As most of you are probably be aware, we’ve long suggested that we need to change our thinking about any future Waitemata Harbour Crossing. A $4-6 billion road tunnel and dramatically widened northern motorway which will only serve to flood the city centre with cars at a time when we’re trying to make it more pedestrian friendly.
Instead we’ve suggested that we need to look at completing the missing modes. These can provide a form of resilience in their own right, much like the BART tunnels in San Francisco did after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Soon Skypath will provide the missing active mode piece of the puzzle which leaves just a transit crossing as the missing component.
Given any new crossing will almost certainly be in a tunnel we believe that any dedicated transit crossing should be a rail one. This is for a number of reasons such as having greater capacity, not needing to deal with fuel emissions and from a purely political point of view, the idea of rail to the shore is a popular one. As we understand it, the current plans will see only one new crossing built – a road crossing. The NZTA have told us they will leave space in the designation for a rail crossing, either as a combined road/rail tunnel or separate tunnels next to the road ones. None of the options would include connections on either side of the harbour so regardless a rail crossing is a completely separate project and one for which the justification to build will be destroyed thanks to the new road crossing.
We believe that a rail tunnel could be built for much cheaper than a large road tunnel and that the money saved on the tunnel itself could then go to providing rail connections on the North Shore. There are actually a number of ways rail could be connected to the North Shore. I suspect many in the wider public would just see it as an extension of our existing rail network however this is our least favourite option. Other options include a Vancouver Skytrain style Light Metro system and AT’s recent infatuation with Light Rail also presents that as a potential option. I should point out that at this stage I don’t have a clear favourite but I do very much like the extra coverage that might be able to be achieved with the latter option.
To gain consent for the road tunnels the NZTA will have to show that they’ve properly investigated alternative options. This the failure to do this was one of the reasons they got tripped up over the Basin Flyover. We do not believe that the NZTA have properly investigated a transit only crossing as an option. This view was once again highlighted this week when they pointed us to a 2010 document which claimed a rail crossing would be astronomically expensive. By that I mean $11 billion+ expensive.
So how on earth would a rail crossing cost $11 billion? Here’s how it seems some of their thought process have gone.
They Say a rail alignment has to take in both Takapuna and Albany in a single alignment. The location of Takapuna being someway to east of the motorway is an issue and one of the reasons it’s not served by the busway. They also note that a rail corridor along the existing motorway would require substantial work to modify including pushing retaining walls by back 3m. In addition they note that other areas of higher density are not right next to the motorway – this is no surprise as motorways tend to push density away.
Next they dismiss high level operating patterns they effectively say buses are better because you can run them on lots of different (infrequent) patterns including express buses straight to the city. In contrast rail would require some people to use feeder buses – oh the humanity. Of course this was from all before the new network which in large part will see a lot more of the system operating like the rail diagram.
Taking the above into account they then try to join them all together in a rough alignment as is shown below, squiggling all over the North Shore. As you can see the line goes all of the place in a bid to serve various pockets of population and development.
As I’m sure you can imagine, getting consent for a project like this would be no easy task. Such an alignment would also create even more severance issues in many places on the shore. To deal with that the authors of the report state that the rail line would instead need to be underground. An entirely underground North Shore line, you can almost hear the dollar signs racking up.
Unfortunately it doesn’t stop there. Once in the city they want to send it somewhere else – ideally to link up with the existing rail network. Two options are shown for this, trains either going via Britomart then another tunnel up through the city to Newmarket or going via Aotea. The Aotea option is shown below.
So to get rail to the shore the NZTA are saying that we need a tunnel from Newmarket all the way to Albany, no wonder it will cost so much.
Lastly it briefly covers whether the project could be broken up and staged. Once again the short answer is no because it would limit the benefits available.
All up this appears almost like some kind of hatchet job deliberately designed to make rail look like a much inferior option. Given all the changes that have occurred in transport in just the last five years it seems it would be a good idea for the NZTA and AT to go back to the drawing board on this project and come up with some fresh thinking. We’ve been told that work is going on between the two agencies looking at what the future of the Rapid Transit Network on the shore is but it sounds like that is limited by not questioning whether the road tunnels happen. I also wonder if it will end up looking something like this from 2012.
The NZTA have recently published information on the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing on their website, including all of their technical reports, which are mostly from around 2010. These reports have been available elsewhere, however most people wouldn’t know they existed so it is good that NZTA have pulled them all together on the main NZTA site.
New to me are the timeframes for the project, which the NZTA have indicated are:
|2015||The Transport Minister asked the Transport Agency to take immediate steps to further develop the project. The Transport Agency will engage professional advisers to help prepare to help future proof the route.
|Mid 2016||NZ Transport Agency to serve Notices of Requirement for land required.
|2017 to 2018||Detailed business case investigations including funding options and design. Application and hearings for resource consents.
|2019 to 2022||Procurement stage including contract award, detailed design, land acquisition and preparation for works.
|2022||Estimated start of construction.
|2027 to 2030||Additional Waitematā Harbour Crossing opens.
