To borrow a sports analogy, yesterday was a bit of a “game of two halves”. There was good, bad and ugly all thrown in from different sources. I thought I’d highlight them both in this post.
After decades pushing the vision and years of hard work by some amazingly dedicated people, yesterday it was confirmed that Skypath will be granted consent.
Consent was initially issued in July last year however as expected, some of the groups who have long opposed Skypath appealed to the Environment Court. Earlier this year two of those groups dropped out, the Herne Bay Residents Association claiming it would never happen anyway, and the Northcote Point Residents Association (NRA) who saying they couldn’t afford the costs that would sought against them if they lost. That left just the Northcote Point Heritage Preservation Society (NPHPS), a group set up only a few years ago and run by many of the same people as the NRA, to challenge the project in court.
In their appeal, the NPHPS sought some absurdly strict conditions placed on the project, likely in a bid to make it not viable. Our friends at Bike Auckland have more details, including the council’s response but below are the conditions the NPHPS wanted.
- limiting entry to between 6am – 7pm (with exit permitted until 10pm), and
- imposing a daily maximum limit of 1440 movements in and out of the Northern landing (NB this number has been revised upwards from earlier proposals, which were in the low hundreds), with trips to be booked online.
Insane, imagine trying to suggest someone impose those kinds of conditions on a road project, or perhaps even the Harbour Bridge.
Thankfully today Judge Newhook verbally confirmed that the consent would be issued. There may be a refinement of the conditions, such as allowing for the impacts on the point to be reviewed after construction but not the crazy demands the NPHPS tried for. Anyone out there who doesn’t think that if costs are awarded against the NPHPS that they’ll fold, not paying their debts?
All up awesome news and well done to everyone who’s been involved in getting this over the line, especially Bevan Woodward who has been pushing the project from the start.
The bad and the ugly
Yesterday evening I attended a community workshop/discussion about the East-West Link (while Auckland Transport tried to change the name to East-West Connections, the NZTA are using East-West Link). The purpose of the event was to discuss the project and issues in advance of the NZTA notifying it to the Environmental Protection Authority, something they intend to do in early December – just a month away. The EPA process was also used for Waterview, Puhoi to Warkworth and the Basin Reserve and means that a binding decision will be made within nine months of notification.
Given how much work goes into preparing for an EPA process, it means there’s unlikely to be a lot, if any change from what they showed. This suggests that the event was more of a box ticking exercise while also making sure they’re prepared in advance for the main issues that people will criticise them on. They did claim the design will evolve as the over the course of the process, like it did with Waterview but it’s unlikely to change all that much.
A key feature of the evening was the NZTA showing some of their latest designs for the project and there appear to have been some changes since we last saw them. For now we’re stuck with some phone photos but I’m sure they’ll release higher quality versions online in time.
The first and most obvious thing you may notice in the images below are the connections around Onehunga. I’ll come back to that in more detail later. Next you may notice the large areas of reclamation that are now proposed, this is quite different to the stark straight lines we saw in some earlier designs. These serve both to deal with stormwater and serve as mitigation to plonking a giant road down over what is currently a bit of a hidden gem. Through these areas are meant to be walking and cycling connections, including a boardwalk over the water between those two areas that jut out.
One of the big changes not really evident from these images is that the road had been pushed back and is now almost all on the existing land along the waterfront (where the cycleway is). This is mainly due to the difficulty they would otherwise have had in getting consent to reclaim land. There will still be some reclamation though, mainly for a bund to help stop stuff leaching into the harbour like it currently does.
Further east you can see the connections to SH1 which includes upgrades through to past Princess St. The section over the port car storage area through to Gt South Rd is about a 1.4km long viaduct – one of the reasons the project is so expensive. One aspect they did confirm is that it has apparent the design allows for grade separation of the rail junction.
Here are a couple of cross sections. The cycleway on the foreshore side but next to the road was described as a ‘high speed cycleway’
As mentioned, here’s a closer look at the design at the Onehunga end, perhaps best described as a sea of roads. One thing that I did learn was that the area past the port will actually be in a bit of a trench so will be partially hidden from the port area. The graphics are shown over the motorway bridge for clarity but they will be under it in real life.
and here’s a more artistic view of it.
Unfortunately, the photos I took of the design elements (highlighted by the pins) didn’t really come out well. It’s also not clear just how rail of any kind will get through this area if it’s getting to the airport.
The East-West Link is clearly a project that is going to be something that sees a lot of discussion over the next year so.
We’ve long been concerned about the East-West Link, from the when it was suddenly catapulted out of nowhere from not even being on long term plans straight to being one of the city’s top transport priorities, to effectively becoming one of the governments Roads of National Significance.
From its increasingly eye-watering cost that has ballooned from around $600 million just a few years ago to over $1.8 billion, more than the cost of the Waterview tunnels and without a skerrick of concern from the media, to the fact cheaper and effective options stack up even when compared against those original construction costs.
And of course from when it was planned to plough through houses in Mangere severing communities, to filling in large swathes of the Mangere Inlet, severing pleasant access to the water – unless you like having an expressway next to you – and impacting on future development in and around Onehunga.
And that last point is important Onehunga is an area where Panuku Development Auckland – the city’s urban redevelopment agency who have had huge success with Wynyard Quarter – had picked as one of their key areas to focus on saying:
Onehunga’s strategic location on the edge of the Manukau Harbour, 10km from both Auckland’s CBD and Auckland Airport, makes it ideal to prioritise as a development location.
Panuku Development Auckland will use its land holdings in the area, including the Onehunga Port in the future, to enable developers to build high quality, mixed styles of housing close to the town centre, public transport and the water’s edge.
