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Traffic still at 2007 levels

Gerry Brownlee’s media release yesterday trumpeted up traffic levels in 2013 surpassing those in 2012 – apparently this is a sign of New Zealand’s economic recovery that we’re driving a bit more.

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee says increases in vehicle travel and vehicle registrations reflect New Zealand’s economic recovery and growing population.

“Total travel [measured in kilometres travelled] was flat between 2005 and 2012, but growth returned in 2013 with a 1.6 per cent increase in total travel nationwide, and more recent data suggests larger increases are on the way,” Mr Brownlee says.

“Data collected by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) on State Highway usage from the first six months of 2014 suggests we will continue to see increases in travel demand.

“The highway data shows a 3.6 per cent increase in Northland and Auckland, and a 5.4 per cent increase in Canterbury in the six months to May 2014, compared with the same period a year before.

Setting aside the question of whether it makes any sense whatsoever to celebrate people driving more, further details in the release tell a more interesting story of what’s happened over the past few years:

newzealand-vkt

As you can see, the total level of vehicle fleet travel (known as “vehicle kilometres travelled or VKT) in 2013 finally made it back to 2007 levels after a sustained period below 40 billion kilometres.

Of course New Zealand’s population has grown quite significantly since 2007, which means that VKT per capita is well below the levels in early years – despite a slight uptick in 2013:

vkt-per-capita

It will be interesting to see the 2013 figures specifically for Auckland, as generally Auckland has seen a faster drop in per capita VKT over the past few years than other parts of New Zealand.

Stuart’s 100 #3: Plane Tree Avenues

Stuart Houghton’s 100 ideas for Auckland continues

3: Plane Tree Avenues

Day 3

Franklin Road, with its historic plane trees, is one of the most loved streets in Auckland. What if plane tree avenues defined all the major city fringe streets?

This could be interpreted more broadly, that a programme of street tree planting could be part of a wider programme of works to enhance these streets that play a key role for walking and cycling between the city centre and city fringe.

The post touched a nerve with some around natives versus exotic trees. This taps into some deep-rooted parts of the New Zealand psyche at this point in history. It would be great if we could find a way to have a mature and broad-based discussion about what all this might mean for planting trees in the highly modified urban environments of our cities.

Franklin_Road_Credit_Craig_Flickr_stream_10240761194_c0e14a455e_o

Franklin Rd, Freemans Bay: photo credit Craig Flickr photostream (https://www.flickr.com/photos/craigsyd

Jervois-Tram-and-Trees

Jervois Rd before the removal of both the trams and the London Planes in 1949. Photo: Graham Stewart

 

Submit on the Draft Parking Discussion Document

Auckland Transport have had their Draft Parking Discussion Document (2mb file) out for consultation over the last couple of months, but this closes at midnight on Thursday. This covers the full range of parking issues around the city, including on-street, off-street and park and ride. The aim is to have a more standardised approach around Auckland, and simplify the large range of legacy rules in this area. It also should be noted that this is an overarching discussion document, with detailed consultation to be undertaken on individual and local proposals once the strategy has been finalised.

No life but lots of free parking. Shaddock St, Eden Terrace.

No life but lots of free parking. Shaddock St, Eden Terrace.

Feedback on the parking strategy can be made on the Auckland Transport website here. Today AT announced that over 2000 submissions have already been made. However I suspect a large amount of these would have been made by vocal local residents groups, so it would be great to have a wide range of submissions, so I encourage our readers to submit.

Albany Mall - Aucklands most modern Metropolitan Centre...

Albany Mall – Aucklands most modern Metropolitan Centre…

The feedback form asks people to rank each of the 7 issues identified, then ask for specific comment if people like or dislike any issues. There is also the option on the final page of adding any supporting documents with a full written submissions.

The 7 issues identified are as follows:

Managing demand for parking in the City Centre, metropolitan and town centres
Competing demands for parking in residential streets
Managing off-street parking facilities
Inconsistent on-street parking restrictions across Auckland
The conflict between parking on arterial roads and improving public transport provision
Managing the demand for parking permits amongst competing users
Addressing the shortage of park and ride facilities to support public transport patronage.

