The Hobsonville Deviation motorway project has its open day today, and properly opens for traffic tomorrow morning. This is a fairly critical part of the Western Ring Route and will make a big difference to Hobsonville Road in particular – removing around 80% of the traffic from this road. There’s a fairly informative video of the project here:
What’s interesting though is to look at the tone of much of NZTA’s media activity surrounding the motorway opening. Instead of trumpeting the project as a grand solution to traffic problems in the area – like they have done for previous motorway projects, the main message they’re trying to get through seems to be that people shouldn’t expect the project to be a panacea to solving congestion. For example:
The NZ Transport Agency is reminding drivers to plan ahead for expected changes to traffic patterns when the new State Highway 18 Hobsonville motorway opens in early August.
The NZTA’s State Highways Manager for Auckland and Northland, Tommy Parker says drivers should still expect some delays during the morning and afternoon peaks.
“The new motorway will be a big step forward in providing more reliable travel times and improving safety by moving thousands of vehicles away from local roads, but there will be some hold-ups during the peaks, and it will not stop all congestion in north-west Auckland,” Mr Parker says.
“The Hobsonville project marks another step towards the completion of the Western Ring Route, but there is still a lot of work to be done before we finish this motorway alternative to SH1 and can deliver all of its benefits to drivers,” Mr Parker adds.
Morning queues are expected to occur near Westgate when traffic on the Hobsonville motorway merges with city bound vehicles on the Northwestern Motorway (SH16).
“The Northwestern is already busy in the morning around the Westgate area,” Mr Parker adds.
In the afternoon, queues are expected on the Upper Harbour Highway (SH 18) at the Constellation Drive intersection with the Northern Motorway (SH1). There could also be queues at the Brigham Creek roundabout narrows to one lane heading north-west.
I had kind of hoped that perhaps this change in approach was due to NZTA recognising that building more motorways tends to only shift congestion, rather than fix it, but it seems that the greater likelihood is to drive home the message of how important they think it is for the massive proposed widening of the northwest motorway to proceed.
Combined with the 5.5km motorway section from Greenhithe to Albany, which opened in 2007, it will provide a seamless link between West Auckland and North Shore.
The Westgate interchange also marks the start of a 3km extension of the Northwestern Motorway.
The article also outlines what I think will be the biggest real benefit of the project – getting a huge amount of traffic off Hobsonville Road: freeing it up for safety improvements and to become much more of a ‘normal’ arterial route, rather than the weird mix of arterial road and strategic connector it is now.
Traffic on the road – ranked one of the nation’s most dangerous with many intersections – is forecast to shrink from 40,000 vehicles a day to just 6550 once the main 6km section of motorway opens between Westgate and the Upper Harbour Bridge at Greenhithe.
40,000 vehicles a day is absolutely insanely busy for what’s just a two-lane road. It’s no wonder the road is so dangerous – I don’t even want to think about how hard it must be to cross as a pedestrian at the moment. Here are a couple of photos from the NZTA project website of what parts of the new motorway looks like: This view looks past the end of the existing northwest motorway, to the motorway-to-motorway interchange with SH18. The photo below shows most of the new motorway’s route, viewed from probably just above the Upper Harbour Bridge looking west: What’s quite interesting to read in the Herald article is how NZTA are lowering a few expectations of the new motorway’s ability to completely fix congestion.
Senior project manager Rachel Kirk yesterday said the main new link would not provide a cure-all for congestion woes.
There was likely to be some morning queuing to reach the Northwestern Motorway from Hobsonville and similar congestion in the opposite direction in the afternoon peak.
But Ms Kirk said the agency was hoping for travel time savings of up to six minutes in each “tidal” peak direction, compared with the existing crawl along Hobsonville Rd for long-suffering commuters.
In any case, this is a motorway project that I’m generally supportive of. Furthermore, by my calculations it’s the second-t0-last piece of Auckland’s motorway network to be completed. Just Waterview Connection to go and the network will be completely finished.
