RIP Eastern Motorway

In ATAP (the Auckland Transport Alignment Project) one of the ideas that was investigated was the reincarnation of the Eastern Motorway, this time called the Eastern Strategic Corridor. It came about as a result of a push by the NZCID (now just called Infrastructure New Zealand) in their report titled “Transport Solutions for a Growing City“. We covered it back in May last year and it had some useful things about the need for better public transport, smarter road pricing, and alignment of transport & land use etc.

Most interestingly the NZCID commented on the AWHC in its report, remarking that as it stands provides low value for money, and that it needs an Eastern Alignment connecting to an Eastern Corridor to fully leverage the advantage it could provide.

“The proposed Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing performs the worst economically, delivering a BCR of 0.4.” – Page 31

“A unique advantage of the Eastern Corridor transport solution is the ability to leverage the potential of the largest ever infrastructure project in New Zealand: a $5 billion Waitemata Harbour tunnel. The proposed Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing is throttled at both its northern and southern termination points, constraining its potential. It cannot connect new businesses and communities and it cannot lift the opportunities for the region, as its predecessor, the Auckland Harbour Bridge has done. Consequently, it cannot deliver economic and social benefits consistent with its high cost and these limitations are highlighted by conventional cost benefit analysis which shows a return of 40 cents for every dollar invested.” – Page 63

In response the ATAP team commissioned a report by AECOM called the Eastern Strategic Corridor Assessment and the report says some very interesting things. They looked at two different options – also shown on the map below:

  1. a motorway option connecting to an Eastern Alignment AWHC that ends at the intersection of Mill/Murphys Roads, and
  2. an expressway option connecting an Eastern Alignment AWHC that ends at Allen’s Road.

ATAP Eastern Highway Corridor Proposals

Whilst the motorway options performed better than the expressway option due to reaching further south adding to the catchment, the report found that the corridor did very little to reduce congestion across the network.

“Congestion across the network exhibits only minor changes as illustrated by Figure 16 and Figure 17 below. Apart from the Motorway option in the AM peak, which shows a decrease of 1.3%; there is less than a one percent decrease in hours spent in severe congestion which is defined as LOS E or worse for all other scenarios.” – Page 11

The real kicker though, comes when they estimated the cost for each option and the AWHC. The expressway option came in at a whopping $10.89b with the Motorway option higher again at $11.26b. The (BCR) Benefit Cost Ratio for the expressway option was just 0.2, and the motorway not much better at 0.4. I am not a fan of making conclusions solely on the BCR due to limitations in the way we model it, however the seriously low BCR is concerning.

What’s worse is that elements in the BCR such as travel time savings are likely overstated

“As can be seen from table 6 above, preliminary BCR’s both options as modeled present poor value for money coming in well below 1.0, meaning that the NPV benefits do not outweigh the investment costs. The Motorway option has substantially higher benefits than the expressway, particularly as would be expected in travel time savings. However it must be noted that the tunnel components for the Motorway option has been modeled as a 100kph posted speed limit. To date, road tunnels in New Zealand have only been posted at 80kph generally as a compromise between safety requirements and cost. As such a modeled posted speed limit of 100kph may not be achievable in practice and the travel time savings, and attraction of the route may be overstated in this test.” – Page 16

They also suggest that further investigation is likely to reduce the BCR on balance rather than increase it

“The motorway would require the acquisition of land to construct 15.5 km of road and 8 intersections/interchanges. Given the above it is unlikely that further more detailed development of the eastern corridor and refinement of costings would improve the BCR. On balance if seems more likely that if would result in a lower value.” – Page 18

Whilst they found the route provided resilience for the transport network, it does very little to address congestion and the high capital costs outweighs any benefit. Still, they advised keeping the existing eastern corridor designation until Smarter Pricing and the western alignment for AWHC is agreed.