Things I will be writing about in my submission include:

  • ensuring inner city parking buildings are not undercharging or encouraging people to commute to the city at peak times
  • issues with free on-street parking for local residents
  • need to remove parking on certain roads to allow for bus lanes and cycle lanes
  • supporting charging of park and rides once feeder buses and integrated fares rolled out
  • questioning need for major investment in new parking and rides in the urban areas, and ensure new park and rides
Albany P and R

Albany Park and Ride – bus station hidden behind sea of parking. Is this what we want in our urban areas?

The blog has already covered some of the issues in depth is if you are writing a submission may be worth reading over some of these posts.

Please submit online here to ensure a wide representation of voices are heard, you have until midnight Thursday to do so.

$212 million in spending on roads with few benefits

A couple of days ago I received a bunch of documents from an OIA request to the NZTA on the $212 million in regional road spending announced recently. I haven’t been able to look at them yet seeing as I’m away however it looks like I’m not going to have to go through them immediately as Rob Salmond is already on the case following a similar (but not exactly the same) request to the Ministers office.

Salmond devotes a bit too much time to partisan point-scoring, as he’s an advisor to the Labour Party, but his analysis unearths some worrying facts about the economic analysis of the projects. His analysis is definitely worth reading.

As a reminder, the majority of the $212 million in new road spending was to come from the Future Investment Fund – i.e. the proceeds from recent asset sales. According to the press release, five of the fourteen “critically important regional projects” are going to be progressed immediately at a cost of $80m, they 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.

In spite of their critical importance, Salmond finds that the projects almost all performed badly on NZTA’s cost-benefit analysis:

Five of the roading projects receive the worst kind of assessment from the officials at NZTA, an estimated benefit cost ratio of “0 to 2.” (see page 32) This means the officials cannot discount the possibility of these roads having no benefits at all, despite costing the taxpayer millions. More on this later. All the projects have a benefit cost ratio quoted as a range, partly to fudge against the public knowing the exact numbers.

Why would they want to do that? More on that later, too.

Officials estimate that up to $130 million of the highways money mooted in these projects and investigations would be wasted on roads with likely no net benefit. If some of those roads are not ultimately funded, that will represent less money wasted on roads, but more money wasted on unnecessary investigations to tell us what we already know – these projects are dogs.

NZTA considers a benefit cost ratio of 1 as an absolute minimum, as anything below that involves the country actually losing money by doing the project. Usually, of course, benefit cost ratios have to be much higher than that to attract funding, because there are so many possible good things a government can do with its limited money.

Salmond goes on to take a closer look at the analysis of one particular project, the widening of the Kawerau Falls bridge:

…the official cost / benefit ratio for the Kawerau Falls bridge was 1.1 (page 10). Officials said they have tried to recalculate this a number of times, and always come out around 1.1. So what range of benefit cost ratio appearedin the final package for Ministers to consider and promote. It looks like an obvious candidate for a “0 to 2” classification, right? 1.1 is pretty much rightin the middle of that range, yes?

No, no. Officials have instead been pressured into calling this a “1 to 3” benefit project in the summary documents (page 32). That is risible.

If a robust 1.1 becomes “1 to 3” in the sales pitch document, just imagine how dreadful the benefit cost ratios on the “0 to 2” projects really are.

There’s much more in the OIA documents that deserves careful examination and I’m keen to see what I’ve got from my requests, but it certainly looks as though many of the projects don’t add up. From the response I received it does highlight that some of the projects including the Normanby Rd Overbridge Realignment have had and Motu Bridge replacement have had no reports on them in the last 5 years.

It’s interesting to contrast this approach to roads spending with the Government’s decision to axe an extension of the highly successful Northern Busway that would have cost about the same amount.

July 14 AT Board Meeting

The Auckland Transport Board is meeting today and as usual I’ve had a look through the papers to see if there is anything interesting. Below is the collection of items or comments that caught my eye.

The rest of this year is going to see a lot of debate about long term plans emerge

Auckland Transport’s 30-year Integrated Transport Programme, the 10-year Regional Land Transport Plan and the Transport content of Auckland Council’s 10-year Long Term Plan, must all be adopted (as draft for public consultation) by December 2014.