A number of motorway projects underway at the moment – like the Manukau Connection, the Hobsonville Deviation and (not quite yet underway) the Waterview Connection – will have significant traffic reduction benefits for the local roads that they bypass. Well, actually I should say that these projects potentially will have significant traffic reduction benefits for local roads they bypass – because unless these benefits are ‘locked in’, over time it is inevitable they will be lost to induced demand.
What do I mean by “locking in” the traffic benefits of motorway projects? Well let’s take the Hobsonville Deviation as an obvious example, as one of its biggest benefits will be a significant reduction of traffic along Hobsonville Road – which is the SH18 link between West Auckland and the North Shore at the moment. Hobsonville Road is a pretty horrible road – only two lanes, 50 kph speed limit (so it takes forever to drive along), a pretty messy mix of local traffic and general ‘through-traffic’. When the new motorway opens, a huge chunk of its through traffic will be removed, and put onto the new motorway. I took a photo of the progress on this motorway yesterday – and it doesn’t seem too far away from completion:
The completion of this project will enable Hobsonville Road to become a much more normal arterial route – still potentially quite busy – but with potential to be a great main street to new development that will happen in this area over the next few years.
When the new motorway opens, most through-traffic will take the motorway, while I imagine even a lot of local traffic will try to spend as little time possible on Hobsonville Road before getting to the new motorway. Hobsonville Road will be much nicer for pedestrians, cyclists, there will potentially be the opportunity to create bus lanes and other forms of bus priority without stuffing up general traffic too much – simply because there will be, at least for a while, relatively little general traffic. However, over time there will be a lot of increased development in the area and slowly Hobsonville Road will fill up again – probably ending up eventually back where it started in terms of congestion, unfriendliness for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport – and generally once again be a huge gash sliced through the area. That is, unless we ‘lock in’ the benefits of the motorway project.
But how does one do that? How can we ensure that the traffic reduction benefits of this motorway project stick around for a long time? Somewhat counter-intuitively, what I think we must do is drastically cut back the general traffic capacity of Hobsonville Road once it no longer becomes the main road through the area. The same is true out in Manukau City, where the massive capacity of Wiri Station Road needs to be sliced back severely now that it’s not the main link between SH20 and SH1 any more. It is critical that most vehicles are encouraged to take the new motorway – both through it being a higher-speed environment but also through the old route becoming much slower speed and generally having a much more ‘local’ scale. Along Hobsonville Road, there’s the ability to start working on that Henderson to Albany QTN/RTN that has been listed on many plans for many many years. Along Wiri Station Road there’s the ability to create something of a “main street” for Manukau City – tying together Rainbow’s End with the main shopping centre and so forth.
Fundamentally though, the worry is that I don’t know whether many traffic engineers understand the benefits of lowering road capacities. I worry that the hugely wide, but initially nearly empty Hobsonville and Wiri Station roads will be seen as huge success stories, rather than as the opportunity to rededicate some of this unnecessary roadspace to more sustainable transport options. In Auckland we see many examples of huge road capacity being constructed a very long time before it is necessary (like all the four-lane roads through empty fields in Albany and Flat Bush) without any public transport, cycling or other pedestrian priority measures. This inevitably sets up these places to be completely auto-dependent. Motorway links that take a lot of traffic off main arterials provide us with a ‘second chance’ to give better priority to non-automobile transport.
We need to make sure that opportunity is taken. We need to rededicate that roadspace and lock in the real benefits to communities of the new motorway bypasses.
A couple of media releases on motorway projects today show that good progress is being made on two large projects: the SH20-SH1 Manukau Connection and the SH1 Newmarket Viaduct replacement project. Looking at the Manukau Connection Project first, the following part of the media release is quite interesting:
The $220M Manukau Extension motorway project is scheduled to be opened progressively between August and December. The new 4.5 kilometre-long extension will have two lanes in each direction and connect the Southern and Southwestern motorways. It will also help ease congestion on local roads within the Manukau City Centre area, including Wiri Station and Great South Roads.
