In several recent posts I’ve taken a look at people’s revealed preferences for roads (nobody’s willing to pay directly for them) and public transport, walking, and cycling (people are queuing up to get on the train). In those posts, I’ve argued that observing how people vote with their feet (or their wallets) can teach us a lot about demand for different travel modes.
Rail is now growing too fast to be un-fit for survival.
But as any economist knows, markets have two sides to them: demand and supply. As transport infrastructure has a lot of “public good” characteristics, it tends to be provided by government agencies such as Auckland Transport and the New Zealand Transport Agency. (These agencies wouldn’t say no if a private company turned up and offered to build a new motorway at no cost to them… but that’s not going to happen any time soon due to the fact that most recent private toll roads have failed financially.)
As a result, we have to consider how transport agencies make decisions about what to supply to the market. I’ve written a few posts on the basics of cost-benefit analysis, which is one of the tools that they use to decide which projects to build.
But is cost-benefit analysis robust, or are the results systematically biased in a certain direction? Thinking about this question led me to re-read one of my favourite papers on infrastructure costings (don’t laugh!): Bent Flyvbjerg’s “Survival of the Un-fittest: Why the Worst Infrastructure Gets Built – and What We Can do About It” (fulltext pdf). Flyvbjerg takes an empirical look at hundreds of major infrastructure projects around the world, finding that cost overruns are all-pervasive:
- 9 out of 10 projects have cost overrun.
- Overrun is found across the 20 nations and 5 continents covered by the study.
- Overrun is constant for the 70-year period covered by the study, cost estimates have not improved over time.
In addition, benefits are systematically overestimated in ex-ante evaluations. The result is that a number of bad projects get built on the back of over-optimistic business cases. Flyvbjerg attributes this to “cognitive and political biases such as optimism bias and strategic misrepresentation”. (This is a polite way of saying “lying about the project to ensure that it gets built.”)
So how do New Zealand’s transport agencies stack up against Flyvbjerg’s analysis? Fortunately, we’ve got some empirical data to investigate this question with. Between 2009 and 2012, NZTA conducted and published a number of post-implementation reviews of (mainly) road projects that it funded in part or fully. Matt did an excellent job summarising the data in a post last year.
While the projects aren’t necessarily representative of all road projects, they do run the gamut from small pavement upgrades to multimillion state highway expansions. NZTA provided data comparing ex-ante and ex-post evaluations of costs and benefits for 69 projects in total. I subjected the data to some basic statistical analysis, finding that:
- The average project had a cost overrun of 34% – a difference that was found to be highly statistically significant, meaning that there is a less than 1% probability that the observed difference happened by chance.
- The average project had actual benefits that were 28% lower than expected – although as this difference was not statistically significant we can’t determine whether it simply reflects random chance.
In other words, NZTA and regional transport agencies seem to have had some issues accurately costing road projects. And the errors they are making are not random – they have systematically underestimated costs. This can be seen really clearly if we graph the data in histogram format.
Here’s the data on construction cost overruns, in percentage terms. The size of the bars represents the number of projects. Bars to the right of the black line indicate projects where costs were higher than expected. As you can see, costs were higher than expected for the vast majority of projects – sometimes to a quite significant degree (i.e. over 100% more expensive than planned).
And here’s a similar chart for benefit overruns/underruns. This shows that although estimates of benefits have in some cases been wrong by a quite large amount, most of the errors are clustered closer to the zero line. This shows that while NZTA or transport agencies often miss the mark on their estimates of benefits, the errors are sometimes positive and sometimes negative. In other words, optimism bias seems to be less pervasive when estimating benefits than when estimating costs.
This data has (or should have) important implications for the way we plan and fund transport projects. It suggests that it’s necessary to be much more conservative when estimating the costs and benefits of road projects. This is especially important in light of the fact that NZTA’s funding is being devoted in large part to major motorway projects – the kind of “megaprojects” that Flybjerg identifies as posing the greatest risks for good project evaluation.