The next steps in the consultation process, as endorsed by the Board in February 2014, are:

  • Submissions process timed to align with Auckland Council, in Jan/Feb 2015
  • Online consultation, also in Jan/Feb 2015
  • Replace formal Hearings with more informal Transport Conversations in March 2015

The last bullet point is quite interesting, does that represent a reduction in the public being able to have a say in the future development of transport in the city?

On the key projects there are a few interesting comments these include

  • For the Lincoln Rd upgrade – In response to public consultation, an additional analysis of cycle facility options is underway - this is good as the cycling facilities that were suggested as part of this mega road widening were pitiful and didn’t even meet the engineering standards AT are implementing.
  • The name for the East West Link has been changed to East West Connections as - The word “link” created confusion with people incorrectly assuming that the programme was one project on one road and consequently was changed to “connections” to better reflect that this programme will comprise several projects to improve the transport network across the area. – I find this one particularly interesting given the constant ongoing confusion we see around the City Rail Link which is really about improving the entire regional rail network. Even the mayor still calls it a loop at times giving the impression it’s just about trains going around in circles. Perhaps it’s time to change the name of the CRL to actually reflect what the project is doing.
  • With the electric trains CAF are building them faster than expected and are currently 4 ahead of schedule. AT are saying we will start seeing the trains on the Manukau and eastern lines in August when from memory that wasn’t meant to happen till September or October. On the performance of the EMUs AT say that the punctuality in June returned to above the average for the network and changes to the signalling system to allow faster running is under testing.
  • At Panmure the new station as seen the number of people using the station surge. A press release out today shows the numbers even higher than in the report with usage of the station up 73% on the same time last year and up 57% since the station opened in January. It’s seen the station rise from the 18th busiest in 2013 to 10th. As a further comparison AT say that in 2003 only around 100 people used the then Panmure station (in a slightly different location), now an average of 1116 are using it daily. We’ve also had anecdotal evidence that entire busloads of people from eastern suburbs are transferring to trains at the station for a faster ride to town.

Each month AT now give updates on spending on Road Corridor Maintenance. It’s mostly a fairly dull part that gets skipped over however I did notice some interesting comments in relation to why the spend in the Central and West areas were below forecast. In the Central area AT spent $67.8 million vs a budget of $73.3 million and in the West they spent $29.6 million out of a budget of 32.7 million. In both cases they said the difference was due to a reduced level of expenditure on consultants (although for central it also was the result of deferring work on Orakei Rd). Other parts of the region ended up on or ahead of forecast though which negated the savings.

On Public transport they say

  • HOP card usage is up over 60% for buses and at 75% for trains and this is of course before the fare changes from early July kicked in which should drive that even higher.
  • They say bus on time performance is improving with the changes to timetables that they have been making and that this is based on results measured from AT’s real time tracking systems. They say that from July they will be measuring bus punctuality based on these measures rather than the tinpot dictator style self reporting by operators that they have relied on for years.
  • They say that to the 4 July there were almost 12,000 subscriptions to the free WiFI at train and busway stations and ferry wharfs.

Of course as usual it’s the closed session that has all of the really interesting information including

  • An update on the CRL
  • An update of the next ITP
  • An update on the disposal of the diesel trains
  • City Centre Access options

Environmental effects of an Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing

The additional Waitemata Harbour crossing is a crazy project for a variety of reasons. The blog has noted before that the project is both completely unaffordable and totally unnecessary because of the lack of the actual benefits when you look at the detail. One thing that hasn’t been noted before however is the huge environmental impacts this project will have the coastline, both and the northern and southern end.

In 2010 an extensive study was carried out, which outlined the major options, looking at both bridge and tunnel options. This was the study that finally put an end to the even more ridiculous bridge idea. Usefully the study for the first time provided some detailed plans of what each option would look like on the ground. The issues is not so much the tunnel itself, but the complex arrangements required to allow for traffic merging between the different routes at the north end south ends. To recap the existing bridge will be used only for city bound traffic, and the new tunnel will be directed straight to the congestion at spaghetti junction.

