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Further thoughts on the “transport package”

Unsurprisingly last week’s transport announcements were a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to transport spending in Auckland. Overall I guess the good news is that central government finally supports the City Rail Link – making opponents of the project look pretty isolated. Judging from Dick Quax’s tweet the opposition is already fading away:

Critically, the announcements also highlight that the government has backed the previously most controversial part of the Auckland Plan – it’s transport chapter. Finally, after two and a half years of arguing, it seems that central government and Auckland have a similar vision for the city’s future. The Herald is right in noting that this is undoubtedly a massive victory for Len Brown – the result that he’s been pushing for basically ever since he was elected mayor.

Looking in a bit more detail, we start to see that in every section of the major announcements there’s generally a bit of good news but also some pretty dumb aspects of many of the projects that presumably will get weeded out as time goes on. Let’s work north to south – starting with the link up of State Highway 18 and State Highway 1:

sh18-sh1-linkMention of improvements to the Northern Busway is a big positive here – hopefully that means extending the busway right through to Albany, a project that seems like it’s utterly essential in the near term but for some reason has dropped off the radar in the past few years. Probably because it stupidly gets lumped together with further extensions to Silverdale or Orewa which will only make sense in the much longer term.

Furthermore, there’s a pretty good case to do something around here to improve the way SH18 links with SH1 as the current Upper Harbour Highway is a bit of a mess, plus the section of motorway between SH18 and Greville Road seems to suffer from a lot of merging issues. I just struggle to see whether that something has to mean a $500 million or more giant motorway interchange as per the current plans:package3-sh18Presumably some further options analysis will occur here as NZTA figures out how to make its budgets work with all these new projects being lumped in – and perhaps we might end up with something a little more sensible and less expensive.

We’ll come back to how we could do an alternative Harbour Crossing better in a future post, and obviously most of our focus in the past few days has been on the City Rail Link, so let’s shift our focus to the southeast and the AMETI/East-West Link project. AMETI is a series of projects between Panmure and Botany – most crucially including a full busway from Botany to Pakuranga and onto Panmure. While there are some pretty dumb bits of AMETI, like the ugly Reeves Road flyover, generally the approach of the project has morphed over time and a strong component now is to provide the additional capacity for public transport (in the form of the busway) rather than road widening, with the project’s spending on roads generally being on new connections that enable the bypassing of busy town centres. It’s just a shame how horrifically ugly that flyover’s going to be:

reeves-rd-flyoverShifting on to the East-West Link project, it was only fairly recently that we began to learn the details about this project and the different options being looked at. All the different options look overblown and really destructive in terms of their environmental and community impacts – particularly the options which it seems the government wants to see, full motorway links between SH20 and SH1:

So another Tamaki River crossing, massive demolition of housing along Panama Road, a big motorway junction through the volcanic crater and Onehunga in option 3. Option 4 is perhaps even worse:

The same issue at Onehunga. Perhaps close to the same issue around Panama Road plus untold demolition of houses through Mangere East as the previously protected motorway corridor through here was sold off decades ago and put into housing.

The big issue I have with the East West Link is that we don’t actually even know whether this level of destruction, and the costs associated with it, are actually necessary or not. Of course there are lots of stories about trucks getting stuck in congestion along Neilson Street and clearly freight volumes are high through this part of Auckland – but what about some smaller scale interventions?

  • Truck lanes on Neilson Street?
  • A signalised intersection providing access into Metroport from Neilson Street?
  • Widening the Neilson Street bridge over the railway line?
  • Smaller scale interchange improvements at Onehunga?
  • South-facing motorway ramps that link into the Southeast Arterial?

For this reason the East West Link actually reminds me quite a lot of the Puhoi to Wellsford project. In both cases there’s a definite problem that needs to be solved but in both cases smaller scale improvements that may deliver really significant benefits are being completely ignored in favour of massively expensive and destructive motorway options – seemingly for political reasons only.