This is a much more aggressive timeline than the NZTA indicated at their recent briefing on the National Land Transport Programme, where it was suggested that the tunnel was unlikely to progress beyond the designation point for at least a decade.
The project website claims that the Auckland Plan identifies the AWHC will be required between 2025 and 2030 however, as we covered in this post, there isn’t any rational justification for this based on the Preliminary Business Case, which calculated a BCR of just 0.4.
The project website mentions the “bigger picture”, emphasising that more than “55% of NZ’s freight travels through the Northland, Auckland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty regions”. As Matt covered in this post though, there really is only a tiny proportion of freight originating from Northland that is destined for points south, and vice-versa. It is quite misleading to include Northland in this statistic and it is certainly no justification for the AWHC . In any case, the website doesn’t mention the Western Ring Route, which is a continuous motorway linking Manukau and Albany and is due to be completed in phases in the next few years.
I haven’t reviewed all of the technical documents, but there are a couple of things about the transport modelling report that stand out. The emphasis in the snippet below is contained in the report – it isn’t mine:
The transport model also has this table of car parking costs as an input assumption for the BCR, on p.42 of the report:
I asked the NZTA what the highlighted text meant, and if the parking costs were daily or hourly rates, and they had this to say:
- The Transport and Traffic Model Report (2010) analysis used costs that are 50th percentile costs which was appropriate for that stage of the investigation.
- This report was one of the outputs of the Preliminary Business Case which was developed to assess the bridge and tunnel options. The focus was a fair “like for like comparison” between these two options, and as such the BCRs were tailored to the level of assessment appropriate to the decisions that were required to be made at that stage.
- Currently, no further benefit cost analysis has been completed since 2010. Several years have passed since the benefit cost analysis was completed and we anticipate the BCR will be higher now.
- Should a designation be secured for the Additional Waitematā Harbour Crossing, the Transport Agency will move forward with a Detailed Business Case in approximately 2017-2018. This will include further investigation to evaluate the preferred option and a detailed analysis of current costs and benefits.
- The parking costs referred to in the report reflect average daily costs and were accurate at the time the modelling was undertaken.
So it looks like the mysterious Appendix M doesn’t actually exist, and any further analysis of costs and benefits won’t take place until the six lane tunnel for general traffic has been designated. The BCR of a rail only crossing to the North Shore, which will be billions of dollars cheaper than a road crossing primarily for single occupant cars, has not been calculated. The modelled costs of parking for the CBD seem woefully underestimated, compared to current earlybird rates of $24 a day.
This is completely the wrong way to go about a project which the Minister of Transport estimates will cost between $4 billion and $6 billion. Public consultation has been pretty much non-existent. I doubt many North Shore residents realise that if the new crossing is tolled, it is likely to be a toll on both the existing bridge and the new crossing.
There has been a complete lack of analysis of the impact of the fire-hose of single occupant cars which will flood the CBD as a result of the project, and neither has the full cost of increasing the capacity of the CMJ and approaches been considered. The NZTA already have in the scope of the designation work widening the motorway from Esmonde to Northcote, but it is likely that the motorway will have to be widened further north as well. The space required for this motorway widening work will undoubtedly take precedence over any future design for mass rapid transit.
Luke did a post last year on the environmental impacts of the toll road tunnel, including ventilation stacks for exhaust fumes that will be up to 35m (10 storeys) high on both sides of the crossing and the massive amounts of reclamation required. I’m not sure why the residents of Northcote Point haven’t formed an action group yet over the impending loss of Sulphur Beach and the marina. They seem oblivious to their neighbourhood becoming a construction site for at least five years too.
And of course the fact that the tunnels might be “future-proofed” for rail means nothing in practice. The designation process should not be going ahead without a clear understanding of what the mass transit network will look like on the North Shore.
There is no urgency for the crossing either – actual traffic volumes are well below the trend envisaged in the 2010 reports:
I wrote to Auckland City Councillors and asked them to stand up for what Aucklanders actually want, rather than simply acquiesce to this ill thought-out plan. The only response I got was from Cllr George Wood, who said that “I must say that Simon Bridges is committed to the AWHC” and “people north of the Waitemata want the additional crossing. We certainly don’t want wish it to be stalled.”
Does George speak for everyone on the North Shore? Does Simon Bridges? What do you think?
Prompted by the news that the NZTA is tendering work for route protection of the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (AWHC), I initiated an OIA request to the NZTA which has now been responded to.
I requested, on behalf of the Campaign for Better Transport:
1. A statement defining the land transport problem or issue that the proposed AWHC solution is attempting to address.
2. The studies and comparative assessments of alternative solutions that the NZTA has conducted, including, but not restricted to, an electrified rail only crossing of the Waitemata Harbour between the Auckland isthmus and the North Shore.
