There was a fairly lengthy opinion piece in yesterday’s Herald, authored by Michael Barnett from the Chamber of Commerce and Kim Campbell from the Employer’s and Manufacturer’s Association, discussing transport matters in Auckland. A lot of the start of the article makes reasonably good sense, pointing out how much Auckland is going to grow in the next 30 years and highlighting the need to focus transport investment in Auckland. Then the article goes on to discuss AMETI and the East-West link project:
In this article we discuss the importance of the Ameti/East-West link.
Developing the Ameti/East-West Link has been on Auckland’s transport plans from the 1950s, with land reserved for a portion of the route since 1965 and a connection on paper to the Western Ring Route (SH20) at Onehunga and the Southern Motorway.
At present, local roads in the vicinity carry more heavy freight vehicles than most of New Zealand’s state highways. They represent the start and end point for many upper North Island freight services, both road and rail. The link is required to improve access to the rail freight hub at Metroport, New Zealand’s third largest container port, and the many major employment and distribution businesses nearby.
Freight traffic in the locality is about to double. With many local roads already congested for much of the working day, an efficient integrated Ameti and East-West Link is urgent.
It is true that freight volumes through this part of Auckland are pretty high – I remember seeing a graphic once showing that the Pakuranga Bridge over the Tamaki River carries a similar number of trucks each day as the Harbour Bridge. And a much much higher number than most of the government’s Roads of National Significance. AMETI is fairly well advanced, splitting out through traffic, local traffic and public transport from each other to a much greater extent so they’re each able to operate much more effectively.While the cost of AMETI is pretty eye-watering, it at least includes some pretty major public transport improvements in the form of a busway from Botany to Panmure and a large upgrade to the Panmure Station. Hopefully it should also take quite a lot of through traffic out of Pakuranga town centre, enabling its revitalisation and hopefully a bit of traffic calming along sections of Pakuranga Road.
Panning westwards a bit, we hit the area where the East-West Link project is located:With State Highway 1 visible in the top right corner and SH20 visible in the bottom left corner, you can see the temptation of a project to join the two motorways up. Furthermore, with so much freight travelling through the area or originating from the area there does seem to be a logic in focusing on transport improvements in this corner of Auckland – especially if improving freight traffic is a priority.
In some ways this project could be seen as the westerns portion of AMETI, especially as the two projects so clearly link with each other and improving freight movements is seen as a goal of both projects (although it seems to be an even higher priority for the East-West link project). Essentially this is the argument that Barnett and Campbell make:
Some limited work is under way, but we have major concerns at the lack of progress to plan, design and build an integrated corridor as the Auckland Plan directs.
Our immediate concerns are:
Ameti (Stage 1) and planning for the East-West Link are being run as separate projects. Instead, the legacy Ameti sections are being developed primarily as a corridor for bus transport while the East-West section is being investigated with freight in mind.
The East-West section investigation presumes government funding will apply, which we strongly endorse, while the unfunded Ameti sections are not.
The disjointed approach is unacceptable. This route development will generate high productivity benefits by easing heavy traffic congestion, including to the MetroPort rail freight terminal, and it’s obvious that a reconfigured and integrated design of the whole link project is vital.
The project has also been consulted to death. Now a comprehensive integrated design package is called for, with a supporting overall business case, and a clear timeline to complete it by 2021.
The integrated Ameti/East-West Link is expected to cost $2.5 billion but generate the level of productivity benefits that easily justify it. Among them is a faster return on the multibillion dollars we have already spent on the new Manukau Harbour Bridge, Spaghetti Junction, the Newmarket Viaduct and Victoria Park Tunnel.
Investment in it is long overdue, if on the basis of nothing else than its large potential to make money and grow the economy.
While AMETI certainly seems like it’s been “studied to death”, I’m not sure the same argument can be applied to the East-West Link – which seemed to appear pretty much out of nowhere into the final version of the Auckland Plan. Furthermore, while it’s clearly true there are a lot of trucks that travel through this part of Auckland, it’s not entirely clear whether this creates a significant “problem” which needs “solving”, or what that “solution” actually should be.
It has always seemed to me as though the transport system in this area has sections which operate reasonably well and other parts which don’t seem to work that well. Neilson Street itself, the main existing link between the two motorway corridors, seems to work reasonably well except for a few intersections at Great South Road and at Onehunga Mall. One wonders how much of the delays in this area could be solved through a couple of well focused intersection upgrades. Secondly, Neilson Street is a pretty extraordinarily wide road – as shown in the picture below – so perhaps some of that existing road space could be dedicated to truck-only lanes to ensure freight traffic is able to keep moving no matter what the traffic conditions are for general traffic.
What I’m saying, in summary I suppose, is that there are good reasons to take a bit of time to analyse a situation before rushing off into building a very expensive piece of infrastructure, which a full motorway link between SH1 and SH20 would most certainly be. We might well find that a few relatively minor tweaks can fix the problem – at least for quite some time – alleviating the need to spend large sums of money.