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Gerry Brownlee offers to resign

Gerry Brownlee offered to resign as Transport Minster today after getting caught out skipping security at Christchurch airport.

Prime Minister John Key says he was “really disappointed” after Gerry Brownlee bypassed airport security this morning, but he has been quick to back him.

Mr Brownlee and two of his staff deliberately bypassed airport security at Christchurch airport this morning. He offered his resignation as Transport Minister, but that was swiftly rejected by the PM.

“Running late for a plane this morning, I took a door that is normally used for an exit at Christchurch airport onto the forecourt … and you’re supposed to go through airport security,” Mr Brownlee told reporters this afternoon.

He said he did not give it any thought, but has now apologised unreservedly for the action.

Mr Brownlee only offered his resignation after he was contacted by Aviation Security.

In defending him John Key has said

“He’s offered his resignation and I’ve decided, on balance, not to accept his resignation. In making that decision, I considered the whole matter very seriously.

“But I had to weigh up all of the tremendous things he’s done in the six years he’s served as a minister.

So let’s have a quick poll, do you think the Prime Minister should have accepted his resignation over this? One thing to think about is if he had of, who would have replaced him and for that the most likely candidate would be his predecessor – Steven Joyce.

Should John Key have accepted Gerry Brownlee's Resignation

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Note: I think this one could end up a very lopsided poll.

Taskforce to Tackle Loopy Rules

The National Party have announced that if they’re re-elected they’ll form a taskforce to tackle loopy rules and regulations.

Local Government Minister Paula Bennett today announced the establishment of a new Taskforce to rid New Zealand of loopy rules and regulations.

“The Rules Reduction Taskforce in partnership with local government will work closely with the public to weed out pedantic and unnecessary rules that frustrate property owners and councils alike.

“We’ve seen rules and regulations brought in over decades that were well intentioned but end up being confusing, onerous and costly while failing to deliver any real benefit for the property owner or the wider public,” says Mrs Bennett.

The Taskforce will be up and running in October. As well as central and local government experts, it will include specialists from the building and trades sector.

“Anyone doing building work knows just how frustrating and costly the bureaucracy can get. We want to hear from property owners, builders, tradespeople and businesses on rules and regulations that are crying out for sensible change.

“There will be a website where people can send us examples of loopy rules and the Taskforce will hear submissions from the public on areas ripe for change.

“We have rules dictating all sorts of weird and wonderful things from signage over cake stalls to where your shower curtains need to be positioned.

“In another example, a property owner trying to replace a 130 year old fence discovered some of it was on a scenic reserve and they faced having to buy or lease the land.

“While there’s always a degree of rationale behind these rules, the Taskforce will be charged with identifying what should stay and what should go so people can get on with the job of building, renovating or event planning without have to wade through a morass of unnecessary rules,” says Mrs Bennett.

Fantastic, how about they start with some that will have the most impact. That would mean starting with

  • Minimum Parking Requirements
  • Minimum Lot Sizes
  • Minimum Dwelling Sizes
  • Minimum Bedroom sizes
  • Minimum Setbacks
  • Restrictive Height Limits
  • Blanket heritage protection for everything old
  • Minimum Rear Yard Sizes
  • Minimum numbers and size of tress per site

Of course during the debate on the Unitary Plan National Party MPs and aligned councillors fought hard to not only keep these loopy rules and regulations but in many cases to make t hem worse.

Poll shows people want more spent on PT

Stuff have released the results of a poll they’ve conducted asking about transport funding.

Auckland has sent a clear message to the Government over its transport priorities: Give us better public transport rather than better roads.

The latest Stuff.co.nz-Ipsos poll found that nationally people wanted a government focus on better public transport over roads by a margin of 30 per cent to 24 per cent.

Another 40 per cent wanted a focus on both.

In Auckland there was much stronger backing for public transport spending, which got the nod by a four to one margin over roads among those who had a preference.

Almost 43 per cent said the focus should be on both.

