NZTA’s preferred alignment for the Puhoi-Warkworth section of the Puhoi-Wellsford “holiday highway” is currently open for submission – until January 28th. I went to an open day on the alignment late last year – and blogged about some of the details at the time. To refresh memories, the currently preferred alignment for the Puhoi-Warkworth section of this road is shown in the map below: Perhaps most usefully, there’s also a video animation of the alignment: showing where there will need to be bridges and where there will need to be enormous earthworks to create a motorway standard alignment.
It’s pretty easy to make a submission. You have a number of options:
- Fill in the online submission form.
- Email your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Write something out in hard copy and mail it to:
FreePost Authority Number 66927,
Puhoi to Wellsford road of national significance,
PO Box 9806,
Sometimes writing submissions on things like this can be a bit daunting – in particular the “where do I start?” and “I don’t want to miss anything” questions always arise. So below I’ve outlined my submission – which I haven’t sent off quite yet (so I’m open for suggestions and improvements). Feel free to copy all of this or part of it and submit to NZTA.
Feedback on Puhoi-Warkworth proposed route:
This feedback is broken into a number of sections – each of which is detailed further. The sections are:
1. General matters relating to the project – in particular its cost-effectiveness (or lack thereof.)
2. Matters relating to the sequencing of the project – in particular the ‘fast-tracking’ of the Warkworth bypass.
3. Safety issues with the existing road
4. The southern section of the project (including Puhoi interchange discussion)
5. The ‘middle’ section of the project
6. The northern section of the project
7. Concluding remarks and recommendations
The Puhoi-Wellsford upgrade was announced as a ‘road of national significance’ in March 2009, and was officially accorded such status in the May 2009 Government Policy Statement. The first business case for the project was completed by SKM in December 2009 (see attached) and the results of that business case were included in the January 2010 project summary statement. Meanwhile, SAHA International Limited undertook a business case analysis of all the roads of national significance throughout late 2009 and early 2010. This led to a report (see attached) concluding that while the seven RoNS made economic sense ‘as a whole’, a number of projects within the ‘RoNS package’ had poor cost-benefit ratios. This included the Puhoi-Wellsford proposal.
The 2009 SKM business case calculated that the project had a standard BCR of 0.8, which rose to 1.1 if ‘wider economic benefits’ were included. The SAHA International report calculated that the project had a BCR of 0.4. The discrepancy between the two was explained in the SAHA report as being due to the SAHA calculations being based on more recent (GPS4?) costings, and due to a more standard time period for measuring the project’s benefits being used.
The business case work done so far on this project indicates that its cost-effectiveness is far from certain. Therefore, in my opinion it would be prudent for NZTA to undertake further work to examine the cost-effectiveness of the project before any further public funds are spent on its investigation, design and construction. There are a large number of necessary transport projects around Auckland in particular that require funding, so it would be illogical to continue spending so much money on a project where the benefits appear to be so poor.
Sequencing of the Project & Safety Considerations:
It is recognised that the existing State Highway 1 between Puhoi and Wellsford has major inadequacies. The intersections at Warkworth in particular act as a major bottleneck for the entire route, causing major traffic jams – not only during holiday periods but also on a regular basis. In my opinion the current widening project through Warkworth represents a complete waste of money as it does not improve the bottlenecks at all – they still exist at a two lane bridge just south of Shoesmith Street and at the major intersection with Hill Street and Sandspit Road.
The second major inadequacy of the existing road is its safety record. This is most particularly the case in the Dome Valley, but also between Puhoi and Warkworth. 15 people died on State Highway 1 between Puhoi and Warkworth between 2000 and 2009. The Schedewys Hill area is particularly dangerous due to poor geometry and (in my opinion) the rather unfortunate location of a number of passing lanes. The Dome Valley Road between Warkworth and Wellsford is even more dangerous, with 26 fatalities between 2000 and 2009.
It seems obvious that there is an immediate need for safety upgrades on the existing section of State Highway 1 – most probably in the form of concrete median barriers to eliminate head-on collisions (the most common cause of death). It also seems obvious to fast-track the Warkworth bypass section of the road. Once a Warkworth bypass, and safety upgrades to the existing road have been completed, the cost-effectiveness of the remainder of the project should be reconsidered before it progresses any further. After all, if it is possible to solve 80% of the problem for 10% of the price – then that opportunity should definitely be taken.