“However we also recommend that corridor protection for the eastern alignment should be maintained until such time as the ATAP Government agencies commit to both the additional western alignment of AWHC and the use of the smarter road charging approach being developed within ATAP.” – Page 18

So, the NZCID is saying the western alignment of AWHC provides very low value for money and the AECOM report shows that leveraging any advantage of a new eastern corridor also results in low value for money, as the BCR is 0.2-0.4. The eastern corridor didn’t make it through in to ATAP but some serious questions need be raised regarding the viability of AWHC given even the infrastructure lobby don’t think it’s a good idea.

The Eastern Motorway: killed socially/politically in 2004 and academically in 2016.

NZCID’s scary views on transport in Auckland

I don’t think New Zealand’s infrastructure lobby has met a project it didn’t think should be bigger or more expensive and later today they’re holding an event to release a report on Auckland’s transport system that they’ve titled: Transport Solutions for a Growing City. At the event they’ll also have talks from the Employers and Manufacturers Association and the AA. Here’s the banner for it

NZCID transport report

They describe the situation as this.

Auckland’s transport system is under pressure.

Peak traffic congestion is rapidly extending into commercial and recreational periods, undermining competitiveness and liveability. Public transport is increasing, but not fast enough to reduce pressures on the road network. Auckland and Central Government are reviewing transport plans through the Auckland Transport Alignment Project to identify how better outcomes can be delivered. But the transport programme is only one part of the equation.

Learn how the city can turn around Auckland’s transport outlook by expanding the capacity of the network and improving the alignment of demand, growth and investment.

While we’ll have to wait for their report to be released, they’ve already published this video which gives a hint at the direction their report will be taking.

A few take outs include

  • They want huge investment in building carparking buildings at busway stations. This would cost at least $30,000 per extra carpark (excluding land costs), and even now the busway carparks account for less than 50% of the trips from those busway stations. If you built 1,000 carparks for $30 million, the interest costs would be $6 million a year, but it would only add around 500,000 extra PT  trips. $12 per trip is an expensive way to grow patronage, and we hope Auckland Transport has better ways to spend its money than that.
  • They say the busway is empty and want trucks, vans and high occupancy vehicles to have access to the busway – either for free or a charge. This was presumably also before the government’s announcement of allowing electric vehicles on the busway too. It’s worth noting this from the NZTA’s post implementation review of the busway in 2012 – and the busways got busier since then..

It appears doubtful that following the success (and increased frequencies) of the bus operation any significant amount of HOV use of the existing busway could be achieved without negative impacts on bus operations (5).

And from our friend Cornelius

IMG_20160510_091129

  • There are lots of sweeping shots of the motorways with cars. They seem to pay a lot of attention to a few spots, particularly the North Shore on-ramps and around Mt Wellington. This is no surprise as the NZCID have been huge supporters of the East-West link and an Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing. Yet related to AWHC they do note “While the bridge flows relatively well”
  • There are a number of sniping comments at cycleways such as Lightpath where they say it “carries few patrons”. This is despite the fact you can see at least 5 people on it, the same number as using the using the motorway off-ramp. Later they also make similar snarky comments about the NW cycleway over the SH16 causeway.
  • In talking about rail they make a basic error, saying that the Auckland Plan envisages rail patronage doubling from 70 million trips a year to 140 million. This is actually total patronage including buses too. They then go on to say that PT isn’t enough so a “significant increase in road capacity will be needed”. There is no talk of delivering a true regional rapid transit network.

And again from Cornelius

IMG_20160510_091715

  • They say that the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) must deliver solutions to congestion which to them includes road pricing – something they’ve led the charge on – PT, walking and cycling but also “desperately needed road capacity”. From this and previous comments it’s clear their main focus is MOAR ROADZ

They then list of the solutions they think are needed. Some of these aren’t too bad and we would agree with but others are crazy

  1. Improving frequency and convenience of public transport services to major centres of employment, education and entertainment
  2. Vastly increasing park and ride facilities and providing express bus services across the public transport network
  3. Developing mixed use “live, walk and work” communities
  4. Targeting high amenity intensification around rail and busway stations
  5. Enabling satellite city development at scale beside the main rail corridors
  6. Promoting teleworking and work from home initiatives utilising digital connectivity
  7. Investing in leading edge intelligent traffic management systems
  8. Enabling early adoption of new vehicle technologies
  9. Building a new Eastern Ring Route from Esmond Rd [sic] to Papakura, and East West from Onehunga to Mount Wellington
  10. Introducing variable motorway network tolls to both manage traffic demand and fund much needed additional transport investment

Of those #9 sounds remarkably similar to our April Fools day post which we even called the “Eastern Ring Route”.

