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Other RoNS to cut back?

Yesterday’s announcement by NZTA that they are scaling back the Otaki to Levin section of the Wellington Northern Corridor Road of National Significance, from a four-lane highway to an upgrade of the existing road, has some really interesting implications – as Matt commented on in his post last night. Perhaps the assumption that RoNS = new four lane highway has finally been broken and we can start to approach the transport area in a slightly more rational way.

Of course there are plenty of other bits of the RoNS programme which ought to be considered in a much more sensible way, as NZTA has managed with Otaki to Levin. Matt’s post discussed the infamous Puhoi-Wellsford road as a clear candidate – with the Warkworth to Wellsford section being a complete no brainer. Furthermore, a comment from “Watcher” on an earlier post suggests that NZTA may even be looking at staging the Puhoi-Warkworth section of the road – and doing the Warkworth bypass section first. Just as proposed in Operation Lifesaver, thought up by our former admin Josh. Here are the relevant bits of Watcher’s comment:

I have heard that NZTA are looking at splitting Puhoi-Warkworth into at least 3 sections with the first section to be built being Warkworth to somewhere around Perry Rd.  This would effectively act as a Warkworth bypass (non-tolled) until, at some later stage, they can link up with Puhoi. Given that this first stage has few cuts, fills and viaducts it would possibly be one of the cheaper to build – but one of the more expensive when it comes to the cost of property purchase – something which I believe is giving NZTA a bit of headache because NZTA don’t have the budget for property purchases – certainly not the numbers who wish to paid out sooner rather than later.

We certainly await with interest to see if this is true. Perhaps with Gerry Brownlee not micro-managing NZTA to the same extent as Steven Joyce did, they are able to actually do their job much more now and be a bit more sensible around the staging of projects.

Looking a bit further south though, I wonder whether there are other projects which may benefit from a more sensible approach to the RoNS programme. While there are some sensible bits to the Waikato Expressway project, there are also some incredibly expensive bits to it as well – which just seem a bit unjustifiable if you look at their details. Let’s take a look at the Hamilton bypass section for example – which is shown in the map below:


This section of the Waikato Expressway is 21.8 km long and comes at the eye-watering price tag of $890 million. Now I hate driving through Hamilton as much as the next person, but some fairly decent bypass routes already exist (SH39 to the west, SH1B or SH27 to the east). Is it really worth the money?

Looking in a bit more detail at the plans for this route, it becomes clear that – once again – bits of the proposed route make sense, but other parts seem to not require anything like a super-expensive motorway standard road. Let’s take a look at the daily traffic volumes for 2021, which is a couple of years after the route is proposed to open:


You’ll see that I’ve circled a bit of the proposed highway that has what I think are pretty low traffic volumes for what’s proposed to be a four-lane motorway. By way of comparison, in 2010 the Kopu Bridge had just under 10,000 vehicles a day across it – when it was still a single lane bridge controlled by traffic lights at each end! You would think it might be far more sensible to extend the semi-bypass that’s being built in the west part of Hamilton rather than duplicate this with a super gold plated road to the east which isn’t even going to see much traffic.

To hammer this point home a little further, the traffic projections for 2041 still show pretty low volumes for the section of road mentioned above (and remember NZTA are likely to be extremely optimistic in their projecting of future volumes): The 2041 volumes reinforce that bits of the project are necessary, but suggest that there are likely to be far more cost-effective options available than a full motorway – considering the vehicular volumes are still pretty low on some sections. It does appear as though most traffic is travelling to Hamilton – either from the north or from the south – rather than completely bypassing it. I imagine this is because of other existing bypass routes further to the east and west. Google maps suggests, for example, that the best routes from Auckland to Wellington or Auckland to Taupo go nowhere near Hamilton.

Perhaps it was with good reason that the SAHA assessment of the RoNS package gave the Waikato Expressway such a poor cost-benefit ratio:
I suspect that similar observations could be made about many more of the RoNS projects.