For Auckland in particular the results suggest a strong support for more being spent on PT with some quick calculations suggesting 46% of respondents wanted more PT spending, followed by 43% who wanted both with just 11% wanting more spent on roads alone. Understandably the support for PT isn’t quite as strong outside of Auckland but still saw a significant number of people supporting the call for more spending on PT. I’ve put together these graphs based on the results highlight the result

Stuff Poll - Govt Focus

Additionally when asked if the government was doing enough to address congestion once again Aucklanders voted differently to the rest of the country with the majority saying no – although to be fair I’m not sure if Aucklanders will ever think enough is being done.

There was a similar, but less pronounced, division between Auckland and the rest of the country when it came to traffic congestion.

Across the nation 57 per cent felt the Government was doing enough to ease traffic jams in their region.

Even in urban areas there was still a majority at 51 per cent backing the Government’s efforts with 42 per cent saying it was not doing enough.

But in Auckland a clear majority – 54 per cent – said the Government was falling short against 43 per cent who thought it was doing enough.

Perhaps unsurprisingly Brownlee has shrugged off the results suggesting that respondents are confused

But Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee called the result a “confused” message, saying Aucklanders did not use public transport to an extent that made it truly economic.

His response shows two things:

  • That he fails to grasp the difference between peoples aspirations and the reality they live in – we know that many people will only catch PT if it is rational for them to do. You could have a bus stop outside your front door but it isn’t likely to used if the buses that stop there take long convoluted and slow routes. My guess is most people probably want more investment in PT so that it becomes viable for them to use rather than the only realistic option being to drive.
  • That he is confused about the economic and financial viability of transport systems. Both roads and PT provide economic benefits to the country by allowing for the movement of people and goods. Neither roads nor PT are currently financially viable and both require subsidies. PT subsidies are well known and often pointed out by those opposing investing in it however roads also require subsidies. About $1 billion a year is invested in them by local councils – which comes primarily from property rates – and the government themselves are spending additional money from outside of the transport budget on many of their flagship roading projects like the recently announced Accelerated Regional Roads Package.

As the Stuff article says

The poll will be a blow to the Government’s transport policy which has emphasised road building, and in particular its flagship Roads of National Significance, and has rebuffed calls from Auckland Mayor Len Brown for an early start to the city rail link.

National also made its roading policy the centrepiece of Prime Minister John Key’s speech to National’s annual conference, with a promise to spend $212 million from the sale of state-owned assets to upgrade 14 roads across the country.

“Team Key has always been very focused on roads,” Key said at the time.

Cut projects or Increase Funding

The issue of how we fund transport projects has been in the news a lot recently with discussions of the council’s Long Term Plan (LTP). The Herald have been running a campaign basically suggesting the council finances are perilous and almost saying are bankrupt and trying to shift a lot of the blame on to the City Rail Link. The part about the council’s finances being in trouble was well debunked the other day by David Shand who was a member of the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance and chaired the 2007 Independent Commission of Inquiry into Local Government Rates.

Aucklanders should have an informed debate about the state of the city finances, given the $1.4 billion of rates collected annually and the total assets of some $40 billion managed by the council. However, the debate has not been well served by Herald articles which blithely use terms such as “spending spree”, “spending beyond its means” and “crisis point”.

This has led to the usual spate of letters from aggrieved ratepayers who are only too willing to believe that the council’s finances are in a “mess” and that we may be facing “bankruptcy”. There is no “crisis” in the city’s finances at the moment but there are major issues to be addressed.

He goes on to discuss 6 key points about the council’s finances and the heralds coverage and afterwards he notes:

While there has been no spending spree, the city’s finances are not in a mess and we are not presently at risk of bankruptcy, there are some big financial issues to be addressed.

The Herald has referred in the past to the “infrastructure deficit” Auckland faces over the next 30 years based both on coping with future expansion and addressing the past neglect of infrastructure expenditure.

 

The real problem is the sheer amount of projects the council has on the books from legacy councils. Many of the projects are good and critically needed – like the City Rail Link – while others like Penlink are at the other end of the spectrum. As a result there are two separate but combined issues at play when it comes to the next LTP. We need to:

  1. Make sure we’re building the right stuff – that means we need to review every project to see if it’s actually worthwhile building as what we don’t build can be just as important as what we do.
  2. If there is an funding deficit we need to work out how we address that which will likely mean new funding sources need to be found.