We’ve raised the issue of the East-West Link and its impacts on development in many posts in the past and now it finally seems to confirmed with the Herald reporting on Friday:
A plan is being drawn up to sell land earmarked for a waterfront development on the shores of the Manukau Harbour for a new motorway.
Political sources have told the Herald that council bosses have dumped a plan for Panuku Development Auckland to buy the Port of Onehunga wharf to develop along the lines of Wynyard Quarter.
Instead, the land will be sold to the Transport Agency for a new $1.8 billion east-west motorway between Onehunga and Mt Wellington. When the agency has used land it needs, it will sell the remainder to Panuku for development.
“It’s going to make life easier for the transport agency, which is good for them, but not good for Auckland,” said one source about plans for a waterfront village, apartments and commercial uses at the wharf.
Another source said the deal will “shaft the good folk of Onehunga”.
The plans we’ve seen to date show the impact on the Onehunga port site is significant. It will effectively be an island, cut off from the rest of the area and difficult to access. Furthermore, having trucks and cars thundering along at speed is simply not conducive with trying come up with trying to develop the area into a people friendly space.
Here’s an image of what the design could look like, also showing significant impact on the Hophua Tuff Ring and areas north of SH2o.
It’s crazy that in 2016, given all the knowledge that society has gained in recent decades, that we’re still even contemplating building such a massive road along the foreshore like the NZTA are.
The Herald carries on, quoting Jim Jackson of The Onehunga Enhancement Society (TOES):
Jackson said the port was the key to unlocking the Manukau Harbour and it had to be done properly. The fishing industry was interested in taking the area over and Panuku wanted to cover it in apartments, he said.
About $1.8b was about to be spent on the east-west link and no-one knew how it was going to connect into Onehunga. The transport agency had consent for a $25m pedestrian bridge and no idea how to connect it into Onehunga, plus there were environmental sediment issues, he said.
Panuku did not have the management skills to oversee development of the port area, said Jackson, who said he had only just been informed of the plan by transport agency highways boss Tommy Parker.
Wait, so the people behind the internationally award winning redevelopment of the Wynyard Quarter have no clue about redeveloping a port area? TOES were key in pushing for the great new foreshore redevelopment on the western side of Onehunga which they pushed as mitigation for the motorway being built through the area decades ago. Unfortunately, the experience seems to have affected them as they have been supporters of the East-West project in the hope getting more mitigation out of it to fix the trashing of the inlet in the past. Pushing for a motorway just so you can fix environmental issues is a completely backwards approach.
The new Onehunga Foreshore
And TOES solution for the East-West is even crazier than the NZTA’s, calling for an even bigger road complete with tunnels and new bridges across the harbour.
Given everything it almost feels like it would be more honest if we just went for the Dutch solution, close the inlet off completely and pump it out and create 5.8km² of developable land. Note: I’m not actually saying this should happen.
Of course all of this new roading development is at a time when many people and officials believe two transformational changes could revolutionise transport in the next few decades.
- Dynamic road pricing that can be used to ensure existing roads stay clear and likely avoiding the need to build many of the big roading projects currently on the plans. What’s more some of the biggest proponents of road pricing in NZ are the business and infrastructure lobby groups who have been key in pushing the East-West Link.
- Driverless vehicles are likely to be adopted by the freight industry faster than other areas involving transport and if the hype is correct, will remove many of the barriers and costs associated with moving goods thanks in part to being more efficient. That could render investments like pointless.
At what point to we stop ceding the city to the whims of the NZTA?
Auckland Transport are consulting on the widening a 900m section Neilson St in Onehunga as part of the East-West link.
The public are being given a chance to have their say on changes designed to improve travel times and congestion along Neilson Street in Onehunga.
The improvements which include changes to parking in the area are part of the local transport improvements of the East West Connections project and are designed to provide benefits for local road users including freight along Neilson Street.
The work involves creating four lanes (increasing from two) on Neilson Street between Alfred Street and Angle Street. A clearway and no stopping zone is proposed to be in place from 6am-7pm Monday to Friday. This doesn’t apply to parking at weekends and evenings.
Auckland Transport Principal Engineer Joe Schady says the improvements also include new walking and cycling facilities alongside Waikaraka Park.
“A new footpath and timber boardwalk linking to the existing walkway will make it easier and safer for the community to access the park particularly for sporting activities and the Speedway.”
The NZ Transport Agency’s Auckland Highway Manager, Brett Gliddon says creating extra lanes on this part of Neilson Street will help to deliver some early benefits to the Onehunga area, particularly for local business owners, truck operators and customers who are moving in and out of the Onehunga and Penrose area every day.
Community feedback will help to finalise the design for the work. Construction is planned to start later this year and be completed by December. The work is part of a wider package of improvements including removing the rail bridge at the end of Neilson Street and replacing it with a new, lowered road.
The Southwestern Motorway will also be widened to four lanes in each direction between Neilson Street and Queenstown road to further support traffic growth expected on State Highway 20.
Feedback from the public in mid-2015 showed that overall improvements on Neilson Street were supported to help relieve the significant congestion that is experienced on the road and on the approaches to SH1 and SH20.
A series of public information days will be held in August to encourage people to find out more about the project and have their say on the plans for Neilson Street.
Given this doesn’t appear to even require moving kerbs, only adding some pedestrian amenity and changing how the road markings it’s crazy that it wasn’t done years ago. We’ve long supported the widening of Neilson St including the possibility of truck only lanes as a quick and much quicker and cheaper solution to transport issues in the area.