This is the route we think they’re proposing, only differing from ourjokee in that it doesn’t go under Lake Rd

IMG_20160510_114556

Could our April Fools joke become a reality?

In some ways that’s not a surprise as that April 1 post was based on what we’d been hearing for some time. They’ve said before that they want AWHC to connect to the east of the city to join up with Grafton Gully. We’d also heard for some time that they’ve wanted the Eastern motorway back on the agenda and that to get around the issues of the residents in the east who scuttled the last attempt over a decade ago, that they’ve proposed it be tunnelled all of the way to Glen Innes. Combining these two projects together would result in a tunnel of around 14km in length and that also doesn’t include how it gets from Glen Innes to Papakura. The cost of that corridor alone would probably build and entire regional rapid transit system and still have change to spare.

We’ll have to wait for the report to hopefully be made public to see just how bad it is but based on what we can tell so far, it doesn’t look like it will be good. Given they’re also a stakeholder on ATAP I assume they’re probably pushing these ideas there too.

Cycleway or Motorway

While we need to get more connections on the next stage of the Eastern Path, Stage 1 is well underway. Earlier this month Auckland Transport published some pictures of the work so far.

Glen Innes to Tamaki Dr stage 1 - March16 2

Glen Innes to Tamaki Dr stage 1 - March16 1

The thing that struck me was just how wide the work area is. It almost makes you wonder if they forgot they’re building a cycleway and are building the meant to be dead eastern motorway. Thankfully there is a more reasonable explanation and it’s good to seem them having a little fun with their answer too.

If you’re not sure about where Stage 1 is, it’s shown below and goes from Merton Rd through to St Johns Rd

Section 1 map update

 

Sod Turning Day: Eastern Path and Southern Motorway

It’s sod turning day with two major projects officially kicking off.

Glen Innes to Tamaki Dr Shared Path

The most interesting of these is the start of stage 1 of the Glen Innes to Tamaki Dr Shared Path. When fully finished the path is bound to become one of the most iconic walking and cycling routes in Auckland – although it is going to have some stiff competition from the likes of Skypath and Seapath, The Westhaven Promenade and the Nelson St off-ramp.

Eastern Path Section 4

Construction of one Auckland’s biggest ever cycle projects is starting on Wednesday and will be marked by a sod-turning ceremony attended by the Minister of Transport and Mayor of Auckland.

The Glen Innes to Tamaki shared path is a 7.3km path for walking and cycling that starts in Merton Rd and follows the eastern rail line to Tamaki Drive at Hobson Bay. It will create one of the most scenic bike rides in Auckland and make walking and cycling into the city easier and more convenient for people living in communities throughout the inner eastern suburbs.

Following the eastern rail line, the shared path goes across Orakei Basin and comes out at Tamaki Dr where future cycle projects are planned.

The project will be constructed in four stages. It will completed in late 2018 with the first stage from Merton Rd to St Johns Rd set to open in late 2016.

After short speeches there will be a sod-turning ceremony. In addition to Minister Simon Bridges and Mayor Len Brown, the project team from NZ Transport Agency and Auckland Transport will be in attendance.

 

Below is the approximate timing of each of the four stages.

  • Section 1: Merton Road to St Johns Road – Late 2015 – late 2016.
  • Section 3: Orakei Basin boardwalk – Mid 2016 – mid 2017.
  • Section 2: St Johns Road to Orakei Basin – Late 2016 – late 2017.
  • Section 4: Orakei Basin to Tamaki Drive – Late 2017 – late 2018.

