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.
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.
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).
The next image from the presentation shows where the main traffic flows are
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
Warning: if you have a weak stomach or scare easily then I’d recommend you don’t read on.
As I noted the other day, there seems to really be a concerted push at the moment on the East-West link. It was a strong feature in the Project Auckland op-eds and was of course named as one of the key projects by the government back in June. I’ve also heard that despite not having a (publicly) confirmed route or a business case, decisions on it are being made very quickly and that it’s going to cabinet for approval and funding in April next year. The real push for the project seems to be coming from the business community and as also mentioned the other day the councils support for it is believed to largely be a concession for the business community supporting the CRL.
While the route is yet to be officially decided, the purpose of this post is to highlight the kind of thinking and pressure that the various transport agencies are being placed under by business groups (not that they need a lot of encouragement). What has been proposed is appears to be very similar to what is known as Option 3, a reminder of which is below
The image below has been sent to me by multiple people and was created by one business group as an indication of what they would like to see. They have called it Option 8 and a couple of notable points are
- An underground interchange at with SH20 at Onehunga
- An additional crossing of the Manukau Harbour
- An 8-lane motorway from Onehunga to Highbrook (4-lanes per direction) with trains down the middle (who knows where they’re going)
- 4.2km of tunnel (still 4-lanes per direction) from Westfield to Highbrook
- New freight expressway going North-South along the foreshore at Otahuhu and another on Favona Rd
- Massive scale traffic roundabouts (more on these soon)
- Massive foreshore reclamation to try and pretend this is good for the local community
In addition to these points I also note they think the benefits should be assessed over a 100 year period. The NZTA have only recently increased the assessment criteria from 30 to 40 years so this is substantially longer and I wonder what the BCR of the CRL would be if we assessed it over the same length of time (hint: it would be massive)
The expression of “using a sledgehammer to crack a nut” springs to mind when I look at this.
As mentioned there are some massive scale roundabouts being mentioned as part of this proposal and are identified by the blue and yellow dots. Below is what they are proposing for these.
Attached with this was a feedback form trying to get support for various aspects including
How do you rate Option 8 as detailed on the attached drawing – Low Support | | Medium Support | | High Support | |
Undertake an economic study by independent party. To include
Water Sewage Spend
Plant & Buildings
Number of Employees
Number of Businesses
Reduction of carbon footprint
More efficient use of vehicles (possible reduction in fleet numbers)
Use of harbour sediment for multimodal link (serious environmental issue)
A true multimodal transport link to meet needs of all community
Life expectancy of East West Link
Savings to national economy based on all options and do nothing
Transport and Vehicle Ownership
Road Tax Paid
PWA requires a major overhaul to become a good faith document
Use different approach to roading design
Include interchange connection with SH1
Reduce traffic volumes through established communities
Tunnel under Tamaki River as a seamless transport corridor
Reclamation of Harbour encouraged if results in open pubic green space
I was going to try and resist responding to the points but some are almost so hilarious I couldn’t help myself
Reduction of carbon footprint - Right so ploughing a new 8 lane motorway through will help with that
Reduce traffic volumes through established communities – I guess if you just wipe the communities out with a massive road then it can work a treat.
All up the proposal is truly horrific in how massive it would be yet even this is potentially not the worst option out there for the project (more on this tomorrow). But as I said at the start, it does show the kind of thinking that is coming out of some of our business groups about transport and highlights the kind of thinking that is still prevalent in some (powerful) sectors of the wider Auckland community.
The Herald today has a large amount of op-eds on what is being called Project Auckland which is looking at how Auckland is going to develop and as you would expect, housing and transport features very heavily. Op-eds include
Now I’m not going to comment on every single article but rather some of the general themes within them, although I will pick out a few individual comments that have annoyed me (as I seem to be in a grumpy mood today which is quite unusual).
The really positive thing about all of the pieces is that in general people think the city is heading in the right direction and considering how much has had to be done by the council over the last few years to merge all of the various council plans and policies together. Things could have easily gone quite wrong and so the council staff (from all organisations) and the politicians need to be congratulated for that.