The NZTA responded with the following PDF documents:
- Attachment A: Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing Preliminary Business Case, January 2011. The business case includes a statement outlining the problem which the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing project is attempting to address (refer to ‘Description of Service Need’ on page 9)
- Attachment B: Waitemata Harbour Crossing Study Phase 1: summary report option short listing, November 2007
- Attachment C: Waitemata Harbour Crossing Study 2008: Study Summary Report, April 2008
Question 1: What Problem Are We Trying to Solve?
The Description of Service Need is this:
What stands out here is the statement that the “AHB currently provides the only direct, cross-harbour vehicle link between the CBD and the North Shore.” Resiliency seems to be a major driver behind a solution which supports six lanes of general traffic in a tunnel, with the possibility of rail at some indeterminate point in the future. What is odd is that there is no mention in any of the supplied documents of the Western Ring Route, a $2bn project adding resiliency and reducing demand on the existing Harbour Bridge which, in the NZTA’s own words, will “create a seamless motorway between Manukau and Albany”. This is due for completion in phases in the next few years.
There are also the usual predictions of increasing traffic volumes, which threaten to “adversely impact on the length and reliability of travel times”. Quite why it is vital to minimise the travel times of single occupant cars isn’t explained. Regardless, the Business Case uses traffic volumes in 2008 as the basis of forecasting, before the Northern Busway had a chance to make much of an impact.
However, as Matt pointed out in this post, traffic volumes across the bridge have stubbornly stayed at 2008 levels, at least up until 2014.
And that pretty much sums up the statement of need. As far as analysis of the need for mass rapid transit goes, there’s this analysis of the Busway:
Forecast demand for the Busway indicates that the morning peak hour flows into the CBD could increase to 250 buses per hour in 2041, representing a 138% increase over the 2009 volumes. This figure is the recommended target capacity for the Busway system, representing 12,000 passenger movements per hour6. However, achieving the target capacity is currently hindered by capacity constraints close to the CBD where the provision of dedicated bus facilities is more expensive and bus volumes are at their highest. One of the advantages of a new crossing would be the ability to have dedicated bus lanes across the AHB which would maintain a high level of trip reliability for passenger transport users.
On rail, the Business Case assumes a rail link between Gaunt Street Station in the Wynyard Quarter (underground) and Akoranga Station (at grade). The basis for modelling the tunnel is this diagram:
Construction cost alone of the combined tunnel is $4.6bn in 2010 dollars, with a total nominal cost over a 30 year period calculated as $12bn for the tunnel, including all capital expenditure and operating costs, with a risk factor as well:
The Business Case document comes up with a BCR of 0.4 for the combined tunnel option, including wider economic benefits and not including tolling. Not so much a Business Case for the proposed AWHC then, but more a massive red flag suggesting that not building the proposed tunnel is actually more economically beneficial for Auckland. Even more worryingly, even though there is an assumption that the motorway will be widened to four lanes between Esmonde and Northcote road, there doesn’t seem to be any explanation of how the capacity of the Central Motorway Junction will be increased to cope with the additional three lanes of traffic each way that a new tunnel crossing will provide for.
Incidentally, transport modelling and the Cost Benefit Analysis excluded rail (p.25)
A parallel work stream to this study — The Network Plan — undertook an assessment of the longterm capacity of the existing Busway and concluded that a rail crossing was not required within the timeframes considered for the CBA. As such, the transport modelling excluded the modelling of rail, and the CBA includes costs for the roading component of the crossings only (i.e. the cost for the rail tunnel is excluded).
There is an interesting discussion on tolling (up to $8 each way modelled), but perhaps that is best left for another post.
Question 2: What alternatives have been evaluated?
The Business Case takes it as a given that capacity for additional vehicles is required. This stems from the earlier options papers, which do indeed include an examination of a rail only crossing, which is the second question of the OIA request. Attachment C covers three short-listed options, with variations for each:
The study concludes (p.43) that a combined road / rail tunnel option is best – Option 2C.
So although a rail tunnel was the best passenger transport option, the study recommends a combined road / rail tunnel. The option evaluation process appears not to have used a CBA / Economic Evaluation Manual approach, and it is difficult to tell exactly why option 2C is favoured over a rail only crossing. There is no comparison of BCRs between the rail only and combined tunnel options. Presumably there is a strong weighting for resilience, but again discussion about the Western Ring Route is non-existent. However, the study also carries this warning on p.45:
Limited spare capacity on the strategic and regional arterial networks on both sides of the Harbour, together with the need to move towards a more sustainable transport system, mean it will be neither practical nor desirable to provide sufficient cross harbour road capacity to match demand. Any additional connectivity should therefore be provided to the best practicable standard, that is, in balance with the remainder of the Auckland road network, and in a cost effective manner.
And cost should probably be one of the most important factors. Page 36 has a table of costs for the different options.
A rail only tunnel was costed at about a quarter of the cost of a road / rail tunnel.