The motorway will form the southern end of the Western Ring Route. When completed, it will provide a 48 kilometre alternative to SH1 between Manukau and Albany via SH20, SH16 and SH18.
So this project will be done by the end of this year. That will mean only two projects, the Waterview Connection and the Hobsonville Deviation (currently under construction), will be needed to complete the Western Ring Route – what has been Auckland’s largest roading project in the past few years (and will be over the next few years).
There is also good progress being made on the Newmarket Viaduct project, and vehicles will be using new sections of this road by September, and that four southbound lanes will be open by early next year. The project is still a long way from eventual completion, as the second half of the new viaduct will need to be built, and of course the whole existing structure will need to be removed at some point. Here are probably the most useful bits of this media release:
Transport Minister Steven Joyce says the completion of the southern half of the Newmarket Viaduct replacement project more than six months ahead of schedule is testament to the hard work and skill of those working on the project.
The NZ Transport Agency today announced that an important milestone in the $215 million Newmarket Connection: viaduct replacement project will be achieved on September 6.
The initial opening of three lanes on the new state of the art viaduct will allow contractors to complete a fourth southbound lane by early 2011. The full capacity benefits of the new structure will thereby be realised more than six months ahead of the original schedule.
So another $435 million spent on roading projects, but that’s not my main point here.
My main point is that we’re actually getting pretty damn close to this magical “completing the motorway network” that has been talked about for so long. The necessary improvements to the central junction points of the motorways are progressing – through the Newmarket Viaduct and Victoria Park Tunnel projects (combined cost of more than $600 million), while the Western Ring Route is being completed, through the Manukau Connection project, the Manukau Harbour Crossing Project (around half a billion dollars spent between those two projects) and the Hobsonville Deviation (another couple of hundred million there). That effectively just leaves the Waterview Connection in order to ‘complete’ the system.
The reason I point this is out is that over the next while I imagine we are going to see a lot of the contractors and their various lobby groups (NZ Council for Infrastructure Development, Contractors Federation and so forth) start to freak out a bit over this issue a bit. Now there are of course other projects that many of these groups are advocating be “added onto” the list of what’s necessary to ‘complete’ the motorway network – such as Puhoi to Wellsford, the enormous widening of State Highway 16, a link between SH20 and SH1 through Onehunga, an additional harbour crossing and so forth. But these additional projects are not what was considered part of ‘completing the motorway network’
In my opinion, the Waterview Connection is the last ‘piece of the puzzle’ for Auckland’s roading system. This is recognised in the Regional Land Transport Strategy 2010-2040 which assumes that beyond 2016 spending on state highways will reduced significantly, predominantly because we’ve built them all. For years, both Labour and National governments, along with local and regional politicians from both sides of the political divide have promised that they will improve the public transport system, but that we need to ‘complete the motorway network first’.
Well everyone, we’re just about there. Let’s start thinking about what’s on the other side of a complete motorway network, not just invent new parts of the motorway system that supposedly need completion.
It sounds like a circus doesn’t it? Roll up! Roll up! To the motorway building bonanza! I do generally find myself losing count when I try to put together all the motorway building projects that are going on around Auckland at the moment. Well, let’s give it a go anyway:
ALPURT B2: This is the final stage of a motorway that’s been under construction in stages for about the past 13 years. In my opinion it’s probably the most justified motorway project in Auckland at the moment, as it should help relieve (or at least, shift) one of the nastiest holiday traffic bottlenecks in the country, from Orewa to Puhoi. It’s a pretty spectacular road with viaducts and tunnels, and I think should be finished and open in just a few months.