Of course not everything has been plain sailing and there have been (and still are) a number of issues that haven’t been handled ideally. The Unitary Plan is one of those where the lack of clear enough information about what was proposed led to the development of groups like Auckland 2040 that used misinformation and scare tactics to oppose the plan. In the article about the Unitary Plan I wanted to highlight some of the positive comments in relation to it. First from Penny Hulse
“It’s not about cramming in another one million people but having timely infrastructure, so people moving here are not shocked by bad planning. If people don’t arrive as we thought, then the houses won’t get built as fast. That’s life.
“But we can’t let Auckland languish with a housing crisis, and we can’t let shoddy design continue and building take place in the wrong places,” she says. “I’m comfortable where we have got to in the Unitary Plan process, and we can keep building trust about the whole concept of intensification.
“There are huge benefits about being able to walk to the shops and work, and live in a vibrant community. Some people see intensification as frightening but if it’s done well then it can be transformative.”
And from Chief Planning Officer, Roger Blakely
So the traffic problem is resolved within 30 years?
“Yes,” says Blakeley.
“We will have high quality, high frequency rail and bus services. We will have lots of dedicated cycling and walkways. They are more cost- effective than building more roads, and cars are an inefficient way of moving people around the city.
“The city rail link will be finished, and there will be rail to the airport and North Shore (via the second harbour crossing). Bus services will feed into the rail, and the Skypath on the existing harbour bridge will link up the cycling and walking network.
“The 1960s saw cars take over cities around the world with large freeways and parking lots. But the cities lost their human scale,” says Blakeley.
The residential plans are designed to bring a new face to Auckland. “We have to have a flexibility of choice in housing that meets different needs and different budgets. This need is with us now,” Blakeley says.
“Soon there will be more one or two person households than three persons plus – our present housing stock is not geared to meet that need. We need a mix of terraced and town houses, apartments and single houses on a section.”
Hear hear but how we get our transport agencies and the government to understand this is a different story. And this:
“What we noticed in the debate was the generational gap,” Blakeley says. “The older people who went to the meetings organised by Auckland 2040 objected loudly to the intensification.
“But the younger people who were active on social media wanted to live in a more intensified city – they wanted to experience the extra vibrancy that comes with that, including cultural, retail and recreational activity.
“We are talking about international best practice, here,” he says. “Vancouver has done it, and Copenhagen and Vienna are also following the quality, compact city strategy. As the Danish architect Jan Gehl (he’s an adviser to Auckland) said in his book Cities for People, ‘you can’t keep sprawling outwards’.”
Blakeley says “we saw a lot of Nimby (Not In My Backyard) during the Unitary Plan debate. I’m convinced that when more and more people see examples of housing development that embodies flexibility of choice, quality and affordability, they will become comfortable with the idea of intensification.”
He names developments by Hobsonville Land Company at Hobsonville Point and Ockham Investments at Kingsland, Ellerslie and Grey Lynn as examples of future living in Auckland. He says they have a range of sizes and types of housing, ensuring it’s quality at a price people can afford.
“We didn’t get all the intensification we hoped for in the proposed Unitary Plan this time, but it will be reviewed perhaps every five to 10 years, and there will be the opportunity to change the zoning of some areas.”
The generational issue is a serious one. Most of the older people who are objecting to the plan aren’t the ones who will be around in 30 years-time having to live with the outcomes of scaling back the Unitary Plan. We’ve also talked before about how the plan will need to be revisited in the future due to the downscaling that occurred. Once again Auckland 2040 has been allowed to spout a pile of rubbish in the article.
During the Unitary Plan debate, Takapuna neighbours Guy Haddleton and planner Richard Burton formed Auckland 2040 which finished up in an alliance with more than 70 residents’ associations and other groups, including Character Coalition.
Auckland 2040 was opposed to intensification in the suburbs.
Burton says Auckland 2040 “got 70 per cent of what we were after. The rest is detail in the Mixed Housing Suburban zone – that is still very intensive.
“Originally, the draft plan allowed unrestricted apartment building of three or four storeys over 56 per cent of the residential land in Auckland. That has come down to 15 per cent, and from that point of view there’s a degree of rational thinking in the council.
“Their desire is to focus higher intensity development around the town centres and along arterial routes, and I think that’s appropriate.”
Burton is concerned that rules for height to boundary, coverage and yards have been relaxed too much, particularly when they are applied to existing built-in neighbourhoods.