In fact the same approach should be taking all the way through to the intersection with Church St (along with a signalised intersection for the Metroport entrance). The biggest reason for not doing this is that it would probably show the foreshore expressway as not being needed, at least not anytime in the next few decades. That could save us having to spend up to $1.8 billion and I have no doubt we could find some other uses for that kind of money.
The consultation is open to Friday 26 August
The East-West Link feels a lot like the preverbal snowball rolling down a slope, constantly gathering momentum as it simultaniously gets bigger and bigger in scale, cost and the NZTA’s haste to get started. A month ago and based on documents received from an OIA, I wrote about how the cost of the project had ballooned from an estimated $550-660 million when the government gave the go ahead to accelerate its construction up to now $1.8 billion and presumably still climbing.
I’ve also written about some of the main risks the NZTA see for the project, including the biggest of them, getting consent to reclaim a massive chunk of foreshore. They’re looking to claim so much the new four lane, expressway standard road will be completely built on what is currently water.
Shortly after the second post the NZTA announced they were conducting another round of consultation on the design of the project, prior to lodging resource consent through the Board of Inquiry process.
The public are being given another opportunity to have their say on one of Auckland Council and the Government’s top priority transport projects in Auckland.
The latest round of consultation is getting underway on the design for the East West Link project which is a significant step in the project’s planning and consenting process.
That consultation closes today so if you want to have a say about the project, make sure you do fairly quickly.
Here are some of the graphics associated with the consultation. First up an overview of what they say are the key design features.
One aspect I wasn’t aware of is that this would also include a new interchange at Princes St. It looks like they want and additional traffic lane in each direction between the Tamaki River and Mt Wellington so need to replace the whole interchange. This document takes a look at the current interchange while below is what they want from a new interchange. It appears the last few houses between Frank Grey Pl and the motorway next to the interchange will be sacrificed to the motorway gods.
At the Onehunga end they conveniently highlight the area that Panuku Development Auckland is meant to be putting effort in to see some urban regeneration but which they then ram a heap of roads through. The Onehunga Wharf which could be a great development opportunity is like an island, cut off from the rest of the area by the new and wider roads planned.
Then of course there is the Northern Mangere Inlet Foreshore, their current state images showing the reclamation to date was mainly by way of landfill, one of the reasons they say want to reclaim further to fix. By contrast the concept images show a walking and cycling path along a new foreshore with stormwater treatment ponds along a more natural looking foreshore, although it’s not clear if it’s just a series of fairly similar sized and shaped bumps relatively evenly spaced apart.
They say they’re hoping to lodge the resource consent in December this year so that the decision will be made by about October next year with construction starting by the end of 2018.
Once again, if you want to have a say about the designs, make sure you do so.
While on the topic of the East-West link, I attended a media briefing the other day with AT talking about some of things they’re working on. Most of the discussion was on items regular readers of the blog will likely be fairly very familiar with but on one of the points was about the East West project. What intrigued me was the new red line that’s appeared showing the South Eastern Arterial. and something else entirely. Is the real reason for the Reeves Rd flyover decision just about making this route a motorway so people from the Pakuranga to Howick area can get to the airport with as few traffic lights as possible.
Presumably this would need to be a tunnel given it will be passing through a regional park. How many extra billions would something like this cost?
Last week I wrote about the East West
Link Connections and how the cost of the project were ever increasing and how the staging for the project had changed. The post was based on a number of papers I received from the NZTA as a result of an OIA request.
The preferred East-West option
One aspect I didn’t cover were some of the major risks that have been identified for the project. These are described in the paper from December 2015, I’ve left out the funding risk as not really relevant to this post.
- The underlying land use and travel demand assumptions for the project are based on an agreed medium growth scenario associated with the Auckland Plan. Given the preferred option is a long-term response to current and planned future growth, there is a risk that the growth assumptions and associated travel demand may not materialise as planned. This could result in a transport response that is misaligned with the future needs of the network and as such, this will need to be reviewed at each funding stage as the project progresses.
- Given the early stage of the project, there is a future cost risk that outturn costs will exceed the expected estimate, based on incomplete knowledge. This has been accounted for by providing additional contingency in the current estimates. The top cost risk items are:
- Property – the proposed alignment has attempted to minimise impact on industrial zoned property as far as practicable, however there are still a number of properties which will likely be required either in part or whole. Based on the current state of the Auckland property market, any delays to the property acquisition process are likely to result in inflated property costs above and beyond current market rates.
- Neilson St Interchange – the design of the interchange is a complex task requiring careful balancing of competing priorities and community interests. There are significant consenting challenges both with the presence of natural volcanic features (Hopua tuff ring), but also the close proximity to the town centre and the foreshore, both of which have strong public interest. There is a risk that through the consenting process an alternative proposal is put forward that is significantly more costly (CapEx and/or OpEx) than the currently preferred option.
- Foreshore – having regard to the NZ Coastal Policy Statement and recent case law, there are significant policy hurdles to pass with the proposed alignment along the foreshore. Conversely, early engagement with key partners has indicated conditional support on the basis that the proposed response could have the greatest opportunity for mitigation, particularly in tidying up historical reclamation and contaminating activities. It is expected that more than just mitigation will need to be considered to enable reclamation to be considered favourably, though the extent of works required and associated costs is unknown at this stage.
Let’s just step through them a bit
Land Use and Travel Demand assumptions – A lot of assumptions seem to be based most of the Onehunga/Penrose area staying industrial. Most of the area to the west of Onehunga Mall is already earmarked for mixed use and with land prices and demand the way they are it’s likely that over the medium to long term all of those will end up residential. It’s also quite likely that over time, a lot of the other commercial land in the area will be converted to residential, most likely through private plan changes. That will fundamentally change the transport demand for the area and likely the whole purpose of this project.
