NZTA were pleased to announce on Wednesday that they are making good progress on the “Tauranga Eastern Link” road, a Road of National Significance that we haven’t paid much attention to in the past. Given our general disdain of the justification for projects given this title (Victoria Park Tunnel and Waterview Connection excepted) I thought I’d look in a bit more detail around what the Tauranga Eastern Link road actually is – and whether it falls into the category of pointless and stupid RoNS (like Puhoi-Wellsford, parts of the Waikato Expressway and most of the Wellington Northern Corridor project) or more reasonable RoNS (like the aforementioned Auckland projects and perhaps part of the Christchurch projects though I’m not too familiar with them).
The Tauranga Eastern Link project, according to the NZTA website, is a four-lane median divided highway between Tauranga and Paengaroa (don’t worry, I’ve never heard of Paengaroa either), which bypasses Te Puke and shortens this route quite considerably. Its route is shown in the map below:
Interestingly, this road will be a toll road, so the economics of it are somewhat more dependent than usual on getting traffic predictions right. Something we’re notoriously bad at. They’re also very much dependent upon getting future growth predictions for the general Papamoa area correct – something that comes through pretty strongly in NZTA’s justification of the project:
Why we need it
Planning for the future and addressing the need to manage growth, ensure economic development and traffic safety issues for the region are key objectives for building the Tauranga Eastern Link.
Western Bay of Plenty – growth snap shot
- One of New Zealand’s fastest growing residential areas.
- Population is expected to double over the next 30 years to 286,000.
- By 2051 Papamoa East is predicted to be a city the size of Nelson with 40,000 people and the total population of the eastern corridor itself will be upwards of 60,000.
- Set to become the fourth or fifth most populated region in New Zealand.
- As the population continues to grow, this will increase pressure on existing infrastructure.
- The key drivers of this growth will be increasing use of the Port of Tauranga, New Zealand’s largest port, and the development of new residential, commercial and industrial land to the east of the city.
Planning for future land use and transport in the Western Bay of Plenty has been considered in an integrated manner under the SmartGrowth Strategy developed by local authorities and road controlling agencies. This strategy has a focus on corridors – known as SmartTransport Corridors. The Tauranga Eastern Link is a key priority within the development of the Eastern Corridor, and is an essential component of an integrated transport network.
The urban areas within the eastern corridor, including Papamoa East, Te Puke and Rangiuru, by 2051 are expected to grow with around 60,000 new residents anticipated to move to the area. Development of the eastern corridor will support and complement the existing developing areas located south-east of Mount Maunganui.
In broad terms, future development along the eastern corridor is expected to contribute around $8.5 billion to the Western Bay of Plenty sub-region economy. This includes:
- 17,500 new homes
- 450 hectares of industrial development
- up to 100,000 square metres of shops, office and commercial activity.
From a growth management and planning perspective, the Tauranga Eastern Link is integral to the development of the eastern parts of Tauranga and will form a transport network that will support and enable the anticipated growth.
In terms of road safety the Tauranga Eastern Link will provide safer traffic flows. The section of State Highway 2 between Tauranga and Paengaroa, is the second-worst state highway under the New Zealand Road Safety Assessment Programme, based on fatalities and serious ongoing crashes per kilometre.
The troubles of Mangawhai Heads always make me a bit sceptical of huge population growth projections in somewhat peripheral areas, plus I do wonder whether building new motorways to enable a whole heap of coastal sprawl is really the kind of land-use and planning integration the country actually needs. But let’s set that issue aside for a bit.
One of the main criticisms this blog has had of the RoNS projects is that they very much ignore the significant changes in travel trends over the past few years – with a pretty dramatic tapering off of traffic growth. Obviously volumes are still going up in some places and down in others, so I thought I’d take a look at what’s happening along this existing State Highway 2 corridor – using NZTA’s helpful state highway traffic volume data. I’ve taken annualised average daily traffic totals between 2007 and 2011 for the points (approximately) along SH2 shown in the map below:
These points should give us a fairly good overview of what’s happening generally along the corridor as they cover points still kind of in the wider Tauranga metropolitan area to Te Puke and then beyond Te Puke. So let’s take a look at what the data shows us:
Much like the general trend across New Zealand for the past five years: a bit of bouncing around but a general trend of slightly downwards. Looking at the data a bit more closely highlights that assumption: I’m going to hold back, for the time being, on passing final judgement on this project – perhaps because the SAHA report on the RoNS projects actually suggested the Tauranga Eastern Link had a reasonable cost-benefit ratio (especially compared to most of the others). However, I really struggle to see why building a duplicative road across open countryside next to an existing state highway with falling traffic volumes really warrants being one of the country’s top priority transport projects. With falling demand along the corridor, plus the fact that this road will be tolled, it seems to me that there’s quite a possibility that this will be one extremely empty road come 2016 when it’s finished.
I suppose at the very least it’ll be an amusing road for the next government to make fun of and use as justification for cancelling a whole pile of other RoNS projects around the country.