Ultimately the solution is likely to be a bit of a combination of the two however unfortunately in ways similar to the density debate with the Unitary Plan talk only seems to coalesce around one option. Len Brown falls in to the second camp of wanting to find new funding sources but not wanting to make some hard decisions about what should be funded and he reiterated that again yesterday when speaking at the annual conference of the Road Transport Forum.

Auckland needs to work “shoulder-to-shoulder” with the Government if it’s to find a way out of a massive budget deficit and fund its much needed transport plans, Mayor Len Brown says.

The city was gearing up for “one of the most important funding debates Auckland has ever seen, and maybe even the nation”, he said today.

It needed to find $300 million-$400 million a year to fill a $12 billion funding gap, which would mean the difference “between steady-as-you-go typical Auckland or whether or not we’re going to seriously invest in infrastructure to deal with the shortfall and to deal with the growth coming at us to build this city as a real economic powerhouse”.

And

“Bluntly, we need to decide do we want a transport package based on current funding sources, which is not at all appealing and won’t deliver the city that we’re aspiring to and we know we need. Or do we find new sources of funding and deliver the transport programme Aucklanders asked for through the Auckland plan and in successive elections.

“Current funding sources would deliver us a transport system that’s half-way there. We need to be bold, innovative.”

funding-gap-analysis

Funding Gap from Keep Auckland Moving

A similar story was told by the Head of the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development (NZCID) which is a lobby group for the construction and infrastructure financing industry’s.

Note: we’ve also pointed out in the past the odd situation where the Council are a paid up member of a group who exists to lobby the council to spend more. Also the councils outgoing CFO happens to be on the board.

Head of the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development, Stephen Selwood, said the investment plans for Auckland’s public transport and roads are not great and the city must move quickly to avoid massive congestion within 30 years.

He believes a motorway charging regime is the best option for raising money to cover the $300-400 million annual cost of developing Auckland’s roads and public transport. He said users should pay about $3 a trip.

Mr Selwood told the Road Transport Forum’s annual conference on Thursday that he favours motorway tolls rather than the ring road option used in London.

He said a toll would also help clear congested roads by encouraging some commuters onto public transport while others would car pool.

But Mr Sellwood warned that authorities need to move in the next two to three years or Auckland will face much bigger congestion problems by 2040.

Stephen Selwood has been pushing this idea for some time now. Personally I’m  not opposed to using road pricing, in fact quite the opposite in that if done right it could be quite useful for managing demand however there are a number of problems with what Selwood keeps pushing.

  • Tolling only the motorways is likely to push a lot of trips that currently use the motorway on to local roads which aren’t tolled likely putting a lot more pressure on them. It’s also those local roads that carry the bulk of our bus services so there could be quite a substantial impact to PT reliability.
  • Would our PT system be able to cope with such an increase in demand. Even with the new network and new electric trains there isn’t likely to be enough spare capacity to be able to cope if significant numbers of people suddenly change modes. If we decide to go down the path of road pricing then we really need a concerted effort to get our PT improvements rolled through faster to help in giving us that capacity.
  • Perhaps most importantly is impact road pricing might have on travel demand. The likely result is that traffic volumes (on motorways at least) are likely to fall as people shift to PT or reducing the amount of travel they do. This could be significant as reducing traffic also reduces/removes the justification for many of the roading projects currently on the plans. With those roading upgrades no longer needed it reduces the overall amount we have to spend upgrading our roads and there reduces the funding deficit. There’s a bit of an irony about an infrastructure lobby group pushing a solution that will end up reducing the amount of infrastructure we need – not that they’re probably thinking that far ahead.

I think all three problems have solutions or provide us with good opportunities. Rolling out the new bus network supported by a large network of bus lanes could keep local roads flowing and as well as providing more attractive services.  Before introducing such a charging scheme effort can be made to increase the size of the bus fleet and get started on projects like the City Rail Link while the changes in travel behaviour as a result of tolls can help us work out exactly what projects are needed.

Looking back at the existing LTP

Yesterday it emerged that the council is taking a knife to its next Long Term Plan and potentially start cutting projects completely in a bid to keep rates down. One comment that came through clearly yesterday was that the council will have to be careful what projects they cut because if they cut the wrong ones, like many of the PT and walking/cycling projects they should also cut the worlds most liveable city slogan too. Below is a press release from the council on the subject, the key point being that the public won’t get to hear what’s planned till late August.