Neilson St Interchange – The NZTA’s predecessor originally planned to build this interchange as part of the Manukau Harbour Crossing project before revising their consent to not include it. From memory this was due to the significant impact it would have had on the area, especially the Hopua Tuff Ring and the need reclamation to accommodate it. It appears the road builders are emboldened to try again and with what appears to be very similar to what was originally proposed in 2006.
It’s also worth noting that Panuku is meant to be redeveloping the Onehunga Port area to be more people friendly just like they’ve done at the Wynyard Quarter. It remains to be seen how they’re going to make that a success when it will be cut off from the rest of the city by what is effectively a motorway and seemingly poor access for PT and active modes.
Foreshore – The impact on the foreshore where the main thing that originally inspired this post. A number of the documents referenced in the post last week made mention of it and in particular mentioned NZ Coastal Policy Statement 2010 (NZCPS). Looking at it the NZCPS it’s easy to see why they’re concerned as it basically says they shouldn’t do it. Now to be fair I haven’t read all 30 pages of the document but if you have and I’ve got parts of it wrong then please let me know in the comments. For this I’m just going to focus on a couple of sections.
- Reclamation – As mentioned it basically says that reclamation should be avoided unless there are no other options. But that isn’t the case with the East-West project as we know that other options not only exist but also perform better economically. Here’s what the NZCPS says about reclamation:
Reclamation and de-reclamation
- Avoid reclamation of land in the coastal marine area, unless:
- land outside the coastal marine area is not available for the proposed activity;
- the activity which requires reclamation can only occur in or adjacent to the coastal marine area;
- there are no practicable alternative methods of providing the activity; and
- the reclamation will provide significant regional or national benefit.
- Where a reclamation is considered to be a suitable use of the coastal marine area, in considering its form and design have particular regard to:
- the potential effects on the site of climate change, including sea level rise, over no less than 100 years;
- the shape of the reclamation and, where appropriate, whether the materials used are visually and aesthetically compatible with the adjoining coast;
- the use of materials in the reclamation, including avoiding the use of contaminated materials that could significantly adversely affect water quality, aquatic ecosystems and indigenous biodiversity in the coastal marine area;
- providing public access, including providing access to and along the coastal marine area at high tide where practicable, unless a restriction on public access is appropriate as provided for in Policy 19;
- the ability to remedy or mitigate adverse effects on the coastal environment;
- whether the proposed activity will affect cultural landscapes and sites of significance to tangata whenua; and
- the ability to avoid consequential erosion and accretion, and other natural hazards.
- In considering proposed reclamations, have particular regard to the extent to which the reclamation and intended purpose would provide for the efficient operation of infrastructure, including ports, airports, coastal roads, pipelines, electricity transmission, railways and ferry terminals, and of marinas and electricity generation.
- Walking Access – As mentioned in the quote above, public access should be provided to the coastal area. The section on walking access expands on this more and none of the reasons given for reasons to restrict public from the foreshore seem to be relevant to this project.
- Recognise the public expectation of and need for walking access to and along the coast that is practical, free of charge and safe for pedestrian use.
- Maintain and enhance public walking access to, along and adjacent to the coastal marine area, including by:
- identifying how information on where the public have walking access will be made publicly available;
- avoiding, remedying or mitigating any loss of public walking access resulting from subdivision, use, or development; and
- identifying opportunities to enhance or restore public walking access, for example where:
- connections between existing public areas can be provided; or
- improving access would promote outdoor recreation; or
- physical access for people with disabilities is desirable; or
- the long-term availability of public access is threatened by erosion or sea level rise; or
- access to areas or sites of historic or cultural significance is important; or
- subdivision, use, or development of land adjacent to the coastal marine area has reduced public access, or has the potential to do so.
- Only impose a restriction on public walking access to, along or adjacent to the coastal marine area where such a restriction is necessary:
- to protect threatened indigenous species; or
- to protect dunes, estuaries and other sensitive natural areas or habitats; or
- to protect sites and activities of cultural value to Māori; or
- to protect historic heritage; or
- to protect public health or safety; or
- to avoid or reduce conflict between public uses of the coastal marine area and its margins; or
- for temporary activities or special events; or
- for defence purposes in accordance with the Defence Act 1990; or
- to ensure a level of security consistent with the purpose of a resource consent; or
- in other exceptional circumstances sufficient to justify the restriction.
- Before imposing any restriction under (3), consider and where practicable provide for alternative routes that are available to the public free of charge at all times.
Now the reason this is important is so far the NZTA have yet to say whether provision will be made for the public to have access, like they currently – a photo essay of which can be seen here. So far from what I’ve seen the NZTA have only resorted to saying that they haven’t decided yet.
The drawings developed for the detailed business case (46MB) suggest there will be a narrow path along the seaward side of the massive reclamation as well as the existing walking/cycling path but the new path appears a fairly barren and exposed place to be – perhaps a bit like the cycleway on the causeway along SH16. You can also see the intersection for this new road with Captain Springs Rd will also require people on foot or bikes to make up to three crossings to get across this new mega road.
The drawings also highlight the massive extent of the planned reclamation. As a quick estimation, it appears to be at least 50m wide, if not wider in places and even straighter than the current foreshore which doesn’t seem to meet the requirements in the NZCPS.
It’s worth noting for these drawings the comments in the grey box which says that the “alignment is for cost estimation and to establish an indicative footprint” and that “the actual footprint and location is subject to change“. These drawings are also just a selection of what is in the document but for the foreshore are all fairly consistent.
