Follow us on Twitter

Tauranga Eastern Link – another white elephant motorway?

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.

26 comments to Tauranga Eastern Link – another white elephant motorway?

  • JohnP

    I haven’t really had a look at this road in particular but I’ve got two comments:

    1) Tauranga’s population grew massively in the last 25 years or so, leading to all sorts of predictions of continued growth. Recently, this growth has tapered off, and Hamilton is growing much faster. Tauranga may keep growing rapidly in the future, or it may not. My feeling is that things are slowing down.

    2) Tauranga’s already got one toll road, running through the future growth area of Tauriko, and I understand from a few Bay of Plenty Times articles available online that projections of the road’s usage have been greatly overstated. The council is now trying to fob the road off on NZTA.

    E.g.

    “The higher than budgeted revenue [from tolls] was still not enough to meet the interest charges on the $59 million in loans incurred since the road opened in 2003″.
    http://www.bayofplentytimes.co.nz/news/toll-revenue/1561918/

    “Route K has been on a downward cash spiral since the day it opened when forecasts of usage turned out to be hugely over-optimistic… the debt had doubled to nearly $60 million since the road opened in 2003. The tolls were also funding the council’s $10.9 million share of Pyes Pa bypass costs.”

    http://www.bayofplentytimes.co.nz/news/open-toll-road-discussion-wanted/1447750/

    I realise this road was the council’s stuffup rather than NZTA’s, but it certainly seems that people should tread warily before spending tens of millions of dollars on more roads for Tauranga.

  • Jon Reeves

    I think this one single project, as it will be finished earliest, will be the National Party White Elephant we are going to enjoy using as the example of very poor transport decision making of this Govt.

    I have driven that highway many many times, throughout the years and it is simply never “that busy” to warrant anything more than a Te Puke by-pass road. Not a massive 4 lane highway!

    Remind me again. The National Party does not have $4 million to reopen the Gisborne – Napier rail line, but at the same time throws hundreds of millions at useless road projects like this?

  • Luke C

    this is probably the next least useless RONS after Vic Park tunnel. For one the cost at $455 million is comparatively cheap, still currently the most expensive roading project in NZ, but hey. Looking at the road at the moment it does seem quite narrow and windy for a road with that sort of AADT. For example Kapiti Roads have similar volumes but have regular median barrier separated passing lanes and so on, but none of this here.
    This will also be great for Te Puke as the highway runs along the main shopping street.
    On the other hand could have got rid of most of the trucks spending $10 million to get a network of inland ports in the south-eastern Bay of Plenty and getting it on rail. So this project goes in the silly, but more silly as its being built 10 years too early. Will be interesting test of the tolling model too.

  • DaveWest

    Tauranga has some of the worst transport planning in the country – wonder if that is why the Associate Transport Minister is the local MP! Millions have been spent on new roads, yet congestion appears to be an issue. Papamoa had massive population growth manly from immigrants (http://www.bayofplentytimes.co.nz/news/nostalgia-for-dear-old-britannia/1510820/) and internal migrants in the boom years which seems to have slowed somewhat, but the long term future is for more motorways and sprawl, even though there is a rail line which could have been developed for commuters in the medium to long term. Another justification for the new motorway in terms of the economic return was the industrial development at the Rangiuru Business Park for example. This now looks in doubt (http://www.bayofplentytimes.co.nz/news/tauriko-looks-key-to-industrial-growth/1608939/) so again it does not appear that more cost effective and sustainable transport solutions are being provided for.

  • Filde

    Wahoooooo, roads roads roads. Pave that beautiful coastline Brownlee pave it with NZ’s money!

  • And Tauranga could, should be lovely. Downtown is very poor, too dispersed, separated from the water, auto-dominated…. Will be hard to retro fit. Anyone know how the bus system is working, at least the vehicles look modern and busy when I was there last week.

  • There is already the Route K toll road in Tauranga. If NZTA did a post implementation review for that, it would help inform the business case for the next toll road.

  • Stu

    LukeC – this will be terrible for Te Puke as cars that would have otherwise been forced to go through and potentially stop for KFC (yes, Te Puke has a KFC) or whatever now will simply bypass it altogether. Although it will be nice for the residents not to have so much traffic going through.

    Although long term, the future for Te Puke doesn’t look great anyway, PSA is destroying the local kiwifruit industry and the town is facing the same fate as many other small NZ towns.

  • George D

    I’ve seen this road up close quite a few times (my folks rented a holiday place in Papamoa for a week earlier this year).

    It is massive in scope, with considerable works needed to bed down the soft marshy soil it lies on. In this respect it’s similar to much of the Waikato work that happened last decade. The need doesn’t seem to be there – the road to Te Puke is busy but not congested. If Tauranga becomes one of New Zealand’s major business/industrial areas as proposed, then this will change. However, given that it is a non-separated road with some bends and a 100km/h speed limit, it certainly has a degree of danger associated with it.

    I wonder how a program of road upgrades in the same mode as Project Lifesaver would have compared.

  • Comment Box

    The main issue I see with this project is that it just continues on the same theme of planning which Tauranga has been using for the past 20 years or so which has made it so car dominant. For a city that is not really all that big they have a massive amount of near motorway style roads all seemingly designed to let people live further and further away from the city.

