East West Link and Old Mangere Bridge Open Days

Another series of consultation events that will happen this week will be for the East West Link and the replacement of the Old Mangere Bridge.

Communities will get the chance to have their say about two significant transport projects in their area – the East West Connections and the replacement of the of the old Mangere bridge.

The NZ Transport Agency and Auckland Transport say there is an open invitation for people to attend three community days planned for later this month. Two of them – at the Onehunga night market (Thursday 24 July, 6pm-10pm) and at Sylvia Park shopping mall near the foodcourt (Sunday 27 July, 10am-1pm) – focus on the East West Connections project. The third – at Waterfront Road Reserve, Mangere Bridge (Saturday 26 July, 10am-4pm) – will focus on both the East West Connections and the next stage of replacing the old Mangere bridge.

The Transport Agency’s acting Highways Manager, Steve Mutton, says the community days deliver on earlier commitments from the Agency and Auckland Transport to work with local people.

“We want to build on the great feedback we’ve had from people to replace the bridge and carry that on into the East West Connections programme. This is the latest step for us to ensure that we fully understand what people are experiencing when travelling in Onehunga, Mt Wellington, Otahuhu, Penrose, Mangere and East Tamaki,” Mr Mutton says.

Community input will help the Transport Agency and Auckland Transport develop their East West Connections programme to improve commuter and freight links, public transport and walking and cycling options over the next 30 years.

“We have already identified freight issues that need immediate attention in Onehunga-Penrose – that’s a key priority given the area’s importance for jobs and the Auckland and New Zealand economies. We will be working with stakeholders and the community in coming months as investigations progress for those improvements.

“But we are not losing sight of the issues people are facing in the wider area. The vibrant communities in the area are likely to experience a growth in the number of people who chose to live and work in them. The predicted growth will put additional pressure on the existing transport network”

“We’ve already identified the need to improve reliability of public transport between Mangere and Sylvia Park – there will be other areas for improvement. We want the conversation with local people now so that as we progress with improvements in Onehunga-Penrose, we can also continue to work with communities to address their issues,” says Mr Mutton.

The community day at Mangere Bridge on 26 July will also be a chance for people to see the proposed design for the new bridge connecting Onehunga and Mangere Bridge.

“The earlier feedback from the community was a catalyst for the project and guided the bridge design,” Mr Mutton says. “We’ve worked hard to integrate the community’s requests, and we’re optimistic that they will be pleased with our design when they see it.”

Some features of the original bridge will be retained, with the new structure curving towards the motorway bridge. It will be high enough for small boats to pass underneath. A wider span also means that some form of opening for larger craft is not precluded in future. Two artists have been commissioned to incorporate the area’s history and values into the design through art.

“Replacing the old bridge and the East West Connections are two very different projects with one similar outcome – helping the Transport Agency and Auckland Transport get the best solutions to improve the area’s transport network. We want to hear the views of people to help achieve that,” Mr Mutton says.

On the East West Link it will be interesting to see if they actually show what they plan to do for the project or if they will just talk about the need for it. This is especially the case as I know they showed business and road lobby groups exactly what they plan to build about 7 months ago.

We can get a bit of a background as to what they will show from some of the information on the AT website including this image which highlights all the issues they’ve identified in the area.

East-West Issues

For a big click the photo or for the original it’s from here (5MB).

This image (on the NZTA website) shows all of the projects going on in the area.

East West Other Projects Large

As for the Old Mangere Bridge Replacement this newsletter shows a couple of impressions of what it may look like.

Mangere Bridge Replacement Total

 

Business groups still pushing for East-West Motorway

The decision made on the East-West link a few months ago not to run a motorway through the suburbs of Mangere was a significant victory for the community. However it also made a lot of sense as the majority of the transport problems are on the northern side of the harbour. Subsequently AT have also effectively ruled out any options that involve creating a new bridge between Mt Wellington and Highbrook. My understanding is the current plan is a variation of option two and would see a new road created along the foreshore from roughly Captain Springs Rd through to Silvia Park Rd (which would be upgraded) and have direct south facing motorway links added. This is shown below with the new sections in blue and the upgraded section in red.

East-West Jan 14 option

Overall I think this is the right outcome for the project as it does enhance connectivity while making better use of existing infrastructure (the motorway and Highbrook Dr) while also likely costing significantly less than some of the other plans originally proposed. A case of probably getting 80% of the benefits for what may be 20% of the cost.

Immediately after the decision I heard there was quite a bit of anger from the road and business lobby groups who wanted a full motorway. The press release from the Auckland Chamber of Commerce (who I believe had been shown the plans along with other business/road lobby groups) contained a little bit of that anger calling the proposal only a partial solution. Their “other key requirements” would see the road turned into a full motorway between Onehunga and Highbrook. Also notice the use of the term RoNS to try and make the project sound more important.

“Auckland needs a full solution with an efficient and safe new road between SH1 and SH20 that eliminates traffic lights and intersections for trucks, avoids community severance and has a minimal impact on the industrial zoned land in the area,” said Auckland Business Forum chairman Michael Mr Barnett

“A partial solution is not acceptable. Given the national significance to the economy of the activity in the area, funding concerns should not restrict the design, consenting and construction by NZTA in an urban RONS basket.

“We need a complete solution presented covering freight as well as cars and buses and which can be consented and built by 2021 or earlier.”

This is in line with Prime Minister John Key’s confirmation last June that resolving the transport problems in this part of Auckland will be the Government’s next major focus for the Auckland transport network.