“They will have quite a significant impact – for instance, adjoining rear yards will be one metre each rather than 6 metres and there will be no room for plantings.
A couple of glaring errors in here, first 56% of the residential land in Auckland wasn’t allowed three or four storey apartment buildings, that figure was the amount of land covered by the centres, terraced house and apartment (THAB) zone and the Mixed Housing Zone (MHZ). The MHZ made up the vast majority of that and had a height limit of 8m which is roughly two storeys. Developers would only have been able to go above that with resource consent and even then only to 10m. As a result of the feedback the MHZ was split into two zones Urban (MHU) and Suburban (MHS).
The second major issue is the comment that backyards will be one metre from each other. While the rules for each of the Mixed Housing Zones have a 1m minimum setback on the sides and rear of a house, they also have a requirement for an outdoor living space off the main living area with set conditions i.e. if the living area is on the ground floor there has to be an area with a minimum of 20m² and no dimension less than 4m in length. So while there is technically a minimum of 1m other requirements also need to be taken into account to understand the full picture of what is proposed.
As mentioned the other major theme is transport and as we have come to expect from transport discussion in the city, most of the talk is about how we need to rapidly invest in infrastructure to “catch up”. However as Lester Levy notes, AT also need to improve the way it deals with it’s customer – us the general public.
The other half of the “walnut” essential to making Auckland’s transport system world-class is what I describe as the “software”. This is the mindset and culture within which Auckland Transport needs to deliver a customer-sensitive transport service, which means providing services that are characterised by precision (reliability and punctuality) and responsive service – we and our partners (the providers of our bus, ferry and train services) have much work to do in this area and I have made it my highest priority to finally get this fixed.
The HOP rollout has been dealt with shows we still have a long long way to go on this.
On the infrastructure side though there is a very clear push through quite a number of the pieces about the East-West Link. The project is one that came from obscurity to be ranked one of the most important in the region in The Auckland Plan a few years ago and there has been a strong indication that the council’s support of it was the price to pay for the business community supporting the CRL. It is now being moved well ahead of the CRL in the overall timeline and the government is expected to agree to a funding package for it next year despite there not having even been a business case completed for it yet, let alone a confirmed route – although I’m also hearing that option 4, the route that is the most destructive, most expensive and that has the least benefit for freight is the one that is now the front runner. It makes me wonder if all these mentions of it is part of a concerted effort to soften up the public on the need for it.
I also want to once again highlight one of my biggest bugbears of Auckland Transport underselling the benefits of the CRL.
CRL will mean Britomart becomes a through station, opening the way for 10-minute train services in peak times to Panmure, which in turn will be able to connect with more frequent feeder bus services to suburbs further to the east such as Pakuranga, Howick, Ti Rakau and Botany.
How many times to we have to remind AT that the frequency being talked about in the article is possible in the next year or two and that the CRL allows for double that i.e. 5 minute train services at peak times. It might not sound like that big of a deal but the way people perceive the difference between even 5 and 10 minute services can be quite substantial. The reason AT keep underselling it is they are afraid to promise anything in case they aren’t able to deliver it but they fail to realise that if they keep underselling the project then it risks losing public support.
As I said at the start, the good thing is that we are generally heading in the right direction but we do need some tweaks to get the best outcome.
A couple of months ago the government finally announced that they would support the City Rail Link, albeit with a later start date than the council are pushing for. A few days later they then went on to announce a massive road building binge including upgrades/additions to the areas around the interchange of SH1 and SH18, the Southern motorway south of Manukau and SH20A to the airport. Along with this they also agreed on major support for the AMETI project and the East West Link while pushing ahead with designation for an additional harbour crossing.
In each of the roading projects – perhaps with the exception of another harbour crossing – we feel that there are probably some key parts that are worthwhile while other bits that seem over the top. What we definitely don’t agree on is the suggestion that these projects will be moved ahead of the CRL which gives the package the definite feel of an asphaltaholic statement of ”just one more road project then we can quit and build the PT”. Of course for these asphalt junkies there is always just one more road that needs to be built first.
One area where the government have been light on details is what the actual costs and benefits of each project are. Well looking through the parliaments questions for written answer section I found the questions from Julie Anne Genter asking about the costs and benefits of the various projects. The answers from Gerry Brownlee are help to shed a bit more light, and concern on the projects.