AWHC north of Onewa

 

The plan above shows the motorway between Akoranga Drive (left), and Onewa Road (just out of picture to the right). The northernmost line is the railway line, however would be sure to take up much less space just built as a rail corridor, and would have a much higher capacity. The red hatched area is all of the land that would be reclaimed, while green is new viaducts or bridges. This would result in the corridor taking up twice as much space as it does now. As for what this would mean, this is the current view in the area. The large area of coastline to the right would be reclaimed.

P1050458

Looking north from public footbridge accessible from east end of Exmouth Road.

This next plan shows the area in the vicinity of the Onewa Road interchange, as well as the tunnel portals of both rail (left) and road (right). Again a huge amount of reclamation occurs.

AWHC Sulhur Beach

However what is hidden beneath the plans is the total destruction of Sulphur Beach and the marina located there.

P1050446

Looking towards the city from public path alongside motorway. Accessible from Sulphur Beach and Tennyson St beside police station.

Currently this beautiful area is not well known. However in a few years this will very likely change. With Skypath to go ahead within the next few years, this will be the route of Seapath, which would give a great easy link through to Takapuna. Once that happens people will appreciate this area much more, and won’t like to see it disappear under 6 lanes of motorway.

This area will also become a large construction yard, potentially for about 5 years. This will have major effects on areas of Northcote Point, with a large number of houses looking straight into the area. Their seaviews may well be replaced with views of more motorway lanes and flyovers. People on the Bayswater side of the harbour would also have their views affected negatively.

P1050431

View from Beach Road on Northcote Point towards area of sea to be reclaimed

On the south side of the harbour things aren’t much better. Around Westhaven marina there is yet more reclamation. The yet to open Westhaven Promenade will have to be completely rebuilt, with part of the marina needing to be reclaimed as even more width is required to account for the sweeping motorway curves. The extra width required is highlighted by the need to extend the Jacobs Ladder footbridge by about 50% so people can still cross the motorway corridor. A number of marine related businesses along Westhaven Drive will also disappear, as the road needs to be pushed north to give the corridor the space it requires.

AWHC Westhaven

The Landscape and Visual report prepared for NZTA summarises the issues that will arise:

The landscape of Shoal Bay and the northern sector will be significantly affected by the scale and magnitude of roading and reclamation. Effects are: changes to landforms and natural features including increased separation of the bay from; loss of beaches, reefs, and open spaces; impacts on cliffs (including diminution of scale and loss of vegetation); loss of natural vegetation and potential change due to weed infestation; diminished/decreased experience and appreciation of natural landscape for travellers. In addition structures such as flyovers, bridges, tunnel portals, buildings and vent stacks are all expected to have adverse effects on existing landscape character and alter the balance between the natural and manmade landscape. The cultural and heritage of the existing landscape will also be affected by changes in the southern sector, particularly in and around Victoria Park. Such changes will include loss of buildings and trees but could also include positive effects due to the removal of the existing flyover.

Unfortunately it makes no attempts to actually visualize what the effects would be, including the vent stack, which would be a very dominant feature. Note 35 metres is about 10 stories high!

” Vent building estimated to be 70m long by 30m wide by 20m high and stacks 35m high”

The stack was rather contentious during the Waterview proposal due to the fumes of a high volume of traffic all begin released in a concentrated area. They will be located at the tunnel portals. One will be in the vicinity of Sulphur Beach, near where the second photo above was taken from the walkway.

Vent Building north

The southern vent stack will be between Beaumont St and Westhave Drive, where the Crombie and Lockwood building is (opposite Air New Zealand).

Vent Building

While an additional rail crossing will require some small reclamation, it will be a large magnitude less than what is required for the road crossings. This is because 2 tracks take the same space as 2 motorway lanes, and there will be no need for complex ramps and mixing of lanes, and of course there will be no need for huge vent stacks.

Hopefully this post will highlight a number of the major effects this project will have on the environment and landscape. Surely this will make some North Shore, St Mary’s Bay and inner city residents think twice about the need for this project, considering the effect on their backyard and harbour. This should also awaken reporters, including one John Roughan who was horrified at the sight of a comparatively tiny reclamation for the busway in 2007.

