The Board of Inquiry Hearing into the Puhoi Warkworth toll road was meant to finish last week, however NZTA are giving their closing submission today (Thursday 5th June) at Courtroom 2.01, Level 2 Chorus Building, 42 Federal St, from 10am.
The CBT was permitted to submit a written closing submission, which we did so on Wednesday of last week.
On Friday of the previous week, we were given permission to cross examine the NZTA’s traffic expert on the significant issues we have raised here in previous posts. You can read the full transcript yourself, but in general all of the points made in previous posts on the blog were confirmed, including traffic modelling being based on no toll tariff for the toll road. Of course, in spite of all the inconsistencies with the traffic evidence, the NZTA still conclude that “No expert traffic evidence has been called to dispute the evidence”, and the Board haven’t been of a mind to appoint any experts of their own to advise them, as has been the case in the Basin Reserve Board of Inquiry.
To help with the legal aspects of our submission, the CBT engaged the services of Rob Enright, a former RMA solicitor now acting as a barrister, to write a closing legal submission. Rob had recent success on behalf of the Environmental Defence Society in the Supreme Court. There is a lot for the Board to consider in the legal submission, but as Rob says:
Perhaps CBT’s strongest point is that the NZTA has failed to undertake a cost-benefit analysis of the relative merits of the proposed designation, despite this being commonplace for NZTA projects.
Remember, the proposed toll road is just 700m shorter than the existing route. At most, just 3 minutes will be shaved off current journey times. For trips to Warkworth and the Matakana beaches, travel time savings are likely to be zero. It will be interesting to see how the Board and NZTA respond to the legal points Rob has made.
So the following issues remain in contention for the CBT:
1. Whether projected traffic volumes for the Project route and existing SH1 are realistic
2. Whether a supporting economic analysis consistent with the NZTA’s Economic Evaluation Manual should be supplied
3. Whether alternatives have been adequately considered
4. Whether unsafe sections of the existing SH1 require mitigation
We’ve covered all but the last of these issues in previous posts , so the remainder of this post focuses on the safety of the existing SH1, and comes from our closing submission.
The Traffic Report 2026 Project case forecasts that the existing SH1 will remain three times as dangerous as the toll road, as illustrated here with the 3rd and 4th columns of this bar chart:
The overall forecast reduction in accidents (23%) is only achieved if the forecast reduction in traffic on the existing SH1 eventuates.
In Section 2.4 Effect of Traffic Report Assumptions of our closing submission, we identified the potential for an increase in traffic on the 2026 existing SH1 of between 5,089 and 7,027 vehicles a day, primarily due to the effect of tolling.
Since accident rates are assumed to be in proportion to traffic, the forecast reduction in accidents will not occur if more traffic is on the relatively unsafe SH1.
In addition, we believe this could mean that the overall accident rate on the corridor between Puhoi and Wellsford will not improve as a result of the Project, as with current modelling there is only a small improvement in annual injury accidents forecast. More traffic on SH1 would potentially eliminate this slight improvement.
The Traffic Report considers future accident rates on the Project toll road and the existing SH1, and states :
The average annual number of injury crashes in the corridor is forecast to decrease by five (23%) in the year 2026 in comparison to the future traffic volumes on the existing SH1 route.
Modelling crash rates in the entire corridor, including the existing SH1, is the correct approach.
But it is unclear why a 23% improvement is an acceptable figure. It should not become a defacto target. Accident rates could be lower if further improvements to the existing SH1 were undertaken.
The Traffic Report identifies a number of accident black spots. For instance :
The 1.6km section of road between Valerie Close and McKinney Road has had the most serious and fatal crashes. The one fatal pedestrian crash was within this section approximately 160m north of the SH1 and Toovey Road intersection.
To remedy this is estimated to cost $2.9m, with a BCR of 2.1. (Costs and BCRs come from this OIA document.)
Schedewys Hill has a particularly poor horizontal and vertical alignment with two passing lanes on curves that terminate near bends. This geometry has resulted in a large number of minor injury accidents on this relatively short section of SH1.
To remedy this was estimated to cost between $25.8m and $70m in 2002, with a BCR of between 1.3 and 1.4.
Similarly, the Pohuehue Viaduct can be made safer for a cost of just $4.7m (2006), with a high BCR of 3.2.
It seems perverse that the NZTA will entertain spending millions of dollars in order to minimise the removal of the Kauri trees across the project area , and yet will not spend any money to provide for the additional health and safety of people and communities. Environmental mitigation is important, but the safety of people and communities should be even more so.
The fact that the NZTA has chosen a Project alignment outside of the current SH1 alignment should not exonerate the NZTA from making these safety improvements, particularly as positive BCRs have already been calculated.
A draft decision from the Board is due in late July