More motorways and blaming cyclists, transport BAU

Responses from two of the country’s biggest transport lobby groups yesterday highlight what could probably be described as the business as usual approach to transport in NZ.

First we have the NZ Council for Infrastructure Development, the lobby group for those that build and finance infrastructure and who have never seen a project they didn’t like or one they didn’t think should be bigger and more expensive. Not content with having managed to get the East-West link moved to near the top of the queue are already calling for a second East-West link in the form of the destructive motorway from the Airport to East Tamaki.

“Transport agency proposals to address East-West traffic flows released for public consultation yesterday will help address urgent freight needs in the Penrose-Onehunga area in Auckland. But the long term solution must be one which connects Auckland’s commercial and industrial heartland in Penrose, Mt Wellington and East Tamaki and also caters for planned residential intensification and growth from the eastern suburbs to the airport,” says Stephen Selwood CEO of the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development.
“In order for Aucklanders to provide worthwhile feedback on the proposals it is essential that they understand the full benefits and costs of each option and the long term strategic implications.

“The options proposed are concentrated on the Onehunga-Penrose catchment zone which, while still the largest in terms of employment, represents just one fifth of the $11 billion per annum generated across the industrial zones bordering the Manukau Harbour and Tamaki Estuary. Little information has been provided, to date, on the benefits, costs and strategic implications of the alternatives proposed.

“Connectivity to East Tamaki as well as further south to Mangere and on to the airport is not planned for improvement in these proposals, except through improved bus movement.

“How these areas will be connected into the future has great bearing on what the appropriate solution is for this first phase of investment.

“One option considered in earlier analysis included a motorway south of the Manukau Harbour. It provided long term connectivity not only between the industrial areas, but for all communities in the east of Auckland accessing employment and the airport.

“It was almost immediately terminated following public reaction, leaving a northern Manukau Harbour solution as the most politically acceptable. However, given that the proposals released yesterday provide no new east west connectivity for Glen Innes, Panmure, Howick, Pakuranga, Botany and the industrial areas of East Tamaki and Mt Wellington it is not clear how existing and projected growth demand in these areas will be addressed.

“Too often major projects in New Zealand are developed in a piecemeal fashion and modified and reduced to satisfy environmental and local interests without adequate consideration of strategic implications or the relative cost of lost accessibility and reduced economic efficiency.

“The East-West connection is a critical corridor linking not just the two busiest stretches of motorway in the country and three of the largest employment zones, it is a strategic link on the national highway network providing long term resilience and capacity for all road users crossing the city from east to west.

“It is critical that this project is seen as a strategic east west link for Auckland. That means providing adequate capacity to and through Auckland’s industrial heartland and supporting network connectivity region-wide,” Selwood says.

There are some really pull your hair out type comments in this statement.

Firstly it’s clear the NZCID are now trying to paint the East-West link as some kind of temporary fix up despite some of the options (like Option E) basically amounting a $1 billion+ motorway along the foreshore of the Mangere Inlet. There’s nothing temporary or short term about it.

EW Option - Option E

It also ignores that the East-West Link has long been seen about improving access on the northern side of the harbour because as the NZCID point out, that’s where the largest portion of businesses and therefore freight movements are. Also let’s not forget the project has long been sold as being needed to improve freight movements.

Perhaps because the current proposals better deal with freight movements they are also trying to shift the argument back to having the motorway option by talking about the residents of the eastern suburbs. In doing so they basically suggest that the ability of Eastern suburbs residents to drive to the airport should come ahead of the liveability and communities of residents who live in Mangere.

East-West Option 4

The horrific Option 4 the NZCID want back on the options table

If they were really concerned about how Eastern suburbs residents and about providing them better connectivity then a quicker, cheaper an much less destructive option would be something like we’ve outlined in the Congestion Free Network. Two busways running at high all day frequencies connecting East Auckland with the rest of the region enhances connectivity not just for trips to the airport but for a wide range of other activities too. Some may say that Eastern suburbs residents won’t catch a bus but it’s worth remembering that people have said the same thing about North Shore residents yet the busway has been spectacularly successful.