Sections of the Glen Innes to Tamaki Drive shared path 1

 

The herald has reported that in total is meant to cost around $40 million to construct and AT say it has the following features:

  • The path will be around four metres wide and constructed mostly in concrete. Timber boardwalks will be used for short water crossings such as Orakei Basin and concrete for longer structures such as the proposed Hobson Bay crossing. The path will be safe and convenient for use by people on foot or on bike.
  • Good lighting will extend hours of access, particularly during winter months.
  • The route’s geography is hilly in places, but the design of the path will keep gradients as low as possible.
  • The path design will link into local communities and the project will identify future links that could be built at a later date.
  • The path will connect communities with public transport along the route.

Other than above AT haven’t said much about improving local access which I think will be critical to getting the most out of the route. Unsurprisingly this was the biggest concern of those that submitted during consultation last year with 56.8% of submitters raising Insufficient access points / Feeder routes / Poor connectivity / Tamaki Drive shared path poor quality as something they disliked about the project. The next highest dislike was concerns about it being a shared path which was raised by 15.8% of submitters.

In the past I’ve seen a number of comments questioning the priority this project has been given. As I understand things the key reason this is happening now is that the path is using the designation originally created for the cancelled Eastern Motorway. That designation will lapse soon so it makes sense to get this done before that happens. I’ve also heard it suggested that the NZTA want to free up land they own around Glen Innes now it won’t be needed for a motorway.

Southern Motorway Works

Today Simon Bridges is also kicking off the $267 million project to widen the southern motorway between Manukau and Papakura as well as upgrade the Takanini interchange. There are some aspects of this project I do think will be valuable, such as improving the Takanini Interchange which I understand is a common location for crashes however I’m not convinced the entire project is critical at this time. Like the Glen Innes Shared Path this project is being done in four stages and is due to be complete around late 2018. The four stages are shown below.

Southern Corridor Stages

From the look of things some parts of this section of motorway haven’t been touched since it was first built. Here’s a shot of the Takanini Interchange and motorway to Papakura under construction from the early 1960’s

Southern Corridor History

 

How business groups view transport

Yesterday the Auckland Business Forum sponsored four pages of op-eds in the business section of the Herald about the need to improve transport for businesses. Unfortunately it ended up being a bit of a case of who left the gates to Jurassic Park open and let the Roadasaurs out.

Business Forum Jun 15

You can see all four pages below.

Page 1

Page 2

Page 3

Page 4

Perhaps the most hilarious of the pieces comes from the head of the National Road Carriers – a trucking lobby group – who effectively suggests that a Mad Max style apocalypse is imminent unless we take quick action to speed up the movement of trucks.

When trucks gridlock, Auckland stops. Virtually everything manufactured, imported, bought or consumed in Auckland is at some point transported by truck.

If truck movement stopped in Auckland, within the first 24 hours service stations would begin to run out of petrol, supermarkets and restaurants would have no fresh food, building sites and assembly companies using just-in-time suppliers would experience materials and parts shortages, and mail and other package deliveries would cease.

After a couple of days, food shortages would develop, motor vehicle fuel availability would dwindle, exports and imports of goods by sea and air would cease, as would operations of many wholesale and retail businesses. Thousands of Aucklanders would soon be out of work.

This demonstrates the critical importance of freight and goods delivery within Auckland’s transport system — when trucks can’t move, Auckland stops.

Freight is the backbone of the Auckland economy. It figures that if we are serious about improving our economy, we must get serious about tackling Auckland’s worsening traffic congestion and improving our productivity and efficiency.

As Auckland’s population grows, it is critical that we stop congestion spreading through the whole of the working day as it is starting to do in some areas of the city.

His other article suggests some of the ways trucks can be avoided where he suggests that trucks should be able to use the busway and bus lanes.

His big priority is the east-west link which he wants the government to take over and build as a RoNS – because you know it’s not like the NZTA is sitting around doing nothing. He suggests that a route along the waterfront on the Northern edge of the Mangere Inlet is good because it will “avoid community severance” and encourage the repair of the “environmentally damaged reclaimed land”. I know some Onehunga Foreshore groups support this option because they think they will get a new foreshore – like what is being done now next to the motorway – on the northern side of the inlet. Of course not that anyone will be able to easily access it due to the severance the motorway they want causes.