The red part is a bridge
If this project does go ahead, it seems like a much better job needs to be done on the on the foreshore. As it stands, it appears the NZTA are going for the cheapest option available – which at $1.8 billion is not cheap.
I recently received back an OIA request from the NZTA on a few projects. One part of that was related to the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing and the other which I’ll cover in this post was about the East West
Link Connections. Among other things the documents highlight a project that is rapidly increasing in cost to a level around three times initial suggestions. Like I did with the AWHC post, I’ll highlight what I found interesting from each of the nine documents in chronological order.
The preferred East-West option
A briefing to the former Minister of Transport Gerry Brownlee giving an update on the project and informing that they would soon start public consultation on the various options they had come up with. They also offered to walk him through the options and “get any input you wish to make on the next phase of the project”. A later document hints at some of that feedback.
A paper to the NZTA board with the recommended approach following the public consultation. This first highlights the initial expected cost at well less than $1 billion.
The East West Link (as it was previously known) was considered by the Board in February 2014 (14/02/112) and was reported to the Minister as part of the Auckland Accelerated Package. The basis for the recommendations at that stage was a scope that is roughly equivalent to the current Option C, with a cost range of $550 million to $660 million.
For reference this was Option C was an upgrade of part of Neilson St and then a route in a little from the foreshore but the costs mentioned don’t quite add up with the ones also listed in the document as shown below
The NZTA ended up choosing option F but also bringing in some of the elements of other options too. In their listing of the reasons for choosing it they praise it for being a new route and one without driveways like Neilson St has. That highlights one of the odd things about this whole project, it’s supposedly about improving freight connections but it’s being pushed mainly for through traffic so all of the local freight traffic will still be trudging through all of the local routes.
They also like Option F as they’d identified four distinct phases. These are shown below along with some of the information about each stage. Stage 2 looks to be over a bridge over 1.2km in length. The section on risks also acknowledges it creates issues for rail to the Airport.
As mentioned earlier there was some mention of the Ministers response with the NZTA saying this.
The expectation was that the Transport Agency would report back to the Minister and Treasury on the preferred option to inform funding decisions as part of Budget 2015. Included in this, the previous Minister of Transport asked the Transport Agency to investigate an option for providing a complete link between State Highway 1 and State Highway 20.
The paper says this in relation to rail. This seems to suggest that rail improvements are a justification for more roads. But why then is the third main not included as part of the East-West project, the cost of doing it would be tiny in comparison the cost of the overall project and would go some way to addressing the MOAR ROADZ feeling of it all.
A memo for the CEO’s board report. It suggests that the board didn’t confirm the preferred option listed above at that time and that more work was being done for approval in April. It notes that if approved to move towards consenting, which is currently happening, that part of the process is expected to cost $20-25 million over a two-year period.
A paper to the board seeking approval of the preferred approach to the project. The first thing I note is they’ve reduced the project to three stages and suggests progressing stages 1 and 2 in the short the medium term with stage 3 not being needed till later, possibly around 2035.
The cost for the project is also confirmed and that it’s not possible to fund it based on normal funding sources.
- The expected scheme cost of a complete staged link is in the range of $1,050 million (at the 50th percentile) to $1,400 (at the 95th percentile) with a benefit cost ratio range of 1.4 to 1.9.
- The financial case being progressed indicates that delivery of the full staged project within a ten year timeframe is not affordable with funding from the NLTF alone. This view is based on the current mix of the forward capital works programme. A change in the forward capital works programme mix or additional sources of funding may change this view.
Following the above, a briefing note was sent to the Simon Bridges as Minister of Transport. There isn’t a lot of new information that wasn’t in the document above but it does note that property costs alone are expected to exceed $100 million. It also says Iwi are supportive of the planned reclamation.
Another briefing was sent to Simon Bridges on the feedback from the Auckland Business Forum ahead of a meeting between Bridges and Michael Barnett. It responds to some of the talking points you occasionally hear in the media such as why not widen the bridge at Mt Wellington. It also suggests that the new E-W road is being designed to expressway standards rather than motorway standards. This is what the NZTA say about the difference between the two.
What’s the difference between a motorway and an expressway?
Motorways are access-controlled, high-speed roads that normally have ‘grade-separated intersections’ – which means they have overbridges (or underpasses) so road users don’t have to stop at traffic lights.
Expressways are also high-speed roads, but they may include well-spaced ‘at-grade intersections’ – which means they often have accesses and driveways on to them and sometimes traffic signals or roundabouts.
Next we have an internal memo in to the CEO giving an update about the project. It mentions that the detailed business case was close to being finalised confirming the route all along the foreshore and also highlighting that the costs had increased further.
- The Detailed Business Case is currently being finalised and will be considered for approval by the NZ Transport Agency and Auckland Transport Boards in December. The business case recommends a new full link between SH1 and SH20 along the northern foreshore of the Mangere Inlet as the preferred long term response to the issues in the Onehunga-Penrose area (refer Attachment 1). It is proposed that the new link is a new state highway, to be planned, delivered, operated, and maintained by the NZ Transport Agency.
- The cost of the project is estimated to be in the range of $1.25 billion to $1.85 billion (escalated costs) with a BCR range of 1.4 to 1.9.
So the project has potentially increased in cost more than threefold. It’s interesting how there are politicians who decry spending on the CRL just in case costs increase but stay eerily silent on this project. Further how is it the costs increase but the BCR manages to stay the same?
The memo notes that the earliest they could possibly start the project was in 2018 after going through a Board of Inquiry process. It seems this memo could have been in response to press release from the Auckland Business Forum complaining that the project was going too slow. That press release is at the end of the document.