The next phase in Auckland Council’s Long-term Plan (LTP) process is underway as elected representatives and officials meet to consider what the council should do during the next 10 years and how to fund it.

In March, Mayor Len Brown set the direction for a full review of the budgets and work plans of Auckland Council and its CCOs, and today’s workshop provides an overview of the sorts of things to be considered as Auckland plans for significant growth over the next decade.

“We need to make some tough choices to find the right balance between progress and affordability. Today we begin the conversation about how much we spend, when we spend it and what we spend it on to ensure Auckland’s communities and economy continue to prosper and the city remains a great place to live for all Aucklanders,” says Len Brown.

“In the months ahead, we’ll be asking Aucklanders about which major investments are the most important and affordable over the next decade to deliver Auckland’s vision to become the world’s most liveable city.”

The LTP is reviewed every three years. The next 11 months will see an extensive consultation process involving the council, its CCOs and the people of Auckland. The revised LTP 2015-2025 is due for adoption June 2015.

“Aucklanders want progress, especially on affordable housing and transport, but we know there is no appetite for large increases in debt and rates, so the next phase we begin today challenges us to find the trade-offs over the coming months to ensure increases are sustainable while still delivering on our promises – we can’t afford to do it all.”

Auckland’s first LTP in 2012 was based on the new council’s objectives but was still working with numbers carried over through amalgamation from the legacy councils.

This LTP provides the united Auckland Council with its first opportunity to realign those budgets and develop a 10-year programme of work based on a single plan and vision for Auckland.

Auckland Council Chief Executive Stephen Town says:

“The current LTP contains carry over numbers from the legacy councils and projects an average rates rise of 4.9% for each of the remaining years until 2022. To limit rate rises to between 2.5% to 3.5%, we need to be innovative and bold in looking at alternative revenue sources, reprioritising spending and finding cost savings to achieve our financial targets and take the pressure off households.”

“Auckland’s AA credit rating is testament to the careful and responsible approach we have applied to financial management. But we don’t have a blank cheque book to fund Auckland’s growth, and so we need to be clear about the priorities in the Auckland Plan.”

The LTP covers everything we do and how we pay for it – from collecting rubbish, building cycleways, delivering community services to investing in technology and innovation to ensure Auckland is a competitive global city for investment.

Detailed workshops will be held throughout July and August to help inform the Mayor’s Proposal for what activities should be prioritised, how to reduce total spend to keep rates low and alternative sources of funding for the 2015-2025 plan.

The Mayor’s Proposal will be presented in late August, and will then go out for public consultation so Aucklanders can have their say on shaping Auckland’s future.

The Long Term Plans is a 10 year budget but it gets reviewed every three years. In this post I’m just going to highlight what transport spending is planned in the current LTP which covers the period from 2012 to 2022. In particular I’m going to focus on the 2015 – 2022 parts as that’s what the council will likely be making substantial changes too.

When it comes to transport the current LTP is split into three sections:

  • Public transport and travel demand management
  • Roads and footpaths
  • Parking and enforcement

They can be summarised below (note: these are just the costs and ignore revenues and and money from other sources e.g. the NZTA or government)

LTP 2012-22 All headlines 3

 

 

Delving deeper each section can be broken down as below

Public transport and travel demand management

The one thing that stands out the most is that rail OPEX is expected to jump substantially which is primarily related to running more services, post electrification and then from 2020 for the CRL. We do know that the new electric trains cost about half as much in maintenance and fuel costs as the current trains and that Auckland Transport is about to go out to tender for a new rail contract from 2016 onwards. Those two things will hopefully combine to reduce those costs.

Rail costs feature strongly on the CAPEX side too which is comprised mostly of the costs for electrification and the City Rail Link. One thing not covered is the bus infrastructure that will be needed to support the new network which hadn’t been created – at least not publicly.

LTP 2012-22 - PT

Roads and footpaths

On the CAPEX side there are a couple of really large projects in the form of AMETI, Penlink and the Mill Rd corridor however most of the ones on the list are arterial upgrades that are/were expected to cost around $30 million each.

