There has been quite a lot of discussion in the last week or so about what the priority of the “Penlink” road is. This connection would provide much quicker access between the Whangaparaoa Peninsula and the Auckland urban area, by cutting off a relatively huge detour vehicles must make at the moment. It would also provide the transport network with greater resiliency as there would be more than one way in and out of the peninsula.
A map showing the project is included below:
When it comes to ‘taking a position’ on transport projects I try to start off in a fairly neutral position and ask some key questions:
- Does the project ‘stack up’ in terms of its benefits outweighing its costs?
- Is it possible to achieve the project’s benefits (or a great big chunk of them) through a lower cost alternative?
- Will the project have significant adverse environmental effects and can they be avoided, remedied or mitigated?
- How does the project fit within our general transport strategy?
- Will the project foster more or less auto-dependency?
To answer the first of these questions, it’s always useful to get hold of the project’s business case – and I have done that for the Penlink project. In October last year, merely days before they got rolled into Auckland Transport, ARTA had completed for them a review of Penlink. That is the document linked to above, which provides a very up to date analysis of where the project is at.
The review sought to answer two main questions:
- Whether the PENLINK business case is robust and therefore justifies funding ahead of other projects in the programme;
- Whether the revised scheme satisfies the original designation requirements and is sufficiently robust to meet its objectives and future needs.
It seems like over the last few years there have been a few amendments to the design of the Penlink route, to provide the same level of functionality at a lower capital cost, and this review was to test whether the project makes economic sense (remember that NZTA seemed to put a big question mark around this matter in their NLTP). These revisions are outlined in more detail below:
So less widening at the Whangaparaoa end and the inclusion of electronic tolling gates.
If we look at our first question outlined earlier in the post, the business case document suggests that the project does ‘stack up’, with a fairly decent cost-benefit ratio:
The review document doesn’t provide much detail on how these numbers have been calculated (business cases rarely do for some reason, we’re just supposed to take the results as gospel), but it would seem as though – at a very basic level – this project wouldn’t be a money loser like the holiday highway.
In terms of our second question, about whether we could achieve the benefits of the project by way of a cheaper alternative, the review comments on this matter:
In short, the widening of Whangaparaoa Road between the Hibiscus Coast Highway and Red Beach road would alleviate many of the congestion problems likely to be suffered along Whangaparaoa Road if Penlink doesn’t proceed. This could be done at a much lower cost than Penlink and therefore has a much higher cost-benefit ratio. However, this would not achieve all the benefits of Penlink, such as a more resilient and robust transport network and the removal of conflict between commuting traffic and local traffic.
The concerns I have about the project probably fit within the last three questions I laid out at the start of this blog post. What would the environmental effects of the project be? Is this project a strategic priority compared with other things going on around the region (for example the project’s cost would be a significant contribution to the CBD rail tunnel or could provide light-rail along Dominion Road)? Does the project contribute to growing auto-dependency by encouraging further development in a fairly far-flung corner of the city and not offering dedicated bus lanes and perhaps not even a dedicated cycleway along its whole length?
I think overall I probably find myself coming to the conclusion that Penlink is a worthwhile project, but the real question is “when?” While it might have been the number one priority for Rodney District Council, when that was a separate council, I wonder how it stacks up against other necessary transport upgrades throughout Auckland. Furthermore, if many of the congestion relief benefits can be achieved by widening Whangaparaoa Road – at a fraction of the cost – then maybe it could be better to embark on that project first.