First the costs.
I have been advised that the most recent cost estimates for the named projects are as follows.
- Auckland City Rail Link – $2.86 billion. This figure is the revised number Auckland Council and Auckland Transport are now using for the project, and includes the additional rolling stock and track upgrades on the wider rail network needed to implement the project.
- Second Waitemata Harbour crossing – $4.7 billion for a tunnel crossing.
- Auckland Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative (AMETI) – $1.5 billion.
- East-West Link – indicative cost of $1 billion.
- Completing a motorway-to-motorway link between the Upper Harbour Highway and the Northern Motorway at Constellation Drive - $400 million for the current scope of works for the corridor which include:
- Upgrading State Highway 18 (Upper Harbour Highway) to motorway standard
- Motorway-to-motorway connections between State Highway 1 and State Highway 18 (both directions)
- South-facing ramps between State Highway 1 and State Highway 17 (Albany Expressway/Greville Road)
- Widening the Southern Motorway between Manukau and Papakura – the estimated cost of widening State Highway 1 between Manukau and Papakura, including a new interchange at Takanini, is $250 million.
- Upgrading State Highway 20A link to the airport to motorway standard - $110 million for the current scope of works for the corridor which include:
- Upgrading and widening of State Highway 20A
- Grade separation of Kirkbride Road.
There are a couple of interesting points in here.
- Auckland City Rail Link – It’s good to see them finally acknowledging that this isn’t just about a tunnel in the CBD but that the costs include a wider network upgrade
- East-West Link – This is much more than what was budget for in the Auckland Plan and the Integrated Transport Programme which suggested $600m. Does this suggest the thinking is for a more expensive motorway type solution like has been pushed by groups like the NZCID?
- Completing a motorway-to-motorway link between the Upper Harbour Highway and the Northern Motorway at Constellation Drive - No mention of extending the busway through this section like we thought may have been included making this piece of work appear to just be a roadfest
- Widening the Southern Motorway between Manukau and Papakura - The ITP projected this as $500m so this is half the price, still expensive though and I imagine most of it is in the Takanini interchange.
- Upgrading State Highway 20A link to the airport to motorway standard – Again this is cheaper than in the ITP which suggests $235m. I can understand the desire to grade separate Kirkbride Rd but not sure what the point of widening the road is.
Another key point is we don’t know if there are any particular details about the costs, for example we know that the CRL has had its costs inflated to the predicted year of spend but we don’t know if that has happened with the other projects. We also don’t know if the other projects have been though much more detailed costing’s like the CRL has, we know they certainly haven’t had the same level of scrutiny.
Moving on to the benefits the point above becomes even more relevant as the benefits are all listed in Net Present Value terms and that will have happened after taking into account issues like the assessment period and discount rate. This means we can’t do a straight calculation to work out the Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR). It’s worth noting that Julie Anne did ask for the BCR for the projects but was just referred to this table.
The thing that is really striking on here is the East-West link has been effectively been given a green light when its benefits have yet to be assessed. Even just last month Gerry Brownlee was suggesting a funding package for the project will being signed off soon. The whole thing has the stench of the RoNS approach all over it – agree to a project before actually working out if it is worthwhile.
Lastly regardless of what way you look at the numbers, the additional Waitemata harbour crossing project really does look like a dog. If it wasn’t being pushed by politicians (of almost all colours and ideology) then I suspect we wouldn’t even be hearing about it as the economic assessment would have buried it long ago.
Unsurprisingly last week’s transport announcements were a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to transport spending in Auckland. Overall I guess the good news is that central government finally supports the City Rail Link – making opponents of the project look pretty isolated. Judging from Dick Quax’s tweet the opposition is already fading away:
Critically, the announcements also highlight that the government has backed the previously most controversial part of the Auckland Plan – it’s transport chapter. Finally, after two and a half years of arguing, it seems that central government and Auckland have a similar vision for the city’s future. The Herald is right in noting that this is undoubtedly a massive victory for Len Brown – the result that he’s been pushing for basically ever since he was elected mayor.
