I recently got back an OIA request from the Ministry of Transport and one of the documents in it was a report on Auckland’s arterial roads. The report is dated December 2012 and the intent was to consider whether significant investment in arterial roads should be the next transport priority after the completion of the Western Ring Route and rail electrification. It’s pretty clear to me that this has come about as an exercise to find ways to avoid agreeing to the City Rail Link however I do think it was probably a worthwhile to do this piece of work anyway. Here is the intro where they also seem suggest that the motorway network is almost complete, not that it really matters to them as the goal posts just get shifted when needed.
The report then goes on to talk about how important Auckland’s arterial roads are for both freight and public transport. General traffic and freight volumes on many on the cities arterial roads are in some cases higher than some of the state highways in Wellington or Christchurch. If these roads were state highways, their volumes mean that many would fall into what the NZTA would class as the most important roads in the country. On the PT side they note that while about half of all bus passenger km’s occur on the arterial network despite it only making up about 4% of the roading network. They also once again make reference to the CRL:
Auckland’s regional arterial network, along with the Northern Busway, will need to provide the bulk of the capacity for future public transport growth, even if the City Rail Link is built
It would be helpful if they quantified the statement a bit as the City Centre Future Access Study showed that even with the integrated CRL and surface bus improvements, that by 2041 access to the city centre would increase by a greater amount on the rail network than the bus network (just). We also know that this is despite their being problems with the modelling including the MoT themselves suggesting it is underestimating rail trips.
Now sure they could be talking about the growth across the entire region however the previous paragraphs suggest they are just thinking about the city centre. It also goes to show just how insular and focused on stopping the CRL the MoT had been.
Moving on the report actually manages to acknowledge that roads just aren’t about moving as many people as possible but that in many situations – like in town centres – they also serve a critical place function and that a balance needs to be struck between the two.
The most interesting part of the report is the section on Congestion. They note that between 2001 and 2010 the city’s population grew by 250,000 people and that they would expect that to have caused increased congestion but ….. they haven’t seen that in the numbers, especially on the arterial networks in on the isthmus.
Right so congestion has actually improved. You can bet that wasn’t modelled into the assumptions of the various roading projects currently under way that are justified on the basis easing congestion. Despite this, the report suggests that there is likely to be a need for more investment going forward to cater for future population growth. It says that due to the significant impact these roads have not just on Auckland but the national economy that there is likely to be justification for the government providing a higher level of funding for these projects compared to the traditional method of using funding assistance rates. It even suggests that one possible way to get additional funding for big arterial road projects (like AMETI or the East-West Link) is to change the designation on them to become a State Highway therefore allowing the NZTA to pay for them fully – although this seems to be a last resort option.
Lastly it is the conclusion that provides perhaps the key point that should be taken away from this report. It suggests that giving greater priority to public transport and freight along arterials are where the most potential gains are. I have suggested in the past that we should perhaps be considering freight lanes and of course we fully support more bus priority.
Overall I think this report is quite useful to the debate despite seemingly being done as a way to see if they could use this as justification for attacking the CRL. The report shows that our arterial roads are very important for a number of reasons/modes and that over the last few years that congestion has generally improved. Most importantly for this blog is the suggestion that improved bus priority should be a priority.
Speaking of bus priority, it appears Auckland Transport will go through a whole electoral term without installing a single metre of new bus lane. Perhaps the PT guys at Auckland Transport need to be taking this report to their roading colleagues to start demanding some bus lanes.