Edit: This is the blog’s 2000th published post. Woohoo!

28 comments to Other RoNS to cut back?

  • Travis

    Semi bypass from the North?
    If so, this just wont work…. the major traffic problems stem from Cambridge traffic, and not from the north…

    • Peter M

      Maybe what’s needed is the proposed road to the east, but to a normal two-lane standard rather than to gold-plated motorway standard. I’m not particularly familiar with the traffic patterns in the area so open to suggestions.

      • I’m also not familiar with the traffic in the area but for a greenfields road like this there probably isn’t much difference between 2 and 4 lanes anyway. The designation would be wide enough for 4 lanes anyway as would any bridge. That means the only difference would be the construction cost of the lanes themsleves.

      • Peter M

        The cost difference might be more likely to depend on whether it’s built to motorway standard (with grade separation and very gentle curves) or to a lower standard.

  • Travis

    Even under this proposed plan I foresee major traffic issues around the Hamilton Southern Interchange. Hamilton is a basket case…..

  • What is telling is the actions of Steven Joyce, this from today’s herald

    Steven Joyce, now Minister of Economic Development, was urging Northland’s civic and business leaders to keep pressing for a $1.76 billion motorway extension through difficult terrain from Puhoi to Wellsford.

    That suggests to me that he knows the project is on shaky ground due to its really poor economic assessment so is trying to play the province off against Auckland.

  • Peter H

    Travis is correct the only intersection in Hamilton that has no solution is the Hilllcrest Morrinsville rd / Cambridge rd intersection, even with the $980 bypass vehicle numbers at this intersection only get worse. 2011=35,500, 2021=41,000, 2041=46,800. And this is not Auckland-Tauranga traffic even with 35minute time saving from the $2.4b spend, travel time will only just be equal to Auckland-Tauranga using SH2.

    • Glen

      Glad someone mentioned SH2. The next priority in the Waikato after the crruent SH1 project has to be SH2 between the Bombays and SH2-SH27 junction. High traffic volumes and stll a killer road in many places.

  • Bob Scott

    There are some very interesting (and disturbing) things going on with Puhoi to Wellsford at the moment. Firstly we should all stop calling it Puhoi to Wellsford as there are increasing signs that the Warkworth to Wellsford section will never be built as a separate four lane off-line motorway. In an interview with the Rodney Times on 2nd May, Tommy Parker from NZTA admitted that they are “considering this alongside potential on-line projects to improve safety at locations with a high crash rate in the Brynderwyns and Dome Valley.” Since then, meetings with NZTA staff have revealed even less enthusiasm for the 4 lane stand alone model. It’s too hard.
    Watcher’s observations are correct on current NZTA thinking. They are openly discussing options to construct the Warkworth by-pass section in advance of other sections, which in some ways flies in the face of logic. From a safety perspective, they should be concentrating on the Schedewys Hill section.
    Interestingly, the only property acquisition they have made so far is one property near to the Puhoi end and they are still stringing along other affected property owners with the promise of a buy-out on the one hand and a warning that they have no funds on the other. I would go farther than Watcher and say that their treatment of affected parties is nothing short of despicable.

  • Before Labour abolished cost/benefit ratios as the means for rationing transport funding from the NLTF (and merged Transfund with the LTSA and then Transit), there was an economically rational view of the Waikato Expressway in that it was known what segments had good BCRs and those that did not.

    The ones that were not worth doing anything about beyond route designation were:
    – Hamilton east Bypass
    – Huntly Bypass.

    The Hamilton east Bypass can be put of for some years because the Te Rapa Bypass and a second Cobham Bridge could essentially give Hamilton an acceptable bypass given the volumes involved. Eventually it would be worthwhile doing, but it was by far the last part worth building.