In summary, I don’t really think NZTA’s solution is going to work. By design, it will increase the number of single occupant cars in the CBD and surrounding motorway networks and, according to their own analysis, make the economy of Auckland worse than if the project doesn’t proceed. (And that isn’t even considering the impact of tolls on the economy.)
I don’t accept claims that the tunnel will be “future proofed” for rail either. You only need to look at the history of future-proofing in Auckland (think Te Iririrangi Drive or the Manukau Harbour Crossing) to know that most likely it will never happen.
The taxation and expenditure of over $4bn dollars could make a real difference to Auckland if it was spent on the right things. I think Aucklanders should get a say on this. Allowing the AWHC route protection to proceed in its current form, at a cost of tens of millions, is the thin edge of the wedge. If planning starts for a tunnel for single occupant cars, then that is what we’ll end up with.
This isn’t urgent. We’ve got time to get it right.
Regular readers will be well aware that we strongly believe our transport agencies need to rethink the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing. It appears to us that the price tag of $4-$6 billion is way out of proportion to the benefits another road crossing would provide. This view only strengthens the more we see the changes that are occurring, for example just last week we learned that the NZTA’s own post implementation reviews highlighted that traffic volumes weren’t living up to projections on a number of motorway projects. We also found out that one again that vehicle kilometres travelled in Auckland had fallen in both real and per capita measures despite strong population growth.
In Patrick’s letter to the NZTA he said:
It is our view that both a driverless Light Metro system, or a continuation of AT’s proposed Light Rail network across the Harbour, to Takapuna and up the Busway, need to be properly explored as the next possible crossing over the harbour. As they are likely to achieve all of the aims NZTA and AT are charged with delivering for the city much more completely and at a lower cost than any additional traffic lanes and without any of the disbenefits.
– the economic benefits of true spatially efficient urban transport system linking the Shore to city and the isthmus RTN
– make a massive transformational shift to public transport
– real carbon and other pollution reductions of scale from a 100% electric system
– huge place benefits, including a real reduction in city car and bus numbers
– no additional massive costs on approach roads
– resilience of additional systems as well as route
With this post I want to look at the idea of extending AT’s proposed light rail (LRT) across the harbour. So far we know that AT are looking at very high capacity LRT vehicles – up to 66m long and capable of holding around 450 people.
They would run on at four LRT routes on the isthmus on Sandringham Rd, Dominion Rd, Mt Eden Rd and Manukau Rd, combining into two corridors through the CBD – Queen St and Symonds St – before terminating at Wynyard. These are shown below.
So what if we didn’t terminate them in Wynyard and instead extended them via a new crossing to the North Shore. As we know one of the features of LRT is that it can run at street level allowing for the network to reach past the expensive grade separated infrastructure like we see on the busway. Of course that can also be a curse if it is run mixed in with general traffic. Outside of the busway a good compromise is like what appears to be proposed for the isthmus with dedicated lanes and signal priority.
We know that the busiest bus routes on the North Shore are the Northern Busway, to Takapuna and up Onewa Rd. Those areas/routes also happen to be where some of the highest levels of development is allowed for on the North Shore as part of the proposed Unitary Plan – although I think a lot more should be allowed.
Combining the routes for the Isthmus with those corridors on the shore could deliver us something like the network below. You can see it features one route to Takapuna, one to Glenfield and two routes combine to serve the Northern Busway – one of which goes via the Universities, the Hospital and Newmarket
The immediate question many of you might have is about capacity and whether LRT would have enough to serve the shore. Assuming a frequency on each route of roughly one service every 5 minutes that would combine for a capacity across the harbour of over 21,000 people per hour. To put that in perspective, currently over the two hour morning peak around 9,000 people cross the harbour bridge on buses. As such LRT would allow for more than a fourfold increase compared to what we have now and assuming they could do around 80km/h – which is the speed of the busway and seems fairly common on many overseas LRT systems – it would remain time competitive with driving at most times.
The biggest issue with any proposal will always be the cost however this is where LRT could prove a winner. In the last harbour crossing study a rail only tunnel was estimated at ~$1.6 billion – far cheaper than a road crossing. Add in converting the busway and the routes to Takapuna and Glenfield and I suspect we’d be looking at $3-3.5 billion. It’s worth noting that a high level study in 2012 estimated a similar network – but with the Takapuna branch extending all the way up East Coast Rd and to Browns Bay at around $4.5 billion.
Of all of it, it seems that the biggest challenge would end up being the section on the city side from the crossing to where the Queen St and Symonds St routes separate as that would have a high frequency of LRT vehicles through an area with a lot of intersections and conflicting movements. In saying that I’m sure it’s something our talented engineers are capable of solving.
Overall the thing I like the most about the idea is that it allows for through routed connections, removing any need for large terminals from the CBD/Wynyard which is what we would have with the current LRT proposal and/or if we decided to do a light metro or heavy rail option. Compared to other options that have been presented in the past it is also the only one that also looks at serving the western North Shore. Both the western and eastern routes could also be extended if needed. The biggest downside compared to the other rail based options is that LRT would still need a driver which would have an impact on the operational costs.