Mt Roksill SH20 extension: This motorway extension will probably end up being fairly useful for me, as it will bring SH20 much much closer to me, which is good if I want to get to the airport or to the south. However, it is still a motorway to nowhere in that instead of dumping all its traffic onto Hillsborough Road, it’ll dump all its traffic onto Sandringham, Maioro and Dominion roads. Plus it’s along a route that is totally un-useful for public transport so will play its part in continuing the dominance of private vehicle transport in Auckland. To open in February or April next year I think.
Manukau Harbour Crossing Project: This is essentially the widening of SH20 from Queenstown Road to Walmsley Road. The most critical aspect of the project is the duplication of the Mangere Bridge. For some reason this project became ‘essential’ to complete before the Rugby World Cup in 2011 so the contractors are going balls out to get it done in time. Another ‘widening of the belt to allow yourself to get fatter’ project that (I know for a fact) is designed to induce private vehicle travel. Due for opening some time in early 2011 I think.
SH20-SH1 Manukau Link. This is a relatively short extension of motorway that will link up the southern end of SH20 with the Southern Motorway. I can see a pretty good logic in this project, in that it will get the through traffic off Wiri Station Road and hopefully allow Manukau City Centre to prosper more as a result of far fewer trucks chugging through it all the time. This is a pretty expensive project for its length, as there are an enormous number of bridges and other spans to be built. All this money for the motorway but nothing to ensure the Manukau Rail Spur is built properly…. typical. I think this project is due for completion in 2010 some time.
SH18 Hobsonville Deviation. This project has just started in the last few months, and will be a continuation of the Upper Harbour Motorway that was recently built bypassing Greenhithe. It will allow through traffic to bypass Hobsonville Road – which is one heck of an annoying arterial route. However, once again this is a project that hasn’t seemed to consider public transport at all. Perhaps a future busway from Albany to Westage could benefit from it, but I doubt the foresight is there to actually provide for this. Another auto-focused project designed to encourage car-use.
Add to this list projects that are due to be started in the near(ish) future:
Newmarket Viaduct Replacement. This is a pretty expensive project to replace the (not particularly old) Newmarket Viaduct, a pretty damn crucial link in Auckland’s roading network. Apparently when the viaduct was built, the technology was pretty new and as a result it’s fairly sub-optimal by international standards. The replacement will add one lane for southbound traffic, but (oddly) nothing for northbound traffic. Considering how sub-standard the rail network is, this project does seem to be just another example of how easy it is to get money for motorway projects in Auckland.
Victoria Park Tunnel. Now if there is one motorway project I do whole-heartedly support in Auckland it is this one. When the Central Motorway Junction Improvements were completed a couple of years they didn’t really fix any bottlenecks, but only shifted them – most particularly onto the 4 lane Victoria Park viaduct. The tunnel will provide three completely new lanes for northbound traffic, while all four lanes of the existing viaduct will be used for southbound vehicles. While there isn’t an immediately obvious benefit to public transport from this project, the mess the current situation creates for traffic on the Harbour Bridge does probably hold up buses to some extent. Furthermore, in the long run the Victoria Park Viaduct will eventually be completely replaced by a tunnel, and the park will finally be returned to its former glory by not having a bloody motorway cut across the middle of it.
Waterview Connection. Ha! Now here’s the biggie. All the other projects probably have a total cost of around $2 billion. This pretty much equals the cost of the Waterview Connection by itself. While it’s great that the only option left on the table for this link is a tunnel, the cost is simply astronomical for a roading project. I will leave my analysis of what that kind of money could do for Auckland’s train network to another post, but needless to say the scale and cost of the Waterview Connection – the last link in the western ring route hooking up the end of the Mt Roskill extension with SH16 – is unprecedented for this country.
So yes, as we can see there is a motorway building bonanza going on in Auckland at the moment. In fact, there has been one going on for the past few years now. However, the only time when congestion actually decreased was when petrol prices increased. It makes one think that instead of spending billions on more motorways, perhaps the government should just tax petrol more to solve congestion.