bothered to carry out some kind of calculation of the benefits of travel time savings, vehicle operating cost savings and so on against the cost of the project. Presumably the economics of the PNWTR are so bad that NZTA would rather not provide an economic assessment at all. NZTA should not be able to pick and choose which projects they provide an economic business case for, and which they do not.

Bear in mind that the discussion of economics at the Board of Inquiry takes place in the context of the Resource Management Act.  Commissioner Chandler made the following comment at the hearing on the 10th April:

MR CHANDLER: Perhaps I’ll just mention, Mr Pitches, talking about cost benefit ratios, the Board of course cannot take cost benefit ratios into account in its decision making.

MR PITCHES: All right. So just to respond to that. Benefit cost ratios generally are an indicator of the economic worth of the project, which is why I included it in my presentation. I still stand by my statement that the Resource Management Act place weight upon the economic value of the proposed project and should be considered.

To me it seems ludicrous that the Board should not consider the economic worth of the project, as measured through a benefit cost ratio.  If the NZTA were proposing a 32 lane motorway then surely a Board of Inquiry would be obliged to test the economic rationale. But then again I’m not an RMA lawyer.

Perhaps it comes down to how adequately the NZTA have considered alternatives.  I will be covering this in my next post.

Photo of the day – Vulcan Lane

Vulcan Lane alive with people

Photo is credited to oh.yes.melbourne

The two-sided density dividend: Agglomeration economies in *consumption*

Why are people – both in NZ and around the world – increasingly choosing to live in cities?

The answer usually advanced in response to this question, at least from an economic perspective, is “agglomeration economies”. In this post I want to unpack a few things about agglomeration economies, before discussing why I think our current understanding places too much focus on production as opposed to consumption. The post finishes by (briefly) considering why I think agglomeration economies in consumption are relevant to transport policy.

First, let’s consider how agglomeration economies are defined. In general, agglomeration economies are understood as the external economies of scale that arise from proximity. I tend to think of agglomeration economies as spatial economies of scale.

An example may help.

Consider street-lighting. Here the costs of provision (whether public or private) is largely independent of the number of people who actually benefit from the investment. Hence, the cost per person of providing street lighting will tend to be lower in larger and/or more dense areas.  This type of agglomeration economies is one reason why larger (and in particular denser) cities are able to support more specialised public services, such as displays of giant pieces of fruit made from steel-pipe offcuts.

P1010251b

There are a number of other ways in which agglomeration economies give cities a productive advantage. Larger and more dense cities, for example, tend to have more efficient labour markets, in which better matches are found between firms and employees. City centres in particular seem to generate knowledge spillovers, whereby proximity facilitates formal and informal networking which in turn contributes to higher rates of innovation. While agglomeration economies vary across cities and industries, they do appear to be relatively significant. A doubling in Auckland’s “effective density”, for example, would be expected to cause a 5-10% increase in productivity (NZTA 2009).

But is this the full story? More specifically, is increased productivity the only way in which agglomeration economies can contribute to quality of life?

I think not. Instead, I’d suggest that a large part of the so-called “density dividend” manifests by way of benefits to consumers rather than producers Let me present two (personal) examples of agglomeration economies in consumption.

First, consider the “where shall Stuart eat dinner problem”. Now, I am someone who appreciates good food. So the fact I can access a diverse range of restaurants from my apartment in central Auckland makes me very happy. And while culinary contentment ranks high on my list of priorities, it does not directly contribute to increased productivity (NB: given how much time I spend dining out there is a high chance the presence of these restaurants has the opposite effect!). In this example, density has supported greater specialisation in the provision of goods and services (restaurants), which in turn leads to a more contented Stuart.