Lastly it’s worth noting that I’m fully aware that this may not be the best solution. A different solution might turn out to be better however the point of the post is to highlight that options other than the default of a new motorway tunnel exist. We want to see the NZTA and others assess any future crossing from a fresh perspective – much like what happened with the City Centre Future Access Study.
I was recently sent a briefing from late May that the NZTA gave to the transport industry on the three large projects in Auckland that will be procuring work for. In all cases the work relates to designation and planning work and the projects are the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (AWHC), the Northern Corridor works and the East-West link. The most interesting of them and the one I’ll cover here is the AWHC.
The NZTA intend on restarting the process to get protect the route that they put on hold in 2009. This was actually announced back in in 2013 the government launched their programme of ‘accelerating’ a number of motorway projects. Interestingly they say here it will cost around $4 billion. This is just another in the long list of wild estimates for this project and of course won’t include any works necessary to widen the Northern Motorway to be able to handle the extra traffic or increase the capacity of the CMJ – which I’m told is all built out.
That cost also won’t include any costs to connect the rail tunnels at each end shown in the image (closer look below) meaning that it’s likely any idea of rail to the shore will be dependent on a separate project and one that will likely fail any business case for some time thanks to the presence of the recently built motorway.
Perhaps the most interesting part is this slide showing that building the tunnels induces a lot more demand. It would be interesting to know if they are talking about all trips or just vehicle trips. If the latter the increase is probably because it would undermine the busway therefore seeing people moving back to driving.
It’s also still not clear that vehicle demand is going to increase by that level. For a start no one knows just what impact the completion of the Waterview and the Western Ring Route will have and even without that traffic volumes haven’t been increasing like they were predicted to. I most recently looked at volumes here.
This slide shows the next steps in the process
And here’s the scope of the current works planned
Interestingly this just went public yesterday
The NZ Transport Agency invites Registrations of Interest (ROI) from suitably experienced consultants and advisors who have the right people with the necessary vision, experience, capacity, understanding and commitment to deliver outstanding outcomes for the Additional Waitematā Harbour Crossing (AWHC).
The professional services for route protection will be procured using the staged delivery model. The contract will be finalised through a negotiation phase, which will develop an agreed methodology, effort, target fee and pain/gain approach.
The high level objective of the project is to complete the route protection and secure designations for the AWHC; by updating and confirming the existing Notices of Requirement (NoRs), and serving new NoR(s), as required to designate the land at either end of the additional crossing. This project is to be publicly notified and a public hearing is likely to occur.
The team will generally provide the following expertise, but not be limited to:
- Statutory planning and resource management
- Engineering, including tunnelling, highway, rail, civil engineering and geology/geotechnical
- Traffic modelling and transport planning
- Environmental and social management, technical expertise and assessment
- Provision of evidence at hearings and expert witness
Request for Proposals Overview
The Request for Proposal (RFP) will use the quality based supplier selection method. The contract scope will be reasonably broad and focused on key outcomes with the approach and related scope to be further defined by respondents.
A RFP interactive presentation, for all respondents, is proposed to be held after the RFP closes, and will be assessed as part of the evaluation.
RFP documents will only be issued to those applicants who have submitted an ROI.
Prospective respondents to this ROI are invited to attend an Industry Briefing on Thursday 2 July 2015. Respondents wishing to attend this briefing are requested to confirm their interest in attending before 4:00pm on Tuesday 30 June 2015. Attendees will be limited to two per company.
The ROI will be open for three weeks and will close at 4:00pm on Thursday 9 July 2015.
In my view, before we build any more road crossings our transport agencies should be prioritising their focus on getting the missing modes across the harbour. That means Skypath needs to be built as soon as possible (we should hear the results of the resource consent within 2 weeks) and then the focus needs to be on a dedicated PT route. That would provide much greater additional capacity and resilience for less cost than a the huge road tunnels planned and could happen sooner. In face it could even possible link in with the light rail plans for the isthmus – more on that in another post. Route protection wouldn’t stop that outcome but our agencies need to have a serious rethink of the project in its current form.
Digging around online the other day I came across an Auckland Council Archives webpage with a series of old plans and charts on early Auckland harbour bridge and tunnel concepts. I do recommend having a poke around for fans of this sort of thing.
The one plan that really caught my eye was the one below, a 1930s concept for a suspension bridge from Devonport to Parnell. Click this link for the full size version.
Look at that: tall towers with graceful parabolas of cable holding up a long spanning slender deck. Boy I do love a good suspension bridge! And check the engineers stamp in the bottom right corner. None other than J.J. Bradfield himself, designer of both the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the connected City Circle underground rail system.
With 175 feet (54m) clearance above the water this would have had more room under it than our existing bridge, however it would have ended up on the wrong side of the modern container port. If they had built this perhaps the port would have been forced to move out by now.