Looking in a bit more detail, we start to see that in every section of the major announcements there’s generally a bit of good news but also some pretty dumb aspects of many of the projects that presumably will get weeded out as time goes on. Let’s work north to south – starting with the link up of State Highway 18 and State Highway 1:
Mention of improvements to the Northern Busway is a big positive here – hopefully that means extending the busway right through to Albany, a project that seems like it’s utterly essential in the near term but for some reason has dropped off the radar in the past few years. Probably because it stupidly gets lumped together with further extensions to Silverdale or Orewa which will only make sense in the much longer term.
Furthermore, there’s a pretty good case to do something around here to improve the way SH18 links with SH1 as the current Upper Harbour Highway is a bit of a mess, plus the section of motorway between SH18 and Greville Road seems to suffer from a lot of merging issues. I just struggle to see whether that something has to mean a $500 million or more giant motorway interchange as per the current plans:Presumably some further options analysis will occur here as NZTA figures out how to make its budgets work with all these new projects being lumped in – and perhaps we might end up with something a little more sensible and less expensive.
We’ll come back to how we could do an alternative Harbour Crossing better in a future post, and obviously most of our focus in the past few days has been on the City Rail Link, so let’s shift our focus to the southeast and the AMETI/East-West Link project. AMETI is a series of projects between Panmure and Botany – most crucially including a full busway from Botany to Pakuranga and onto Panmure. While there are some pretty dumb bits of AMETI, like the ugly Reeves Road flyover, generally the approach of the project has morphed over time and a strong component now is to provide the additional capacity for public transport (in the form of the busway) rather than road widening, with the project’s spending on roads generally being on new connections that enable the bypassing of busy town centres. It’s just a shame how horrifically ugly that flyover’s going to be:
Shifting on to the East-West Link project, it was only fairly recently that we began to learn the details about this project and the different options being looked at. All the different options look overblown and really destructive in terms of their environmental and community impacts – particularly the options which it seems the government wants to see, full motorway links between SH20 and SH1:
So another Tamaki River crossing, massive demolition of housing along Panama Road, a big motorway junction through the volcanic crater and Onehunga in option 3. Option 4 is perhaps even worse:
The same issue at Onehunga. Perhaps close to the same issue around Panama Road plus untold demolition of houses through Mangere East as the previously protected motorway corridor through here was sold off decades ago and put into housing.
The big issue I have with the East West Link is that we don’t actually even know whether this level of destruction, and the costs associated with it, are actually necessary or not. Of course there are lots of stories about trucks getting stuck in congestion along Neilson Street and clearly freight volumes are high through this part of Auckland – but what about some smaller scale interventions?
- Truck lanes on Neilson Street?
- A signalised intersection providing access into Metroport from Neilson Street?
- Widening the Neilson Street bridge over the railway line?
- Smaller scale interchange improvements at Onehunga?
- South-facing motorway ramps that link into the Southeast Arterial?
For this reason the East West Link actually reminds me quite a lot of the Puhoi to Wellsford project. In both cases there’s a definite problem that needs to be solved but in both cases smaller scale improvements that may deliver really significant benefits are being completely ignored in favour of massively expensive and destructive motorway options – seemingly for political reasons only.
Shifting further south again, a fairly major widening of the Southern Motorway from Manukau through to Papakura was included in the announcements:
Once again there’s quite a good argument that something needs to be done on this part of the motorway. Where SH20 and SH1 come together in the southbound direction you go from five lanes (three on SH1 plus two on SH20) down to two lanes in a pretty short space of time. This creates massive problems in the evening peak period. Furthermore, the Takanini interchange has some pretty substandard and unsafe parts to it – particularly the northbound onramp which has a very short merge. We’ll probably wait and see the details on this one but I suspect once again the approach is probably overblown: heaps of new lanes everywhere just to shift the queue slightly north or south depending on the peak direction. Adding lanes northbound in particular seems pretty stupid as it’ll just get cars to the Mt Wellington bottleneck faster. Of note the ITP lists the project as costing over $500 million
Finally, we come to SH20A improvements – the road to the Airport.
