A couple of months ago the government finally announced that they would support the City Rail Link, albeit with a later start date than the council are pushing for. A few days later they then went on to announce a massive road building binge including upgrades/additions to the areas around the interchange of SH1 and SH18, the Southern motorway south of Manukau and SH20A to the airport. Along with this they also agreed on major support for the AMETI project and the East West Link while pushing ahead with designation for an additional harbour crossing.
In each of the roading projects – perhaps with the exception of another harbour crossing – we feel that there are probably some key parts that are worthwhile while other bits that seem over the top. What we definitely don’t agree on is the suggestion that these projects will be moved ahead of the CRL which gives the package the definite feel of an asphaltaholic statement of “just one more road project then we can quit and build the PT”. Of course for these asphalt junkies there is always just one more road that needs to be built first.
One area where the government have been light on details is what the actual costs and benefits of each project are. Well looking through the parliaments questions for written answer section I found the questions from Julie Anne Genter asking about the costs and benefits of the various projects. The answers from Gerry Brownlee are help to shed a bit more light, and concern on the projects.
First the costs.
I have been advised that the most recent cost estimates for the named projects are as follows.
- Auckland City Rail Link – $2.86 billion. This figure is the revised number Auckland Council and Auckland Transport are now using for the project, and includes the additional rolling stock and track upgrades on the wider rail network needed to implement the project.
- Second Waitemata Harbour crossing – $4.7 billion for a tunnel crossing.
- Auckland Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative (AMETI) – $1.5 billion.
- East-West Link – indicative cost of $1 billion.
- Completing a motorway-to-motorway link between the Upper Harbour Highway and the Northern Motorway at Constellation Drive - $400 million for the current scope of works for the corridor which include:
- Upgrading State Highway 18 (Upper Harbour Highway) to motorway standard
- Motorway-to-motorway connections between State Highway 1 and State Highway 18 (both directions)
- South-facing ramps between State Highway 1 and State Highway 17 (Albany Expressway/Greville Road)
- Widening the Southern Motorway between Manukau and Papakura – the estimated cost of widening State Highway 1 between Manukau and Papakura, including a new interchange at Takanini, is $250 million.
- Upgrading State Highway 20A link to the airport to motorway standard - $110 million for the current scope of works for the corridor which include:
- Upgrading and widening of State Highway 20A
- Grade separation of Kirkbride Road.
There are a couple of interesting points in here.
- Auckland City Rail Link – It’s good to see them finally acknowledging that this isn’t just about a tunnel in the CBD but that the costs include a wider network upgrade
- East-West Link – This is much more than what was budget for in the Auckland Plan and the Integrated Transport Programme which suggested $600m. Does this suggest the thinking is for a more expensive motorway type solution like has been pushed by groups like the NZCID?
- Completing a motorway-to-motorway link between the Upper Harbour Highway and the Northern Motorway at Constellation Drive - No mention of extending the busway through this section like we thought may have been included making this piece of work appear to just be a roadfest
- Widening the Southern Motorway between Manukau and Papakura - The ITP projected this as $500m so this is half the price, still expensive though and I imagine most of it is in the Takanini interchange.
- Upgrading State Highway 20A link to the airport to motorway standard – Again this is cheaper than in the ITP which suggests $235m. I can understand the desire to grade separate Kirkbride Rd but not sure what the point of widening the road is.
Another key point is we don’t know if there are any particular details about the costs, for example we know that the CRL has had its costs inflated to the predicted year of spend but we don’t know if that has happened with the other projects. We also don’t know if the other projects have been though much more detailed costing’s like the CRL has, we know they certainly haven’t had the same level of scrutiny.
Moving on to the benefits the point above becomes even more relevant as the benefits are all listed in Net Present Value terms and that will have happened after taking into account issues like the assessment period and discount rate. This means we can’t do a straight calculation to work out the Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR). It’s worth noting that Julie Anne did ask for the BCR for the projects but was just referred to this table.
The thing that is really striking on here is the East-West link has been effectively been given a green light when its benefits have yet to be assessed. Even just last month Gerry Brownlee was suggesting a funding package for the project will being signed off soon. The whole thing has the stench of the RoNS approach all over it – agree to a project before actually working out if it is worthwhile.
Lastly regardless of what way you look at the numbers, the additional Waitemata harbour crossing project really does look like a dog. If it wasn’t being pushed by politicians (of almost all colours and ideology) then I suspect we wouldn’t even be hearing about it as the economic assessment would have buried it long ago.