Other key requirements include:

  • At the western end – an upgraded Gloucester Park interchange with SH20 at Onehunga to eliminate heavy trucks having to enter the Onehunga retail area and local streets – Neilson, Onehunga Mall and nearby rail overbridge, Selwyn St, and Gloucester Rd;
  • At the eastern end – a full road interchange with SH1 adjacent to Mt Wellington that provides efficient, safe on-off south and north facing ramps;
  • Efficient connections to freight transport and distribution businesses located in the Southdown area, including along Great South Rd towards Penrose and Otahuhu;
  • Supports an east-west bus service and safe cycleway that is separate from heavy road traffic.
  • Protects the need to connect to AMETI and Highbrook, either as part of the project or in the future.

“To meet these requirements we suggest the best solution to date is a new road built along the northern shoreline of Manukau Harbour and which then cuts inland to link with the Southern motorway. This option avoids community severance and taking up valuable industrial land in a business growth area of Auckland that needs more land not less.”

It’s worth remembering some of the business community were also behind the suggestion of an 8-lane horror show which included over 4km of tunnels.

East-West Business Assciation proposal

So Auckland Transport made the correct decision and scaled the project down to what it should have been in the first case. Case closed right? Well it appears the business/road lobby aren’t going to give up that easy. This is an email sent to a number of people last week following on from an East-West Link discussion held by the Penrose Business Association. If you read the invite you will see they are also referring to pushing the option above.

Yesterday’s PBA’s “East West Link” meeting held at Turners Car Auction was very successful and well attended by an excellent cross section of business’s located between Onehunga and Highbrook including representatives from Road Transport, AA, EMA and the Auckland Chamber of Commerce.

As we move forward from this meeting the Penrose Business Association is keen to arrange a bus trip to explain at first hand to senior politicians and officers from both central and local government as well as business the range of roading opportunities that should be considered as we work towards finding the best solution to service one of the most important economic engine rooms in New Zealand.

It is only when you have the opportunity to visit these sites that you understand the scale of the transport operation that exists within our community which is largely out of site.

The transport companies shift some 15,000 cars from the Port of Auckland to Penrose each month, 4 container trains that depart MetroPort bound for Tauranga each day (currently down to two trains because of a locomotive shortage) and its only then that you realise how important a highly efficient transport system is and if done correctly brings significant savings for all of New Zealand.

To determine the interest level for the site visit please advise by return email if you wish to join the proposed bus trip which we propose to operate within the next 5 weeks.

I guess the point is that with this project in particular we’re going to continue to see a sustained push to make it larger and larger. Although in some ways this next suggestion might fall into that basket too.

A new Inland Port

You may recall this post where I looked at the East-West link and how it seemed to be primarily benefiting the Port of Tauranga through their Metroport operation. This suggestion looks at how the East-West Link could also help the Ports of Auckland.

When looking at the land around the area on Google Maps you may have noticed a large area covered in cars. This is shown in Green in the image below and the land happens to be owned by the Ports of Auckland Ltd (POAL). This is important because as you may know POAL currently run an inland port in Wiri however I understand that site is leased from Kiwirail and is smaller than what exists at Onehunga.

On the Northern side of the harbour much of the foreshore has already been reclaimed except for one section just to the east of the POAL land. With the East-West link going through this area along the foreshore and in a fairly straight line it would leave that section in yellow that hasn’t been reclaimed as a bit of an oddity. That raises the question of whether we could make use of it. Well there might just be a decent use for that area if it was reclaimed, most likely at the same time as the road was built. 

In addition to above, it would be quite useful for the rail network (in black) if we also grade separated the Westfield Junction, thus reducing one potential point of conflict on the network. At the same time as building the East-West link we could do that rail grade separation and perhaps more interestingly we could use that reclaimed section of land to provide a direct connection to POALs land (shown in Purple). That direction connection could allow POAL to shift their inland port operations to their own land, thereby reducing their operating costs and allowing them to compete better with the Port of Tauranga. Alternatively they could operate both. The new land could also provide a additional storage space in its own right.

East-West KR Siding option 1

The impact of such an idea could be quite large. With more capacity and a direct link it would allow POAL to shift a lot more freight by rail which helps reduce the number of trucks on our roads. Let me know what you think of the idea.

Further thoughts on the East-West announcement

Last night’s announcement that Auckland Transport and the NZTA have dropped the option of running a motorway through Mangere is great news and they should be commended for doing the right thing. However as usual it raises a lot of questions so I thought I would look into what impacts the announcement will have. Here it is again and I’ve emphasised some of of the statements I think deserve greater attention:

NORTH IS KEY FREIGHT PRIORITY FOR EAST-WEST

Auckland Transport and the NZ Transport Agency say that providing better connections for freight in Auckland’s industrial hub of Onehunga/Penrose will release early benefits for East-West related investments.

Auckland Transport Key Agency Initiatives Group Manager, Rick Walden says, “the work we’ve done to date supports focussing our efforts to the north of Manukau Harbour. This is likely to solve a number of transport-related issues in the economically significant area of Auckland.

Our focus on the north side is the key priority for our two organisations for at least the next decade and no new major road links will be progressed on the south side of the Manukau Harbour between SH1 and SH20 at this stage. This will be welcomed by communities in the South who have expressed concerns regarding the potential impacts of the East-West Link.”

Mr Walden says that Auckland is a growing city and in order to meet anticipated growth, future investment throughout the city – including South Auckland – will be required.

“We’ll continue to work closely and collaboratively with communities to find the best solutions to maximise our public transport infrastructure, as well as enhancements to existing roads before any new roads are considered.

The Transport Agency’s Acting Auckland Highways Manager Steve Mutton adds that evidence highlights the economic importance of the Onehunga/Penrose area, and that improving access for freight will be an important component of improving and growing Auckland’s economy.

