There were some interesting announcements yesterday on the Puhoi-Wellsford “holiday highway”. While the first stage to Warkworth is being brought forward for completion within 9 years (that may sound like a long time, but at least half of that would be construction time, so the first step of construction might happen within the next four years), the second stage between Warkworth and Wellsford seems to have sensibly been pushed off into the never-never.
It is also interesting to see that the cost for the project is now given as $1.4 billion, whereas before I had seen figures of above $2 billion. I wonder whether this $1.4 billion simply covers the first stage, or whether we’re looking at more of a basic upgrade and widening, as opposed to the ‘completely new motorway alignment’ that was expected.
Anyway, here’s the full press release:
Pushing forward with Puhoi to Wellsford
Transport Minister Steven Joyce has welcomed confirmation of the NZ Transport Agency’s plans for a $1.4 billion strategic upgrade of State Highway 1 from Puhoi to Wellsford and expressed frustration over the lack of planning for the route prior to last year.
He says early signs are that the first stage from Puhoi to Warkworth will be complete within 9 years but that the second stage (Warkworth to Wellsford) will be more challenging to finish in that time. However, that remains the Transport Agency’s goal.
“The government’s $10.7 billion commitment to state highway funding over the ten year period means that funding is not the big issue for this project but the reality is design, consultation and consenting processes all take time.
“On our current timetable this will be the fastest ever major highway project completed in this country from go to whoa.”
The government announced the Puhoi to Wellsford section of State Highway 1 as a road of national significance in March last year and work began after that to scope the project and commence investigation of route options.
“Given the previous government seemed to believe the job finished at Puhoi and had no intention of four-laning beyond that, we were beginning from a standing start and have been playing catch-up over the last twelve months,” says Mr Joyce.
“One option being investigated is to build the Warkworth Bypass first to relieve congestion at that point. However, we would still need to know where the road north and south of that links into the bypass route so it will still take some time to get the consents for that section.
“The focus over the next couple of years will be undertaking detailed investigation and design work to determine route options and obtain statutory consents. This will include public consultation on possible routes.
“The new road will bring significant benefits to the Northland and Rodney districts, as well as to Auckland.
“The Puhoi to Wellsford corridor has been identified as one of our most essential state highway routes to reduce congestion, improve safety and support economic growth in the Auckland and Northland regions.”
Completing the Puhoi to Wellsford road of national significance will deliver significant benefits, including:
• enhance inter regional and national economic growth and productivity
• improve movement of freight and people between Auckland and Northland
• improve the connectivity between key growth areas in the north Rodney area
• improve reliability of the transport network through a more robust and safer route between Auckland and Northland
• provide further route security for Northland residents
First things first, to look at the positives I’m glad that one of the options being investigated is to build the Warkworth bypass first. From my experiences over the summer holidays, it really seemed as though 99% of the congestion problems experienced along this route were due to it having to go right through the middle of Warkworth. So if we were to bypass Warkworth, most of the problems might actually be solved. Of course that wouldn’t look quite as good for the politicians as building a shiny new 20 km motorway, but it would probably be a far more sensible use of funds.
However, I still struggle to believe how this road is seen as such a high priority. It really is only congested for a few days of the year – during holiday times – and the average number of vehicles travelling along it is barely equivalent to a busy arterial route in the Auckland urban area. Sure, it’s an important strategic route to the northern part of the country, but once again it only experiences congestion very infrequently, and I am sure trucking companies are smart enough to avoid using it at midday on December 27th each year anyway.
Labour MP David Shearer’s press release in response to this announcement mirrors a lot of my thinking about this project, in that why is this road considered such a high priority? He also raises the excellent point that most of the congestion along this route is simply caused by Warkworth, where a simple bypass could achieve much of the same benefits at a fraction of the cost:
Why is a Holiday Highway a priority?
Mt Albert MP David Shearer is calling for the government to get its priorities right on Auckland Transport.
“National’s decision to fast-track the Puhoi to Wellsford stretch of State Highway One shows the Government is not tuned in to the needs of Auckland commuters,” David Shearer said.
“The Puhoi/ Wellsford road is a holiday highway which is only congested during the summer breaks. I share the frustrations that motorists have when heading north, but $1.4 billion could be better spent addressing Auckland’s major transport problems. And, building a by-pass at Warkworth, could ease much of the problem on that route for a tenth of the cost.
“Today’s announcement means important items that all the mayoral candidates have agreed on, such as the inner city rail loop in Auckland, will be put on hold. Auckland sees that as its number 1 priority for Auckland and economic development.
“Steven Joyce’s fixation on building motorways means the real issues around Auckland’s transport network are being ignored. “NZ is building more motorways while most major cities in the world are moving towards other forms of transport. National is taking us in the opposite direction.
“Yes thousands of Aucklanders use the Puhoi/Wellsford road for a handful of weeks to holiday. But they’re also the same Aucklanders who are screaming out for a decent public transport system.”
David Shearer said National needs to take the blinkers off and listen to what people are saying are the real priorities for transport are.
“Aucklanders want their everyday transport woes to be eased. Pouring billions into a holiday highway is not a priority for them,”
NZTA have released a useful information booklet on the Puhoi-Wellsford motorway, which gives us an insight into the likely routes it will take and – as Jeremy mentioned last night – shows quite clearly that the project isn’t worth the money likely to be spent on it, unless we start messing with the conventional cost-benefit analysis process. For a start, let’s have a look at the route:
The solid black line is the existing state highway 1 route, the orange line is the first stage of the proposed road (Puhoi-Warkworth) and the blue line is the second stage – from Warkworth to Wellsford. I am guessing that the purple shaded areas represent areas that will be urbanised in the future or are current urbanised, as I am sure there is not that much development up that way yet.
There are a few things that deserve comment I think. The first is that the proposed route will follow the existing route to what I think it quite a surprising degree. I reckon that if the road is going to be that close to what’s there at the moment, it would be pretty stupid to do anything more than widening the existing road and easing a few corners. Perhaps that’s what is actually going to be proposed? The second thing is that the simple bypass of Warkworth comes across as such a no-brainer, and would actually be a pretty damn short stretch of road to build (probably fairly cheap too as it’s flat land). In contrast, both stages of the whole route pass through very mountainous land – which I suspect will be incredibly expensive to build a motorway-standard road across. And the third thing is that we’re going to see some environmental carnage out there if this is built. There are some quite nice tracts of forest along this road, particularly around the Pohuehue Viaduct between Puhoi and Warkworth, and then through the Dome Valley between Warkworth and Wellsford. The routes shown above seem to blatantly disregard any environmental impacts.
In terms of cost-effectiveness, Jeremy touched on this last night. As shown in the box below it seems as though the cost-benefit ratio (BCR) is a bit of a moveable feast in terms of this project, with much reliant upon “wider economic benefits”, which NZTA apparently have a very poor understanding of at the moment and are only just starting to properly research, and reducing discount rates – whatever that means. Under the existing standard scheme its BCR is only 0.8 though, which means that by building it we’re effectively flushing money down the toilet.