Shifting further south again, a fairly major widening of the Southern Motorway from Manukau through to Papakura was included in the announcements:

southern-motorway-wideningOnce again there’s quite a good argument that something needs to be done on this part of the motorway. Where SH20 and SH1 come together in the southbound direction you go from five lanes (three on SH1 plus two on SH20) down to two lanes in a pretty short space of time. This creates massive problems in the evening peak period. Furthermore, the Takanini interchange has some pretty substandard and unsafe parts to it – particularly the northbound onramp which has a very short merge. We’ll probably wait and see the details on this one but I suspect once again the approach is probably overblown: heaps of new lanes everywhere just to shift the queue slightly north or south depending on the peak direction. Adding lanes northbound in particular seems pretty stupid as it’ll just get cars to the Mt Wellington bottleneck faster. Of note the ITP lists the project as costing over $500 million

Finally, we come to SH20A improvements – the road to the Airport.sh20a-upgrade

I guess it’s because politicians spend such a lot of their time travelling to and from airports that these routes tend to get a rather stupid amount of attention. Just a few years back the Mangere Bridge was duplicated, which added an absolutely crazy amount of additional capacity and freed up SH20 during peak periods (at least for a few years). While it’s a bit strange the Kirkbride Road intersection isn’t grade separated, I tend to think that the real transport bottleneck actually occurs at the Airport because all the roads effectively feed into a single roundabout and then one signalised intersection. Once again, making it quicker to get to the bottleneck seems like a waste of money to me. It’s also frustrating that there’s not even any mention (even in a route designation way) of Airport Rail. What on earth has happened to that project – I might need to LGOIMA Auckland Transport over it to see what they’ve been doing for the past two and a half years.

Overall, as I said at the start of the post there are useful bits of the announcements (CRL aside which is obviously a massive positive) in that we might see a Northern busway extension and an AMETI busway happen faster now. But there’s also a whole heaps of “over the top” projects which are pretty unlikely to achieve lasting benefits or could be replaced by far far cheaper projects which would deliver most of the benefits at a fraction of the price. It will certainly be fascinating watching the details of all this unfold over the next few months in particular.

70 comments to Further thoughts on the “transport package”

  • Sacha

    Bravo. I welcome future posts suggesting faster, cheaper options for each of these overblown proposals.

    • Bryce P

      As do I. These are all gold plated solutions to problems that could be 90% fixed for half the price. We cannot afford this!

      • Sacha

        Golden opportunity for the opposition parties to come across as good stewards of public funding.

        • Bryce P

          Which I may have pointed out to my local MP :-)

        • Bryce P

          Also what they should do is commission a graphics designer to show a representation of how the AWHC (as proposed) will look in downtown Auckland and the effects it will have. People are already surprised at the size of the Waterview interchange now that construction has started. Imagine another 6 lanes though Vic Park / Wellesley area.

          • SF Lauren

            Bryce, with the new crossing there will be 6 lanes through Vic park, not 13 as you suggest.

            Also how can you tell the future size of the waterview interchange by the current construction? The haven’t even started to build any of it yet, only the northern tunnel portal.

          • Bryce P

            I indicated in the area. They have to go somewhere and the links will be full arterials. This will be a disaster for downtown and will lead to increased traffic volumes in the cbd, something we have been trying to get away from. 1950’s solution to traffic planning.

          • SF Lauren

            Based on some of the plans Bryce they only have 2 lanes going into the CBD which is less than the current 5.

          • Sailor Boy

            Interesting numbers there man. I don’t see 5 going into the CBD. At a push you could call it 4, with 2 at Fanshawe, 1 at Cook, and 1 at the port.

      • Indeed. To be honest and this ties over with the http://transportblog.co.nz/2013/06/29/theres-u-turns-and-then-theres-handbrakes/ thread, if I were Palino there is plenty to campaign on right there and there – THE COST OF IT ALL. Yes the CRL and the Southern Motorway is CRITICAL but for the rest – as you said Bryce “all gold plated solutions to problems that could be 90% fixed for half the price. We cannot afford this!”

        Taking from Palino’s press statement

        “While some might complain at the long start date, it is important that both Auckland Council and Central Government have all their T’s crossed and all their I’s dotted on what will be one of Auckland’s largest civic projects.

        If this is not done before the first sod is turned on the CRL, we risk budget and construction blow outs so commonly seen with these kind of projects around the world.

        We need to get this right first time as it is the only time to get it right.

        Of course if there is provision to bring the start forward then I will lobby Central Government, providing it is prudent to do so.