“This area is Auckland’s industrial heartland employing some 60,000 people and it continues to grow. Ensuring that freight has safe and efficient connections to and from the state highways is a key priority for us.

Improvements being considered for the Onehunga/Penrose area provide better access for freight and commercial vehicles to the state highway network from this heavy industrial area – while keeping other road users safe.”

Our studies show that many of the benefits can be realised without major roading investments to the south side of the Manukau Harbour.” says Mr Mutton.

Mr Mutton says that further work is required to determine the preferred option and any likely impacts.

“We’ll continue to work with our stakeholders and customers as these investigations progress to make sure we get the best possible solutions in place for local communities and Auckland as a whole,” he says

To me there are two things the comments immediately suggest that are both quite important.

  • That they have heard the community’s wishes and are going for options that effectively don’t require difficult community consultation going forward.
  • That the scope is being limited to improving connections between the state highways on the northern side
  • The focus is now on using existing infrastructure where possible rather than massive new projects.

Pulling those three things together it suggests that straight away options 3 and 4 have been ruled out as both run through residential areas (note: for option 3 I am primarily talking about the part from SH1 to Highbrook).

East-West Option 3&4 gone

That leaves us with just options 1 or 2 – or perhaps a variant of one of those. I’m picking a variation of option 2 which is shown below (the only difference between 1&2 is the section of road in black along the northern side of the Mangere Inlet). The reason for this is the red upgrade suggested from Gt South Rd to SH1 and up Carbine Rd would also require removing houses from the community which would nullify the suggestions that people have nothing to worry about any more. Perhaps instead they would take the road North-east from Gt South Rd to connect at the Mt Wellington interchange. As for improving connections to SH20, perhaps improvements to Neilson St are being considered which would fit in with the comment about enhancements to existing roads first. I’m also picking the black section of new road between the Highbrook interchange and Gt South Rd has also been deleted.

East-West Option 2

If what I have suggested does happen the outcome wouldn’t be too bad and something I think we could live with. It’s certainly far better than the crazy and massively expensive options 3&4.

I’m quite interested to see what public transport infrastructure they are going to suggest. The only things that spring to mind in the immediate area is grade separation of the Westfield rail junction and bus priority on Mt Wellington Highway – particularly around/through the Mt Wellington interchange.

There are still a few things that concern me though. The comment that the focus is on the north side of the harbour for the next decade suggests that in they could build something like option 2 then come back in the future and try to build option 4 again – although I imagine the community would be even stronger in opposition by then. I’m also wondering if we could just be seeing the classic road builders approach. Scale the projet back and build the easy section in the middle between the two motorways to create some demand then come back in a few years claiming there is a missing link that needs to be completed.

 

On the whole I think the announcement is positive. There is definitely a problem in the area that needs to be solved and in my opinion the focus on improving existing routes first is definitely the right one. As I mentioned the other day I do think everyone involved should really be considering tacking on the project for a third rail line between Papakura and Otahuhu as part of this project and AT should also be requiring that the Port of Tauranga implement a vehicle management system. I have a couple of other ideas that I will explore in the future about projects that could be included at the same time.

Great East-West news

Auckland Transport and the NZTA have just announced that they have dropped all East-West Link options that go through Mangere. This is fantastic news and I understand a formal press release is coming out soon and will update this once that happens.

 

Update – Here is the official press release.

NORTH IS KEY FREIGHT PRIORITY FOR EAST-WEST

Auckland Transport and the NZ Transport Agency say that providing better connections for freight in Auckland’s industrial hub of Onehunga/Penrose will release early benefits for East-West related investments.

Auckland Transport Key Agency Initiatives Group Manager, Rick Walden says, “the work we’ve done to date supports focussing our efforts to the north of Manukau Harbour. This is likely to solve a number of transport-related issues in the economically significant area of Auckland.

“Our focus on the north side is the key priority for our two organisations for at least the next decade and no new major road links will be progressed on the south side of the Manukau Harbour between SH1 and SH20 at this stage. This will be welcomed by communities in the South who have expressed concerns regarding the potential impacts of the East-West Link.”

Mr Walden says that Auckland is a growing city and in order to meet anticipated growth, future investment throughout the city – including South Auckland – will be required.

“We’ll continue to work closely and collaboratively with communities to find the best solutions to maximise our public transport infrastructure, as well as enhancements to existing roads before any new roads are considered.”

The Transport Agency’s Acting Auckland Highways Manager Steve Mutton adds that evidence highlights the economic importance of the Onehunga/Penrose area, and that improving access for freight will be an important component of improving and growing Auckland’s economy.

“This area is Auckland’s industrial heartland employing some 60,000 people and it continues to grow. Ensuring that freight has safe and efficient connections to and from the state highways is a key priority for us.

“Improvements being considered for the Onehunga/Penrose area provide better access for freight and commercial vehicles to the state highway network from this heavy industrial area – while keeping other road users safe.”

“Our studies show that many of the benefits can be realised without major roading investments to the south side of the Manukau Harbour.” says Mr Mutton.

Mr Mutton says that further work is required to determine the preferred option and any likely impacts.

“We’ll continue to work with our stakeholders and customers as these investigations progress to make sure we get the best possible solutions in place for local communities and Auckland as a whole,” he says

The East-West Link and Metroport

Late last year there was a flurry of activity surrounding the East-West Link with fears that Auckland Transport were going to be pushing for a new motorway right though Mangere at the cost of hundreds of houses. Then in December AT and the NZTA backed down saying that they would be working with communities to get the best result for all. This was good, even though it seemed to take them far too long time to realise the community’s considerable level of upset at the plan. Even if AT end up choosing a different option to pursue there is an aspect that has been bugging me a bit about one specific part of the project – Metroport.