Unfortunately, NZTA stopped publishing post-implementation reviews in 2012, so it’s impossible to say whether agencies have used this data to refine their cost estimates. I hope they have, but there are indications that optimism bias is still running rampant. Take, for example, NZTA’s long-term forecasts of road traffic and public transport patronage, which blithely disregard the market realities. Or, more concretely, there’s the strange case of the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing traffic forecasts, which Matt picked up on a few years ago.
A 2010 business case for the AWHC, which would be New Zealand’s most expensive infrastructure project of all time, found that the project’s benefit-cost ratio was a mere 0.4 to 0.6. (Indicating that it costs about twice as much as it returns in benefits.) But, as it turns out, this figure was based on traffic modelling that overestimated actual traffic across the bridge in 2008 by almost 10% – in spite of the fact that the actual data was available at that point. That’s some serious optimism bias right there…
Auckland Harbour Bridge Traffic volumes (actual and forecast)
Finally, it’s also worth noting that Flyvbjerg finds that cost overruns (and benefit underruns) tend to be a more serious issue for rail projects than for road projects, especially in the United States. Unfortunately, we simply haven’t completed enough rail projects to robustly evaluate whether the same holds true in New Zealand. However, there are some signs that recent public transport infrastructure projects have outperformed their business cases – as seen in NZTA’s post-implementation review of the Northern Busway and booming ridership at Britomart.
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.
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.
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.
However what is hidden beneath the plans is the total destruction of Sulphur Beach and the marina located there.
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.
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.
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.
The southern vent stack will be between Beaumont St and Westhave Drive, where the Crombie and Lockwood building is (opposite Air New Zealand).
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.
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.
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.
Update 24/7/14 – Given the rumours flying around today about Government announcing the possible acceleration of this project, we have made this earlier post “sticky” while we write up a new post on the issue for tomorrow.
This is the first of a couple of posts looking more closely at the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing project and how we could do it differently.
Last week there was some renewed debate over the merits of the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (AWHC) project, due to former Local Government Minister Michael Bassett suggesting it should start nearly immediately and made a lot more sense than the City Rail Link. I outlined why that particular argument is complete rubbish previously, but I think it’s worth delving back into exactly why AWHC is an unnecessary, wasteful, counter-productive and completely stupid project. For the purposes of this post, I’m talking about the AWHC project’s roading components as proposed in quite a lot of detail here by NZTA.
Continue reading How the AWHC is a waste of $5.3 billion
While the number of people who oppose the City Rail Link thankfully seem to be reducing – something probably helped by the government at least saying it will be needed eventually – those that do oppose it appear to be getting increasingly desperate in their opposition.
George Wood is perhaps the prime candidate in this regard, often pulling up decade old newspaper articles in a bid to try and claim the project will increase massively in cost or that people won’t use it like predicted.
Perhaps the biggest blind spot the people who oppose the CRL have is that that they complain about the CRL costing $2.86 billion (an already inflated figure) then go on to say the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (AWHC) should be built instead. Opposing the CRL on the grounds of it costing too much then pushing for a $5.3 billion road runnel is absurdity in the extreme.
For his part George try’s to justify his position as being that the CRL is partly funded by ratepayers while the AWHC will be funded by the NZTA so is “free” for Aucklanders. That of course ignores that tax revenues from Aucklanders make up a third (or more) of the total tax take. That also means that when you work it all out, the huge cost of the AWHC means that the amount Aucklanders will contribute will be about the same for either project.
The latest to jump in and yell about the CRL is former MP Michael Bassett.
Former government minister Michael Bassett has criticised Auckland Council for the planned City Rail Link, saying the $2.8 billion project would drive up rates and should be prioritised behind a second harbour crossing.
Bassett – who was local government minister in the 1980s – said the “profligate” council would be forced to borrow more money or put the burden on ratepayers to fund the tunnel.
“Planning a second harbour crossing is much more urgent – absolutely vital in the very near future,” he said.
“This council has a big appetite and many expensive ideas. Now, the mayor wants government money (taxpayers’ of course) for an early start on his great white elephant, the underground rail route.
“It will never make money. It won’t even cover its costs. The mayor will then either demand bigger subsidies from the Government for the shortfall in revenue, or he’ll push up our rates to pay that shortfall, or borrow yet more money.