        It is time to get Our Auckland Moving Forward – sensibly”

        Probably should have also said, we need to get this right WITHOUT bankrupting the city. meaning our Children and Grandchildren pick up the mess for a spend binge

        • Ben, you working for Palino or something?

        • I don’t think the southern motorway is critical to do as planned. Yes some things need to be done but not all of it.

          • Takanini Interchange is as critical as anything as that piece is an unsafe dog that I am surprised has not killed any one yet. As for the rest you might as well bring the 3rd lane down to Papakura from Manukau with the Papakura interchange is being upgraded in anticipation for the RUB anyhow.

            One way of looking at the Southern Motorway upgrade is that it kills off Mill Road for the next 30 years. That is how many hundreds of millions AT simply does not have as well as grief to the residents that can be be diverted (the money) else where (the RTN and RPTP being sped up) and saved (the grief).

            I did speak to Josh on Takanini once upon a time and we did agree that interchange needed to be done soon.

          • Note Mill Road is in the draft Statement of Intent for AT to action in the next three years. Mill Road needs more scrutiny than it is currently getting.

          • I’m with Ben in the sense that it is much better to get more work out of the existing corridors in this narrow isthmus (as everywhere). Which means traffic should be encouraged on to the existing RoW, SH1. And we should work the rail line harder, which in the near term means electrification to Pukekohe and new and rationalised stations and services.

            Especially as this will mean, as Ben says, no more building of parallel, servering, expensive, 6 lane aerials to act as mini-me motorways right next to an existing one. So much duplication of roading for fast driving is in the plan down south and not enough road and street design for place quality. It’s as if the traffic planners put no value in the place and just assume that it’s their job to help everyone drive away from the area as fast as possible.

          • Agree. Fix what is an obvious problem on the Southern and delay Mill Rd.

      • SF Lauren

        Bryce, how do you know they are gold plated? Do you have the construction drawings showing all the interchanges and ramp arrangements?

        • Budget. That’s gold for plating.

        • Sailor Boy

          three words five hundred million

          • SF Lauren

            So by having no details at all as to what is to be built, but having an intentionally high estimate for budgeting reasons you are able to arrive at this conclusion?

          • Sailor Boy

            How, at 500m could this not be gold plated?

          • SF Lauren

            What one are you referring to sailor boy?

            Also would you rather they estimated optimistically rather than conservatively so that they find out they only have enough money to make 1/3rd of what they planned? It would be like budgeting $1billion for the CRL, oh that’s right they already did that when Len promised to have it open by 2015 during his campaign.

          • Sailor Boy

            Well, in 2010 dollars the cost of the tunnel and stations was 1.5b.

            And no, I would prefer that they do less and budget the same way.

    • Gary

      Sacha, I have sent a proposal as an alternative to AMETI but it appears they do not want to publish it here? Would not a rail line to Botany be a great alternative if it can be done cheaper and with a lot less disruption?
      I wish they would stop calling AMETI a busway; this would imply that it is separated from normal traffic but it is not. AMETI will provide bus lanes like are available in other parts of the city but they will in the centre of the road not on the sides. AMETI also suffers from the same problem as many of these other proposals as Matt points out; any traffic improvements will only lead increased traffic capacity to further blockages up the road. Taking traffic off the road and putting them on to rail well before the bottleneck is what I believe is the best solution.

      • Sailor Boy

        There is no point doing rail at AMETI until we have built the CRL though.

        Also, AMETI is not just bus lanes. It is a bus road operating in the middle of an existing road with physical separation. That is nothing like the bus lanes in Auckland

        • Gary

          Busways in other parts of the world that I have seen are largely separated but that is not the point; you will pick on the smallest parts of what I say to deny putting any alternative to the current scheme forward? And that is the whole point; very few if any alternatives were put forward in this case so virtually no debate was generated in comparison to other large projects.
          It is agreed that the CRL is needed to make the system work; but why can’t they be built at the same time? That is what is happening with CRL and AMETI now so the funding is there. This would extend rail into an area which could be as big as the North Shore in years to come but at a fraction of the price and before much of it is too built up to do so.

          • Sailor Boy

            I would say that the fact that you can’t run a single train on it until 2025 is a pretty big issue.