Metroport

Just in case you don’t know what Metroport is, it’s an inland port for the Port of Tauranga. Companies can drop off or pick up freight from there as if they were doing it to the seaport directly and the inland port contains all of the usual customs facilities needed to process freight. To get containers between Auckland and Tauranga containers are loaded on to trains and sent between the two sites. Truck congestion on Neilson St has been identified as an issue that can be improved through the construction of the East-West Link.

Booking System

I understand that truck congestion on Neilson St is a problem at certain points of the day as a heap of trucks try to enter or leave the Metroport site at the same time. Part of the problems stems from the fact that PoT don’t operate a vehicle booking system.

MetroPort is not planning to introduce a VBS, instead importers can enjoy the freedom of calling any time of the day or night to uplift their cargo to meet their supply chain requirements

They not only do they not run a VBS but use the fact they don’t as a marketing technique. Just like we have with congestion on the roads during the morning and afternoon peaks caused by a lot of people all going to/from work at the same time, truck congestion at Neilson St is caused by businesses wanting to pick up/drop off containers at the same time. Implementing a VBS which would tell customers when they could pick up their containers thus allowing the demand to be spread out more evenly across the day could solve many of the problems being caused and that could remove a decent chunk of the issue that the East-West Link is trying to solve.

The question is if we should really be looking at building infrastructure that could cost hundreds of millions of dollars just because one company doesn’t want to schedule its customers. In my opinion it is simply not right for a business to be able to impose those sorts of costs on the city just because they choose not to change their operations.

Note: I understand that the Port of Auckland do run a VBS thus helping spread movements out which is why we don’t tend to see the same issues outside of the port during the day.

Third Rail Line

Part of the problem with Metroport will undoubtedly be future growth that is predicted from the site and for that to happen it also means that there will be more trains between Auckland and Tauranga. That becomes an issue because those freight trains need to share the tracks with passenger trains in Auckland and there is only so many that can be run at any one time.

The official plans for the next decade include a project to construct a third main line between Papakura and Otahuhu at a cost of about $100 million and some parts have of it have already been built as part of the electrification works (south of Otahuhu and around the Wiri Depot). Kiwirail don’t know when they will be able to build the rest of the project as they say it is subject to funding. However behind the scenes I hear that Kirirail have been pushing hard for Auckland Transport to pay for the third main using the argument that it frees up capacity for AT to run more PT services.

The third main is something most people agree that we need and it would be silly to massively increase freight capacity for trucks to get to and from Metroport while leaving capacity constraints on the rail network. Perhaps the solution to this is to actually get that third main built by tacking it on with the East-West Link. That would really make the project multi-modal.

Competition with Ports of Auckland

The reason Metroport exists is to allow the Port of Tauranga to compete with the council owned Ports of Auckland for business from the Auckland market and owing to its increasing growth it has obviously been successful. The East-West Link will resolve some of those transport issues and that will ultimately make Metroport even more attractive and competitive.

Regardless of what option gets chosen with the East-West Link, Aucklanders are going to be paying for a decent chunk of it through rates. This raises the situation that ratepayers would end up paying for a project that helps to allow the Port of Tauranga to be more competitive against the the councils own investments in the Ports of Auckland. I guess the question for the council is at what point does this project become something more than just a transport project and actually take into account the wider impact on the council group. 

2013: A year in review – Part 2

In Part 2 of my 2013 year in review I’m going to look at transport other than PT so that includes walking/cycling and roads.

Walking/Cycling

2013 has been a bit of a mix when it comes to active modes. There have been some good things happen however in my opinion simply not enough has been done and from what I’ve heard (but haven’t confirmed) Auckland Transport spent well less than they had in the budget for cycling which is extremely disappointing.

Most recently we’ve seen that the council has agreed to allow the Skypath to move to the next stage where the council officers will come up with an agreement on the project with the financial backers before going to a vote some time in 2014. If that part is approved the project will still need to go through a formal resource consent process. The project isn’t without it’s challenges however with some members of the local communities on either side of the bridge determined to fight the project at every stage.

Skypath aerial

We’ve seen work begin on the Grafton Gully cycleway and Westhaven promenade and cycleway. Along Beach Rd Auckland Transport have finally proposed a proper separated urban cycleway which will probably the first one in Auckland. My understanding is the consultation saw the project get a lot of support so it is likely to go ahead which is great. There have also been some great new pedestrian (and cycling) bridges opened this year including the stunning Pt Resolution Bridge and the Westgate Pedestrian and Cycle bridge which includes quite a fun set of sweeping curves (which were to solve a grade problem).

In the CBD we’ve seen the shared space at the eastern end of Fort St completed while one on Federal St between Wellesley and Victoria St is now under construction. We also had it confirmed that O’Connell St would become a shared space which was a good result after what was initially proposed in 2012. I believe construction on the O’Connell St shared space will begin in early 2014.

Despite the slow progress of walking and cycling infrastructure we have continued to see cycling numbers increase in the city – it’s becoming much more noticeable all over the place. AT have a series of automatic cyclist counters around the city which show this increase.

Dec 13 Cycling

Roads of National Significance

Waterview

Waterview took some big steps forward this year and the project is really in full swing. The massive TBM arrived in July and starting its tunnel boring in November following quite a good public open day on the project in October. I’m not sure how fare in it is now but about 1.5 weeks ago it was about 70m in with the entire machine almost completely underground. The video below from the TBM’s facebook page from just before Christmas showing some of the progress

Also part of the Western Ring Route is the works along SH16 and anyone who has travelled on the motorway in recent months will have seen just how much work is going on. The motorway is almost a constant work-site from east of Carrington Rd through to west of Lincoln Rd. The one patch that isn’t – Te Atatu interchange – will likely start construction in 2014 while we will probably see work beginning on the St Lukes Rd interchange soon too.