“Public transport in the Auckland region already gets a huge subsidy. And it will need more to pay for the white elephant.”
I’m not sure what made him crawl out from somewhere and start complaining about transport projects but in many ways it’s actually quite sad how much people like Wood and Bassett are divorced from reality, logic and facts. We know the CRL is almost half the cost of the AWHC so it definitely has the advantage on that comparison. With this post what I want to address is just what kind of impact each project has to people/vehicle volumes
Firstly the AWHC. The information we currently have comes from the most recent study which was done in 2010. I have a number of issues with the traffic modelling as it ignored the drop in trips over the harbour bridge that occurred after 2006 despite the modelling being done in 2010. However looking at the 2041 results it suggests:
So the total difference across the bridge for each hour of the AM peak is ~5,200 vehicles so ~10,400 extra AM peak vehicles crossing the harbour (in each direction). Towards the city it suggests that with the AWHC we will see an increase from the over inflated 2008 volumes ~6,300 vehicles during the AM peak. I’ve got no idea where they’ll all go because the CMJ and CBD streets certainly don’t seem to have the capacity to handle that many additional trips. In the CBD in particular we’re trying to do the opposite as vehicle priority is removed to make the city a more pedestrian friendly area.
The figures above are vehicles not people and buses across the harbour will carry a lot of people however if we build another crossing it’s primarily about moving cars, not buses so the people impact probably isn’t that different from the vehicle one.
By comparison we can get some rough figures for the level of impact the CRL will have from the City Centre Future Access Study. Now the CCFAS also has problems with it’s modelling however even the MoT suggest that it’s probably underestimating PT trips.
The Integrated (CRL + Surface Bus) option was the one chosen as being best and that sees the CRL move an additional ~12,000 people into the city centre over and above what’s planned in the reference case, that’s a substantial amount more than the extra city-bound traffic crossing the harbour. In addition the rail patronage only refers to trips to the city centre, it ignores all rail trips to other parts of the region which will be made even more viable thanks to the increased frequencies the CRL will allow for i.e. trips to Henderson, Ellerslie or a range of other destinations. Further the number of people accessing the city centre by bus will also increase.
So we have a situation where the CRL is about half the cost of an additional harbour crossing and it moves many more people. To me the choice is pretty clear about what we should be building first and it certainly isn’t the AWHC.
I’m not even going to go into the whole roads are subsidised too issue or just how much a toll would have to be to make the AWHC profitable.
We have frequently raised concerns about projected future traffic growth, given that in recent years there has been an extended flat-lining of traffic growth. What’s perhaps most concerning about these projections is how they ignore what has actually happened in the recent past and how those producing the projections don’t seem to learn from past mistakes.
This isn’t just an Auckland problem. An article I came across recently looks at projections for a bridge across Lake Washington in Seattle highlights how stubborn the projections of growth are despite evidence to the contrary:
What’s crazy about this graph is how persistently wrong the projections have been – yet without any change to reflect the reality of declining traffic volumes over a 15 year period between 1996 and 2011.
Yet it’s not just a specific example of a bridge in one American city where we see these persistently wrong projections coming through. Let’s look at a comparison of official traffic projections across the UK over the past 20 years and compare those with what actually happened:
It’s hard to know whether these repeated mistakes are just accidental, ignorant or wilfully neglectful of reality.
Our own local example of this ignorance is in the traffic projections being used for the stupid Additional Harbour Crossing Project, where modelled traffic growth rates completely ignored recent trends and therefore were calculated from a base that was significantly too high:
This graph was from a year ago and in the past when I’ve posed it, there have been some that say “look it’s starting to rise again” but the reality is it isn’t. The most recent monthly data shows traffic have flat-lined and volumes are still less than it was a decade ago (monthly figures only started in late 2007).
Similarly another frequent comment we see when this is discussed is to the effect hat the downturn is only due to the current state of the economy. However many economic indicators are pointing to the economy being much healthier today than it was a few years ago. Other indicators highlight that while on a per capita or percentage basis we might not be doing as well as in the past, on a total basis we are doing well. For example despite the percentage of people who are unemployed being higher than it was in 2007/08, in total there are actually significantly more people employed at the moment.