LTP 2012-22 - Roads and Footpaths 2

 

 

Parking and Enforcement

LTP 2012-22 - Parking and Enforcement

Note: you can see a list of all the projects that were included in the figures above in this old post.

I suspect that until plans are released in August that there will end up being a lot of rumours flying around about just what projects are going to be funded and which ones won’t. The herald yesterday suggested some projects that might be cut include:

  • Electrification to Pukekohe which will be essential to the proposed greenfield development in the area.
  • Penlink
  • A 20% cut in the already meagre cycling budget
  • A North Western Busway – something the NZTA should really be building as part of the Western Ring Route project and that is going to be needed to support the greenfield growth in the North West.

To me this also process is also going to highlight one of the glaring inconsistencies in how we fund transport. Local projects have to go through years of debate and cuts to get them to starting line but when it comes to state highways we have the government who can just come in and build stuff even if it isn’t what the city wants or needs. I imagine our funding priorities would be quite different if the city was able to choose how to spend the money we’re pouring into state highways.

Council pulling out the knife

The council today are starting to get serious about the next Long Term Plan (LTP) which will shape the councils spending for the next decade. We’ve long criticised them for blindly holding on to legacy projects from before we had a single council and it appears a key feature of this LTP is that they will finally start making some difficult decisions over which projects to keep. I’ve had it suggested that this will see blood on the floor as they wield the knife cutting out projects.

Just what projects and services get cut is being discussed today in a closed session of councillors.

Aucklanders will be given clear choices, including tolls and congestion charges, to pay for big transport projects in a black budget being partly unveiled today.

The Herald understands the new 10-year budget will slash up to $2.8 billion of new spending at Auckland Council to put the brakes on soaring debt and rates.

Nothing will be spared from a review of council services, even the $2.86 billion city rail link, which has no funding certainty.

Budgets for services like new libraries, swimming pools and playing fields are under the microscope.

Councillors, local board members, council agency staff and directors, and members of the Maori Statutory Board will be taken through the first draft of the new 10-year budget today.

They will be told the post-Super City spending spree is over, replaced by a new era of “prudent financial management” and “affordability”.

It will be interesting to see just what projects get cut. I suspect the CRL will still go ahead but perhaps with the K Rd and Newton stations delayed along with some of the other aspects like extra trains. Either way it’s something we will keep a close eye on.

The hypocrisy of the GPS

If there’s one thing – more than anything else – that annoys me about the government’s approach to transport, it’s the double standard they apply between state highway projects (particularly RoNS projects) and public transport investment. Getting any public transport funding requires analysis after analysis, proof that the timing of the project is optimal, proof that it’s definitely the most viable and cost-effective option, links with triggers around the level of use or growth in the area the project is located – the list goes on. This would not be a problem if the approach was applied consistently, after all transport projects are expensive and we should be careful when it comes to the use of public funds.

Yet the same level of analysis is never applied to state highway projects, and even less analysis when it comes to the Roads of National Significance (RoNS). Despite major concerns around the cost-effectiveness of many of these projects and a complete lack of analysis when it comes to triggers for timing, the assessment of alternatives or even basic cost-benefit ratios the projects plough on ahead.

This double-standard is carried on through to the latest version of the Government Policy Statement (GPS), which was released recently. The justification for an $11b spend on state highways is fairly general:

Following more than a decade of increasing concern about under-investment in roading infrastructure, in 2009 the Government began a significant improvement programme. With an intention to invest nearly $11 billion in New Zealand’s State highways over the 10 years to 2019, the Government focused on enabling economic growth rather than simply responding to it, providing high quality connections between key areas of production, processing and export.

Continued funding under GPS 2015 (draft) for State highway improvements will bring benefits for national economic growth and productivity, particularly given that State highways carry most freight and link major ports, airports and urban areas.

This clearly leads to a number of questions that could be reasonably asked to check whether this is the best way of spending $11,000,000,000 of public money:

  • What proof is there of recent under-investment in roading infrastructure – what’s the major problem the investment is trying to solve?
  • To what extent does investing in state highway infrastructure actually boost economic growth – where are the international examples of state highways being a better investment than other transport, or investing in education, or just letting people keep that money and deciding what to do with it themselves?
  • How will success of the investment in state highways be measured?
  • How do we know we wouldn’t have achieved the same outcomes (or nearly the same) with a much smaller spend?
  • What other options for this level of investment were considered and how did they perform on a relative basis?
  • Has the investment been working (and how might we measure that), has it achieved its local goals (like reducing congestion) and has achievement of those local goals (if it’s even happened) contributed to greater economic performance to the extent we would hope from an $11b investment?