Puhoi to Wellsford

Over 2013 we’ve seen the work on the Puhoi to Warkworth section advance culminating in the project being lodged with the Environmental Protection Agency late this year as the NZTA tries to obtain the designation. One of the funniest things I found about this is that despite all of the talk that the project was needed as a lifeline to Northland – all of the supporting documents effectively confirmed that the major traffic issues only really occurred at Holiday times (when many businesses are shut down anyway). We also found out this year the project will almost certainly be built by way of a PPP. There are different forms of PPP and not all are necessarily bad however the way this road (and others like it) will be built will see us paying huge ongoing sums to the private funders with little to no risk for them as they will be paid providing the road is open.

P2W Monthly Traffic Volumes

By contrast to the Puhoi to Warkworth section, there has been a deafening silence on Warkworth to Wellsford section. The last we heard the engineers were still unable to find a viable route for an expressway standard road. At this stage I would be quite surprised if it ever happened as originally envisioned and an operation lifesaver type solution is probably more likely – perhaps extending that kind of upgrade further north to Whangarei.

Other RoNS

We’ve seen work continue on the other RoNS projects. In Wellington Transmission Gully is being pushed ahead despite performing poorly in economic assessments. It will be the first project to use the PPP model that will also be used on Puhoi to Warkworth and it is expected the NZTA will announce the outcome of the process in early 2014. Recently we’ve also seen more about the NZTA’s attempt to get approval to build a flyover around the Basin Reserve. An independent review highlighted a number of issues with how the preferred solution was chosen.

Much more quietly work has continued on the RoNS projects in Tauranga, the Waitako and Christchurch.

Government motorway package

In June alongside the announcement that they will support the CRL, the government also announced an entire package of other road projects for Auckland, some that saw motorway projects previously planned for 20-30 years-time brought forward. Like with all big road transport projects these days there are actually some useful projects in the mix but they invariably get lumped in with some real dogs

Govt Transport Projects

The first of the projects to come out of this fast tracked list of projects was officially kicked off a few weeks ago and will see an extra land added northbound between Upper Harbour Highway and Greville Rd. It is one of those projects that is actually worthwhile but some of the other parts proposed in the area including full motorway to motorway ramps fall into the overkill category.

We are likely to hear a lot more about the progress of these various projects in the coming year.

East-West Link

One of the projects on the fast tracked list that has had a lot of attention, especially in the last few months has been the East-West Link. This has been another excellent example of there definitely being an issue that needs to be addressed but with some of the solutions being equivalent to trying to smash a nut with a sledgehammer (or something even larger). Auckland Transport came up with four different options with the worst by far being Option 4 which would have seen a motorway rammed through the suburbs of Mangere at a cost of many hundreds of homes. AT were planning on going to public consultation on the idea in the middle of 2014 – after the time when it was planned they would go to the government for funding for the project.

East-West Option 4

Thankfully due to public pressure Auckland Transport backed down and has now agreed to talk to and work with the local communities that are affected, not just the business communities like they had been doing. I would expect the East-West Link to be fairly prominent over the coming year.

Funding – Consensus building group

Of course paying for the massive wish-list of transport projects is going to be a difficult thing – unless we change the wish-list. To try and work out how we might do a Consensus Building Group was set up by the Mayor. The idea was to get representatives from different parts of society – including various business and advocacy groups – to sit down and work through the various funding options. The ended up on the conclusion that the below two options were the best ones but that option two would probably be better at managing travel demand. It was also the option overwhelmingly supported in the public consultation.

CBG options

In my opinion the process was fairly flawed as the CBG members were required to work off the assumption that the list of projects was not able to be changed to get the best outcomes, even if some of the options may have made some projects unnecessary e.g. if road pricing reduced travel demand then some of the roading projects might not be needed therefore reducing the overall amount we need to raise.

Other

Like with the PT projects, we’ve also seen a range of smaller things going on:

  • Work on Tiverton-Wolverton has continued and should hopefully be finished fairly soon (it’s looking fairly advanced already).
  • AMETI has been quietly progressed, the primary focus has been on the new road alongside the rail line however next year I expect we will start to see work in other areas – for example I hear the Reeves Rd flyover will be fast-tracked
  • Late this year we saw plans from AT for a massive upgrade and widening of Lincoln Rd. It’s a project I’m mixed about it, the road is a nightmare and needs improvement however some aspects are insane like intersections over 9 lanes in width.
  • Penlink has once again risen on the agenda after being silent for almost three years. AT is apparently trying to hook the project into the same PPP as will be used for Puhoi to Warkworth.
  • I don’t know if it’s just my perception but though-out 2013 there seemed to be a lot more crashes on motorways that ended up causing massive system wide meltdowns.
  • A potentially $600m+ bridge between Weymouth and Karaka popped up during unitary plan discussions but was thankfully rubbed out with greenfield development being focussed around the rail line negating the need for it

Anything I miss?