Second, consider the “who shall Stuart date” problem. Now I’m not ashamed to say that I was recently introduced to the word of “Tinder”, and by golly there’s much romantic fun to be had. For those of you who don’t know about Tinder, let me explain briefly: Tinder is an app for your mobile phone which enables you to “connect” (in all its wonderful forms) with people in the immediate vicinity. So how on Cod’s green earth is this related to agglomeration economies? Well, consider this: The number of potential Tinder matches is directly related to the sheer number of people in the surrounding area. Finding a Tinder match is simply a numbers game in which people living in Auckland’s city centre have a distinct advantage compared to, say, people who live in Waiuku.

As a tip for new Tinderers, I’d suggest taking an evening stroll up Maungakiekie to view splendid sunsets and rainbows.

DSC00109b

So based on my own personal experiences of food and dating, I feel compelled to argue that agglomeration economies in *consumption* are relatively significant. Call me a hedonist if you will, but I’m as interested in consumption as I am in production. “Work to live”, as they say.

Unfortunately, consumer benefits don’t seem to rate a mention in most formal academic analyses of agglomeration economies. For example, when completing my masters thesis in economics I could uncover only *one* study of agglomeration economies in consumption, which was published in the Journal of Urban Economics in 2000 and titled “Separating urban agglomeration economies in production and consumption” (NB: I studied Spatial Economics at VU University, Amsterdam; I’d highly recommend this course to people interested in these kinds of spatial economic issues).

The paper’s author finds evidence of substantial agglomeration economies in consumption. More specifically, he finds that while agglomeration do increase nominal wages it tends to decreases real wages, once increased costs, such as congestion, pollution, and housing, are taken into account. In the context of an economic equilibrium that seems counter-intuitive, unless of course there is another (unobserved) countervailing economic benefit which arises from living in cities. The author posits this countervailing effect is agglomeration economies in consumption. While this is an interesting finding, I’d be the first to admit that more research is required before we draw a line under agglomeration economies in consumption.

If you’re still reading by this stage let me reward you by considering one final question: Why might agglomeration economies in consumption be relevant to transport policy?

The answer to this question is that agglomeration economies in consumption are likely to vary considerably between projects that concentrate development, versus those that disperse development. Project like the City Rail Link, for example, will tend to concentrate land use development not just in the city centre but everywhere there is a station. This concentration may in turn be expected to result in agglomeration benefits in consumption as more firms are able to overcome the fixed costs of setting up shop. Hence, agglomeration benefits in consumption may be relatively significant when considered across the entire rail network (in contrast to agglomeration economies in production, most of which will tend to be realised in the city centre).

And how might these agglomeration economies in consumption look when they eventuate? Well, the way they always have, both in NZ and overseas: As cute little shopping centres centered around train stations. Like Kingsland. That’s something worth investigating, methinks.

P.s. Hope you enjoyed “consuming” this somewhat nerdy post!

P.P.s. Puppy photo time! Not sure whether Princess Ku or I was the most chuffed with how the Tinder date worked out …

Puppy

Herald confirms our electric trains are quiet

The Herald yesterday ran a story on just how quiet the new electric trains are. In a polar opposite there was a lot of noise on twitter about how the article was initially presented but after getting past that it provided some really useful information on just how good these trains are. Here’s the useful bit:

Informal noise sampling by the Herald measured the highest level inside electric multiple unit (EMU) number 129 at 72.9 decibels, compared with 83.6dB reached inside a locomotive-hauled train and 92dB in a diesel multiple unit between Puhinui and Homai stations on Auckland’s southern railway line.

With just the air-con switched on before the electric motors kicked in, the top level was 69dB.

A rule of thumb is that every increase of 10 decibels represents a doubling of noise, meaning a jet aircraft taking off at 100dB is roughly eight times as loud as a passenger car clocking 70dB at 105km/h.

Differences were even more pronounced outside the various trains, where the electric was at least four times quieter than diesels accelerating out of stations.

It reached a top count of 77dB when pulling out of its Wiri depot, compared with a high of 99.6dB for the DMU and 101.6dB for a loco-hauled train thundering away from Puhinui Station.

But being far quieter than the trains they will be replacing in a line-by-line rollout to mid-2015 presents a serious new challenge for the electrics, as they will be harder for pedestrians to hear coming.