I suspect traffic projections keep making these mistakes because they are calculated using models with fundamental problems in them. They are generally designed to predict the future based on extrapolating our behaviour from some point in the past. That may have worked in the 90’s (and earlier) but it doesn’t work now and one of the key reasons is that we are seeing generational changes occurring with young people choosing not to drive as much as older generations. Yet while road models might be well over estimating vehicle trips, PT models have been doing the opposite. One of the best examples is Britomart where we exceeded the 2021 projected daily patronage in 2011.
And even the Ministry of Transport in their response to the City Centre Future Access Study said that private vehicle trips were probably being overestimated.
When there are tens of billions of dollars of public money is riding on these faulty projections, it suggests we need a new approach starting with not believing the current projections.
This post was largely written by good friend of the blog Warren S however I have added some parts too.
Seeing the picture recently of the 14.5 diameter tunnel boring machine to be used in the construction of the Waterview motorway connection started me thinking about the cost of infrastructure and the difference regarding tunnelling for road and tunnelling for rail. Actual costs are hard to come by but certain aspects are evident.
The cost of the Waterview TBM is given as $54 million. I suppose this cost is not great in the overall scheme of things, because the overall cost of this project is roughly $1.4 billion according to the NZTA. The original cost of $54 million will have a residual trade-in value of around $10 million when its Waterview work is done. That is a write-off of some $ 44 million.
I then thought I would compare this TBM with the ones they are using in London for Crossrail. They are all made by Herrenknecht though the U.K. ones come from Germany while our one was manufactured in China to the German design.
Right now Crossrail are using eight TBM’s all simultaneously boring away somewhere under London. These machines are less than half the size of what is being used at Waterview at 7.1m in diameter. Being smaller they also come in considerably cheaper at about $20 million compared to the $54 million for our monster. And interestingly with Crossrail 85% of excavated material is being moved by rail or barge – not by road – so eliminates messy roads during construction. Combine this with the fact that there is also less spoil to remove and less concrete needed to make up the tunnel lining and the costs for tunnelling are likely to be significantly cheaper.
Crossrail is scheduled for completion in 2018 with a capacity of 24 trains per hour or roughly one every two to three minutes, that’s similar to what we can expect from the City Rail Link. While we could probably debate all day the merits of what train technologies to use, using our new EMUs an example each train could easily accommodate 750 passengers. At 24 trains per hour that is a capacity of 18,000 people per hour per direction through a rail tunnel. By comparison if we’re lucky the Waterview tunnels – at three lanes wide – will be able to carry about 6,000 vehicles per hour per direction or about 8,000 people if vehicles were carrying a high occupancy rate.
So some of the benefits compared to a motorway sized tunnel are:
- Smaller and cheaper TBM to do the job
- Less excavation required for rail.
- Rail will be more efficient – one line equivalent to two and a half motorway lanes or better.
- We are not left with a sole reliance on a motorway system can lead to stagnant chaos and long delays when there is an accident as happens frequently. An efficient metro at least gives us a viable alternative.
Being cheaper and having more capacity definitely raises some questions about how we deal with a future Waitemata Harbour crossing. We have seen traffic volumes on the bridge decline over recent years while at the same time more people than ever catch a bus across the harbour. Further once Waterview has been completed it is likely to take even more pressure off the bridge. At the moment the plans are to build a combined road and rail tunnel which might be similar to below however it is expected to cost roughly $5 billion.
With traffic falling – and potentially continuing to do so – it has removed the congestion/traffic growth argument from the debate and the NZTA have now shifted the discussion with them now saying that a new crossing is needed so the clip-ons can eventually be replaced. The problem is they are being hammered at constantly by heavy trucks (although replacement isn’t needed for some time yet). If the main issue is the clip-ons then we need to be asking if the problem is really worth us spending $5 billion just to avoid having to close two lanes while they are replaced. So what’s the alternative?
A rail tunnel under the harbour.