Overkill

We know that Auckland’s transport plans are completely unaffordable, a more interesting question is “why?” Much of the answer to that questions comes from what I refer to as “overkill”. Essentially, a solution that’s vastly oversized compared to the problem it’s trying to solve. There are a large number of examples of “overkill” when it comes to transport projects currently being planned:

  • The East West Link is perhaps the most obvious example, where somehow a bit of congestion around a couple of intersections at each end of Neilson Street somehow led to NZTA and AT proposing a gigantic and enormously destructive motorway through one of the most densely populated and deprived parts of Auckland. Yeah there are certainly some transport problems in the area but the jump to a huge motorway solution is a classic example of overkill.
  • The proposed motorway to motorway connection between SH1 and SH18 at Constellation Drive. The problem here appears to be a pinch point northbound on SH1 between SH18 and Greville Road and constraints around the interchanges themselves. Yet again the solution is to jump to a gigantic motorway-to-motorway mini-spaghetti junction that likely to cost upwards of half a billion dollars. What about just adding another lane northbound, extending the Northern Busway to Albany and then seeing whether anything else is actually necessary?
  • Puhoi-Wellsford is another classic example of overkill. Yes there are congestion problems around Warkworth, yes there are major safety issues in the Dome Valley and at specific points south of Warkworth, but it’s quite a jump to suggest the only solution to those problems is a massive new motorway that’ll cost close to $2 billion. Operation Lifesaver highlights how most of the benefits from the motorway can be achieved at a fraction of the cost by truly focusing on the problem at hand.
  • The recently proposed Lincoln Road widening project once again responds to legitimate problems like a lack of priority for buses, localised congestion and safety issues. Yet the respond is again overblown – massively wide intersections, slip lanes everywhere, extra lanes all over the place etc. The outcome is not just an overly expensive project, but a corridor that gets wider and wider – further degrading the urban form around it.
  • Penlink is a massive project to satisfy locals when the real problem is further north at Silverdale and can be solved with other smaller alternatives.

It seems like good transport planning should flush out what projects are overkill and what projects aren’t. An interesting comparison against the above projects is the process that the City Rail Link has gone through over the past few years – especially in the form of the City Centre Future Access Study, which looked in detail at a range of “smaller options” for resolving issues with access to the city centre – outlining which of these would be necessary anyway, which could occur prior to CRL being built but also the point at which the ‘small scale’ interventions need to become so significant you might as well do the job properly – in this case by building CRL.

Throughout the ITP there are a vast number of projects which are obviously “overkill”. Examples include $665m on Albany Highway (surely a typo?), around $800m on a section of Great South Road, a $150m motorway bypass of Kumeu, the $240m Mill Road corridor project and many others. Strip back these overkill projects so they really focus on the problems they’re designed to resolve and we’ve probably gone a long way towards solving our future funding shortfalls.

ITP Major Projects

NZTA/AT back down on East West Link – for now

An intriguing joint media release from NZTA and Auckland Transport emerged on Monday afternoon – highlighting a different approach to community consultation from the two transport agencies on the East West Link project going forward:

The NZ Transport Agency and Auckland Transport are asking community groups to help the two organisations find the best transport solutions to better link an economically growing south-west and south-east Auckland.

Existing transport in this important area – which includes Auckland International Airport, Mangere, Otahuhu, Onehunga, Penrose and East Tamaki – is already inadequate and with projected job growth there will be increasing pressure to better manage that increasing demand.

“We know that there are community concerns about a potential motorway solution, but there are a number of ways in which we can meet that demand. We do not have a preferred option – motorway or otherwise. We are asking communities to work with us to find the best possible answer to an important issue that will affect jobs, the streets families live in, and the way people and freight can move safely around this area,” says the Transport Agency’s Highways Manager, Tommy Parker.

Auckland Transport Key Agency Initiatives Group Manager, Rick Walden, says working openly with the community is a priority.

“We wanted to better understand the transport needs of this area, which we had been doing through local boards and other key stakeholders, before we began wider consultation. We’ve sensed a growing concern in the communities about this approach and acknowledge that we should have engaged the wider community from the start. We’ve heard what people have to say and we are responding to that immediately. We want to begin a more collaborative approach to discussing the issues and how best to deal with them together,” Mr Walden says.

“We want to work through issues like better public transport, walking, cycling and roading infrastructure with those communities.”

To be honest, this is fairly unsurprising outcome given the significant community backlash against the incredibly secretive process that NZTA and AT have undertaken so far in advancing the East West Link. Although this secretive process only seemed to extend to the local community as I have heard that businesses in Highbrook – and likely other areas – had already been approached for their thoughts on the various plans.

As I’ve discussed in recent posts, “Option 4″ for the East West Link is an incredibly stupid, expensive  and destructive project and it’s quite incredible that planning for it seemingly got so far down the track, despite the sustained opposition from the local board who were one of the only groups we know for certain that has been consulted with.

East-West Option 4

Option 4 isn’t the only bad option with Option 3 being quite destructive and likely very expensive.

Of course the media release was timed ahead of tomorrow’s first Infrastructure Committee meeting, where the Respect our Community Coalition who oppose the East West Link motorway will share their concerns with the Councillors. There’s also a report updating the Committee on the project, which surely gives the Councillors a great opportunity to share their concerns with the way Auckland Transport and NZTA have been advancing it over the past few months. Expect a few sparks to fly.

We’ve also proposed an alternative solution that would still provide many of the benefits of the East-West link but without needing to go to the great expense that is options 3 or 4.

While it’s obviously a good thing that NZTA and AT have recognised the errors of their ways in how they’ve advanced the project to date, I somehow doubt it’s completely dead yet. Once the road engineers get excited about a project, it takes a lot of effort to stop them.

An Alternate East-West option

Late last week we detailed a couple of options about the East-West link. The first was a suggestion by a local business group involving an 8 lane motorway between Onehunga and Highbrook which was primarily along the northern edge of the Manukau Harbour and while it is pretty extreme, isn’t overly that much different to the official Option 3. The second we looked at was Option 4 which was a motorway between Highbrook and the Mangere end of SH20A which would result in over 500 houses needed to be demolished.