The four lanes and two tram tracks sounds like just what we need today, if you could squeeze in a footpath and cycleway. Having said that, you can presume the trams would have been ripped out and the bridge converted to a six lanes all for traffic like so many bridges from that era.
I also wonder what would have become of the motorway system without the harbour bridge to Northcote Point, presumably spaghetti junction would have ended up further east and Parnell would be sliced in half by a motorway. Would we lament the swathe carved through Devonport and Bayswater the way we lament the long gone villas of Newton gully and the lost beaches at St Marys Bay, or would we simply forget like we have the City of Cork Beach? Perhaps the Eastern Motorway would have been built, perhaps instead of the Southern?
In any case, the shape of our city would have been considerably different. A reminder that new transport infrastructure shapes our future city as much as it responds to our existing one.
…and doesn’t it make our actual bridge look like an ugly bugger in comparison?
Yesterday the Auckland Business Forum sponsored four pages of op-eds in the business section of the Herald about the need to improve transport for businesses. Unfortunately it ended up being a bit of a case of who left the gates to Jurassic Park open and let the Roadasaurs out.
You can see all four pages below.
Perhaps the most hilarious of the pieces comes from the head of the National Road Carriers – a trucking lobby group – who effectively suggests that a Mad Max style apocalypse is imminent unless we take quick action to speed up the movement of trucks.
When trucks gridlock, Auckland stops. Virtually everything manufactured, imported, bought or consumed in Auckland is at some point transported by truck.
If truck movement stopped in Auckland, within the first 24 hours service stations would begin to run out of petrol, supermarkets and restaurants would have no fresh food, building sites and assembly companies using just-in-time suppliers would experience materials and parts shortages, and mail and other package deliveries would cease.
After a couple of days, food shortages would develop, motor vehicle fuel availability would dwindle, exports and imports of goods by sea and air would cease, as would operations of many wholesale and retail businesses. Thousands of Aucklanders would soon be out of work.
This demonstrates the critical importance of freight and goods delivery within Auckland’s transport system — when trucks can’t move, Auckland stops.
Freight is the backbone of the Auckland economy. It figures that if we are serious about improving our economy, we must get serious about tackling Auckland’s worsening traffic congestion and improving our productivity and efficiency.
As Auckland’s population grows, it is critical that we stop congestion spreading through the whole of the working day as it is starting to do in some areas of the city.
His other article suggests some of the ways trucks can be avoided where he suggests that trucks should be able to use the busway and bus lanes.
His big priority is the east-west link which he wants the government to take over and build as a RoNS – because you know it’s not like the NZTA is sitting around doing nothing. He suggests that a route along the waterfront on the Northern edge of the Mangere Inlet is good because it will “avoid community severance” and encourage the repair of the “environmentally damaged reclaimed land”. I know some Onehunga Foreshore groups support this option because they think they will get a new foreshore – like what is being done now next to the motorway – on the northern side of the inlet. Of course not that anyone will be able to easily access it due to the severance the motorway they want causes.
Seeing as this route is claimed to be so vitally important for truckies, I wonder how much they’re prepared to pay to use it – or are they expecting this to be a massive subsidy from the public towards their operations.
Also pushing to keep the trucks moving is a representative of the construction firms. In this case he’s primarily talking about trucks involved in construction. A case of the trucks must get through to be able to build more roads that will also end up congested. It’s a bit like groundhog day. He also calls for trucks to be able to use busways. He is of course correct when he says:
At the heart of an Auckland-Wellington strategy must be an accelerated effort to improve the city’s public transport system. Getting single-occupancy commuter vehicles off Auckland roads during the day would free up the capacity for contractors, transport operators and other essential trades.
However a few paragraphs later he then undoes that by stating that PT should only be funded if it doesn’t get in the way of building new stuff.
Meanwhile, increased public transport funding is only viable if it does not impact on the activities of the people who build the city.
One area I do agree with him on is in his other piece where he suggests there might be some advantages to merging the local aspects of the NZTA and Auckland Transport. I’d go further and suggest the rail network should also be included. A single agency managing the entire transport network could be useful if it also coincided with more autonomy in how the money is spent rather than the rigid Government Policy Status. That could mean motorway, PT and local road and even rail freight projects could be treated equally but there is little chance the government would allow this.
Stephen Selwood from the NZCID has also written a few pieces. In one notes that the current plans for an Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing add no new connectivity and that it wastes the transport budget. His solution to this is to make the tunnel longer and instead connect up to the eastern side of the CBD. However not content with that he also wants to revive the Eastern Motorway and suggests it be built as a tunnel so it “protects the views and amenity of the eastern suburbs”. It would then presumably link up with a larger AMETI project.
If the AWHC is estimated at $5 billion then how much is an approximately 14km tunnel from Glen Innes to the North Shore going to be?