Another paper to the NZTA board, it seeks approval to move towards the consent process following the completion of the Detailed Business Case. It notes that they now want stage 3 started immediately after stage two and the entire project completed by 2028 because they say Neilson St will be too congested “because of additional traffic attracted to Neilson St through the improved access from SH1”. A classic more roads beget more roads scenario. I wonder if they’ve addressed some of the issues with the indicative business case that Cam highlighted very well in December.
As part of the “key outcomes” of the project they talk about travel time savings and reduced congestion but they also claim it will deliver “At least 5.5km of new dedicated cycle paths”. Given that about 4km of cycle paths already exist along the foreshore is this being double counted?
They think they will be able to fund this out of the National Land Transport Fund as a result of the Basin Reserve decision delaying spending in Wellington by what they estimate to be 5 years. If the Wellington planning work is finalised sooner than expected they will either need to re-prioritise work or potentially get a short term interest free loan from the government. On the costs they sought or noted the following amounts:
- $30 million for the NZTA to progress the project for consents etc.
- $135 million to start property acquisition along the route.
- $15 million for the NZTA’s early works projects.
- $32 million for Auckland Transport’s early works projects (which would be subject to NZTA funding assistance).
The early works are a series of projects mainly in and around Onehunga such as widening the motorway, widening parts of Neilson St and removing the bridge on Neilson St over the rail corridor, presumably to supersize the intersection. This work with the exception of the Galway St link was recently put out to tender.
I’m not sure if there is enough space under the bridge for two tracks but regardless, removing the bridge is surely just one more nail in the coffin for rail to the airport (light or heavy) which would now likely have to be built on bridge over the road/intersection. The East-West project has already made getting across the harbour difficult as shown in the video a few months ago from AT.
The final paper and is a briefing to Simon Bridges summarising some of the information from the paper above.
This project is looking to be a classic example of how differently we treat projects. The cost of it is already ballooned to $1.8 billion, seemingly without a single drop of concern and at the current rate it is quite possible it will end up costing taxpayers over $2 billion. Yet despite this and unlike the CRL it hasn’t been subject to detailed cross examination by other government agencies, it hasn’t had usage or job growth targets imposed on it. It was even pulled out of the ATAP process even though that is meant to include projects not yet committed to – which at that stage East-West wasn’t.
This week in Parliament the government have been using patsy questions to talk up their recent transport announcements about the City Rail Link and East-West Link. Both are entertaining in their own ways.
On Wednesday there was almost a bit surreal when Transport Minister Simon Bridges got asked a series of patsy questions by Botany MP and former councillor Jami-Lee-Ross about the CRL. This extended to a couple of questions from other members in the house. What I found most interesting is watching Bridges now defend the decision to allow construction to start in 2018 after he and his predecessors spent so many years defending why they wouldn’t make that a decision.
While we’re far from fans of the project, Bridges quip to Peters about Puhoi to Wellsford was at least funny.
On Thursday Jami-Lee Ross started another patsy to the minister, this time about the East-West Link. It was all a pretty staid affair until Green MP Julie Anne Genter jumped in highlighting that some of the other options for the project were cheaper and had better economic outcomes – something we highlighted here. I think she saved the best line till last.
Normally organisations don’t make announcements late on the last Friday afternoon before Christmas unless it’s about something they don’t want much coverage of by the media. Last Friday the NZTA made an announcement that would fit in that category – they’re now going to try and obtain consent for the East-West Link. This is the $1 billion+ project that will create a new barrier between to the water right at a time when we’ve just spent nearly $30 million to fix the foreshore on the other side on Onehunga. It also comes right after Panuku Development Auckland announced that Onehunga would be one of their top priorities including the redevelopment of the Onehunga Wharf.
The NZ Transport Agency and Auckland Transport have taken another step towards construction of the East West Connections project, confirming that the preferred option will go ahead to the next stage.
The project, which is one of the top three transport priorities for Auckland, will now start gathering the necessary planning approvals and consents to protect the route between Onehunga and Mt Wellington.
This follows a wide range of feedback received in July on the preferred approach. The project will improve connections into and out of Onehunga-Penrose and also speed up bus travel times between Mangere, Otahuhu and Sylvia Park.
“A team of consultants has now been engaged to start the planning and consent phase of this key project,” says the NZ Transport Agency’s Highway Manager Brett Gliddon.
“People will also have more opportunities to provide further input and feedback as the design is developed.”
The Transport Agency plans to apply to the Environmental Protection Authority for the Notice of Requirement to obtain the necessary land and approvals for the project later in 2016.
At the same time, the Transport Agency and Auckland Transport are planning to start work in early 2016 on a package of early improvements. These are aimed at providing some early benefits to freight and public transport users on both the motorway and local road network.
Auckland Transport spokesperson Andrew Scoggins says this will include upgrades needed for the introduction of the new south Auckland public transport network. This incorporates an upgraded Mangere town centre bus station and new bus stops in Otahuhu town centre.
“Auckland Transport and the Transport Agency will also begin improving journeys for drivers moving around busy Onehunga local roads, starting with four laning a section of Neilson Street.”
The Southwestern Motorway will also be widened to four lanes in each direction between Queenstown Road and Neilson Street and bus shoulder lanes will be added all the way to Kirkbride Road towards the airport.
As Cam pointed out well in this post recently, Option F which is what most closely resembles the final option they’ve chosen appears to fail when an incremental benefit-cost ratio is calculated.
As I’ve said before, this project is like trying to crack a nut with a sledgehammer. Absolutely some parts of the existing road need to have some money spent on it but over a billion?