Before I go further that I think it’s worth pointing out that just because I don’t agree with the motorway proposals that it doesn’t mean I don’t agree that something needs to be done in the area to improve transport. So I guess the question really becomes – what would we do differently?

Firstly as I mentioned there is definitely an issue that needs to be addressed. The presentation from earlier in the year shows that Neilson St in particular is one of the busiest freight routes in the country carrying more freight than any other local arterial and more than most of the RoNS as shown by the image below. There are also some fairly high traffic volumes on the nearby South Eastern Arterial (SEART).

East-West Freight movements

The next image from the presentation shows where the main traffic flows are

East-West Key Movements

AT also monitor travel times along the route that is Neilson St – Church St – SEART – Ti Rakau Dr and say that travel times along the route are unpredictable with the worst sections being Onehunga Mall to Captain Springs Rd, Beasley Ave to Gt South Rd and around Harris Rd in East Tamaki. I would classify Auckland Transports current four official options as either trying to make alternative routes more attractive with some local upgrades and a few new connections or massive duplication of what already exists through new motorways being options 3 and 4.

What seems to be missing is improvements to the existing route and when you look at the route closer it seems much more could be done.

Onehunga Mall Area

AT say that work has been going on to improve the Neilson St section between the SH20 off ramps and Onehunga Mall by widening it and the NZTA have recently finished upgrading the southbound on-ramp. Long term the documents indicate that the NZTA want a diamond interchange on to Neilson St which would likely simplify the Onehunga Mall intersection but I have heard the tried to get that when the harbour crossing was built but that it was denied consent. As such vehicles using the northbound on/off-ramps need to use Onehunga Harbour Rd. I wonder if longer term a connection could be made to the southern section of Galway St which would likely take pressure off that intersection. The current routes are shown below in red and blue while the connection I’m suggesting is in yellow.

East-West Onehunga Mall interchange

Neilson St

On Neilson St to the east of Onehunga Mall travel times are still an issue and when you look at a map you can see that the road drops down to a single lane – but a really wide one – all the way through to the intersection with Church St. To go further, we also know that freight movements are incredibly important in comparison to moving single occupant cars and so why not make that newly added lane a truck only lane allowing heavy vehicles to bypass the traffic if there did happen to be congestion. Further if Metroport is an issue – which people seem to say that it is – then a signalised intersection could be added to assist trucks from there to get into and out of the port. The total section to be widened is less than 2km and shown in blue while the Metroport entrance is the red dot.

East-West Neilson St widening

Church St – SH1

I’ll deal with the motorway next but this section seems to be the trickiest as the route is already four lanes wide and there are three major and likely difficult intersection with Neilson St, O’Rouke Rd and Gt South Rd. In addition the road also needs to cross over the rail line which further adds to the constraint. It is this section where probably the majority of the money needs to be spent. I’m normally against this in an urban area but I think we should perhaps consider grade separating these three intersections. The intersections do splay out a bit to provide turning lanes however there would still probably need to be some land take effectively ramps the bypassed roads but that would certainly be much less than if we needed to take land for a brand new all the way from Onehunga to Highbrook. The purpose of these three grade separated intersections would be to prioritise the through movement, both East-West but also North-South along Gt South Rd. Again the route is shown in blue and the intersections to be potentially grade separated are in red.

East-West Church St

SH1

For trucks heading between Onehunga/Penrose and the commercial areas to the east of Sylvia Park the SEART provides a connection through to Carbine Rd while trucks heading south towards Otahuhu can use Gt South Rd. However one of the major problems is for trucks travelling between the Onehunga/Penrose area and Highbrook as currently the only real option is to detour along local roads to get to the Mt Wellington interchange. To address this south facing ramps directly from SEART to SH1 could be considered. This would save about 1km in distance but also cut out a number of intersections so probably provides a lot greater time saving than just that.

The downside is that extra work is likely to need to be done so that any vehicles using these ramps don’t cause issues with the north facing ramps on the Mt Wellington Hwy interchange. This would most likely require the ramps to be weaved. In addition the bridge crossing the Mt Wellington Hwy would almost certainly need to be widened.

In total it would look something like this with the blue line being the current route for trucks heading south with the yellow being the new connections added. To get to Highbrook they would just use the motorway and the interchange and connection built not that long ago.

East-West SH1

Cost

The big thing in favour of this option would likely be the cost compared to the other full scale options. These are admittedly guesses but let’s say:

  • Onehunga new connection – about $2o million.
  • Widening Neilson St – $15 million
  • Church St – $30 million per interchange = $90 million
  • SH1 connection including Mt Wellington Hwy interchange upgrade – $100 million.

So all up we are have a total of ~$240 million and we have significantly upgraded the route which would then look something the blue line below while the red line represents Option 3 and the Yellow line Option 4. To put that into context I have heard suggestions that each of these could cost in the vicinity of $1.5 billion or more.  Sure Option 3 in particular is a much shorter route but is it really worth spending what could be ~$1.2 billion just to get that last bit of savings while causing massive disruption in the process. What’s more even if in the long term we do need something like Option 3, upgrading the existing route could put off the need for the project by decades saving us huge amounts in the meantime or we could put the motorway plan money to better use elsewhere.

East-West Total

In summary let’s focus on the existing route through a series of upgrades to both the road and to the intersections, possibly even grade separating some of them. Let’s see what kind of impact a concerted effort to improve the corridor can have before we jump straight to the nuclear option of more motorways that plough through residential neighbourhoods. If after all of that we still need the motorway solution then we can look at it again however that doesn’t mean the work suggested above will be wasted, just that it will have a different use.