That means rail operator Transdev is asking its drivers to take extra care to sound warning alarms when approaching level-crossings.

The differences in noise levels are substantial and it’s something I’ve noticed on the few times I’ve been lucky enough to have a trip on one of the EMUs. It’s quite telling also as I still remember a conversation with a one of the senior engineers involved in the project over a year ago. He told me that while they knew these trains would be quieter, they weren’t sure just how they would compare to a carriage in an SA set (the loco hauled ones) which are noisy if you’re in a carriage near the locomotive but can be quite as you move away from it. I’ve graphed the results the Herald recorded.

Note: This chart has been updated to represent perceived loudness rather than simple decibels.

The vast improvement in the exterior noise is impressive and something that is bound to be a welcome relief for those that live, work or play alongside a rail line. In fact if the figures are right then the new trains are quieter on the outside than the existing trains are on the inside. I think it will hugely improve the viability of increased densities along the rail corridor. You can get a sense for how quiet they are from this video

Another good example is this video from TVNZ during the testing.

What caused attention on twitter though was the attention on the noise of the air-conditioning. Basically the trains are so quite that when first turned on the air-con is slightly audible. To me it’s actually a good sign as it shows the rest of the train is of such a high quality that the only issue able to be picked up was air-con noise. What’s more it appears that the engineers are working hard to improve it further.

Acoustic engineers have been trying to soften the air-conditioning noise on Auckland’s new electric trains with a week to go before they are rolled out for commuter use.

A constant air-conditioning hum overlaid the gentle whirring of electric motors and clickety-clack of rail tracks as the Herald joined trainee drivers on a test run of one of five trains being readied to carry passengers between Onehunga and Britomart next week.

Auckland Transport, which is importing 57 three-car trains from Spain for about $540 million in a cost-sharing purchase and maintenance deal with the Government, insists their air-con units already meet noise and efficiency specification limits for both heating and cooling.

That follows considerable design work and the installation of noise-reducing material, said a spokesman for the council body.

But he acknowledged engineers were still fine-tuning the systems to maximise passenger comfort.

He suggested it would be unfair to represent the air-conditioning noise of an empty train heading out of its depot into humid outside conditions as typical of what passengers should expect from next Monday.

“The air-con would have been working very fast until the train reached normal temperature.”

He also believed it would have been more noticeable in an empty carriage with little background noise.

I like the fact that the engineers are working to improve the customer experience further where they can. I just hope that AT manage to start paying this much attention to the customer experience across all of their operations because if they do then there will be a bright future ahead.

Only 5 days to go till these trains start carrying fare paying passengers for the first time

SECOND EMU_7040

Photo by Patrick Reynolds

Photo of the day: Problem not a lack of roads

This photo from Lennart Nout on Twitter today of the morning peak shows that the problem with traffic in Auckland isn’t a lack of roads. During the off peak and during times like school holidays there is more than enough capacity available on the roads. 

This is looking north from Northcote Rd

What we really need to address is how we move people during peak times. In my view investing in alternatives like the Congestion Free Network is the best way to do that.

CFN 2030A

Mahurangi Matters on the Puhoi Warkworth Board of Inquiry

To date there has been limited media coverage on the Puhoi Warkworth Board of Inquiry.

Fortunately Karyn Scherer, from the local Warkworth newspaper Mahurangi Matters, is one of the few reporters attending the BoI.  She writes in her opinion piece:

As someone who lives not too far north of where the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway is likely to terminate (or originate), I should be eagerly awaiting its completion.  I travel to Auckland fairly regularly and I have to confess I rather enjoy slipping my sedan into cruise control once I hit the Northern Gateway, and cranking up the stereo.

This is the thinking of most of the general public I think.  Perhaps it explains why there hasn’t been much media coverage – the promise of the freedom of the open road, unimpeded by others means that few are able to conceive the construction of the toll road will be anything but a good thing.  Others may buy into the NZTA argument that this is “lead infrastructure”, and even though the capacity isn’t required now, there will come a time when it is. Ms Scherer continues:

But even before this month’s public hearing into the motorway extension began, I was starting to have doubts about whether it was a good idea.