June 2014 Patronage

The patronage results for June are out and like recent months the results are particularly good for the rail network. The June stats are also significant as they represent the end of financial year results for Auckland transport. The 12 month figure is the highest it has been since 1959 – although of course the city had a lot less people back then.

 Auckland public transport patronage totalled 72,396,155 passengers for the 12 months to Jun-2014, an increase of +0.9% on the 12 months to May-2014 and +5.6% on the 12 months to Jun-2013.

June monthly patronage was 6,107,965, an increase of 623,266 boardings or +11.4% on Jun-2013, normalised to ~ +6.8% accounting for additional special event patronage and one more business day and one less weekend day in Jun-2014 compared to Jun-2013. Year to date patronage has grown by +5.6%.

Rail patronage totalled 11,435,085 passengers for the 12 months to Jun-2014, an increase of +1.7% on the 12 months to May-2014 and +13.9% on the 12 months to Jun-2013. Patronage for Jun-2014 was 1,039,830, an increase of 194,491 boardings or +23.0% on Jun-2013, normalised to ~ +9.4%. Year to date rail patronage has grown by +13.9%.

The Northern Express bus service carried 2,426,745 passenger trips for the 12 months to Jun-2014, an increase of +1.0% on the 12 months to May-2014 and +6.5% on the 12 months to Jun-2013. Northern Express bus service patronage for Jun-2014 was 210,069, an increase of 23,201 boardings or +12.4% on Jun-2013, normalised to ~ +9.1%. Year to date Northern Express patronage has grown by +6.5%.

Other bus services carried 53,424,378 passenger trips for the 12 months to Jun-2014, an increase of +0.8% on the 12 months to May-2014 and +4.2% on the 12 months to Jun-2013. Other bus services patronage for Jun-2014 was 4,525,656, an increase of 420,821 boardings or +10.3% on Jun-2013, normalised to ~ +7.6%. Year to date other bus patronage has grown by +4.2%.

Ferry services carried 5,109,947 passenger trips for the 12 months to Jun-2014, a decrease of -0.3% on the 12 months to May-2014 and an increase +3.1% on the 12 months to Jun-2013. Ferry services patronage for Jun-2014 was 332,410, a decrease of -15,247 boardings or -4.4% on Jun-2013, normalised to ~ -7.3%. Year to date ferry patronage has increased by +3.1%.

AKL Patronage - All - Jun 14

AKL Patronage - Table - Jun 14

So rail patronage for June is up 23% on the same month a year ago while the 12 month rolling figure is up 14%, both are massive numbers. If we were able to keep up that rate of growth it would see us hitting the 20 million rail patronage target set by the government for the City Rail Link by the end of 2018. With the upcoming improvements from rolling out the electric trains to the majority of the network, the new bus network, integrated fares and other enhancements I think this rate of growth (or more) is eminently possible.

One of the important results is also to see the impact on patronage to Onehunga which has been the first to get electric trains – despite the recent hiccup. Patronage to Onehunga is up a staggering 37%. It seems the public are already responding the the improved quality of services and it’s something I’ve seen first hand with Onehunga Line trains often full in the mornings despite having significantly more capacity than the trains  they replaced.

You may also remember the patronage targets for the next few years were recently reduced after AT said the already reduced targets were basically impossible. Here’s how the rail patronage result looks compared to the target.

Rail Patronage vs SOI target 2013-14

In the end the result was only a few thousand short of the target. With only an extra 700,000 trips a year now needed to reach the newly lowered target for 2014/15 I expect it will be surpassed early. Someone should also tell Manurewa Local Board Chairperson Angela Dalton that patronage is rising as she is busy trying to say the opposite.

People will continue to abandon the trains in favour of cars until such time as there is attention focussed on security issues at suburban train stations instead of committing rate payers money into the City Rail Link,” Angela Dalton said.

Along with rail it’s also pleasing to see that bus patronage continues to grow too. This is quite important as it shows that all PT use is rising and that the increases in rail patronage aren’t simply a result of people shifting from bus to train.

