The next meeting of Auckland Council’s Transport Committee is at 1.30pm next Tuesday in the Reception Lounge of the Town Hall. Compared to past meetings, the agenda for this one is fairly small – not surprising given that they had a meeting just before Christmas and most of the time in between has been holidays. There is one particularly important item on the agenda though – and that’s the Council’s submission to NZTA on the Puhoi-Warkworth section of the “holiday highway”. For most people, submissions on this close tomorrow (so get yours in), but the Council has a small extension to ensure that the submission can be given ratification by the Transport Committee.
The agenda for the council meeting is quite difficult to follow, as various items are spread across three different files. So I’ve simplified the documents on the agenda that relate to Puhoi-Warkworth for greater ease of access. A couple are submissions made by former councils (Rodney District and the ARC) that were lodged around September last year to a more general call for feedback that NZTA made at that time.
- The agenda item itself – which summarises the draft submission.
- The ARC’s submission – which was supportive of improvements to the road more along the lines of what is proposed by Operation Lifesaver.
- Rodney District Council’s submission – which unsurprisingly was generally supportive of the holiday highway.
- The draft Auckland Council submission, which of course is the most important document.
The draft submission generally takes a neutral viewpoint on the road – not generally supporting or opposing it. However, the submission does identify a large number of shortcomings in the information that NZTA has provided so far in relation to the project and certainly provides NZTA with an awful lot of work to get on with. An overview of the submission is shown below: Reading between the lines a bit, it’s very interesting to note that the submission stresses that the council supports cost-effective improvements to safety and travel reliability along the road. It also wants to see all the matters raised in the submission adequately considered so that the fundamental question of whether a new road should be built or whether the existing road should be upgraded, can be properly answered. It also points out a few tricky issues like whether there should be a Puhoi/Mahurangi access point, how the new road would tie in with the existing road network and that there are serious concerns about the project’s environmental effects.
The draft submission talks a bit about timeliness and cost-effectiveness further in, when discussing the merits of an offline versus online solution: There are a couple of things that I think the submission could highlight more clearly in this section. The first is that surely NZTA must settle on a particular cost benefit ratio for the project. The SKM Business Case from December 2009 noted a BCR of 0.8-1.1, but a review of that by SAHA International found the BCR to be only 0.4.
To refresh our memories, this is what SAHA said about Puhoi-Wellsford: Maybe the council submission could ask NZTA to clarify what the BCR of the project actually is, given that different reports have indicated different numbers.
The second thing that the council submission could make clearer is the need for urgent upgrades along bits of the road. There is an urgent need to bypass Warkworth, there is an urgent need to undertake safety improvements through Dome Valley in particular and there’s also probably an urgent need to undertake a deviation near Schedewys Hill. As Operation Lifesaver pointed out, if we can solve 80% of the problem for 10% of the price, surely that’s a good thing. With the Warkworth-Wellsford section of the upgrade put off potentially until 2030, I don’t think it’s acceptable to have another 20 years of people dying in the Dome Valley before there’s any improvement.
Another interesting thing the draft submission notes is the potential for the highway to increase the demand for countryside living around the beaches east of Warkworth at a faster rate than previously envisaged – potentially undermining growth strategies that Auckland has (or will soon have in the form of the Auckland Plan): The submission goes on to talk about environmental concerns, which for this project are pretty significant. There’s also mention of potential concerns about traffic impacts of the proposal on the existing Northern Motorway: particularly the congested parts as the motorway extension could lead to more demand on those sections of motorway.
All up I think it’s a good submission – which could become a very good submission if the Transport Committee makes a few little tweaks. If anyone can make it along to Tuesday’s meeting it will be great to know what happens.