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The Congestion Free Network doesn’t mean no roading projects

Since the launch of our Congestion Free Network and how much it will cost we have had a few questions around what it means for the funding of improved roads. To try and clarify, we are not against funding going towards road improvements and our estimated budget for The Congestion Free Network is just over 40% of what is currently planned to be spent on transport over the same time frame. That means there is still scope for worthwhile roading projects to occur. In saying this  government agreed too, are overkill and are akin to cracking a nut with a sledgehammer. So in this post I thought I would cover the projects we think should be considered to be built alongside the Congestion Free Network – Note: some of this is similar to what we discussed the other day following the government’s announcement.

State Highway projects

There are a number of state highway projects either already under way, or being talked about that have useful components.

Waterview and WRR - This is obviously already under way and in my mind is the piece that finally “completes the motorway network”, despite the goal posts for that target being a consistently moving target. One of the massive benefits to this is that it provides an alternative for vehicles travelling north to bypass the central motorway junction and the Harbour Bridge. It is also for this reason that we need to hold off on any plans for another road based crossing of the harbour as the WRR really needs some time to settle in and have its impacts felt before moving ahead with the harbour crossing project. The causeway upgrade also provides for some improved bus lanes which will be useful as part of our Congestion Free Network.


Upper Harbour Upgrade SH1/SH18 interchange through to Greville Rd – Improving the SH1/SH18 junction does seem like a good idea but I’m not sure we need the full motorway to motorway ramps as proposed in the most recent study we have seen. There are also a few other small sections in the area that could be addressed, such as the small single lane section westbound between Paul Matthews Rd and Albany Highway. However general widening of the section between Constellation and Greville should really wait until after the busway has been completed through to Albany and we see the impacts of that investment.


Do we really need this motorway to motorway interchange?

SH1 Manukau to Papakura widening – Once again there are some aspects to this project that make a lot of sense, in particular upgrading the Takanini interchange (especially the northbound onramp) and addressing the number of lanes southbound between Manukau and Takanini. At this stage I’m not convinced that widening Northbound or the section between Takanini and Papakura is needed. Again it would also be worthwhile waiting to see what impacts the PT projects have first before embarking on wholesale widening.

SH20A upgrade –  Once again there are some parts that seem to make sense, particularly around the grade separation of Kirkbride Rd however the ITP seems to suggest that the road would also be widened, something I don’t see as needed once that interchange is addressed. With the Kirkbride intersection sorted out, the Montgomerie Rd intersection could be cheaply closed. The other advantage to this project is it could be tied in with the proposal to extend the rail network to the airport.

There is one other State Highway project that I am aware of – that isn’t on the ITP list – which may have some value during this time and that is the additional northbound lane between Penrose and Greenlane. The Ellerslie station was narrowed last year to make way for this project. Other State Highway projects on the ITP, like the Additional Harbour Crossing and widening SH20 from Mangere to Puhinui should be at least moved back till after 2030.

Local Road projects

There are some fairly sizeable local roading projects in the ITP, again some are worthwhile or at least have worthwhile components while others or specific parts of them make little sense.

AMETI – AMETI is one of those projects that improved with age, morphing from a version of the eastern highway proposal into a much more multi modal project. Crucially many of the roading elements of the project tend to focus on providing new road connections rather than just larger existing ones. They strongly focus on moving through traffic away from town centres, giving them a chance to develop more people friendly environments. The focus on new connections and bypassing town centres is a good thing and a strategy I will touch on more in later comments.


East-West Link – This is a project that we have looked at a recently. We definitely agree that some improvements are needed in the area, just not to the scale proposed. Instead smaller scale improvements should be considered first such as the ones below.

  • 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?
Do we really need a $600m mini motorway between Onehunga and East Tamaki?

Do we really need a $600m mini motorway between Onehunga and East Tamaki?

Other Local Road Projects in the ITP – The ITP also contains other local road projects, such as widening Lake Rd on the North Shore. I’m sure that there are plenty of people in the area that would love to see it however in almost all instances I think we should avoid widening unless the new lanes are at least limited to T2/3 initially. This way there are still benefits that can be accrued from the works however not doing so in a way that undermines the bus network by encouraging more people to drive.

Other Local Road Projects outside the ITP - As mentioned earlier, focusing on providing new connections and bypassing town centres is a good strategy compared to just continually widening existing roads. As such I feel that there are a number of road projects not currently on the ITP should be considered instead of some of the overblown widening projects like what is being proposed for Mill Rd. We have highlighted some of these before including a long talked about bridge across the Whau River between the Rosebank Rd and Hepburn Rd which would provide a real alternative to either the Gt North Rd or Te Atatu Rd interchanges.