All up a good result for PT and in other good news Cycling continues to grow strongly at the sites monitored by ATs automatic cycle counters. For June the result was up 11.4% while the 12 month rolling figure was up 10%

AKL Cycling- Jun 14

Considering the heightened discussion surrounding the traffic on the Harbour Bridge it’s also worth highlighting what’s happening with traffic on the bridge. As you can see vehicle volumes continue to struggle to get above 160,000 trips, something that was a regular occurrence  before 2007

AHB - All -2013-14

 

Holiday Highway approved

Yesterday the Board of Inquiry announced their draft decision for the Puhoi – Warkworth motorway. Disappointingly they approved the Notices of Requirements and other related consents. This of course was in sharp contrast to the decision of another Board of Enquiry to reject the Basin Reserve flyover, which was announced earlier in the week.

Many serious concerns were raised about the proposal during the hearings stage. Cameron Pitches from the Campaign for Better Transport raised a number of concerns about the traffic modelling, alternatives and economic analysis of the projects. These were covered in series of posts back in April and May

Generation Zero (who I submitted for) also raised similar concerns about economics and alternatives.

Unfortunately all these serious concerns were dismissed by the Board of Inquiry. These are excerpts from the draft decision which can be found on the EPA website here.

379. The application documents filed by NZTA are comprehensive. Consultation with interested and affected groups has been extensive, spanning in some cases several years. Section 7 “alternatives” in the AEE sets out in detail the process whereby NZTA considered the various options and alternatives open to it. The Board is satisfied that the consideration of alternatives to the proposed route and designations by NZTA was conscientious and comprehensive. Many evaluation criteria were deployed, including a “value for money” criterion. Seven broad corridor options were evaluated. Inside the various sectors of the proposed motorway short-listed route options were considered and assessed.

385. The ‘do nothing’ option and alternatives proposed by some submitters of upgrading the current SH1 also merits a brief comment. The benefits (assuming appropriate mitigation) of the proposed motorway over the current SH1 route are compelling in terms of road safety, travel times and more efficient fuel consumption. Schedewys Hill features large. The effect of slow heavy vehicles travelling north up this hill on speed, travel time and fuel consumption of other traffic is considerable. The cost of converting the current SH1 alignment on the hill to three or four lanes would be significant, requiring cantilevering over the edge of the hill feature, quite apart from considerations of gradient.

Both of these comments are frustrating.  On the first point, the NZTA provided no rationale for the four lane RoNS standard.  No reason was stated for the requirement that the road should be tollable, thus ruling out an upgrade of the existing alignment.

On the second point, the Board claims the benefits of the toll road are compelling, however NZTA never quantified the benefits of the toll road in the form of a Cost Benefit Analysis that complies with their own economic evaluation manual.  Similarly a Cost Benefit Analysis was not performed on any alternative.

Another part of decision is interesting in that it highlights the need for submitters to bring along experts to ensure their points can be accessed. This of course usually requires substantial sums of money to be raised by these groups, which can be very difficult unless there are wealthy local residents who are locally affected. This was the case with the Kapiti Expressway and Basin Reserve, but not the case with the Puhoi – Warkworth highway. It is also extremely difficult to find an expert willing to go up against the NZTA.

One of the difficulties with which these submissions posed the Board is that no expert evidence was called to challenge the economic and cost- benefit assumptions on which NZTA’s applications were based.

The Board does have the power to appoint their own experts, however they chose not to.  The proposed highway would also have substantial negative environmental effects from earthworks, sedimentation of streams and harbours. These effects were said to be covered by the conditions, most of which were written by NZTA and presented to the board. However some stricter conditions on sedimentation and monitoring were put in place.

Especially contentious during the hearing was the removal of several stands of native bush, including a 0.44ha grove of kauri trees. However the BOI found they were unable to require the designation to be shifted away from the kauri trees!

362. As discussed in Chapter 8.3, the Board considered whether it had the power to shift the designation further east to avoid the kauri stand, in response to submissions received and their own concerns. The Board considered that it did not have the power to modify the designation boundary to an extent sufficient to achieve that outcome.