Seeing as this route is claimed to be so vitally important for truckies, I wonder how much they’re prepared to pay to use it – or are they expecting this to be a massive subsidy from the public towards their operations.

Herald East-West link graphic

Also pushing to keep the trucks moving is a representative of the construction firms. In this case he’s primarily talking about trucks involved in construction. A case of the trucks must get through to be able to build more roads that will also end up congested. It’s a bit like groundhog day. He also calls for trucks to be able to use busways. He is of course correct when he says:

At the heart of an Auckland-Wellington strategy must be an accelerated effort to improve the city’s public transport system. Getting single-occupancy commuter vehicles off Auckland roads during the day would free up the capacity for contractors, transport operators and other essential trades.

However a few paragraphs later he then undoes that by stating that PT should only be funded if it doesn’t get in the way of building new stuff.

Meanwhile, increased public transport funding is only viable if it does not impact on the activities of the people who build the city.

One area I do agree with him on is in his other piece where he suggests there might be some advantages to merging the local aspects of the NZTA and Auckland Transport. I’d go further and suggest the rail network should also be included. A single agency managing the entire transport network could be useful if it also coincided with more autonomy in how the money is spent rather than the rigid Government Policy Status. That could mean motorway, PT and local road and even rail freight projects could be treated equally but there is little chance the government would allow this.

Stephen Selwood from the NZCID has also written a few pieces. In one notes that the current plans for an Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing add no new connectivity and that it wastes the transport budget. His solution to this is to make the tunnel longer and instead connect up to the eastern side of the CBD. However not content with that he also wants to revive the Eastern Motorway and suggests it be built as a tunnel so it “protects the views and amenity of the eastern suburbs”. It would then presumably link up with a larger AMETI project.

If the AWHC is estimated at $5 billion then how much is an approximately 14km tunnel from Glen Innes to the North Shore going to be?

Lastly both Selwood and Chamber of Commerce CEO Michael Barnett separately talk about and support the governments push for a transport accord. While I don’t necessarily disagree it seems that are taking the stance that Auckland’s current plans are fundamentally wrong. In my view we’ve seen a huge improvement in the work AT has done in it’s planning for the future and it’s starting to show that the plans of the past aren’t necessarily right or worth pursuing. This has been shown in examples like how they’re thinking of deferring the Reeves Rd flyover which would have just shifted congestion one intersection down the road and to invest the money in bringing forward PT improvements. Another is them looking at light rail as way of addressing looming bus congestion.

Of course there’s also the irony that the business groups are supporting the government in creating another year of delay and debate while also calling for urgent action to speed things up. Perhaps it’s time to stop having a bet each way and pick a position. To me it also shows why it’s so vital that we don’t just leave the conversation about Auckland’s future to these influential and well connected groups.

What else will the Government announce? the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

In announcing that the government was finally going to come to the party and support the CRL, John Key has also made it clear that the project is going to be just one part of an overall package of transport projects in the city. We will have to wait till tomorrow to find out exactly what they are but I thought I would look at some of the most likely candidates.

The Good: 

The best outcome from my perspective would be a package of PT projects perhaps including rail to the airport, rail to the shore and some busways. Perhaps something like below. It might be unlikely but one can dream can’t they?

Possible System

The Bad:

Perhaps the most likely announcement is something to do with the East-West Link. John Key is announcing the transport package at the Auckland Chamber of Commerce and this project has been one of their key ones. The project would see new roads built and existing ones upgraded to create new links between either Onehunga or Mangere and Highbrook.  The option that has been talked about the most in the past has tended to be option 3 which is a brand new road (new roads in black, upgraded roads in red)

East-West Option 3

 

Personally I think that there is definitely a need to improve transport in this area but most of what is suggested seems like a solution in search of a problem.

The Ugly:

There are two potential projects that would fall into this category.

The Eastern Highway – Gerry Brownlee breathed new life into this project back at the end of April with the way he answered a question from John Campbell. Back then I made this observation:

At first I thought it was really odd the way that Brownlee talked about AMETI and whether that would happen as it is well under way and he has even visited the construction site. Re-watching the video, it then becomes clear that he is talking about a reviving of the eastern motorway. Did Brownlee just let slip that the government is now considering building it? It would certainly fit in with some whispers I have heard.