I guess it’s because politicians spend such a lot of their time travelling to and from airports that these routes tend to get a rather stupid amount of attention. Just a few years back the Mangere Bridge was duplicated, which added an absolutely crazy amount of additional capacity and freed up SH20 during peak periods (at least for a few years). While it’s a bit strange the Kirkbride Road intersection isn’t grade separated, I tend to think that the real transport bottleneck actually occurs at the Airport because all the roads effectively feed into a single roundabout and then one signalised intersection. Once again, making it quicker to get to the bottleneck seems like a waste of money to me. It’s also frustrating that there’s not even any mention (even in a route designation way) of Airport Rail. What on earth has happened to that project – I might need to LGOIMA Auckland Transport over it to see what they’ve been doing for the past two and a half years.
Overall, as I said at the start of the post there are useful bits of the announcements (CRL aside which is obviously a massive positive) in that we might see a Northern busway extension and an AMETI busway happen faster now. But there’s also a whole heaps of “over the top” projects which are pretty unlikely to achieve lasting benefits or could be replaced by far far cheaper projects which would deliver most of the benefits at a fraction of the price. It will certainly be fascinating watching the details of all this unfold over the next few months in particular.
In announcing that the government was finally going to come to the party and support the CRL, John Key has also made it clear that the project is going to be just one part of an overall package of transport projects in the city. We will have to wait till tomorrow to find out exactly what they are but I thought I would look at some of the most likely candidates.
The best outcome from my perspective would be a package of PT projects perhaps including rail to the airport, rail to the shore and some busways. Perhaps something like below. It might be unlikely but one can dream can’t they?
Perhaps the most likely announcement is something to do with the East-West Link. John Key is announcing the transport package at the Auckland Chamber of Commerce and this project has been one of their key ones. The project would see new roads built and existing ones upgraded to create new links between either Onehunga or Mangere and Highbrook. The option that has been talked about the most in the past has tended to be option 3 which is a brand new road (new roads in black, upgraded roads in red)
Personally I think that there is definitely a need to improve transport in this area but most of what is suggested seems like a solution in search of a problem.
There are two potential projects that would fall into this category.
The Eastern Highway - Gerry Brownlee breathed new life into this project back at the end of April with the way he answered a question from John Campbell. Back then I made this observation:
At first I thought it was really odd the way that Brownlee talked about AMETI and whether that would happen as it is well under way and he has even visited the construction site. Re-watching the video, it then becomes clear that he is talking about a reviving of the eastern motorway. Did Brownlee just let slip that the government is now considering building it? It would certainly fit in with some whispers I have heard.
Bringing back the Eastern Highway would be a massive change in transport policy as it doesn’t exist on any of our current planning documents, although there is still a designation for it.
Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (AWHC) – After the East-West Link this is probably the next most likely transport project to get a nod from the government. It would definitely be popular with many people on the North Shore but the reality is it is a really really stupid project. For starters it adds a huge amount of capacity across the harbour making it easier to drive and potentially putting a lot more cars onto our city streets, right at a time when we are trying to reduce the number in the city.
The most recent business case found that a road tunnel under the harbour would cost around $5 billion and have a benefit to cost ratio of 0.2, in other words for every $1 invested we would only get 20c back. What’s more that was on the back of some very dodgy traffic growth figures. The business case assumed growth would continue at the same rate it historically has but didn’t take into account the fact that traffic volumes had fallen substantially in recent years. Even if growth returned to the level it was previously, which is unlikely given the trends we are seeing elsewhere, the need for a new crossing has been pushed back almost indefinitely.
Are there any other projects that you think will be tacked on to the CRL?
I’ve talked before about how as part of The Auckland Plan, that councillors couldn’t help but lose their focus and instead of providing the high level strategy, goals and objectives went and created the biggest transport wish list the city had ever seen. The only debate was some jockeying for position around which projects should have the highest priority. As the debate about the plan reached the home straight, there was one project which seemingly came from nowhere to get a podium finish, the East-West Link.
The project is one that is being championed strongly by many in the business community which is probably why it managed to emerge from almost nowhere. It is also sometimes known as the middle rung on the state highway ladder although once Waterview is finished, the real middle rung is SH16 between Waterview and the CMJ. In another example of not being able to actually make a decision, the council ended up lumping the East-West link – on which no work had been done – in with AMETI which been through years of planning and was just about to start construction. The project is described in The Auckland Plan as:
The East-West Link is a proposed strategic transport corridor that will connect the Western Ring Route (SH20) at Onehunga and the Southern Motorway (SH1), providing improved access to the rail freight hub at Metroport and major employment areas, such as East Tāmaki. This link will address the high traffic and freight movements on congested local roads, provide efficient freight movements between SH20 and SH1, and between industrial areas and the port and airport. This link will also enable east-west improvements for public transport, walking and cycling. The total cost of both projects is estimated to be $2.6 billion.
