The draft Government Policy Statement document, that was released for consultation a couple of months back, was a highly perplexing and depressing document. Focusing an even greater amount of money on building new motorways, slashing (already slashed) spending on public transport infrastructure and capping money for new local roads and even the maintenance of existing roads is just plain stupidity – and is completely ignorant of recent transport trends both here in New Zealand and overseas. However, even within a document as nonsensical and bizarre as the draft GPS, there was mention of one thing that completely took me by surprise by its sheer strangeness: the list of future Roads of National Significance (RoNS). Here they are: These future RoNS came pretty much out of the blue – similar to how Puhoi-Wellsford bizarrely appeared on the radar as a ‘necessary’ future project a day or two after the Minister got stuck in a traffic jam opening the Orewa-Puhoi motorway. So a reader of this blog did a bit of digging – where did the four new RoNS come from? The first response, to an OIA request to the Minister himself, wasn’t particularly helpful: Well it seems pretty clear from the above that the projects didn’t have to go through any particular ‘filter’ or ‘assessment criteria’ to determine that they were worthy of becoming RoNS. It somewhat confirms my suspicion that the only criteria for a RoNS is “does the Minister like it?” Fortunately, not long after this, the Cabinet Paper referred to above became available – and you can read it here.
Initially, it would seem as though a State Highway classification system and identifying the next RoNS would be two fairly separate tasks. The classification system seemed, at least initially, to be a fairly clever idea: highlight which routes are of national strategic importance and which routes have more regionally based importance. Which routes are tourist-focused, which routes are freight focused and so forth. This could potentially helpfully provide design cues in the future – highlighting routes where extra pavement strength might be helpful, routes where environmental impact should be kept to an absolute minimum etc. However, it seems to have turned into just another path towards building even more super-expensive and super-unnecessary motorways. Here’s the connection between the classification process and the new RoNS: In fact, if you look at the map of the classification system across the whole country, the four RoNS projects combined with the existing RoNS projects pretty much cover the whole of the “National Strategic High Volume” routes: When you see it like this, one does start to think there might be some method behind this madness. However, when you start delving into the details of some of these supposedly “high volume national strategic” routes, looking at both their existing traffic levels and the growth rates of traffic, there are some rather surprising results.
Let’s look at the North Island proposed RoNS, and how they compare against the already decidedly dodgy Puhoi-Wellsford project:
State Highway 1 Wellsford south of Centennial Park Rd (South of Wellsford)
2006 traffic volumes 9,851 VPD
2010 traffic volumes 9,885 VPD
Traffic growth = 0.086% per annum
State Highway 1 Palmer Mill Rd (Nth of SH5/SH1 intersection Taupo)
2006 traffic volumes 5,331 VPD
2010 traffic volumes 5,183 VPD
Traffic growth = minus 0.92% per annum
State Highway 29 (400m East of Waimou Bridge)
2006 traffic volumes 4,133 VPD
2010 traffic volumes 4,206 VPD
Traffic growth = 0.44% per annum
State Highway 50A Hawkes Bay Expressway (Maraekakako Rd South of Longlands Rd)
2006 traffic volumes 4,743 VPD
2010 traffic volumes 4,655 VPD
Traffic growth = minus 0.46% per annum
The bizarre thing is that we have arterial roads in Auckland carrying ten times the volume of some of these supposedly “high volume national strategic” routes. In terms of freight (something that the government does seem to care about), routes that form part of AMETI have similar numbers of heavy vehicles to the Auckland Harbour Bridge – yet funding for local roads has been capped for the next 10 years.
In short, there really is no logic behind the additional RoNS. Except, perhaps a desire to find a bunch of projects that make Puhoi-Wellsford’s cost-effectiveness look good. Which is a pretty tough challenge.