CFN East

Of course the NZCID won’t like the idea because it only costs a fraction of what a motorway does.

The other lobby group making news is the Road Transport Forum (RTF) in response to the suggestions from the NZTA’s Cycling Safety Panel that it be mandated for vehicles to give cyclists at least 1.5m of space when passing. Ken Shirley the CEO of the RTF has been rubbishing the suggestion and in doing so said:

There’s a dual responsibility, the cyclist also has to be more aware of the impact of the impact they might have on vehicles, whether it’s a car or a truck because that can be very severe”

Yep because cyclists can really do some damage to a 40 tonne truck or having to slow down for 10 seconds is just such a horrific concept.

“One of the problems is blind spots on trucks and cyclists unaware of those blind spots and there’s a lot of technology that’s new to the market with infra-red and radar up the side of the truck giving an audio and visual warning to the the driver that in fact there might be a cyclist sitting in the blind spot”

Of course as soon as anyone suggests making technology like this a requirement Shirley is the first to jump up and down complaining about it.

Too many cyclists don’t appreciate how vulnerable they really are,”

Cyclists are vulnerable primarily because of how other road users act and even the most safety conscious cyclist has sometimes been involved in tragic crashes.

I think they’re a bit light on actual cycle education – we see some outrageous behaviour from cyclists – and a lack of appreciation of the blind spot, particularly with heavy vehicles.”

Nothing like the good old tar all people on bikes with the same brush.

East-West Options Revealed

Auckland Transport and the NZTA have announced another series of open days to discuss the East West Link. This time though they are presenting six options for what may be built which range from upgrades of local roads to potentially mega expensive new roads.

Community feedback is being sought on options identified by the NZ Transport Agency and Auckland Transport to improve transport connections in the Onehunga – Penrose area and reliability of bus services between Māngere, Ōtāhuhu and Sylvia Park.

The Transport Agency’s spokesperson Brett Gliddon says the planned improvements are important to deliver a transport network that can continue to support the growing movement of people and goods.

“The East West Connections area is the engine room of New Zealand’s industrial and manufacturing economy and home to a number of our most vibrant communities. These improvements are needed to ensure that both the nation’s supply chains and the local transport network function effectively.”

“Public feedback to date has supported the need to address congestion and delays in the Onehunga-Penrose area, as well as improving bus services.

“No decision has been made about any of the options, and our first priority is to get feedback from the community before the project is developed further,” says Mr Gliddon.

The proposed options identify roading improvements and new cycle links on the north side of the Māngere inlet, along with some bus priority lanes between Māngere, Ōtāhuhu and Sylvia Park.

Auckland Transport’s Key Strategic Initiatives Project Director, Theunis Van Schalkwyk, says creating bus priority between Māngere, Ōtāhuhu and Sylvia Park will make bus journeys faster and more reliable.

“This is a key part of delivering a Frequent Network for public transport in the area and creates a better connection for people getting to work,” he says.

The options being considered for the Onehunga – Penrose area range from upgrading existing routes, through to new connections between the Southwestern and Southern Motorways (State Highways 20 and 1). Common to all options is the improvement of public transport between Māngere, Ōtāhuhu and Sylvia Park as well as improvements to walking and cycling facilities, including the Waikaraka cycleway.

To help explain the options and get people’s feedback, the Transport Agency and Auckland Transport are planning a series of community open days this month which will be supported by workshops on specific topics.

“We had great feedback from the community in July and August and we want this to continue with the options now being proposed. We will be using the next round of feedback to further develop and investigate the options in order to assist us in identifying the best option to progress to detailed design,” Mr Gliddon says.