The news to grant the decision was obviously welcomed by the Government and NZTA, who both are determined to push on with the highway. However the consent of course does not mean that the highway has to go ahead. The claimed $760 million cost (nowhere in the application documents is the cost stated, this is the most recent figure from 2012)  is totally out of proportion to the benefits that result, and the Campaign for Better Transport alternative would ensure that the safety blackspots are fixed. The NZTA release noted that the highway won’t be finished until 2019 at the earliest. That means that no progress would have been made of fixing existing safety issues for over a decade. A focus on safety could have eliminated these blackspots already.

Of course there is sure to be excitement from Northland leaders who have been seduced by the highway. However this highway will cost about twice as much as the NZTA have spent on both existing and new state highways in Northland over the last decade! Northland leaders should really think again about the link between Roads of National Significance and the cuts to regional and rural roading budgets.

Few seem to realise that the new toll road will be just 700m shorter than the existing route, shaving just three minutes from current travel times outside of the holiday period. Reaction from Warkworth locals suggests that they have no idea that they won’t actually benefit from the toll road.  Because the northern junction lies two km north of Hill Street, any Warkworth resident using the toll road will travel about four km further for trips south than if they just use SH1.

Here is a simple proposal highlighting what could be done for the same amount of money.

  • $240 million – Operation Lifesaver including Warkworth bypass and safety upgrades
  • $350 million – One third of the government contribution to the City Rail Link
  • $160 million – Special boost for funding of Northland transport infrastructure. Could cover safety upgrades needed on the Brynderwyns (which has been closed for the last week) and other key routes, as well as major upgrades to the rail network which could carry substantially more freight. This would double the amount of funding spent in Norhtland over the next decade.

Splitting the the funding along these lines would deliver much greater benefits to Aucklanders, Northland and users of the existing road. The funding of the road will be the next step of the project. Given the current stress of the transport budget, and the hundreds of millions in loans required for Auckland projects hard to see how the National Land Transport Fund can cover this. Their have been rumors of a Public-Private Partnership approach for this, but of course that would mean this would be an even bigger drain on the budget, just spread out over several decades instead.

“Hideously inefficient” road spending in Australia

For an interesting Friday afternoon read, here‘s an article from Australia which may ring true for New Zealand as well – especially given the possibility that National is considering an absolutely daft idea, creating a second road-only Waitemata Harbour crossing. From The Age:

More than $20 billion a year of national road funding is being spent in a “hideously inefficient” manner, according to a leaked assessment by Australia’s independent infrastructure umpire.

The Infrastructure Australia report, obtained by Fairfax Media, has also delivered a scathing critique of “monopoly” state-run road entities such as VicRoads, claiming a culture of resisting reform has led to a situation  in which political leaders are held “captive” to demands for more funding.

I don’t know about New Zealand’s current political leaders being held captive… unless perhaps it’s a case of Stockholm Syndrome?
The report was titled “Spend more, waste more, Australia’s roads in 2014: moving beyond gambling”, which seems like a fairly provocative title for a report. It seems fairly likely that someone will get a clip round the ear and a more mundane title (and report) released later this year. Reading on:

“The unhealthy focus of road agencies appears set on ‘getting, controlling and spending’ more taxpayer money, rather than questioning efficiency or value to the motorist and governments,” the report says.

The report, which claimed Australia has a “gambler’s addiction to roads”, said national road spending is now outstripping revenue raised through road-related taxes and charges, warning “Australia’s thirst for roads” would come at the expense of other services as the gap continues to widen. In the four years to June 30, 2012, road spending outstripped road revenue by $4.5 billion.

Of course, we’re in a similar position in New Zealand, with National now reaching beyond the NLTF to pay for its spending on roads.

It suggested there was little consideration of whether Australia’s demands for new roads should be satisfied, and argued that rail funding had missed out as a result.

“The current Australian system assumes that roads are an answer to most transport problems and seeks more and more funding to that end, with little consideration of alternatives that most other developed parts of the world enjoy, such as significant heavy intercontinental rail networks and dominant heavy mass transit systems.”