Bringing back the Eastern Highway would be a massive change in transport policy as it doesn’t exist on any of our current planning documents, although there is still a designation for it.

designation-map

Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (AWHC) – After the East-West Link this is probably the next most likely transport project to get a nod from the government. It would definitely be popular with many people on the North Shore but the reality is it is a really really stupid project. For starters it adds a huge amount of capacity across the harbour making it easier to drive and potentially putting a lot more cars onto our city streets, right at a time when we are trying to reduce the number in the city.

awhc-connections

The most recent business case found that a road tunnel under the harbour would cost around $5 billion and have a benefit to cost ratio of 0.2, in other words for every $1 invested we would only get 20c back. What’s more that was on the back of some very dodgy traffic growth figures. The business case assumed growth would continue at the same rate it historically has but didn’t take into account the fact that traffic volumes had fallen substantially in recent years. Even if growth returned to the level it was previously, which is unlikely given the trends we are seeing elsewhere, the need for a new crossing has been pushed back almost indefinitely.

Chart2

Are there any other projects that you think will be tacked on to the CRL?

Eastern Highway in the Unitary Plan

Our Eastern Highway April Fool’s Day post was intended to be a funny joke, but since then a number of matters have made us wonder whether that post cut a bit closer to the truth than we had suspected. The first was Gerry Brownlee’s rather strange remarks during an interview with John Campbell where he was meant to be talking about the AMETI project, but came across as though he was talking about the Eastern Highway.

The second is obvious if you look a bit closer into the online Draft Unitary Plan – into the designations section under Auckland Transport you get designation number 1620:eastern-highway-designationThe area the designation covers seems to be quite significant – my best guess is highlighted in red in the Unitary Plan maps below:designation-mapLike most people, I had thought that this project was long dead and buried – considering the significant grief it has brought over time to its promoters. Further south, the AMETI project generally picks up the parts of the old Eastern Highway project which made some sense and has attempted to stitch them together into a sensible project.

The designation description also seems to be in something of a time warp:

Proposed Eastern Transport Corridor.

This requirement for a designation has been carried forward from the former Auckland City 1991 Transitional District Plan, with its purpose being to secure the opportunity for a future transport corridor.

At the time of public notification of the Proposed District Plan (1 July 1993), it was not possible for the Council to delineate the final form of the transport corridor designation, as the necessary transport studies had not been completed.

The Council expects to be in a position by the end of 1997 to decide in principle the appropriate form or forms of transport for the transport needs and options for meeting them. As part of this process, the Council will consult with local residents and provide them with all relevant information as it becomes available.

If the Council proposes to carry out any development on the proposed Eastern Transport Corridor, the Council will withdraw this designation and replace it with a fresh requirement, in accordance with Section 168 of the Act. That fresh requirement will be publicly notified, and determined in accordance with the provisions of Part VIII of the Act.

The expiry date of this designation was extended to 1 November 2015, by S78 of the Local Government (Auckland Transitional Provisions) Act 2010.

Note: In accordance with section 184A(2)(b) of the Act, the council resolved on 11 August 2004 that it had made, and was continuing to make, substantial progress or effort towards giving effect to the designation and extended the designation lapse period until 11 August 2014.

It’s worth noting that this designation does not provide for the construction of the project, but rather just secures the corridor so that it can’t be used for other purposes (although seemingly most of the land it covers is already owned by NZTA or the Council). Yet it seems strange to even bother having this designation retained for a project that is not even in the 30 year vision of the Auckland Plan.

Unless something weird is going on behind the scenes over trying to revive this project, the Unitary Plan certainly seems like a golden opportunity to finally bury the Eastern Highway forever as a bad idea. We’ve already got a high-speed, high-capacity route along its alignment – the railway line. The last thing we need is a motorway to duplicate the line and funnel a heap of traffic right into downtown Auckland, at a gigantic cost and with huge environmental destruction.