Lastly both Selwood and Chamber of Commerce CEO Michael Barnett separately talk about and support the governments push for a transport accord. While I don’t necessarily disagree it seems that are taking the stance that Auckland’s current plans are fundamentally wrong. In my view we’ve seen a huge improvement in the work AT has done in it’s planning for the future and it’s starting to show that the plans of the past aren’t necessarily right or worth pursuing. This has been shown in examples like how they’re thinking of deferring the Reeves Rd flyover which would have just shifted congestion one intersection down the road and to invest the money in bringing forward PT improvements. Another is them looking at light rail as way of addressing looming bus congestion.
Of course there’s also the irony that the business groups are supporting the government in creating another year of delay and debate while also calling for urgent action to speed things up. Perhaps it’s time to stop having a bet each way and pick a position. To me it also shows why it’s so vital that we don’t just leave the conversation about Auckland’s future to these influential and well connected groups.
Two weeks ago the government once again talked about an Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (AWHC). There are a number of reasons why another road based crossing is not a great idea – and even the Herald has been sceptical about it – but perhaps the biggest issue of all is the sheer cost of it. It’s been estimated to cost a whopping $4 billion to $6 billion. That’s considerably larger than what we spend on transport for the entire nation each year and about 5 years’ worth of the entire transport budget for Auckland. However the announcement once again got me thinking about what else we could do if we had $4-$6 billion to spend.
Anyone who has read this blog for long enough will know that our preference is for the money to go towards advancing projects on the Congestion Free Network.
Of course even by the time-frame the government suggest of 2025-30 we’d hope that much of the CFN would have been completed or at least already well under way. So I thought, what could we do if we were to spend that $4-$6 billion to further enhance the CFN. As a basis I was reminded of this old post by Nick R looking at something similar to Vancouver’s Skytrain – something sometimes referred to as Light Metro.
One of the useful aspects is that from Vancouver we have a couple of good recent examples of how much such a system may cost.
- The Canada line was built in 2009 for a cost of just over $2 billion Canadian dollars (about NZ $2.5 billion once you account for exchange rates and inflation etc.). For that price they got 16 stations (8 underground, 6 elevated) on 19.2km of double track (including 9.1km in tunnels, 7.3km elevated and a 614m long bridge). It also includes 20 two-car driverless trains to run on it plus a maintenance facility. All up it cost them about $130 million per km.
- The Evergreen Line is an extension currently under construction for a cost of $1.4 billion Canadian dollars (NZ$1.5 billion). It will be 10.9km of double track of which 2km is underground and much of the rest is elevated. It also includes six new and one redeveloped station and the existing Skytrain fleet will be boosted by 28 new Skytrain cars (14 two-car trains?). All up the cost is about $137 million per km.
Using a figure of $140 million per km it might deliver us somewhere between 28 and 43km of light metro network which is quite a lot. So what could we get with that?
One potential option is a two line light metro network linking up parts of the North Shore and also the Northwest. Something like below which features both a North Shore and Northwest line. Both pass through the City Centre and under the harbour in a shared tunnel then have short spur off to the Metropolitan Centres of Newmarket and Takapuna. Both lines could be extended further in the future towards Silverdale in the North and Kumeu in the Northwest. In the City Centre it would provide good rapid transit access to areas not covered directly by the CRL.
With automatic trains the shared sections could see trains every two minutes. That’s 30 trains an hour or up to 15 trains an hour on each line. Combine that trains carrying 500-600 people each and we’d have the capacity to easily move 15-20 thousand of people direction every hour free of traffic congestion. As a comparison a road crossing with three lanes each way might carry 6,000 people per hour in each direction.
By now some of you may be concerned about thinking too much along the line of using Light Metro in case it delays the already needed Northwest Busway. It’s definitely a legitimate concern however I feel there’s no reason the busway couldn’t be built sooner but designed to be easily upgradeable later on.
This also raises another key point in favour of a solution like this compared to the AWHC. With the AWHC the entire $4-$6 billion project has to be done in one big burst whereas with a network like this it could easily be broken up into smaller stages. For example we could do something like this:
- Stage 1 – Takapuna to Aotea with bus/train interchanges at Akoranga and Onewa Rd.
- Stage 2 – Akoranga to Albany replacing the busway.
- Stage 3 – Aotea to Newmarket
- Stage 4 – Northwest
Tying it all in with the other parts of the Congestion Free Network plus Auckland Transport’s Light Rail plans for the central Isthmus might look something this.
Given the option of a road tunnel under the harbour or an automated, high frequency rapid light metro system covering the North Shore and the Northwest I know which option I’d choose.
The government has announced it is restarting the process to protect the route for an a third harbour crossing that raises a huge number of questions.
Minister of Transport, Simon Bridges, has taken steps to future-proof the route for an additional Waitemata Harbour crossing in view of the rapid growth Auckland is set to undergo in the next 20 years.
“I have asked the NZ Transport Agency to recommence work on what will be a critical transport link for Auckland and the upper North Island.
“The preferred route for the additional crossing is a tunnel east of the Auckland Harbour Bridge between the Esmonde Road interchange on the North Shore, and Victoria Park Tunnel and Central Motorway Junction in central Auckland.