    The Huntly Bypass wasn’t much ahead of it simply because of sheer cost. Bypassing Huntly certainly is worthwhile, as there are some significant safety issues and exposure to heavy traffic volumes in a rather deprived township that is segregated by SH1. Yet given the sheer cost, it was worth delaying.

    Both of those didn’t have BCRs above 1 if I recall correctly.

    Beyond that, the Rangiriri Bypass and the completion of the four laning south of Longswamp are relatively modest cost, modest benefit, with a BCR between 1 and 2.

    Ngaruawahia bypass had the best BCR being around 4, because it shortened the route and the safety record of the current stretch of SH1 is very poor.

    Cambridge bypass was also rather good, BCR more around 2 or so, again shortening trips and improving safety by taking traffic out of the township.

    However, you’re right. There are some RONs projects for which there is no reasonable alternative. Despite the rhetoric, Peka Peka-Mackays has, in one form or another, been one of the best projects in Wellington because the Waikanae and Paraparaumu township delays are seriously affecting local access, and there is a considerable benefit in providing new connections between those areas. It is also hard to see how amenity in Otaki will be improved without a bypass there as well.

    Yet Transmission Gully is a jackhammer to crack a couple of nuts (bypass Pukerua Bay and duplicate to Paekakariki), as is Puhoi-Warkworth (although that probably is more worthwhile than Transmission Gully).

    There is a strong need to return to prioritisation based on BCR, but given Labour got rid of it, the Greens cheered that on and the Nats are now running with it still, there doesn’t appear to be much political will to do anything about it.

    • Travis

      A second Cobham Bridge will not solve issues around Cobham Drive…

    • Neville

      Transmission gully on a pure BCR may not stack up because of the high cost but the other benefit is security of access to Wellington. If a slip like we saw in the Manawatu Gorge came down between Pukerua Bay and Paekakariki both the road and rail would be cut for months.
      The problem with BCR is that it is driven by the hardness thus the cost of the build. It shows a good return with building cheap roads on flat land (eg Chch) but doesn’t stack up where the build is expensive.

      • swan

        “The problem with BCR is that it is driven by the hardness thus the cost of the build. It shows a good return with building cheap roads on flat land (eg Chch) but doesn’t stack up where the build is expensive.”

        I think thats a feature not a bug.

        • Neville

          So you end up with motorways on the flat and goat tracks in the hills.

          • So you end up with allocation scarce resources where they can do the most good. Motorways on the flat when the benefits exceed costs. Otherwise you’d justify a motorway over the Rimutakas over the Kapiti expressway.

            If you go back to the early 1980s the region in NZ that did the best for roads was Taranaki, because of Think Big, because the Minister of Works was the local MP and because allocation of road funding budgets was based on politically directed boards.

            The Transmission Gully network resilience argument is vastly overrated. One Transit engineer told me that four laning the coastal route would achieve nearly the same improvement in reliability because the odds a four lane wide expressway would get knocked out are far less than the current 2 lane road. Network resilience is a convenient argument for the pro-Transmission Gully lobby, because there is nothing else in favour of this road in the long run. It is only a few hundred metres shorter than the current route (i.e. low travel time savings off peak), it is more expensive than the current route upgrade (in part because the current route is fine long term as far as Paremata and from Plimmerton to Pukerua Bay), and its incline virtually destroys fuel/operating cost savings.

          • Mr Anderson

            Plus Transmission Gully just gets you to the real pinch points in the Wellington network a bit quicker. Feeding even more vehicles into downtown Wellington is rather stupid.

        • Mr Anderson

          Presumably the benefits of fixing the last bottlenecks in the hills become more pressing and necessary when the flat sections have been widened, so achieve the benefits necessary to offset their higher cost.

  • Neville

    My guess is that reducing the Hamilton bypass to 2 lanes would not save much. If the number of bridges were decreased then there would be major savings.

  • Downscaling the Hamilton bypass is pointless, it doesn’t save half of the costs and destroys most of the safety benefits (which are about eliminating head ons and intersection based collisions).