The ‘Southern Section’ of the Project (including the Puhoi interchange):
The project branches off from the existing State Highway 1 route immediately at the northern end of the Johnstone’s Hill tunnels. It then appears to travel adjacent to the existing road until near the intersection with Mahurangi West Road, before turning further inland. No connection between the new motorway and the existing road, nor between Puhoi and the new motorway, are currently proposed.
The environmental impact of this section of the route needs further analysis, as it appears quite significant. A large level of earthworks appears necessary to achieve the gradients of a motorway standard. Given that the new alignment runs next to the existing state highway for this section, given the concerns of Puhoi residents about not having access to the new road and given the significant amount of earthworks necessary for this section, further consideration should be given to widening the existing alignment of State Highway 1 to four lanes instead of constructing a new alignment – at least between the Johnstone’s Hill tunnels and Mahurangi West Road.
Should the existing alignment retained, there is a question of whether an interchange should be provided for Puhoi – so that access to that town and surrounding residents from the new road can be retained. While the residents of Puhoi and surrounding areas have a legitimate concern about accessibility, that needs to be weighed up against the environment impact of a motorway interchange in a very sensitive area and also the potential that such an interchange may encourage ‘urban sprawl’ around Puhoi.
The ‘Middle Section’ of the Project
The ‘middle section’ of the project is noted as being between Mahurangi West Road and Perry Road. I have concerns about the environment impact and the cost-effectiveness of this section of the project. A number of very significant cuts are proposed, creating a high level of landscape modification and the potential for significant sediment runoff during construction. The visual impact of the project through this section may also be significant as it appears to run along a ridgeline for much of its length.
The costliness of this section also appears very significant. There are two consecutive viaducts in the vicinity of the Pohuehue scenic reserve that both appear to be around 500 metres in length. These are likely to be highly costly structures, and also are likely to generate significant adverse environmental effects.
As an alternative, previous NZTA plans to bypass Schedewys Hill should be undertaken – at a far lower cost and providing much of the benefit of the current proposal. This would be a significant safety improvement and also save motorists time as they could avoid the current difficult corners in this area. Otherwise, the existing road offers close to 100 kph travelling speeds most of the time and it would seem could be retained and offer much the same quality of travel as the new motorway.
The ‘Northern Section’ of the Project
The section north of Perry Road is supported and should be advanced as soon as possible. This section offers the greatest benefits, as it bypasses Warkworth and therefore avoids most of the congestion problems caused by Warkworth. Under the current plans, there will be no relief from congestion in Warkworth for another eight years, until the project as a whole is completed. It seems unnecessary to delay the Warkworth bypass in order to build the rest of the project – when most of the problems would be solved by the Warkworth bypass, at least for an interim time.
It would be necessary to make a ‘link road’ between Matakana Road, Sandspit Road and where the Warkworth bypass connects to the existing State Highway 1 road. This would ensure all traffic travelling to the beaches east of Warkworth (the traffic which creates most of the congestion problems) would not have to pass through Warkworth. NZTA and Auckland Transport should discuss the alignment and funding of such a connection road as an integral part of the Warkworth bypass project.
Conclusions & Recommendations:
The economics of the proposed Puhoi-Wellsford road as a whole, including this section of it, appear highly debatable. Different cost-benefit analyses have found highly different results – and therefore as a first step before spending any further money on the project, its cost-effectiveness should be thoroughly reassessed.
The two significant problems faced along State Highway 1 are congestion around Warkworth and safety concerns. A Warkworth bypass, and safety upgrades to the existing road alignment, should be fast-tracked to alleviate these problems at an earlier date than the proposed 2019 completion date for the project. Once a Warkworth bypass, and safety upgrades, have been completed, the remainder of the project should be analysed to determine its cost-effectiveness.
The proposed alignment itself appears to generate significant adverse environmental effects. These need to be fully considered, and alternatives explored, in any assessment of a final alignment. Upgrading portions of the existing road to four-lane standard (the ‘southern section’), bypassing Schedewys Hill and constructing the Warkworth bypass appears to be a far more cost-effective option than what is currently proposed.
In my opinion NZTA must reconsider the proposed route to provide a more cost-effective, quickly delivered and less environmentally damaging alignment as outlined in this feedback.
Make sure your voice is heard.