The sheer stupidity of the Puhoi to Wellsford project might be starting to hit home for some of the residents of Warkworth and surrounding areas as the exact route of the motorway starts to be understood.
Warkworth residents hoping for a link from the Woodcocks Rd industrial area to the new motorway proposed from Puhoi appear to have had their hopes dashed.
The latest version of the route finalised by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) shows the new motorway would bypass Warkworth completely, forcing residents to drive almost as far north as Kaipara Flats Rd to access the new route.
Concerns have been raised that many residents in Warkworth, Sandspit and Snells Beach are unlikely to travel north in order to head south, and will therefore not benefit from the new motorway.
NZTA staff told a meeting of the Warkworth Area Liaison Group this month that Mahurangi College had opposed any access along Woodcocks Rd. Staff also stressed that the main purpose of the motorway was to improve access to Northland.
However, they have confirmed the motorway would almost certainly join up with a new link road to Matakana, via a large roundabout, which is highly likely to push development to the north of Warkworth, and towards the coast.
It is understood Auckland Council planners are already redrawing the rural urban boundary proposed for Warkworth, to reflect the same changes.
While Puhoi residents have won their battle to get access to the motorway, the latest route shows there will only be a northbound off-ramp, and a southbound on-ramp, meaning anyone heading north would not be able to hop off, and then back on, the motorway.
The NZTA is planning to lodge an application to secure the designation within the next month as the first step in the process towards getting the road built. Once that has been completed it is expected that construction could start sometime between late next year and 2019. Here is a map of the confirmed designation they are seeking
One of the biggest issues I have with this project is that it does absolutely nothing to improve the existing road which as a result of the motorway completely bypassing Warkworth will still be used by a lot of Warkworth residents as well as people wanting to avoid paying the tolls that are likely to be on the road. It means that the safety issues on that stretch of road won’t get addressed as why would they spend any serious money on a road that is about to be bypassed. Further it will end up becoming Auckland Transports problem to deal with as the NZTA will almost certainly hand the road over to AT as they would no longer need it – just as they have done with the old state highway that acts as the free route for those wanting to avoid the toll road.
The new route will likely need to be tolled too. For starters it hooks directly into the existing toll road with no north facing ramps at Puhoi so it means that unless the NZTA plan to remove the existing toll and wipe the $100m+ debt from the books, there will be no way for someone using the Warkworth to Puhoi section to avoid paying to use this new road. However the Governments roading binge is also putting a lot of pressure on our transport funds which is one of the reasons for the 3c per litre increase in petrol that occurred at the start of the month and which will happen again in at least the next two years. I think it is quite likely that the toll will be increased to help cover some of the costs of the new section – although not by a level which would be in proportion to the length or cost of the project.
The existing toll road between Orewa and Puhoi is about 7km long and saves drivers about 10 minutes as well as 5km of windy and suburban roads yet even so the NZTA have said in the past that only 70-80% of all vehicles travelling between the two points use the toll road. By comparison the route proposed above only saves about 1km over the existing road and even with having to go through Warkworth, people generally average about 80km/h over the distance. Assuming you would travel at 100km/h for the entirety of the slightly shorter new road the time saving would only be approximately 3-4 minutes. That isn’t bad but when compared to the expected cost of $760 million as well as how many people are actually using the road it simply doesn’t seem feasible. The South facing ramps at Puhoi also mean that it will be easy for travellers to avoid any toll imposed on the new section as they could still drive the existing road to Puhoi then get on the motorway and travel the existing toll road (and depending on where they are coming from this could be just as fast)
It’s also worth pointing out again just how stupid the travel time savings promoted by the government are with comments made by Gerry Brownlee suggesting vehicles would need to be travelling at over 250km/h to be achieved.
One key issue is that the existing road is only really busy at holiday times when Aucklanders are flocking to the beaches to the east of Warkworth or further north which is why the term “Holiday Highway” was coined. Of course the NZTA, the government and Northland keep telling us, this project is more about connecting Northland to Auckland. So let’s look at those two claims a bit closer. Handily the NZTA release monthly data on traffic volumes at a number of sites around the country. The sites measured aren’t as exhaustive as their annual numbers but there are two very useful ones. One is the traffic volumes on ALPURT – the name for the toll road – and is useful for indicating how many people might use the new motorway while the second is from a site just north of Wellsford which is helpful for showing just how much traffic is moving between Auckland and Northland. The graph below shows the monthly average daily traffic volumes recorded at these two sites along with the 12 month rolling average.