Whau River Crossing

Or this route in Pakuranga between Hope Farm Ave and La Trobe St which would amongst other things, allow for a logical third main bus route from the east to pierce right through the middle of the wedge of housing in the area while also providing substantial benefits for drivers, cyclists and walkers.

Hope Farm Ave Crossing

Now you will notice that I haven’t set costs or timeframes for these projects like we have with The Congestion Free Network and that is for two reasons. The first is that we simply don’t know what some of our suggestions for scaling back projects would cost. As for the timeframes, we are happy for these road projects to be prioritised based on need to fit in with the funding available. There are also bound to be some other local road projects that we would potentially support so please don’t consider this an exhaustive list. Ultimately these projects need to go through a robust analysis, something they won’t all pass and as such may be dropped or scaled back further.

I guess the key point from this post is simply to point out that we are not opposed to roading projects that stack up but that the key is ensuring that the roads we do build are actually what we need.

27 comments to The Congestion Free Network doesn’t mean no roading projects

  • northshoreguynz

    Matt, i’d like your experts opinion on the on and off again Penlink proposal.

    • I don’t think it is needed and wouldn’t be in our plan

      • I’m of two minds about that myself. I think it is one road expansion project that could actually shift traffic without inducing more. I say that because I don’t think there is much scope for land use changes on the Whangaparaoa peninsula (i.e more greenfields growth), and there is little employment out there so most folks are already driving off the peninsula to work. It would also make for a good bus route to zip people in to the Northern Busway.

        The issue is the cost vs. actual benefit. It’s a big project that will cost a lot, and the benefits are relatively minor given the points above and the fact that Whangaparoa is basically a dormitory suburb and not of any strategic importance on the regional level (like say an industrial complex, business centre, port or airport would be).

      • grantb

        I would consider Penlink very carefully as a local road project.

        It has been a political football in Rodney for a long time, so hard to separate out the real facts when there seems to be two quite firmly divided sides, both pushing their respective agendas. Would love to see some objective, evidence based analysis.

        That said, a significant part of the car-parking pressure on the Park and Ride at Albany was Whangaparaoa people like myself who were taking cars down to Albany to park and bus to work in the city.

        The new Park and Ride (finally!) at Silverdale will help, but when looking at congestion and PT options, there is a significant (and growing) population in Whangaparaoa who are highly depending on a single road. As said above “…focusing on providing new connections and bypassing town centres is a good strategy compared to just continually widening existing roads”

        Penlink falls into that category as the only other realistic option to Penlink is expanding Whangaparaoa road (possibly with managed tidal flows). Public Transport is not effective when the buses will be trapped in that same congested road as the private vehicles. Last time I looked at busing to Stanmore Bay, the buses were busy already. When my kids bused to the shore they faced a cumbersome transfer at Silverdale that will get busier now Millwater is filling up.

  • The other key point is that the main reason we have such massive and endless road expansion plans is that this is the only mode we have planning for and building for decades. While on the one hand that should mean that we have a complete and useful road network; and we do, especially for a city of Auckland’s size. it also means that we are asking it to carry almost every kind of journey and at all times and therefore we have the impression that it is somehow inadequate.

    When in fact, when looked at in comparison with other cities worldwide it is clear that the problem is not not enough roads, nor insufficient motorway lanes, but rather the lack of alternatives of sufficient quality. We can get off the addiction to endless unaffordable road building by changing our focus on the problem to taking in all movement systems instead of only one as we have for decades.

    In other words as the Transit system improves over the next few years, we will find that the most expensive and dubious value road schemes promoted by the industry can be delayed, downscaled, or deleted. These projects suffer from the law of diminishing returns; whereas there is low hanging fruit of greater value to the city to be found investment in our much less mature systems.

    • conan

      That is a great summation of the problem Patrick.

    • grantb

      You are right in that planners start by looking at ‘more of the same’, but when projecting out infrastructure requirements over long periods of time, I wonder if probable(?) changes such as increasing fuel prices, carbon taxation and vehicles migrating to (currently shorter range) electric vehicle are fully taken into consideration. Something like self-driving cars could have a massive impact on the way we use roads over 20+ year time frames.

      Nice thing about a more balanced approach to PV vs PT would be increased flexibility rather than sinking huge amounts into giant motorways that never get used as much for one reason or another.

