Up until next Monday NZTA are seeking feedback on their proposed option for the Puhoi to Wellsford “holiday highway” road of national significance. I have written enough posts on this silly project in recent times to not have to go over the whole thing again, but I do encourage you to send in your feedback. You can do so online here.
As a bit of a guide, here’s what I’ve said:
Part 1: First please tell us about any matters raised by the NZTA key principles that have been used to start the design of the new highway:
Passing to the west of Warkworth and to the east of Wellsford:
Bypassing Warkworth to the west is probably the only sensible aspect of the project that is proposed. Most of the traffic problems experienced along this road relate to the bottleneck that is Warkworth, and building a bypass of this town should help solve most of these problems. It does make one wonder why a significant amount of time and money is being spent on upgrading the existing road through Warkworth when a bypass will occur in the relatively near future.
The issue of bypassing Wellsford is more complex. The town appears to be highly dependent on through-traffic for its livelihood, as unlike Warkworth the main street is also State Highway One. The congestion relief benefits of bypassing Wellsford should be carefully weighed up against the negative effects on this town of being bypassed. A bypass to the east would not create good connectivity with SH16.
The advantages/disadvantages of an access point to the north or west of Warkworth and to the east of Wellsford:
As much of the traffic accessing State Highway 1 from Warkworth are vehicles trying to access the eastern beaches, it makes sense for the access point to be to the north of the town, so that this traffic can effectively bypass Warkworth before it links with the roads that travel out to the eastern beaches. As noted above, this Warkworth bypass could and should be built independently to the rest of the project, and the benefits of it examined before further work is undertaken. This process would ensure that all parts of the project are cost-effective, because if a Warkworth bypass solves most of the congestion problems then there will be little need to proceed with other parts of the project.
Regarding Wellsford, I consider that it may be very important for the town’s long-term viability for State Highway 1 to continue to pass through it. Unlike Warkworth, Wellsford appears very dependent on through traffic to ensure its economic viability, and therefore I would be extremely wary of bypassing the town.
Any other matters you think should be thought about in the overall design of the new highway:
As a whole, the proposed project does not appear to provide a cost-effective solution to the problems faced along this stretch of State Highway 1. The December 2009 business case analysis gave the project a traditional cost-benefit ratio of 0.8, showing that it wasn’t worth the money spent on it. The wider economic benefits included in that study were considered to be significant, even though an earlier March 2008 study on the same stretch of road found that the regional economic benefits of an upgrade to State Highway 1 would be very small.
There appear to be two main problems with this section of State Highway 1 – congestion caused by Warkworth and safety problems in the Dome Valley and on parts of the Puhoi-Warkworth section (particularly around Schedewys Hill). If those are the main problems then cost-effective solutions should be applied them: by bypassing Warkworth and by doing a major safety upgrade to the road – including wire/concrete median barriers through Dome Valley, by realigning particularly dangerous stretches of the road, such as around Schedewys Hill. Most of the necessary safety upgrade projects have been previously assessed by NZTA and have excellent cost-benefit ratios (in striking contrast to this project).
Second, please tell us about matter that should be taken into account when choosing the route for the new highway. The new route will be separate from the existing SH1 but likely to be within a few kilometres of it.
The matters you think we should take into account in route planning could relate to your property if you are in this broad corridor, the area where you live or your community. They could include:
historical sites you value
issues about noise, air quality, etc
natural areas important to you
cultural and community sites
landslips and unstable land
anything else you consider important.
The first factor that needs to be taken into account is a full and proper analysis of whether the project represents good value for money or not. The July 2010 SAHA report entitled “Roads of national significance – Economic assessments review” compared the economic benefits of all the different roads of national significance and found that the Puhoi-Wellsford road has benefits far far smaller than any other project. This, coupled with the very low cost-benefit ratio for the project in the 2009 Business Case, means that the cost-effectiveness of this road needs serious questioning.
In terms of other matters, it would appear as though building a new off-line motorway through this area will have significant adverse environmental effects. Many parts of the existing route pass through ecologically sensitive areas: such as around the Pouhuehue Viaduct and through the Dome Valley. Not only would building a new motorway through these areas result in significant destruction of vegetation and wildlife habitat, but it would also require an enormous amount of earthworks that would have sediment effects as well as dramatically altering the landscape of the area.
Further consideration absolutely must be given to cost-effective upgrades of the road’s existing alignment – for economic and environmental reasons.