In some shape or form, these questions have all been asked of public transport investment (either recent or proposed) by government over the past few years – but surprisingly we don’t seem to have seen the same questioned asked of the state highway programme. You’ll also notice the comment about the investment enabling economic growth rather than responding to it. The only vague reference to the impact of billions spent on state highways in recent years comes in the section on Auckland:

Since 2009, the Government has undertaken a major programme of investment in Auckland’s transport infrastructure. By 2017, Auckland will have a completed motorway network and an upgraded and electrified metro rail network. This investment programme is delivering significant results, helping to hold congestion steady despite population growth.

But if we back up a bit, we see the GPS noting that VKT hasn’t grown in recent years:

vkt-change

It seems like the GPS is saying “despite flat traffic volumes and massive investment in state highways, we haven’t managed to reduce congestion at all“. That seems to be a pretty massive elephant in the room signal that the current approach isn’t working. Yet despite some pretty obvious questions about whether we’ve got any value at all from the billions in recent state highway projects, the GPS doesn’t question ploughing billions more into future state highway spending.

Contrast that with the much more cautious approach to spending on public transport improvements:

Considerable investment has been made in the public transport network to build patronage. Much of this investment has been ahead of patronage demand, particularly in metro-rail services. A period of consolidation is needed where the focus is on securing the patronage gains anticipated from measures such as integrated ticketing, reconfigured bus networks, and metro rail investments.

No “period of consolidation” to see whether the gains from state highway improvements are realised though? No checking whether the billions spent on state highways in the past decade has led to improvements in economic performance or even reduced congestion – as per their stated goal? If we were to compare the per capita use of public transport against the per capita use of the roading network in recent years, we find quite a compelling story:

VKT-vs-PT-Trips-per-Captia-2I’m kind of struggling to see how one can interpret the above graph as “we’re not sure whether the PT investment is working but clearly we need to keep spending billions on roads”.

Which is what the GPS does, showing its hypocrisy.

CFN and budget transport announcements

In the May budget the Government announced they would fastrack yet another $800 million of motorway projects, partially financed by a $375 million loan. These were projects that had been identified in the Prime Minister’s Auckland speech in 2013. There were 3 main projects as outlined below.

Budget-2014-Auckland-Transport-package

 

Two of these projects have major potential to impact on 2 key elements of the Congestion Free Network.

The first is the State Highway 20A upgrade, which involves extending the motorway about 2 extra kilometres towards the airport.

Airport Access Map

 

NZTA says the main features are:

Grade separation of SH20A and Kirkbride Rd intersection

Upgrading of SH20A to motorway standards: two lanes in each direction plus dedicated bus priority lanes

Reprioritisation of Ascot Rd / Kirkbride Rd intersection

Installation of truck priority lanes and ramp signalling

Relocation and integration of cycle lanes in local road network

Note there is no mention at all of rail to the airport, which would follow the motorway corridor from Onehunga most of the way to the airport. It is of upmost importance that a rail corridor is reserved by NZTA when they are planning and building the project. They have done this on the SH20 extensions through Mt Roskill, however there was a designation already in place so the situation is somewhat different. Auckland Transport has been investigating rapid transit along this route since 2011. Initially they said the route protection was to begin in late 2011, however 3 years later we have learned little. The latest we have is an April 2014 update which suggests that a preferred alignment will be identified in 2014. While the Airport’s Masterplan may be causing issues at the southern end of the route, work should still be moving ahead in the northern area. It is essential that NZTA and AT work together to speed up alignment identification in this area, something which has been highlighted by the Campaign for Better Transport. If the upgrade is built without an alignment for the rail corridor it will add huge extra cost to the airport rail project. For one thing all the new overbridges would have to be rebuilt, which would be a huge waste of money. Auckland Council need to send a strong message to the government that this would be unacceptable, and ensure the rail corridor is allowed for in the design.