Earlier investigations into the route by the NZTA came up with some very expensive and horrific looking options.
At the Councils Transport Committee meeting last week a presentation was given on the status of the project. One of the first slides shows just how massive an area the East-West link project area covers in comparison to AMETI which itself is very large. A key driver for the project is enabling easier freight movements between the large commercial area that covers from Onehunga in the West to East Tamaki in the East, areas which have some of the highest freight volumes in the country.
Because this region of town is also home to all of the key pinch points between the southern Auckland and the rest of the city, it just helps to add even more complexity in as this map of the various key movements shows.
The presentation then goes on to show the four options that are being considered by Auckland Transport, each has a different focus and set of projects associated with them however there are some common elements to all of them. I’ll cover them first before going into the options.
SH20 Onehunga Interchange – There appears to be a desire – most likely coming from the NZTA’s engineers -to turn the motorway interchange at Onehunga into a diamond. What is interesting about this is I’m pretty sure the NZTA’s predecessor tried to do this as part of the project to duplicate the harbour crossing but the consent for it was rejected due to the impact on what remained of the volcanic cone. Perhaps AT/NZTA think they will be able to get it done as provisions in the RMA are weakened.
South Facing ramps from Panama Rd – I think that there definitely needs to be better connections to the motorway in this area but seeing as most of this project is about making it easier to move freight, putting them in at Panama Rd which is a residential street seems like an odd choice. It’s certainly one way to help devalue the massive proposed residential development along there.
Extension of Gossimer Dr to Highbrook Dr – I’m not exactly sure what to say but it certainly doesn’t sound cheap.
As mentioned, each of four options then does something slightly different. Upgraded existing roads are shown in Red while new roads are shown in Black (The green lines are for the AMETI busway).
Option 1: Redistribute traffic away from SEART
This seems to have the least change of all of the plans and apart from what is mentioned above, includes a new road between the Highbrook interchange and Gt South Rd along with some upgrades to existing roads to the south of the harbour.
Option 2: Redistribute traffic away from SEART plus improved connections to Metro Port
An extension of the first option this also involves a new road from the Metroport to Panama Rd to access the south facing ramps.
Option 3: Focus on connecting industrial belt
This seems likely to be the most expensive of all the options and one that is extremely similar to one of the options earlier with a brand new road all the way from Onehunga to East Tamaki
Option 4: Decongest surrounding arterials and focus east-west in a high capacity corridor
An extension of SH20A from Mangere to Highbrook. If you look at maps you can actually see that this corridor was originally set aside but then obviously sold off for housing.
There are no costs listed for either of these options however the Integrated Transport Programme suggested that it could cost up to $600 million which is absolutely massive. Personally I think that the project needs to focus on upgrades to existing roads as much as possible rather than building expensive new ones.
Perhaps because it involves the prospect of new roads – which politicians and engineers always seem to find much more interesting that upgrades to existing ones – this whole project is getting fast tracked with AT hoping to start construction as early as 2015, a mere 3-4 years after the project was given priority. That seems like almost light speed compared to other large projects.
There was a fairly lengthy opinion piece in yesterday’s Herald, authored by Michael Barnett from the Chamber of Commerce and Kim Campbell from the Employer’s and Manufacturer’s Association, discussing transport matters in Auckland. A lot of the start of the article makes reasonably good sense, pointing out how much Auckland is going to grow in the next 30 years and highlighting the need to focus transport investment in Auckland. Then the article goes on to discuss AMETI and the East-West link project:
In this article we discuss the importance of the Ameti/East-West link.
Developing the Ameti/East-West Link has been on Auckland’s transport plans from the 1950s, with land reserved for a portion of the route since 1965 and a connection on paper to the Western Ring Route (SH20) at Onehunga and the Southern Motorway.