        • Gary

          I will also add that option 3 of the East-West link will follow exactly the same route as the rail route proposal I put forward from the Mt Wellington area to Botany. That will mean the best route for getting rail to these areas in the future will be closed off if this goes ahead and then only significantly more expensive options will be available in the future.

          • Hi Gary, we will get it up it’s just that events have rather taken over and we’re focussing on addressing the big picture first then drilling down to each issue individually later.

          • Bryce P

            That’s a good call Gary. Logically, it seems that the current AMETI busway route is correct however, on thinking about it further, creating a link to the Southern line, rather than the Eastern Line has the potential to create a much more useable line. That way users can transfer to a train to the Eastern Line, towards Britomart (or any of the stations that way), or even to Onehunga Line (and one day on to the airport). Connecting to the Eastern Line alone restricts choices greatly.

  • Mr Bean

    Funny how responses change so quickly.

    http://www.theaucklander.co.nz/news/council-duo-attack-rail-link-spend/1637432/

    Almost a Nek Minnit moment :)

  • Sacha

    Sell local assets to pay for my inflated tarmac wet dream, Brownlee tells ‘The Nation’ (text with 13m clip): http://www.frontpage.co.nz/stories.php?storyid=256

    But he is not playing politics over this, oh no.

    ‘Mr Brown has proposed that the rail loop could be funded by road tolls, or a congestion or a network charge.

    But Mr Brownlee said the Government would not agree to any charges being imposed on existing assets that had been funded by taxpayers.

    “I don’t think it would be fair to say that we are somehow trying to put a wedge in there that’s going to put pressure on Mayor Brown,” Mr Brownlee said.’

      • Sacha

        To be fair, Brownlee actually comes across as more reasonable than the quote extracted by the programme producers above suggests.

        • Brownlee has been tasked with find money to pay for this roadfest. I suspect he won’t be keen to do it through further increases in general FEDs and RUCs as that will really piss off the rest of the country. I think we will see him changing his tune on the alternate funding options and seeing if he can work with the council to use some of them for the state highway binge.

      • conan

        Clearly not a fan of parking minimums…maybe there is hope yet.

        “Gerry Well I don’t know how that applies, a congestion charge. I mean one of the things that is interesting is that I understand that if you’re developing apartments in Auckland you’re still required to put in a fairly sizeable number of carparks, which doesn’t seem to me to be a way to encourage people to keep cars out of the central city…

        • Bryce P

          The transport minister doesn’t know how congestion charging works?

          • conan

            Nope. Kind of weird that a right wing government is not keen to use pricing to determine the best use of an asset. After all many of the power stations in this country are long paid for and use ‘free’ water yet we all seem to accept paying for power.

          • That’s all about the fantasy they tell themselves about driving infrastructure all being ‘user pays’. And therefore pure and holy, to their kind.

  • Guy

    Matt, you’re bang on about the blockage at the Airport being… the Airport. Auckland airport has to be one of the world’s worst designed airports for traffic flow, ever. I can’t believe how stupid the traffic layout is there at the main junction, with cars, trucks, buses, taxis, all coming in through the same point and then crossing lanes in front of each other in the drop off lane, and then having to do a 180 turn at the end of the lane. Worst. Airport. Traffic. Ever.
    I hate to say it, but they should look at LAX as a model. Now that’s traffic that works…
    And so, yes, roll on the day that Auckland gets a rail link to the airport! Schipol is a good model for that!

    • Geoff Houtman

      What is up with the airport completely messing up domestic? It used to be simple- left to air nz, right to jetstar. Now it’s a total nightmare, zero jetstar access, push every car through the same space. It better be temporary…

      And 20a- nothing wrong with it at present. This whole plan is the worst thought out package since Anthony Weiner.

      • Matt Clouds

        They’re in the process of joining the two terminal buildings. Until that is finished, the current domestic terminal is going to remain hideous for traffic.

        • Thanks Matt.

          Wonder if we will we see a long walk and travelators like the new HK airport? I swear it’s 5km from the far gates to the shops..

        • Guy

          But they’ve built that really solid staircase right bang in the middle between AirNZ and JetStar, in the way of the carpark. It’s brand new (well, only a few years old). What kind of idiot would even do that?