As you can see both sites have extremely strong peaks in January as well as smaller peaks in October and April which just so happen to coincide with public holidays. In saying that ALPURT has seen its annual average start to rise with it increasing by about 900 vehicles per day over the past few years but what is unclear is if that is a result of more vehicles doing the overall journey or more people shifting off the old windy road and onto the new shorter and much faster toll road. North of Wellsford however traffic volumes are falling, not at an alarming rate but they have fallen by about 300 vehicles per day over the last few years. In all there are about 8600 vehicles per day (over the course of the year) being counted north of Wellsford. That is certainly not a number to justify spending billions of dollars on. One thing to note is that other state highway sites do see seasonal variation but nowhere near to the extent that these two do (at least of those I have looked at).
Now remembering that the ALPURT numbers don’t include the traffic that bypasses the toll road what it suggests to me is two things. The first is that there simply isn’t that much interregional traffic movement occurring. Even during holiday periods the average amount of daily traffic is less than what many single lane roads within Auckland carry. Even many of our rail network level crossings – which will suffer increasing delays as we put more train services on – carry more daily traffic than what occurs even during the busiest month of the year on this section of the state highway network. With the vast majority of the traffic originating from Warkworth or the surrounding areas, it suggests that if you are going to spend money on the area – and the road does need some improving – then doing so in a way that allows the majority of people using the road would be a smarter move.
In the past we have suggested what is dubbed Operation Lifesaver. Like many of the roading projects in the Integrated Transport Plan we believe that the vast majority of then benefits can be achieved by cheaper solutions. The idea for this road is fairly simple, instead of building a fully offline motorway fix the key issues that exist with the road at present. That means bypassing Warkworth (that alone would deliver a lot of benefits), easing corners and installing additional passing lanes. It also means that the projects could start sooner as most of them would take place within the existing road corridor plus the benefits can be felt immediately compared to there being no benefits from the motorway until the entire road has been completed. We have suggested in the past that a the NZTA should consider an upgrade and link from Perry Rd to the new motorway as a way of allowing the project to be staged by building the bypass of Warkworth first then seeing if there is still the need to do the full project.
One other interesting comment from the article on the first link,
Meanwhile, investigation of the Warkworth to Wellsford leg has been postponed indefinitely, due to tests that have shown land in the area is so unstable, it would be uneconomic to build a motorway on top of it. It is the poorest possible soil seen in New Zealand.
I’m guessing the only reason the government hasn’t announced officially that this section has been cut back as it – combined with the proposed road from the end of the project across to Matakana Rd – would play even more into to suggestions that the road is primarily about getting people to their holiday homes in Omaha. It would definitely remove one of the arguments that the road is about connecting Northland. It is also worth noting that as the majority of traffic heading north of Albany is going to Warkworth or the surrounding areas, not further north, then without that link to Matakana Rd that traffic is still going to have to be forced back to Warkworth and through the busy Hill St intersection.
One of the recent OIA requests I had back also suggests that the NZTA are going to consider building this motorway as a PPP, like they are doing with Transmission Gully. I wouldn’t mind quite so much if the private sector was actually taking a risk on building these roads but the financial institutions have learned from the mistakes in Australia and so the NZTA get left holding almost all of the risk (including the risk that predicted traffic volumes won’t materialise). While we don’t pay the massive upfront cost of building the road, we will end up paying a huge amount more over a 25 year period. The payment structure is illustrated quite will in this graph which is for Transmission Gully. Note: the OIA request I mentioned has quite a bit of detail about how the contracts will be structured. I will try and get a more detailed post up about it in the next few days.
And just to make things even worse it appears that Auckland Transport are trying to shoehorn Penlink into the same contract.
Auckland Transport is working with the NZTA on a business case to progress Penlink as a possible joint public private partnership – to be constructed/tendered along with their Puhoi to Warkworth project.
“This is still under development and is expected to be completed in December,” Auckland Transport communications general manager Wally Thomas says.