“Advisors are preparing for the designation process and are putting together a business case focusing on the timing of construction and potential funding options,” Mr Bridges says.
In 2013 the Government announced its support for a tunnel in preference to a bridge.
“With increasing demands on Auckland’s transport network, the Government will continue to work closely with its local government partners to provide a resilient network and wider transport choices,” Mr Bridges says.
The NZ Transport Agency says an additional crossing is likely to cost between $4 billion and $6 billion, and is likely to be needed between 2025 and 2030. A construction start date will depend on a number of factors, including the rate of freight and traffic growth.
Mr Bridges says that the additional Waitemata Harbour crossing will work in conjunction with the existing Auckland Harbour Bridge.
The business case will look at a range of public transport options, including heavy rail. The NZ Transport Agency and Auckland Transport will be working together on this part of the project, including any necessary route protection for public transport.
“The Government knows that investment in all modes of transport will ease congestion and bring lasting benefits for Auckland and for New Zealand as a whole,” Mr Bridges says.
The NZTA last studied an additional crossing five years ago and the reports from that study are available here. The questions I have are in no particular order.
With construction depending on factors such as traffic growth, will the new business case take into account the actual traffic volumes from the last 8+ years. After almost 50 years on constant increases, traffic volumes fell after 2006 and have been so stubbornly flat that they are still less than they were in 2003. Not only did the previous business case – produced in 2010 – predict growth that hasn’t materialised but they also used a model to predict the volume for the starting year of their prediction (2008) which was well above the observed actual volumes.
Related, what will be the employment and traffic volume targets the project must achieve. After all if the City Rail Link is going to have bogus targets foist upon it then why shouldn’t the single most expensive project we’ve ever considered.
With the project costing between $4 and $6 billion how will we pay for it. To put things in perspective we currently spend about $3.4 billion on transport per year for the entire nation and that includes costs for state highways, NZTA contributions towards local roads, road policing, and of course NZTA contributions towards public transport. Within that budget we spend $1 to $1.4 billion on state highway improvements. In short an AWHC would suck up massive amounts of cash and that would impact on a huge numbers of projects from all around the country. Even if built as a PPP the ongoing payments would likely cripple our transport budgets for decades. As an example Transmission Gully which is costing around $850 million will have repayments once it opens of about $125 million a year. AWHC would be significantly more than that.
Will the business case achieve a Benefit Cost Ratio of greater than the 0.3 it did last time (Answer: presumably it will because of the changes since then to the NZTA’s Economic Evaluation Model allowing for a longer assessment period and reduced discount rate – still won’t be above 1 though)
It’s all very well talking about a horrifically expensive tunnel under the harbour but what constantly seems to be ignored is what happens on either end of the tunnel. Studies prior to the 2010 one have talked about how any new crossing would also require major expansions to the Northern Motorway to cope with the increased capacity thrown at. How much is it going to cost to duplicate SH1 to Albany and beyond? If not then we just get this situation.
What impact will the $4 billion we’ve been spending to create the Western Ring Route have on traffic and travel behaviour. At the very least we should probably be waiting till after that work is completed and traffic volumes have settled down before we do any analysis of traffic demand over the harbour.
Regardless of how much it costs or what the benefits are one fact that can’t be ignored is that this project will have major impacts on the environment it passes through. It effectively creates a new motorway out in Shoal Bay with all the red hatched parts in the images below being reclamation and the blue parts being viaducts. I wonder what the likes of the Herald’s John Roughan will say about – note: I still don’t think he’s admitted he was wrong about the Northern Busway.
Further if some of the residents of Northcote got so upset about the idea of Skypath, I wonder what they’ll think of having a mini spaghetti junction on their doorstep. Even more so when they realise that the two square boxes on the image above where the new lanes change from tan to purple colour (to the right of the 1 symbol) are 35m high (~10 storey) ventilation stacks for the exhaust fumes inside the tunnel. There is also one on the city side next to the current Air NZ building (below).
One mini positive is that the government are at least saying the business case will consider a rail crossing however in my mind the NZTA also need to assess options that involve building a PT only crossing first. A dedicated PT crossing along with Skypath are the real missing modes across the harbour. This is especially important given the huge growth we’re seeing in bus passengers from the shore and in the morning we’re seeing up to 30-40% of people crossing on a bus – up from 18% in 2001. This growth in PT is likely to continue for some time yet, especially once the new network eventually makes PT much more useful to a wider variety of people. One risk is I suspect there are quite a few people behind the scenes that will think an acceptable solution to PT across the harbour is just to leave it on the existing bridge.
The 2010 and 2011 car results seem like they could be incorrect but I can’t confirm it
Overall route protection itself isn’t a bad thing but any suggestion that this is project is needed any time soon is fanciful thinking. There are far greater priorities in Auckland such as the CRL and significant upgrades to PT in many other areas. The government should be focusing on getting those projects consented and underway first.
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.