    • Mr Anderson

      So just nothing then? Or the western bit that seems to have somehow been rolled into the Waikato Expressway project?

      • Yes the Te Rapa Bypass, along with the other improvements already undertaken, and actually the southern connections projects, because SH3 from the Airport into Hamilton should be a far higher priority given the safety/congestion issues there (and the effect of the SH3 traffic on those southern suburbs). Get a decent four lane arterial to feed to the Cobham Drive/Cobham Bridge corner. In the long run the Hamilton bypass will make sense, but it just isn’t worth doing for at least a decade, compared to other priorities.

      • Geoff

        There are two Waikato Expressways planned into Hamilton. The Te Rapa section, serving western suburbs and linking into SH3 south, and the Hamilton section, serving eastern suburbs and forming SH1 south.

        This is why I’ve always thought the Waikato Expressway is overkill for Hamilton. They are replacing 2 lanes (existing road) with 10 lanes (existing road and 2 x expressways). It’s a roadfest of epic proportions, and designed to ensure Hamilton remains firmly oil dependent as much as possible by putting all the transport eggs in one basket.

  • Stephen France

    The Hamilton bypass section of the Waikato expressway stopped being necessary as soon as the Te Rapa bypass and Southern Links were planned. Once the Southern Links projects are completed there will be a free flow expressway standard road built from the Tamahere bypass around to connect with the current SH1 at the Greenwood St / Kahikitea Drive corner. From there you only have 3 sets of traffic lights and two roundabouts along a mostly four lane corridor before connecting with the southern end of the Te Rapa Bypass expressway. The two roundabouts (at each end of the recently completed Avalon Drive bypass) could be reasonably easily grade separated without much further property acquisition, leaving the the three traffic light intersections to be gradually upgraded as needed and as funds permit.

    Sure, it won’t be a gold plated motorway, but this option would make the best use of existing resources – for a fraction of the cost.

  • Watcher

    In similar manner Warkworth, a fraction of the size of Hamilton, only has 3 sets of traffic lights and no roundabouts on SH1 for traffic to negotiate. The Auckland City planned Western Collector will take traffic from North of Hudson road, behind SH1 and all the schools and exit back onto SH1 opposite McKinney Rd. That will avoid the traffic lights on SH1 and take most trucks and through traffic. For some years to come this, along with the existing SH1 (for those motorists who don’t find navigating 3 sets of traffic lights too much of a chore) will be more than adequate. Given this, you have to ask why anybody in their right mind would consider spending some $200m+ of taxpayer’s money to build a bypass to grade standard when that money could more usefully be spent, as Bob says, in upgrading the trouble spots along SH1.
    Backing up this thinking is an interesting comment posted on Yahoo News this morning from NZTA Chief Executive Stephen Selwood: “….there is a risk that if we carry on trying to fund major long term capital and investment out of today’s cash flow that there’s simply not enough money to go around.”
    Now those of us who are even halfway observant will have already deduced that there is currently not enough money to go around. Hence the more pragmatic approach being adopted by NZTA. It’s interesting to note that with a different minister and a more hostile (to the incumbent government) population, NZTA now feel that they can push back on some of the more outrageous demands of their employer. Those of us who are, or have been, project managers will know the intense frustration caused when the “boss” keeps adding deliverables (like RoNS) without extending the budget. In the end something has to give.

    • Peter M

      Surely if the bypass is built then the Western Collector won’t be necessary?

      • Watcher

        The Western Collector is already in planning stage. Its a local road partly funded by developers. Not being part of an at grade motorway it isn’t costing anywhere near what the bypass section of the motorway would cost. It also doesn’t trash as many people’s homes, destroy their investments and generally is a much more socially benign piece of infrastructure. Given the start times for development of the motorway bypass (which range anything from 2014 up to 2019 depending on who you talk to) – the Western Collector will be developed and in use long before the motorway bypass is even started.

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