Meeting some of the people whose lives have already been destroyed by the proposal because they live along the route was more than just food for thought. Sure, you need to crack a few eggs in order to make an omelette, but shouldn’t we also consider whether too many omelettes will give us a heart attack one day?

The most sense I have heard so far in the hearing was from the Campaign for Better Transport, a voluntary organisation of about 50 people that has won some important battles over transport issues. The elephant in the room at the country lodge in Silverdale where the hearing is taking place is the economic rationale for the project. Basically, there isn’t one. It’s a political decision, driven largely, I suspect, by the Government’s desire to spend up on infrastructure to help stimulate the economy in the wake of the GFC.

Bingo! Ms Scherer is a former business reporter at the Herald.

The problem with such Keynesian responses is that there is a long-term price to be paid.

I’m well aware that most people in this area want the new motorway – but few seem to have given much thought as to who will pay for it, and whether it is worth it. There is no such thing as a free motorway, so ultimately it will be taxpayers who fit the bill, and those who pay the tolls.

Those who can’t afford the tolls will miss out on its benefits. Ironically, they are likely to be commuters who travel to Auckland for work, and could do with a decent motorway. For much less than $760 million, says the CBT, we could upgrade the existing highway and everyone would benefit.

Read what the CBT has to say in this transcript. It starts at page 382.

At last, some commentary on the fact that this will be a toll road, and the fact that there is no economic business case behind it.  Because the northern junction of the project is almost two kilometres to the north of Warkworth’s main intersection, there is a high probability that many Warkworth and Matakana residents aren’t actually going to use the new route, especially if it is tolled.

The transcript linked to in the editorial relates to the presentation I gave to the Board on the 9th of April. My appearance was supposed to be at 11:00am, however I wasn’t called until 4:30pm by which time any media had gone home.

The following day I was sworn in and cross-examined by the NZTA and the Board for 40 minutes. I think this transcript (from page 412) is more revealing of the Board’s thinking.  I’ve put the highlights below the fold to stop this post from getting too lengthy.

Continue reading Mahurangi Matters on the Puhoi Warkworth Board of Inquiry

How rail was saved in Auckland

Next Monday will be a historic day for transport in Auckland as for the first time the city will have electric trains carrying fare paying passengers. Electrifying the rail network is something that has been talked about for 90 years, mostly in conjunction with a version of the City Rail Link. While Britomart was undoubtedly a turning point for rail in Auckland it wouldn’t have been possible without some key events and a whole pile of luck that occurred just over a decade earlier, without which it is unlikely we would have a rail system today. One man was at the centre of it all and this is the story of how he saved rail in Auckland.

The story starts in the late 80′s where the Auckland rail network is in serious decline. The trains were being run under the name of City Line which was part of NZ Rail Ltd and also ran a number of bus services.

Unlike Wellington which had just fairly new electric trains, the trains running on the Auckland network were decrepit and consisted of former long distance carriages that had been converted for suburban use. They were originally built in 1936 and had steel frames but the bodies were made from wood. They were also hard to access, requiring customers to climb up into the trains from what were basically oversized kerbs that masqueraded as station platforms. The video below shows what these trains looked like and there are more linked to here. Also note: to change ends there was no driving cab like today, the locomotive had to be uncoupled and moved to the other end of the train at a station with a passing loop.

At the time Auckland had also seen numerous grand plans for new public transport networks but none ever saw the political support needed to actually implement them. At the time the latest idea was convert the western line to light rail using a tram train from Henderson then send it via a tunnel under K Rd before running down the surface of Queen St. The problem was the idea couldn’t get political support. The City Council didn’t want trams on Queen St and the regional council saw it as competition to the Yellow Bus Company which they owned 90% of. That left Auckland with its near derelict trains and not much hope for the future.