 

The second project is the suite of Northern Corridor projects, which largely revolve around the State Highway 1 to State Highway 18 grade-separation and associated widening. In December 2013 NZTA claimed there were 5 main components to the Northern Corridor projects.

Northern Corridor Improvements

Component 1 is already under construction (costing $19.5 million). Component 2 seems to be the smart low-cost improvements. The announcement above seems to refer to Components 1 to 4, totally leaving out the much needed Northern Busway extension to Albany. Currently the Northern Express speeds the 15km from Britomart to Constellation Station in just over 20 minutes. However the last 4km to Albany can take 15 minutes as there is no bus priority. This busway extension is another project that NZTA and AT have been working on for years, and seems have got bogged down somehow. In 2011 NZTA were saying that the route needed to be designated soon due to the development taking place. Last year we found out a little more about the route investigations, which suggested it would cost $249 million.

package3-sh18

planned SH1/SH18 motorway upgrade

The planned motorway interchange upgrade is quoted as costing an astonishing $450 million. For that cost the project is totally unnecessary for something that just replaces a few at grade intersections with ramps. The focus should be much more on cost-effective targeted upgrades, then we could have the busway extension to Albany and plenty of spare change. The result would be lots more people using the busway, and reduced traffic congestion along the entire Northern Motorway and CBD.

The third set of projects around the Southern Motorway don’t have any components of the Congestion Free Network linked with them. However the upgrades should be a good chance to make Great South Road better for pedestrians, cyclists and buses. The one positive of this project is this means the current expensive plans to turn Mill Road into a 4 lane highway should disappear, and be replaced by a much cheaper safety upgrade. This would be a great way to free up over $200 million to help with Auckland Transport’s stretched budget.

Government announce regional road spend up

The Government yesterday announced it plans to spend over $200 million on a series of regional roading projects. This is clearly a result of trying to keep the regions happy from a potential backlash after they announced a motorway splurge in Auckland last year. Like the Auckland package these projects are being funding outside of the National Land Transport Fund and in this case the money is meant to be coming from their asset sales fund.

Prime Minister John Key has this morning announced $212 million from the Future Investment Fund for a package of 14 regionally important State highway projects.

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee says the government is committing up to $80 million from the package to accelerate five critically important regional projects, with work beginning next year.

These five projects are:

  • Kawarau Falls Bridge, in Otago
  • Mingha Bluff to Rough Creek realignment, in Canterbury
  • Akerama Curves Realignment and Passing Lane, in Northland
  • State Highway 35 Slow Vehicle Bays, in Gisborne
  • Normanby Overbridge Realignment, in Taranaki.

“These projects are fully investigated and designed, and address current safety, resilience or productivity issues, but construction wasn’t due to begin until late this decade or after 2020,” Mr Brownlee says.

“Following today’s announcement construction on these projects could begin in 2014/15, and be completed by 2016/17.

“The government is committed to fund the next six projects with an additional $115 million and subject to the usual investigations, construction would be expected to begin within three years on each of these projects.

The six projects are:

  • Whirokino Trestle Bridge replacement, in Manawatu/Wanganui
  • Motu Bridge replacement, in Gisborne
  • Opawa and Wairau Bridge replacements, in Marlborough
  • Taramakau Road/Rail Bridge, on the West Coast
  • Loop road north to Smeatons Hill safety improvements, in Northland
  • Mt Messenger and Awakino Gorge Corridor, in Taranaki.

“A further $12 million will be available to accelerate investigation and design of three large projects in Hawke’s Bay, Nelson and the Bay of Plenty,” Mr Brownlee says.

These projects are:

  • Port of Napier access package, in Hawke’s Bay
  • Nelson Southern Link, in Nelson
  • Rotorua Eastern Arterial, in Bay of Plenty.

“Each project could then be considered for funding under the proposed Regional Improvements activity class in the next Government Policy Statement on land transport.

“By directly funding some of the most crucial State highway improvements, the government is freeing up more funding in the Regional Improvements activity class for other priority projects.

“This funding package also strongly complements the government’s Roads of National Significance programme, ensuring people and freight reach their destinations quickly and safety,” Mr Brownlee says.