The idea is fairly simple, we build a much cheaper rail tunnel under the harbour to at least Takapuna, if not further up the busway and linking into the Aotea station on the city side. That provides a massive increase in capacity across the harbour and we use that extra capacity along with other tools like road pricing and demand management to encourage as many people as possible to use the rail services. We then close the clip-on lanes (one side at a time) and replace them. That could leave us with replaced clip-ons and with rail across to the shore without the astronomical price tag currently associated with the harbour crossing project.
The Waterview motorway connection would appear to be a high cost ‘gold-plated’ project but it is the last link in that chain. After that I believe we have a strong chance of achieving long term value for Auckland with the CRL and ultimately a rail tunnel link to the North Shore.
I was looking at the herald this morning and I came across this piece titled Troubled bridge over San Fran waters by the Herald on Sunday sports editor who is currently in San Francisco covering the America’s Cup.
Take a look at the Auckland Harbour Bridge. Now imagine a part of it gone after an earthquake. Then think about US$6.4 billion and 24 years spent repairing it.
That’s what San Franciscans have endured since the 1989 earthquake when the Bay Bridge (actually two bridges) suffered the collapse of part of the eastern span connecting San Francisco to Oakland.
Now the news has come in that the re-built bridge will open on September 3, Labour Weekend in the US, after being closed for five days to prepare the new bridge for traffic. It’s not clear what sort of traffic chaos will apply during that period – the bridge routinely accommodates 280,000 vehicles a day.
Nor is it clear whether that will have any effect on America’s Cup fans trying to get to the action as the yachts duke it out on San Francisco Bay, near the bridge.
But what is clear is that bridge is finally opening, after 24 years of delays and budget blow-outs, with only a temporary fix. Three independent authorities have certified that the bridge will be safe with a temporary solution to the earthquake safety bolts which cracked as they were being tightened recently.
That was expected to delay the bridge opening even further – even stretching beyond State Senator Mark DeSaulnier’s complaint that the bridge was “10 years late and US$5billion over budget”.
But now permanent repairs – able to be done while the bridge is open and taking until December – will not delay the opening, though there will be more than one motorist wondering just how safe his morning drive to work really is.
This has relevance to Auckland for two reasons: When you drive on the Harbour Bridge, drive softly. No one needs 24 years and US$6.4 billion of frustration. At that rate, Auckland’s rates will be worth more than the houses.
Secondly, memo to Mayor Len Brown or whoever ends up organising a second crossing. Please give us, the ratepayers, an accurate idea of time and cost. Being 10 years late and 500 per cent over budget doesn’t bear thinking about…
Now I agree that single best reason for an additional harbour crossing – remember we already have a second one in the upper harbour – is to provide resilience in the situation where the bridge is damaged or being upgraded. The herald writer makes it appear that the bridge has been out of action for 24 years but that is simply untrue so let’s look at the story in a bit more detail.
The bridge was opened in 1936 and as mentioned is actually two separate bridges. The first from San Francisco to Yerba Buena Island where it tunnels through the hill before continuing across to Oakland. The bridge has two decks for vehicles, one in each direction and is 5 lanes wide – although when originally built the lower deck was for trucks and trains but the tracks were ripped out in the 1960’s. As mentioned in the Herald piece, it carries a lot of traffic and connects right into the heart of San Francisco so like our harbour bridge is a key piece of infrastructure. In the 1989 earthquake it was damaged with one section collapsing however importantly engineers had the bridge fixed working again within a month.
As mentioned the writer makes it sound like the eastern bridge has been under repair for 24 years but this isn’t the case. The bridge is being replaced by a new version that is being built alongside the existing bridge, much like we saw when the Newmarket viaduct was replaced. Sometimes that means the existing bridge needs to be closed to enable the various changes related to construction to happen. We would see the same thing happen if we built a new harbour crossing as we would still need to connect it into the existing system somehow.
But the interesting thing is how the city copes with such a key bridge being out of action for a long period of time. Sure vehicles can divert to one of the other bridges but that introduces a fairly length detour and one that is much longer than equivalent detour in Auckland via the upper harbour. In that situation I also imagine that the other routes become pretty busy so while it might get you to your destination, it might not be fast. So how did the San Fran area cope both immediately after the 1989 quake and during the shut downs for repair and replacement of the existing bridge. Well there was of one mode of transport that was completely unaffected and able to move huge amounts of people, the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, otherwise known as BART.