    Given the apparent desire to live along the coast there, it would appear to make near perfect sense to have a commuter rail line running along that length much like what you see in Perth and its long coastal developments.

    • I have long thought Tauranga is doing everything it can to replicate the mistakes that Auckland made

    • Comment Box

      Looking back at the map I see they already have a rail line there and it runs right into the heart of the city. If they had made a commuter spur by the baypark speed way and then had it run the length of the cost about 500m back from the beach it would have been a near perfect line. One has to wonder what they were thinking when they started letting all the development happen out there.

  • Bryce P

    Keep a designated route by all means but we keep getting told that the govt needs to balance the books but they appear to be trying to do the opposite.

  • Toll road! This will not be pretty. Get your popcorn.

  • LucyJH

    Yes, Tauranga makes me sad. It is such a small city, population wise, that it should really not have any congestion. Whenever I go down there, however, I find myself whizzing along these suprisingly large and busy roads and having to drive quite surprisingly large distances to get to parts of the city. Unlike Hamilton, the city council also seems to have little interest in improving the bus services there. I think that the pedestrianized street in it’s downtown and the superb natural setting show how it could be a really lovely city. But it just seems to be doing everything it can to achieve the opposite.

  • Mr Plod

    If they must make the road at least move it west of Te Puke and make use of the PSA devestated orchard land rather than running it through the valuable dairy land on the east of town. Good point Jon with your comparison on the Gisborne Napier line costs.

  • I tend to agree with this. It doesn’t look like a great project.

  • Torbayite

    I think people writing here have not be reading latest travel information: The road from Puhoi to Wellsford will help the poverty in Northland.
    The Tauraga eastern link will be targeted to the relatively poor areas of East Cape and Gisborne. It is appallaing that this has not been done earlier as it was James Cook who realised the difference in these areas in naming them Poverty Bay and Bay of Plenty. This will decrease travel time between these sites. The Gisborne – Napier rail line will not be needed as trucking goods from Gisborne to Taurangas port will be 15 minutes faster.

  • Bryce P

    The Puhoi – Wellsford motorway will solve poverty in Northland? Funny guy! You would think the current 2 roads were goat tracks.

  • If NZTA were a business dependent on toll revenues then projects like the above wouldn’t happen or they’d be bankrupt. Like this one in Queensland:

    http://www.couriermail.com.au/business/airport-link-operators-brisconnections-in-trading-halt-aftre-doubts-about-viability-of-airport-link-tunne/story-fnbdkrr9-1226514654552

    And why; fantasy traffic predictions.

  • having lived most of life living te puke never has there been a more important link been so important.
    the trucks that thunder through te puke is huge the by pass is agreat investment for the bay and new zealand
    also it is employing alot of people and will be good for the future development of the bay of plenty
    actually where the road crosses the kaituna i used to caych whitebait by the billy full
    i can rember the willows and swamp and mud
    so yes to this great project

  • I have great concerns about this road. When it was first being proposed i followed the public hearing for the tolling proposal and submitted on it. I said that traffic volumes did not warrant a project of this scale and was simply referred on to the ‘smart growth strategy’. The area has only ever needed a four-lane expressway to Domain Rd and it could have branched off from there.

    Since one of the primary concerns for building the road was shifting freight cost-effectively to/from the port, I suggested better (and far less expensive) outcomes could have been provided by reopening the whakatane branch line of the ECMT railway and constructing a rail freight terminus there for heavy trucks transporting goods from the Eastern Bay and Gisborne to the Port of Tauranga or Auckland, which made up about half of freight traffic along the proposed road. This would have also supplemented existing rail freight demand from the whakatane mill, which didn’t (still doesn’t) produce enough volume of export goods to warrant rail freight by itself.

    Other travel demand management alternatives were also available that better utilised existing infrastructure. But i suspect there was a lot of people making a lot of money out of new development associated with this road, and so it went ahead. It is because it doesn’t have the demand to justify itself economically that it never met govt funding criteria without being tolled, otherwise it wouldn’t have gone ahead for another 12 years. Note that this is before traffic on SH2 started declining.

  • Anonymous

    Tauranga’s Population Will increase with The lakes, Papamoa East and others set to skyrocket. I live in in Pyes Pa and it has transformed over a few years. Maybe you should go to Tauranga and see for yourself. The other route to Paengaroa is so congested and will exceed capacity soon enough.

  • bryce p

    You keep building Tauranga how you like, I hate the auto oriented design of the place and would never move there even though it has one of best spots from a point of living next to an urbanised surf beach in NZ.

  • It is past half complete so let’s just wait to see what will happen. And for falling demand, the TEL will increase demand.

  • Dezmo

    Geez everybody, build a bridge and get over it. It’s great for the area and will save a lot of deaths and trauma happening. Mr Anderson, I suggest you do the existing state highway drive before you pull out your pen in your cushy little office and see for yourself how vital this is for our area. No more taking your life in your hands to get to work.
    The port is the prime reason for this road as it will be the main corridor from the forests to the ships, which so happens to be one of our biggest earners for our country, so is needed to keep all those 50 ton juggernauts out of Te Puke. Mr Anderson, stand in the main street of Te Puke one day and see for yourself.

Leave a Reply