Here is a map of roughly where they’re each located.

Govt Accelerated Rural Road Package

I imagine that some of the projects on this list actually make sense and were probably only so far away from being fund through normal procedures due to the Roads of National Significance sucking up all the new State Highway spending . The Ministry of Transport go further by saying that all of the projects in the first group have a BCR of greater than one and in some cases it’s more than four. That would put them better than some of the RoNS like the 0.2 for the Kapiti Expressway. The MoT say the next six projects are still being investigated and are expected to “also be high quality projects” however this document from 2013 shows the Whirokino Trestle Bridge replacement to have a BCR of 0.5 or 0.6 depending on what option is chosen.

What seems to be a common theme amongst many of the projects is that they are replacing bridges that aren’t able to carry the new super heavy trucks the government allowed a few years ago.

Perhaps the most worrying thing about this announcement isn’t so much the projects themselves but that the government is getting more and more involved in picking projects rather than leaving it up to the NZTA to decide on spending based on merit. It started with the RoNS and last year we got the Auckland package.

Even for the projects in the top 5 which are said to be ready to go there is very little information available. The only two I could find are the Karawau Falls Bridge and the Mingha Bluff to Rough Creek realignment.

The Karawau Falls Bridge is expected to cost $20-25 million and will replace the current 88 year old single lane bridge which they say could be renovated to provide a walking and cycling connection.

Kawarau Falls Bridge Artist Impression 2

Mingha Bluff to Rough Creek realignment is roughly a 5km realignment of SH3 south of Arthurs Pass

SH73 Arthurs Pass (Mingha Bluff realignment)

Lastly here are some tweets from John Key’s twitter account when announcing this further road spend up.

It’s completely disingenuous to say that good roads are good for public transport. None of the roading projects pushed by the government over the last 6 years have had any benefit to public transport and many (like those in Wellington) will actually work against the PT system. What all of the projects have primarily been about is moving bigger and heavier trucks.

AT’s secret shuttle plans

According to a document sent to us anonymously Auckland Transport are planing all sorts of ways to move its staff around. One in particular stood out.

The document says because:

  • congestion delays can occur at any time on the road network
  • public transport is too slow and infrequent
  • senior executive time is so valuable

Only real solution is to be able to rise above all of this by AT leasing a corporate Helicopter!

ROFLcopter

The document goes on to mention additional advantages of this form of transport for selected team members and significant guests, as well as offering speed and efficiency:

  • would enable an excellent overview of the city’s transport needs especially congestion issues and network constraints
  • oversight of progress on the delivery of important projects
  • excellent opportunity for hosting important stakeholders
  • brands the organisation as a future focused transport innovator

And that the author expects the government would likely be supportive because of the ‘decongestion benefits of removing staff cars from roads’ and as ‘the time savings are impressive’. Also noting that the current Minister in particular loves rides in ‘this sort of vehicle’. And that a recent meeting with the Minister in Auckland had to be curtailed early because of uncertainty on how long it might take for the crown limo to get to the airport in rush-hour traffic. Such an investment would ‘give certainty to this sort of vital journey’.

Informal enquiries already suggest that NZTA would share both costs and use, proving again the efficiencies of having both organisations in the same building. However the document goes on to mention that it is a great shame that consideration of this wasn’t given when leasing city office space as the HSBC building, unlike the Council’s new office tower, doesn’t have a helipad on the roof, meaning that transfers will still have to be made to the Mechanics Bay Heliport for city operations. Even better would be for a Helipad to be added to Queens Wharf plans, suggests the idea be proposed as adding rescue and disaster resilience to the centre city.

No problem making space at the Henderson office for landing and support because of the large and low value staff car park there.

The author warns that Auckland MoT staff are likely to be jealous of this and that any announcement may also alert senior Council staff to the idea too [and their helipad], so it is important that the idea be kept under wraps until it is actioned. Suggests waiting until planned on-road staff shuttles are in place then implementing the Heli-Shuttle simply as a natural progression from these.

A sort of Super-Shuttle I guess.

No mention of the costs of this proposal in the document. But the author recommends the Eurocopter EC-130 which seat six + pilot and sell for about USD 2.1 million. A number of these are operated by Advance Flight in Onehunga and are available for lease.