I realise it might seem like fairly late notice however if you intend to make a submission about Puhoi to Warkworth then you only have a few days left as submissions close at 5pm on Friday. The details for how to make a submission are on the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) website while the detailed documents from the NZTA to support the proposal can be found here.
This video shows the route being proposed.
I haven’t yet put together my submission (that will be a task for the next few days) however with this post I’m going to highlight some of the areas I will be focussing on.
Like so many other projects that are going on at the moment, I do agree that some improvements need to be made to the route between Puhoi and Warkworth however I disagree with the scale of the solution. There seems to be a prevailing attitude from the government and transport agencies that if we’re going to build something, then instead of small and targeted upgrades we should just bite the bullet and build the long term solution that we might not 30 years. It may sound like a good idea to effectively “build once” but the downside is it sucks up transport funding for other projects that might provide a better return on investment, even if just in the short term.
There is some evidence of this when we compare some of the information in the executive summary with some older reports/studies of the project. This part is from the executive summary although I have cut out a section between the two paragraphs:
Over the decade to 2012, the NZTA carried out a series of studies on the State highway network connecting the Auckland and Northland regions. These studies considered the role of the State highway network in relation to the wider transport system between Auckland and Northland.
The studies concluded that an off-line four-lane motorway alternative to the existing SH1 will achieve the strategic objectives of supporting economic development in northland, will address transport constraints imposed by the existing alignment of SH1, and will address traffic congestion and safety issues on SH1 .
While it is true that the previous studies had recommended an offline motorway as the best long term option, they also said that the only part worth doing was a bypass around Warkworth. Other sections of the road from Puhoi to Warkworth were expensive and provided little economic benefit as it was considered that there was little opportunity for substantial economic growth in Northland. In other words while a motorway might be the ideal situation, it doesn’t make sense. Of course that all changed after the current government were elected in 2008 and quickly declared the route a road of national significance.
Some people may think that this part is not that important – at least for the consenting process which is mainly about how to mitigate the negative impacts caused by the construction and operation of this road. However I think it is critically important. If we don’t need to build the road at all then we can not only save ourselves a huge amount of money that can go towards upgrades to the existing route and other projects, but we can avoid completely damaging the environment where the new road will go through.
And those environmental impacts are going to be huge with massive amounts of earthworks needed to get the route to motorway standard. To give you an idea of the amount of change to the landscape that is proposed, there will be some embankments up to 46.5m high and some cuts into hills up to 45.8m deep. In total over 8 million m³ of fill will be needed, that’s 6-7 times what is being taken out of Waterview. In addition there are 7 major viaducts, 5 bridges with the highest being 46m high – that’s similar in height to driving over the Harbour Bridge.
Now it might be possible to mitigate the impacts of building and operating the road however the big issue is the cost of doing so. As a result of what is already proposed the project is expected to cost $760 million which means the road needs to deliver a lot of benefits to be viable and that is where things start to get shaky. As mentioned previous economic assessment ranked everything but a bypass of Warkworth uneconomic. There isn’t a whole lot of information about the current business case with the only economic information talking about the high level economic effects of the project. The NZTA should be releasing the full business case for this project, not just an 8 page letter.
Of course many of the economic benefits are meant to accrue to the users of the road through travels savings along with safety improvements. The traffic assessment report provides information about this but the thing that catches me is that all through the report it comments that the project is primarily an issue during holiday times while that at other times of the year the road is relatively free.
And shortly after
To sum all of that up, the problems on the road that cause congestion happen during the summer months when heaps of people are going away on holiday to the beaches primarily to the east of Warkworth. The rest of the time it handles less traffic than many single lane arterials in Auckland. Spending hundreds of millions (latest estimate I saw was $760m) just so that some people going on holiday can get to their baches a few minutes quicker hardly seems like a good use our money.
I think a really useful outcome from this process would be to get a fully independent assessment of the transport and economic reports, much like we saw come out recently about the Basin Bridge. If you are going to submit then perhaps consider adding that to your submission.
Lastly if you are an expert in any of the fields that want to help with a submission then please let me know.