“[Road proposals seen by Infrastructure Australia] were almost universally poor, in that they lacked any cost-benefit rigour whatsoever,” it said. “The real problem is that road agencies and other road project proponents in industry and the community spend next to no effort examining what problems their projects and plans are trying to solve, other than the perceived problem that they do not have enough road funding.”

Overall, a fairly damning indictment of Australian transportation policy, and we’ll be eagerly waiting for the final (or at least, public) version of the report.

Accelerating the Additional Harbour Crossing project?

Yesterday was a busy day for transport news. Alongside Gerry Brownlee’s strange airport escapade, Labour Transport Spokesman Phil Twyford dropped a bit of a bombshell in relation to the possible acceleration of the Additional Waitemata Habour Crossing (AWHC) project as well as the exclusion of the project’s rail component:

Labour Transport spokesperson Phil Twyford says it has been leaked to him that John Key will rule out a rail option when announcing an accelerated timeframe for Auckland’s $5 billion second harbour crossing next month.

“I understand the Government’s plan is for a roads-only option which would be a giant wasted opportunity to connect rail to the North Shore and link it up with the City Rail Link and the rest of the regional rail network,” says Mr Twyford.

“Aucklanders want their cars but they also realise it is past time to start investing in a modern public transport network. We’ve seen that in recent polls.

“This Government has not initiated a single new public transport infrastructure project in Auckland since it came to office.

“They announced an $800 million transport package for Auckland in the Budget but there wasn’t one public transport project in it. They even rejected officials’ advice to extend the wildly successful Northern Busway.

“If National goes ahead with the second harbour crossing but doesn’t include rail, it would be a major blunder on a par with National’s decision to build the first harbour bridge on the cheap, with clip-ons needed shortly after,” says Phil Twyford.

There’s been no confirmation of the announcement by the government. The Campaign for Better Transport’s media release in response highlights a number of the concerns we’ve had about this project over the past months and years:

The Campaign for Better Transport said today that the Government’s idea of an additional road only Waitemata Harbour Crossing hasn’t been thought through.

“We all know that the Northern Motorway and approaches are notoriously congested at peak times, so local support probably stems from the belief that this congestion will somehow be solved,” said spokesperson Cameron Pitches.

“However, the net effect of a road only crossing will be that in the morning peak, the Auckland CBD will be flooded with thousands of extra single occupant cars looking for a car park. The Central Motorway Junction will also be a bottleneck without more lanes, but there is no room for more.

“And in the evening peak the already congested Northern Motorway will grind to a halt, as six lanes converge into three.”

Mr Pitches says a far better solution would be a rail only crossing that would extend from the City Rail Link to Albany on the North Shore.

“The Northern Busway is enormously popular and is a great example of a system that can carry far more people at peak times than single occupant cars. High capacity rail would be the logical next step.”

Mr Pitches said that a recent report identified that the cost of a rail link connecting the City Rail Link to Albany on the North Shore would be about $2.5bn.

“It is clear that the Government’s proposal and any alternatives have not been through Treasury’s better business case process.  There is no urgency with the project either as the yet to be completed Western Ring Route is designed to reduce traffic volumes on the bridge,” said Mr Pitches.

The Goverment is yet to make an official announcement on how a new crossing would be funded, but Mr Pitches suspects it would have to be tolled due to the multi-billion dollar cost of the project.

“The Government also needs to be honest and reveal how much the toll will be for the new crossing, and if the current Harbour Bridge will be tolled as well.”

“It just makes no sense.  The Government has just been caught out not doing a comprehensive assessment of alternatives for the Basin Reserve.  You would think they would want to avoid making the same mistake twice,” concludes Mr Pitches.

Our most comprehensive criticism of the project is in a recent post here, with a quick summary being that it seems Auckland’s most expensive ever proposed project is likely to make things worse for traffic rather than better, particularly by feeding thousands more cars into a city centre that can’t cope with any more of them.

If it does get announced as speculated would Len Brown be brave enough to say no to it ? Given his previous comments I don’t think so. Let’s hope the announcement – if there even is one – only relates to progressing route protection for the project, which was already announced last year by the Prime Minister.