It’s now the early 90′s and enter Raymond Siddalls. With a year to go before the regional council took over the contracting of services he was in charge running the suburban fleet. His bosses had also tasked him with shutting the Auckland network down. With an aging fleet, falling patronage and little political support (both locally or nationally) no one thought it could be made to work. After looking at the operations Raymond was surprised to find that with with a restructure he was be able to cut down the costs and actually have the company start making a profit on the gross contracts it held.

The critical time came in 1991 when a decision needed to be made on how to move forward. New legislation controlling how public transport services would operate was coming into effect and basically changed everything. No longer could PT be treated as a social service and the focus was on making PT stand up commercially. The legislation also didn’t allow for any distinction between rail and bus services which meant bus companies could tender for rail routes. Note: this legislation is still in effect today and has had a significant negative effect on the planning and provision of PT for over two decades. The new PTOM legislation should address most (but not all) of the issues it caused.

With the network actually making a profit the operation was kept going and the operating company tendered for the 120 services a day that they were already running (today there are something like 365 services per day). One problem though was each service had to take on the full cost of running the network. They subsequently were able to re-tender for the services as a combined timetable which allowed the costs to be shared across all services.

The councils started to get on board and the company was awarded the contract in the South for three years while in the west it was for four years. They were then able to successfully argue that with a 4 year contract on the entire network there was a chance to look at new rolling stock which would boost and the councils agreed to this. The contract was due to start in June 1992.

Around this time it just so happened that one staff member was about to go to Perth to attend a wedding. Perth was just about to finish electrifying their rail network and so the staff member was asked to drop in to find out what they were planning to do with their unneeded DMU’s (Diesel Multiple Units – the ones that don’t have a locomotive).

It turns out there were no plans for them and so subsequently Raymond flew over to inspect and value the trains. He made a call that there were no other buyers interested in them and so put in an offer for them at scrap value. All up he was aiming for 20 trains and his hunch about no other buyers being interested paid off, managing to secure 19 of them.

One of the ADLs as they looked before being refurbished in the mid 2000′s

With a new fleet of trains seemingly secured it wasn’t the end of the problems though. Perth is flat and the steepest track has a grade of 1:200 while Auckland is far from flat with trains needing to be able to handle grades of 1:36. This meant many needed their engines and transmissions overhauled to be able to handle the Auckland conditions. They also wanted to refurbish the trains by re-upholstering the seats and replacing the floor coverings. Lastly they had to raise the platform heights around the network so that people could actually get on to the trains. To make things even more difficult in Auckland the rail unions were striking trying to reopen the workshops and re-employ some of the staff who had been laid off by the earlier rail restructuring.

To fund the overhaul, refurbishment and raise the platform heights it was determined that the only way they could make it viable would be if the rail contract was extended to 10 years. Due to the confirmed availability of rolling stock this was considered a good deal. As such the regional council ended up voting unanimously to support the proposal with one person abstaining - the abstention was from a light rail advocate.

In another stroke of luck all of this happened just before the rail network was privatised, something that could have put the whole idea in jeopardy.

At around the time the DMU’s were introduced patronage on the rail network reached its lowest point ever of just over 1 million trips per year. Within a couple of years after their introduction, the DMU’s were responsible for a reverse in the in the patronage decline that had been witnessed over the previous decades. It then continued to grow and reached about 2.5 million trips before Britomart was opened. It was also that growth that helped give the political courage needed to get Britomart built.

Historic Rail network patronage

Raymond also happened to table the idea of Britomart all the way back in 1990 and he was instrumental in ensuring that a corridor was left to the site of Britomart as the initial plan had been to sell off the old rail yard land entirely.

Put simply without the actions that Raymond took we almost certainly would not have a rail network today that is about to served by modern electric trains. He has been a hero to PT in Auckland that I think the city should be eternally thankful for. Thanks Raymond.

Note: Thanks to Raymond for agreeing to share his memories with us. Also thanks to Auckland Transport (where Raymond currently works) for allowing us to talk to him.