  • John Polkinghorne

    The other thing, which is worth another post in itself, is that all transport projects should be put through an analysis process before they get given the go-ahead. Cost-benefit work is part of it, but it shouldn’t be everything. Major infrastructure investments need to be defensible, and they need to help us create the kind of places that we want to live in in the future. Simply coming up with an important-sounding name for something (“Roads of National Significance”) and maintaining a position on it, regardless of what the evidence says, is not the way we should be handling these investments.

    On another note, while the RoNS that have been completed may have helped to boost the construction sector during a downturn, and that’s a good Keynesian approach to take, I don’t think we can claim that RoNS that are still years away from being built will have a counter-cyclical effect. Since that was one of the primary reasons National gave for announcing the RoNS projects, we really need to reassess those other roads on a more rational basis.

    • conan

      Wouldn’t that be nice. It would appear that PT projects certainly get that treatment while RoNS get the once over lightly.

    • George D

      The full list of RONS were announced before *any* analysis was done. No costings, no cost/benefits, and no comprehensive reviews, nothing. Since then, the list has remained unchanged.

      They were essentially political projects, chosen on the whim of the Minister. Nothing else in transport has had that luxury (stupidity).

  • Just a quick question? Any reason why you are not pushing for the Botany (rail) Line instead of your bus way idea? Just curious especially with AUT about undertake a massive expansion in Manukau which might need the EMU’s to move the increased amount of people around

  • Pretty clear in the main post about this. Every line evaluated on a case by case ‘mode-blind’ basis. There has to be good reasons to justify the additional capex of rail. Or we just get in the situation of just picking winners; some places getting all the improvement and other getting none at all. Especially in the current political climate which is not ‘mode-blind’ and puts additional financial barriers in the way of rail investment.

    And remember this is essentially a short to medium term plan. What happens next will depend a great deal on how cleverly we get those RoWs in as soon as possible.

    You want rail in the south east? The best way to achieve this, in my view, is to get a BRT type route in and humming and this will help build the case. Currently there are simply not the physical constraints on most of the route to justify it. But long term I can see a Light Metro upgrade for that line…

    • Sailor Boy

      Exactly the same as the shore. We were told we would never need rail, and the busway has proved that to be thoroughly wrong.

  • And it is important to add that there is an urgent need for this same thinking to be brought to all transport investments. Currently we select motorway then evaluate where and how to build one. This is daft and must change, as must all the little technical distortions that aid this process, built up over years of rampant institutionalised mode bias.

  • Robin

    I don’t think you can do the waterview tunnel without the motorway to motorway connection between sh1 and sh18 and consider the motorway network complete. Surely if the tunnel is a realistic alternative for northbound traffic bypassing auckland it will push large volumes through that junction and anything other than the interchange proposed and you haven’t really maximised the benefit of the waterview connection.

  • Gary Young

    At the SH1/SH18 junction is it actually neccessary to construct the overbridge links heading south?

    I’m just wondering what percentage of traffic volume would be travelling northwards on SH1 with the intention of then turning left and heading south-west. Also, if drivers are already heading north-east along SH18 how likely is it that they would then want to turn right, back towards Auckland and points to the south?

    It may be that those traffic movements would be few enough to be catered for by the existing off/on ramps.

  • MFD

    “Simply coming up with an important-sounding name for something (“Roads of National Significance”)”

    It’s more than that; it’s propaganda. We had the same approach with “High Productivity Vehicles” a.k.a. heavier and longer trucks. It’s a smokescreen for programs with dubiuos quantitative justification.

    The RONs have been justified on the basis that they will stimulate economic growth (that seems to be an article of faith that we are just supposed to believe) and therefore they don’t need a good cost-benefit ratio ie. they will produce benefits, they aren’t captured in dollar terms but they will just sort of materialise and you’ll just have to trust slippery Gerry. I just don’t buy it.

    • conan

      Is there any actual post analysis of the projects to date? The Southern motorway goes pretty much to Huntly now. How has Huntly and the surrounding area benefited from this? Or is that not how it works?

      • Yes in contra-distinction to urban transit systems motorways are dispersive of economic activity and agglomerative of negative externalities [pollution, wasted land-use, community severance, traffic congestion]: They agglomerate the bad and disperse the good.

        Huntly’s local economy cannot be improved by having a sweeping motorway through or near it. Small places like that will simply face a loss of local services and variety through this kind of ‘investment’.

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