Open days will be held at the following locations:

  • Saturday 11 October: Onehunga Primary School Hall, 122 Arthur Street, Onehunga (10am-1pm)
  • Thursday 16 October: Otahuhu College Sports Pavilion, 53 Mangere Road, Ōtāhuhu (opposite Otahuhu College) (3:30pm -7:30pm)
  • Sunday 19 October: Te Papapa Squash Club, Fergusson Park, Olea Road, Onehunga (1pm – 4pm)

There will also be a number of workshops on specific topics for people who would like to provide more detailed feedback. To find out more about the workshops go to www.nzta.govt.nz/east-west and email eastwest@nzta.govt.nz to register.

For more information on the options and to submit feedback, please visit the Transport Agency and Auckland Transport websites.

The East West Connections programme is one of four accelerated projects in Auckland identified by the Government to help ease congestion, support economic growth and improve safety.

In addition to East West Connections, the other projects relate to improvements on the Northern and Southern Motorways (SH1), and at the SH20A/Kirkbride Road intersection.

The key part are the options though. As mentioned above, regardless of what roading options are built all options will include upgrading the PT route between Mangere and Sylvia Park which is one of the routes confirmed in the New Network for South Auckland. They say this will entail

  • Provision of bus lanes along sections of the public transport route (for example Mt Wellington Highway, Walmsley Road, Massey Road)
  • Potential to have bus priority at intersections
  • Review of bus stop locations along the route
  • Potential to improve waling and cycling facilities along the road

 

EW Option - Bus-Priority 1

It’s great to see the PT route getting attention, the only possible concern is that in their bid to come across as being multi-modal are they putting a lot of money into this bus route at the expense of others in the area that might have higher needs for bus priority.

Onto the road options. One thing that immediately stood out for me was that every single option involved the NZTA further widening SH20 between Neilson St and Queenstown Rd. The motorway here was only just widened to three lanes each way as part of the Manukau Harbour Crossing project so how wide does the motorway here really have to be.

Option A

This is simply an upgrade of the existing roads with some localised widening and intersection upgrades. It seems like a good place to start by having the existing route optimised before embarking on some of the more expensive options below.

EW Option - Option A

 

Option B

This takes Option A by adding a set of south facing ramps going from Church St to SH1 with additional lanes on the motorway through to Princes St. This has the benefit of taking pressure off Gt South Rd and the Mt Wellington interchange.

EW Option - Option B

Option C

This is quite different to the above two options. Going from West to East it adds a new connection between Onehunga Harbour Rd and Galway St which presumably takes pressure off the Onehunga Mall/Neilson St intersection. The big change here though is a new road from Angle St through to Gt South Rd along with an upgrade of Sylvia Park Rd and new south facing ramps onto a widened motorway. I get the feeling that this or Option D is the preferred solution.

EW Option - Option C

Option D

This takes option C and adds an upgrade to the Glouscester Park interchange. The problem with this is the NZTA’s predecessors tried to upgrade this interchange as part of the Manukau Harbour Crossing project but were rejected consent to do so due to the damage to what remains of the volcanic cone

EW Option - Option D

Option E

This seems by far the worst of the options and involves building a road all the way along the foreshore which would likely have significant environmental impacts. At the eastern end the road plows through some commercial, likely on a flyover before joining SH1.

EW Option - Option E

 

Option F

I get the impression that perhaps the road planners/engineers see this the next step after building Option C/D. That means it’s likely that if one of those options are chosen then not long after we’ll see calls from trucking companies for this section to be completed too.

EW Option - Option F

 

 

There are some good aspects to most of these but also some horrific ones like the suggestion of blocking off the whole Northern edge of the Mangere Inlet.

One of the huge advantages to Option A in particular is it would allow AT to get some improvements into the area quickly and see the impact they have while it refines the options to see if they improve. Personally I think Option B is the best option for the time being but in saying that there are some good sections from some of the other options, for example the connection between Onehunga Harbour Rd and Galway St.

Overall these options are a vast improvement on some of the earlier ones, some of which would have seen many homes demolished to make way for motorway from the Airport to the eastern suburbs.

If you live in the area (or even if you don’t) I’d suggest popping along and giving your thoughts.

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.