      • Steve D

        I haven’t driven there since they did whatever it is they did, but it’s a million times better on the bus now. You don’t get stuck in the giant queue of cars waiting at the pick up/drop off area, since there’s now a separate bus and shuttle lane.

  • Why would we spend money on SH20a rather than spend it on a rail link to the airport. It doesn’t make any sense at all.

    • I have a gut feeling it is more to do with the massive Logistics Hubs out there and the piles of trucks ripping along State Highway 20A and State Highway 20 getting Air Goods across the city from the airport (or to it). Then again if one wanted to be massively bold you build an airport line that also takes freight shuttles from the airport back out to say Westfield or the Metro Port for further movements.

  • I’m not that familiar with the North Shore, but I’m sure Rosedale is on the other side of the Northern Motorway, and Albany isn’t even on the first map…

    • Sailor Boy

      Rosedale is East Coast Road to Bush Road East West, And Greville to UHH North South. It is pretty ill defined and is actualy a small part of Albany.

      Albany represents the entire area from UHH to Lonely Track Road, and East Coast Road to Lucas Creek. Albany village and Albany Centre and Albany Heights aren’t on the map though

    • They’ve definitely got ‘very rushed’ written all over them. Certainly not slick graphics at all. In fact the whole detail (total lack there off) further points to this being thrown together in last week or so.

  • Bryce P

    and yes, allow for freight on the line as well.

  • Sailor Boy

    I find it to be fairly obvious that rail to the airport would want freight capacity.

    • Mike

      I don’t think there’s an airport rail link in the world that carries freight, so that would be setting a trend!

      Air freight tends to be small, light and expensive, rail freight bulky, heavy and cheap, so they’re not that compatible. Freight trains have very different operating characteristics from passenger ones, and one of the significant problems that the urban networks in NZ have is the need to reduce the impact of freight trains on passenger trains, and vice versa.

  • The roads didn’t cause fatal accidents, however, I would support grade separation of those 2 intersections.

  • Reading further about Portland’s LRT system and I found this gem:

    In the mid-1970s, TriMet (or Tri-Met, as it was known until 2002) began a study for light rail using funds intended for the cancelled Mount Hood Freeway. The light rail project was known as the Banfield Light Rail Project, named for the freeway (I-84) that part of the alignment followed. The TriMet board approved the project in September 1978.[4]

    Emphasis added.

    There is just so much else we could do if we just kicked the nothing-but-motoroways drug…

  • Torbayite

    I notice the pisture for SH18 says PROPOSED busway extension. Also not seem to be extra lanes for the 500million. Imagine these will be added cost later!!

  • [...] Twyford they welcome the government u-turn, but posters on the ATB are far from impressed.   Matt L looks at “the good, the bad and the ugly” of the “transport package; welcomes the U-turn [...]

  • Peter F

    I think they should rename highbrook or botany AMETIville . Might be appropriate for the horror from new motorways.

  • Gary

    Thanks Bryce, I have been thinking that the services could also continue on down the Southern Line as well to Manukau or Onehunga or perhaps both? This would mean the system could be running before CRL takes affect. For passengers who wish to go straight to Britomart from one of these stations then they could transfer to Southern line trains at one of several stations to get a quicker more direct service.
    The only problem is that I have proposed that the line comes off on the curve just before it passed under the Southern motorway at Mount Wellington; I don’t know if there is enoungh room there to put tracks connecting in both directions?

    • Bryce P

      Oh hi, all the down here. Hey Gary, what if the Botany Line were built as a Skytrain type system with an interchange near Westfield somewhere?

      The other thought I had, yesterday, was that the instead of your proposed line, we follow the route that AMETI is taking (kind of planned already and underway. Seems a waste not to use it.) to the interchange at Panmure. The difference however is to create a Mt Roskill (once built) to Panmure line with the route going from Mt Roskill via Newmarket and on to Panmure (via the southern) as an interchange / Southern Line service. All that would be required is a northern link from the Eastern line to the Southern.

      At present, getting from Panmure to anywhere North of Westfield (ie to get to Newmarket) you have to go the long way around or take a bus.

      Time to draw a map :-)

  • San Luca

    Anyone got details about the SH20a section costs, and how those might compare to a rail link from Onehunga (or Puhinui for that matter)?

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