How transport projects are evaluated has always been of interest to me. I believe that although the standard cost benefit analysis approach that lies behind the NZTA economic evaluation manual has its flaws, the resulting BCR is still an important factor in determining whether a project, or a particular project option, should proceed. I don’t really buy the argument that a project with an unfavorable BCR should be trumped by “strategic” reasons to enable it to proceed. If the strategic reason is any good it will probably be reflected in the BCR, particularly if wider economic benefits (WEBs) are taken into account. I put the Puhoi to Warkworth business case in this category (BCR 0.92) , along with the eye-wateringly expensive Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing for cars and trucks (BCR 0.4).
Recently I took a look at a number of documents on the East-West Connections project – formerly called the East-West Link, released by the NZTA . At this stage they’ve completed an “Indicative Business Case” (IBC) – essentially, an initial investigation of the options for improving connectivity in the area. They’ve published the IBC alongside a number of technical appendices.
This is a welcome step as this is the first time that the wider public is getting a decent look at the project, including all of the options on the table. NZTA’s decision to release the full documentation, without redacting large sections of the analysis, is really good for transparency.
So let’s take a high-level look at some of the specific trade-offs between costs and benefits of the different options. To jump right to it, NZTA’s conclusion is that Option F should be progressed to a Detailed Business Case. Here’s a picture of Option F, which involves a new highway along the Onehunga foreshore:
For context, Options C, D and E also involved building new roads (part of the way) along the foreshore, while Options A and B entailed upgrades to existing roads, including freight lanes. A summary assessment of this “short list” is available in Appendix O of the business case.
NZTA conducted a cost-benefit analysis (CBA) of these six options. CBA for transport projects typically compares:
- The financial costs to build and operate the project, and
- The monetised economic benefits of the project, including user benefits such as travel time savings, vehicle operating cost savings, and reliability improvements and other benefits such as vehicle emissions reductions (or increases) and effects on economic productivity (“agglomeration”).
While CBA does have some weaknesses, largely due to shortcomings in the modelling tools available to us, it’s a conceptually robust way to assess project options. Especially in the case of road projects, NZTA’s approach should capture the majority of the economic benefits arising from projects, including productivity improvements for freight users.
This is the summary table:
You can see the net present value of the total benefits exceed the total costs for each option – i.e. the total benefit-cost ratio (BCR) for each option is above 1.
However, there are two problems.
The first is that the NZTA has made somewhat arbitrary assumptions about agglomeration benefits, which in theory reflect the productivity gains arising from improving connectivity between businesses. Rather than formally modelling it using the procedure specified in Appendix A10 of NZTA’s Economic Evaluation Manual, they’ve simply assumed that agglomeration impacts will add 25% on top of transport user benefits for each option.
As Stu previously highlighted in the case of the Mill Road highway, which included a similar “fudge factor” for agglomeration benefits, there is no real reason to do this (other than the rather circular argument that the same thing is being done for other projects).
In the case of East-West Connections, there is a stronger argument to be made for agglomeration benefits, as this project will serve a busy commercial/industrial area. However, it’s still necessary to do the analysis to establish their existence and magnitude! I (perhaps cynically) suspect that the 25% figure has simply been used to make the BCRs all appear higher than they otherwise would be. For public relations purposes it is preferable to have a higher BCR than a low one, even though the purpose of the exercise is an option evaluation rather than an assessment of the absolute economic worth of the project.
The second problem with this table is that it is not consistent with NZTA’s own requirements. Section 2.8 of the EEM sets out requirements for calculating and reporting BCRs. That section requires an incremental analysis of costs and benefits:
In other words, if you are choosing between two options, one of which is considerably more expensive than the other, it’s not enough to say that the more costly option has a BCR above 1. It’s actually necessary to show that the added (incremental) benefits of the costly option exceed the added (incremental) costs.
This is an important step in cost-benefit analysis as it shows you whether spending that extra bit of money for a more expensive solution is justified. Failing to do an incremental CBA is basically an invitation for gold-plating and overspending – i.e. find a worthwhile project, and then jack up the costs as high as possible.
So let’s take a look at an incremental BCR analysis of the East-West options. For simplicity I’ve focused only on Options A, B, and F – the two cheapest options, and NZTA’s preferred option. (Options C, D, and E are fairly similar to F in terms of total costs and total benefits – including them wouldn’t get a different result.)
Here’s a picture of Option A, which is an upgrade of SH20 and the existing Nielson St route to SH1:
And here’s Option B, which is pretty similar but also adds a south-facing ramp to SH1:
I’ve ranked the options from least to most expensive:
- Option A has total costs of $200 million and total benefits of $850 million. Consequently, it has an incremental BCR (relative to spending nothing) of 4.3. In other words, Option A seems like a good project.
- Option B has total costs of $500m and total benefits of $1650m. This means that it has incremental costs of $300m (i.e. $500m-$200m) and incremental benefits of $800m (i.e. $1650m-$850m). Its incremental BCR, compared to Option A, is therefore 2.7. This suggests that it’s well worth spending the extra money for Option B.
- Option F has total costs of $800m and total benefits of $1550m. Relative to Option B, its incremental costs are $300m and its incremental benefits are -$100m. Its incremental BCR is therefore -0.3.
In other words, if the NZTA were to follow their own economic evaluation manual it shows that Option F is not great value for money. It costs a lot more while actually delivering fewer economic benefits than Option B. Negative BCRs are generally not a positive sign that a project is a good idea.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t build Option F, or that we should build Option B. There may be some significant positive or negative effects that aren’t captured in this analysis and that may tip things in a different direction. For example, existing traffic modelling tools may not capture travel time reliability benefits very well. Similarly, we haven’t taken a look at environmental costs – on the one hand, Option F paves over the remainder of the Onehunga foreshore, which is negative; on the other, it potentially moves trucks away from the town centre and residential areas, which might be a good thing.