Lastly if the road transport and business groups still think the motorway options are the best then it might also be worth someone asking them just how much of a toll they would be prepared to pay to use it, or are they expecting everyone else in the city/country to pay for it? I’m not saying it has to all be paid for with toll money but if the trucking companies aren’t prepared to pay for a substantial amount of it through tolls then you have to wonder just how valuable the road is to them over a more standard upgrade as suggested above.

Looking Closer at East-West Link Option 4

Yesterday I showed you the plan being pushed by one local business group as an option for the East West Link. From many angles it was really horrific but when it comes to social impact, the official Option 4 as described below would probably be even worse.

We learned about the official options in June this year when Auckland Transport presented to the Council’s former Transport Committee. It was a helpful presentation because it finally gave us some insight into the different options that were being looked at for this project. One of the options outlined in the presentation was what’s known as “Option 4″. It’s shown below and apart from the route, what’s important to note are the key problem areas identified in the red explosion shapes.

East-West Option 4

When the implications of this option became clear there was quite a lot of community disquiet, including from Mayor Len Brown, who said that hundreds of homes shouldn’t be sacrificed for the project. There was also a One News item on the project a few days ago (click on the photo to go through to the video). Notice Auckland Transport say they will consult with the community around the middle of next year, that’s later than when the government will apparently be making a funding decision on the project which raises serious questions as to how much real consultation there will be.

tv1-news

We had initially thought that the uproar meant this option was basically a non-starter (reinforced by the fact that it’s actually a long way away from the problem areas, as shown in the map above). However, the “Project Auckland” pieces earlier this week seemed to include a concerted effort to focus on the East West Link project, which concerns us that perhaps Option 4 is not yet dead and buried.

So let’s have a look more closely at its route using the Council’s GIS viewer to get an idea of what would be impacted upon. First a few assumptions:

  • Required corridor width of around 60 metres which is consistent with the width of SH20A
  • Consideration of likely interchange locations (following what’s in the image above)
  • Full motorway to motorway interchanges at both SH20 and SH1

Let’s start at the Airport end:

option4-1

To enable the links with SH20 and SH20A we see most of Mangere Centre Park being taken over. From there I’m expecting the route will follow an old and now non-existent designation towards the North East (it’s easy to spot if you look at the property boundaries). This almost isn’t surprising as I’ve also heard that for a while now the highway network team within the NZTA have been re-energised by the governments support and have been busy pulling out all of old plans to see what else they could get away with.

In terms of property impacts, if we’re just looking at the section west of Archboyd Avenue I see around 150 houses directly in the path of the motorway. Perhaps most significantly of all, the proposal would divide the Mangere East community – which is one of the most deprived and densely populated parts of Auckland.

Tracking further to the northeast, we can see where the motorway would roughly go next:

option4-2

The impact on houses in this section is slightly less than before because we start to get into an industrial area. Nevertheless, by my calculations this section would involve the demolition of around 50 houses in the area west of Savill Drive (the road running northwest to southeast through the aerial above) and the demolition of around another 20 houses in the area directly east of the railway line. Clearly there would also be an impact on the industrial land and there’d need to be some major bridge/viaduct to get over the railway line and Savill Drive.

In the next section it’s a bit more difficult to interpret where Auckland Transport’s presentation suggests the route should go – and our impact on the neighbourhoods, schools etc. ramps up again. Here’s a best guess, including an interchange with Great South Road shown in blue:

option4-3

Obvious areas of significant impact include on Otahuhu College – which loses its playing fields to a giant motorway – and on the large number of residential properties in this area which would need to be demolished. A quick count suggests that for this section alone that could reach around 100 west of Otahuhu College (a remarkably dense little area when you look closely) and then around another 80 between Otahuhu College and East Tamaki River – potentially more to mitigate the effects of the interchange with Great South Road).

After a bridge across the Tamaki River we come to the interchange with SH1 (approximate and likely overly conservative estimate of the extent of the motorway to motorway link is shown in blue) and the link with the existing Highbrook Drive. In essence, the impact of the motorway on this area is the completely destruction of the community of Wymondley including the local primary school:

option4-4

The total number of houses lost in this section of the project is around 130 – it would be much more except this is actually a really low density area. As I said before, Wymondley Primary School would be demolished as part of the motorway to motorway interchange under this option.

Overall we see a total of around 530 houses in direct line of the proposed motorway, plus quite a few schools. That’s a huge impact – especially as Auckland currently has a pretty significant housing shortage. But perhaps the greater impact is when you consider where the project goes – right through the heart of many of Auckland’s most deprived and most fragile communities. Such widespread demolition, the enormous severance effect, the destruction of schools, the removal of open space in places like Mangere, the complete removal of the Wymondley community… the list goes on.

There is no doubt this is a bad project. It will be enormously expensive and worse it doesn’t actually go near where the problems are as all of the other information so far released describes the issues as being further North. In fact it seems to so completely miss the point you have to wonder why it is even an option at all. When you look at the map of everything being proposed (first image) the only explanation I can think of is that this is basically being designed as a motorway to get the residents of the Howick and Pakuranga area to get to the airport faster.

In addition to its cost and destruction it will also just put more pressure back onto the core of State Highway 1 between the city centre and Otahuhu (by directing airport to city traffic that way rather than via the Waterview tunnel) and most of all it will cut a swathe across a part of Auckland that needs our help – not complete destruction. In fact, because of its enormous environmental and community impact it’s probably even worse the Additional Harbour Crossing project. That’s one hell of a dubious honour.