At present, local roads in the vicinity carry more heavy freight vehicles than most of New Zealand’s state highways. They represent the start and end point for many upper North Island freight services, both road and rail. The link is required to improve access to the rail freight hub at Metroport, New Zealand’s third largest container port, and the many major employment and distribution businesses nearby.
Freight traffic in the locality is about to double. With many local roads already congested for much of the working day, an efficient integrated Ameti and East-West Link is urgent.
It is true that freight volumes through this part of Auckland are pretty high – I remember seeing a graphic once showing that the Pakuranga Bridge over the Tamaki River carries a similar number of trucks each day as the Harbour Bridge. And a much much higher number than most of the government’s Roads of National Significance. AMETI is fairly well advanced, splitting out through traffic, local traffic and public transport from each other to a much greater extent so they’re each able to operate much more effectively.While the cost of AMETI is pretty eye-watering, it at least includes some pretty major public transport improvements in the form of a busway from Botany to Panmure and a large upgrade to the Panmure Station. Hopefully it should also take quite a lot of through traffic out of Pakuranga town centre, enabling its revitalisation and hopefully a bit of traffic calming along sections of Pakuranga Road.
Panning westwards a bit, we hit the area where the East-West Link project is located:With State Highway 1 visible in the top right corner and SH20 visible in the bottom left corner, you can see the temptation of a project to join the two motorways up. Furthermore, with so much freight travelling through the area or originating from the area there does seem to be a logic in focusing on transport improvements in this corner of Auckland – especially if improving freight traffic is a priority.
In some ways this project could be seen as the westerns portion of AMETI, especially as the two projects so clearly link with each other and improving freight movements is seen as a goal of both projects (although it seems to be an even higher priority for the East-West link project). Essentially this is the argument that Barnett and Campbell make:
Some limited work is under way, but we have major concerns at the lack of progress to plan, design and build an integrated corridor as the Auckland Plan directs.
Our immediate concerns are:
Ameti (Stage 1) and planning for the East-West Link are being run as separate projects. Instead, the legacy Ameti sections are being developed primarily as a corridor for bus transport while the East-West section is being investigated with freight in mind.
The East-West section investigation presumes government funding will apply, which we strongly endorse, while the unfunded Ameti sections are not.
The disjointed approach is unacceptable. This route development will generate high productivity benefits by easing heavy traffic congestion, including to the MetroPort rail freight terminal, and it’s obvious that a reconfigured and integrated design of the whole link project is vital.
The project has also been consulted to death. Now a comprehensive integrated design package is called for, with a supporting overall business case, and a clear timeline to complete it by 2021.
The integrated Ameti/East-West Link is expected to cost $2.5 billion but generate the level of productivity benefits that easily justify it. Among them is a faster return on the multibillion dollars we have already spent on the new Manukau Harbour Bridge, Spaghetti Junction, the Newmarket Viaduct and Victoria Park Tunnel.
Investment in it is long overdue, if on the basis of nothing else than its large potential to make money and grow the economy.
While AMETI certainly seems like it’s been “studied to death”, I’m not sure the same argument can be applied to the East-West Link – which seemed to appear pretty much out of nowhere into the final version of the Auckland Plan. Furthermore, while it’s clearly true there are a lot of trucks that travel through this part of Auckland, it’s not entirely clear whether this creates a significant “problem” which needs “solving”, or what that “solution” actually should be.
It has always seemed to me as though the transport system in this area has sections which operate reasonably well and other parts which don’t seem to work that well. Neilson Street itself, the main existing link between the two motorway corridors, seems to work reasonably well except for a few intersections at Great South Road and at Onehunga Mall. One wonders how much of the delays in this area could be solved through a couple of well focused intersection upgrades. Secondly, Neilson Street is a pretty extraordinarily wide road – as shown in the picture below – so perhaps some of that existing road space could be dedicated to truck-only lanes to ensure freight traffic is able to keep moving no matter what the traffic conditions are for general traffic.
What I’m saying, in summary I suppose, is that there are good reasons to take a bit of time to analyse a situation before rushing off into building a very expensive piece of infrastructure, which a full motorway link between SH1 and SH20 would most certainly be. We might well find that a few relatively minor tweaks can fix the problem – at least for quite some time – alleviating the need to spend large sums of money.