Disney’s 1950′s vision for roads

I’ve posted this before but following on from my post this morning, this video from Disney in 1958 shows the kind of vision that has dominated our transport and land use planning for such a long time.

Some things mentioned in here have actually come true or seem close to doing so while others I’m very thankful that haven’t.

Now where’s my sun powered electro suspension car?

 

Just another $500 million

The herald this week ran a large piece on the projects under construction as part of the Western Ring Route (WRR) including aerial photos of the progress. The projects covered were:

  • The Waterview Connection breaking it down by:
    • The Southern end
    • The Northern end
    • The Waterview interchange
  • The raising and widening of the Northwestern Motorway Causeway
  • The Te Atatu Interchange
  • The St Lukes Interchange
  • The Lincoln Rd Interchange

But the thing that got me about the article was this part

The 4.8km link between the Southwestern and Northwestern Motorways will fill the last-but-one gap in the 48km Western Ring Route. It will bypass the city to the west and link Manukau, Auckland, Waitakere and North Shore.

All that will be left to complete, by about 2019, will be a $500 million-plus motorway-to-motorway interchange at the northern end of the route.

It’s made to sound like it’s some sort of minor completion task but in reality at $500 million it would be the second most expensive road project in Auckland after the Waterview tunnels. What’s more it’s all just to satisfy some transport planners desire to make a map look prettier.

SH18-SH1 map gap

The project is more than twice the cost of a similar junction at Manukau built just a few years ago. It’s even almost enough to get a fully offline busway all the way to Silverdale – not that it’s needed that far yet (but NEX services to Silverdale are). It will be eclipsed in price any time soon by $800 million Puhoi to Warkworth motorway (if it goes ahead). 

Further it’s also technically incorrect to say that’s the final project for the Western Ring Route as there is still an estimated $100 million upgrade of the Royal Rd interchange (and associated widening either side of it) that will be left to do. Also needing to be included are the costs of widening the Northern and Southern motorways either side of the western ring route which the NZTA say are needed to handle the traffic from the WRR.

All up over the span of the roughly 13 years that we will have actually been building it, the Western Ring Route will costing us almost $4 billion. That’s on top of other major motorway projects that have been/are going on like the Victoria Park Tunnel, Newmarket Viaduct replacement and the myriad of projects the government announced last year they would fast track. Here’s a breakdown of the costs of the various WRR Projects

WRR Costs

It’s the ability to really break some of these mega projects down into small chunks that I think has been instrumental in Auckland forging ahead with so many motorway projects ahead of other transport investments. Projects like the CRL have suffered because they require the entire thing to built before they become usable and the price tag then looks scary. However spreading out the cost of the CRL over the years it will take to build shows that annually it’s about the same as what we’ve been pouring into these motorway projects. (note: cost of CRL in today’s dollars is ~$1.8 billion other costs often quoted include extra trains for an inefficient operating pattern and future inflation).

All of this makes me wonder how different the public would have perceived these projects if upfront they had been told it would have cost almost $4 billion to build. Would public sentiment about what transport projects we should build be different if we could have had a more realistic discussion about how much things cost.

High St Crossing Fixed

You might remember a post from a while ago where Kent outlined a slightly silly situation at the top of High St. He noted pedestrians wanting to walk along Victoria St were forced to wait out a full cycle of the lights to cross with the Barnes Dance… even when traffic was behind a red signal and pedestrians could safely cross regardless.

Well I’m pleased to note that the crossing has been fixed. People crossing High St now get the green man at all times except the phase when traffic exiting High St has got the green. In other words, a parallel pedestrian green has been added to the main Victoria St phase when cars can’t exit High St anyway, and the regular scramble crossing phase still happens too.

Great work Auckland Transport, keep those quick wins coming!

On a side note, if there isn’t any High St traffic waiting that phase isn’t triggered, the Barnes Dance goes very regularly and the side crossing stays green the whole time. Maybe it’s time to shift the Victoria St carpark exit up to Kitchener St where the entrance is, and keep those cars off High St altogether?

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