Admittedly I’m not a professional economist, but to me the incremental BCR analysis does highlight several questions that need to be answered:
- Given the fact that Option F costs more than Option B while delivering fewer quantified economic benefits, is there evidence that other unquantified benefits, such as travel time reliability, are sufficiently large to justify the added costs?
- Given that the project is primarily intended to improve convenience for freight users, has the government asked freight companies and shippers in the area if they would be willing to invest their own money to pay for Option F?
- Given the results of the Basin Reserve Flyover hearings, in which a Board of Inquiry found that the incremental economic benefits of the Flyover weren’t sufficient to outweigh the added environmental/amenity costs, is there a risk that approval for Option F won’t be forthcoming?
And finally, given the results of an incremental BCR analysis, isn’t there a case to also progress Option B for a more detailed assessment in the next stage of the work, given that it maximises economic benefits at a lower cost?
We’ve known for some time the East-West
Link Connections is shaping up to be one of those projects that tries to crack a nut by using a sledgehammer. The thin lines that AT/NZTA draw on the maps make the project look small, but in reality, if built this project is going to be massive. It will involve significant reclamation of the northern side of the Mangere Inlet to build a four lane motorway limited access road – with the truck lobby wanting even fewer intersections than currently proposed. As part of the 1960s nostalgic thinking around this new road, it even appears from the maps that the new road will cut off access to the foreshore, just at a time when the Onehunga side of the inlet is about to have its foreshore restored. In addition to the new road along the foreshore the project also involves:
- Adding new lanes on both sides of SH20 between Queenstown Road and Neilson Street.
- A massive new motorway interchange at Neilson St to link people directly to the new road and to Onehunga as well as widening Onehunga Harbour Rd to four lanes.
- Widening Neilson Street to four lanes and upgrading the Captain Springs Road/Neilson Street intersection – note: it seems the widening is only as far as Captain Springs Rd, not all the way to Church St.
- The extension of the Waikaraka cycleway to Sylvia Park
- Widening of Sylvia Park Road to four lanes and direct ramps to SH1 south of Mt Wellington
- Adding new lanes on both sides of SH1 between the new ramps and Princes Street
Even at this early stage the NZTA suggest the entire project will cost $1 billion. If they carry on with the current thinking then my guess is that the cost will probably start pushing up closer to $1.5 billion.
AT/NZTA say they are going to be working closely with local community on some aspects of the project and one of those is the Neilson St interchange – or Gloucester Park Interchange as they now seem to be calling it.
I’ve been sent a presentation following a stakeholder workshop earlier this month looking at the options for this interchange. I don’t know which stakeholders are involved but one will almost certainly be The Onehunga Enhancement Society (TOES). They’re one of the key groups behind current foreshore restoration but they’re also the ones who came up with a horrific alternative plan to put an eight lane road along the foreshore and all the way to Highbrook. As I understand it, one line of their thinking is that if a massive new road is built then as mitigation they can replicate the current foreshore restoration on the inlet. While the eight lane motorway thankfully isn’t happening it seems AT/NZTA are considering some of their ideas for the interchange.
The following images show the potential options being considered for the interchange, in all you can see the route for the rail line to get to the airport.
Option A1 is a version of the TOES concept and amongst other things would require a new bridge across the harbour to go with the two motorway bridges, a rail bridge and a walking/cycling bridge. There’s also a tunnel to link people heading south on SH20 to the E-W Link. It’s actually slightly scaled back from the TOES original version which had the blue connection also as a new bridge.
Option B1 is the NZTA’s concept and is what is shown in the first image. They note it will have impacts on:
- Coastal Edge
- Hopua Tuff Ring
- Sea Scout Hall
- Local access
As you can see from the image, it doesn’t add any additional road crossings of the harbour, and instead sends traffic to/from Onehunga or the motorway via a new bridge over the motorway.
The NZTA have also come up with two composite options which they’re calling Option C.
I personally can’t see the options that require a new bridge across the inlet stacking up, which means the most likely options to be selected would be B1 or C2
As the new road is intended to be limited access – i.e. no driveways – these plans would make it impossible to access some of the neighbouring properties such as the wharf. There are three options for how to retain local road and therefore walking/cycling access.
Option A is a tunnel under the motorway and new Onehunga Harbour Rd
Option B is a bridge over the top of the road – this would likely link in with option A and both option Cs above.
Option C is what they call an inner loop but which appears to be a tunnel using part of the old rail designation.
They then combine each of the interchange options with each of the local road options, with each to go through an assessment to determine the best combination. The presentation also notes that following the workshop AT/NZTA agreed they would assess a few other aspects. It suggests not all are listed but includes:
- Where local roads can go over, not under, the East West Connection arterial.
- Possibilities for cut and cover of the East West Connection arterial opposite the Wharf area.
- Alternatives for the suggested bridge, which crosses SH20 in the current options, to become a tunnel.
As you can see just from this small section alone, it is likely to be hugely expensive to build this road, which will probably do little for truck congestion because the road will be filled with single occupant cars. If the project was really about providing better access for trucks then they’d be getting on with fixing Neilson St and adding measures like truck lanes. That they’re not doing this only adds to my feeling that this is a make-work scheme for road planners/engineers, and a predetermined solution in search of a problem – much like another road crossing of the Waitemata Harbour. There’s probably also a case of those working on the project being beholden to the crazy demands of the stakeholders such as TOES and the trucking companies.
Continue reading East-West and Gloucester Park Interchange