The system was opened in 1972 and like the Bay bridge connects the suburbs on the eastern side of the bay with San Francisco itself. It does this in a pair of tunnels under the harbour and through the city and actually travels under the western span of the bay bridge. Since it opened it has been extended to the network it is today and which includes a connection into the San Francisco International Airport. Further expansion is already under way or being planned.
Importantly in the aftermath of the quake and during closures of the bay bridge people have flocked to use the network as a means of getting across the bay however perhaps even more importantly while some people would have gone back to driving, a lot of people kept using the system and patronage has continued to expand.
But perhaps the most important point and the one most relevant to Auckland in all of this is that San Francisco has an alternative. While the closures to the bay bridge have obviously been a pain for residents, there has at least been another option that has the capacity to handle a lot of extra people. Even if there was another road based crossing, if something went wrong it would immediately be clogged up with all of the diverted traffic. Buses would provide no respite as would be stuck along with the rest of the vehicles. If one of the key reasons to create another harbour crossing is to provide resilience to the network in case something goes wrong then the absolute best thing we could do is to build that crossing as a mode that is not affected by the traffic mayhem that would ensue from a problem with the bridge. It would also need to be one that has the capacity to suddenly handle a lot more people.
This is one of the reasons we propose building a rail only crossing as part of the Congestion Free Network. In the future if demand eventually exists we could then look at another road based crossing but for now the focus should be on completing the missing modes and providing some real alternatives.
In announcing that the government was finally going to come to the party and support the CRL, John Key has also made it clear that the project is going to be just one part of an overall package of transport projects in the city. We will have to wait till tomorrow to find out exactly what they are but I thought I would look at some of the most likely candidates.
The best outcome from my perspective would be a package of PT projects perhaps including rail to the airport, rail to the shore and some busways. Perhaps something like below. It might be unlikely but one can dream can’t they?
Perhaps the most likely announcement is something to do with the East-West Link. John Key is announcing the transport package at the Auckland Chamber of Commerce and this project has been one of their key ones. The project would see new roads built and existing ones upgraded to create new links between either Onehunga or Mangere and Highbrook. The option that has been talked about the most in the past has tended to be option 3 which is a brand new road (new roads in black, upgraded roads in red)
Personally I think that there is definitely a need to improve transport in this area but most of what is suggested seems like a solution in search of a problem.
There are two potential projects that would fall into this category.
The Eastern Highway – Gerry Brownlee breathed new life into this project back at the end of April with the way he answered a question from John Campbell. Back then I made this observation:
At first I thought it was really odd the way that Brownlee talked about AMETI and whether that would happen as it is well under way and he has even visited the construction site. Re-watching the video, it then becomes clear that he is talking about a reviving of the eastern motorway. Did Brownlee just let slip that the government is now considering building it? It would certainly fit in with some whispers I have heard.
Bringing back the Eastern Highway would be a massive change in transport policy as it doesn’t exist on any of our current planning documents, although there is still a designation for it.
Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (AWHC) – After the East-West Link this is probably the next most likely transport project to get a nod from the government. It would definitely be popular with many people on the North Shore but the reality is it is a really really stupid project. For starters it adds a huge amount of capacity across the harbour making it easier to drive and potentially putting a lot more cars onto our city streets, right at a time when we are trying to reduce the number in the city.
The most recent business case found that a road tunnel under the harbour would cost around $5 billion and have a benefit to cost ratio of 0.2, in other words for every $1 invested we would only get 20c back. What’s more that was on the back of some very dodgy traffic growth figures. The business case assumed growth would continue at the same rate it historically has but didn’t take into account the fact that traffic volumes had fallen substantially in recent years. Even if growth returned to the level it was previously, which is unlikely given the trends we are seeing elsewhere, the need for a new crossing has been pushed back almost indefinitely.
Are there any other projects that you think will be tacked on to the CRL?