The sticky mess of the transport budget

The big news that the Council will be pushing back its preferred start date for the main part of the City Rail Link was not a huge surprise – aside from the enabling works the project’s probably not practically ready to start so quickly, even if funding support was available from Central Government (which it’s not). However, this is hardly a “win” on any account, as reduced spending on CRL in the next few years doesn’t free up money for other projects – as we stressed last month. This is because CRL doesn’t have an impact on rates until it opens, and it apparently is the level of rates income that constrains the transport budget.

So what does the rest of the transport budget look like? Looking at the details, the result is quite a mess, particularly during the first five years. This will become a core part of the big LTP question around whether the public wants a much larger transport programme and if so, how we’d prefer to pay for it (rates & fuel tax increases or a motorway toll). Hidden away at page 252 and 253 of the November Budget Committee agenda (27MB PDF) is the 10 year transport programme (although this is from before yesterday’s decision to delay the CRL):

2015draftltp-capex-list

This reflects the list of projects “above the line” in Auckland Transport’s ranking of all projects and reflect’s what’s possible in the “Basic Transport Network”. I don’t have a huge concern about the project list itself, although there are a few pretty low value things in there like Mill Road. The issue is more about the timing and sequencing of the programme – especially in the first few years.

You’ll see a number of important projects in there that are based around supporting the new public transport network that Auckland Transport are implementing over the next few years. Projects like the Otahuhu, Te Atatu and Manukau interchanges. Or the necessary improvements to Wellesley Street so it can cope with becoming the main east-west bus route across the city centre. The big problem is that these projects don’t appear to be funded until 2021 or in some cases (like Wellesley Street) even later:

2015draftltp-newptnetwork

This is a pretty insane situation, especially for projects like the Otahuhu interchange which is utterly fundamental to any implementation of the new PT network in the south. AT have started on the project but it seems they only have enough money for early works and design. The other big issue is the walking and cycling programme – which appears to be the line item “W+C Programme Risk Management”, that doesn’t have any funding at all for the first five years of the budget period.

The numbers at the bottom of the table above tell a rather strange and difficult to understand story about the total amount of funding available for transport over each of the next 10 years, jumping all over the place from a low of $453 million in the 15/16 year up to a whopping $978 million in 20/21 before dropping back down again significantly. The CRL numbers will change a bit, but remember not the rest of the programme.

But even within the funding envelope available, it seems that Auckland Transport has made some strange decisions around the timing of projects. Why is Albany Highway such an extremely high priority that it sucks up nearly $40 million in the first couple of years? Why is there no funding for AMETI, then one year of funding, then no funding again? Some of the project costs raise questions too – how does a Te Atatu bus interchange cost $46 million? How can a Wynyard interchange cost $25 million and a Downtown one $24 million when a Learning Quarter interchange only costs $8 million? Should we really be spending $171 million on the Reeves Road flyover?

There seems to be an expectation that the “Basic Transport Network” is just an academic exercise, with the public supposedly hugely in favour of the motorway tolls scheme (or higher rates and fuel taxes) that will “save the day”. I’m a bit sceptical about this – the government has not greeted the tolls scheme warmly and the public seem to be screaming even about the proposed 3.5% rates increase. We could very well be stuck with the Basic Transport Network for the foreseeable future, which means it needs a hell of a lot of work to ensure the new public transport network doesn’t fail, to ensure momentum on the walking and cycling programme is not lost and to finally make some tough decisions around whether we should be spending $143 million on Mill Road, $171 million on the Reeves Road flyover or $135 million on the East West Connections project.

The currently proposed budget is just a sticky mess that seems almost designed to fail.

Mill Rd update

While it emerged the other day that AT are looking to cut back on rail to the airport due to it’s cost, a day later they announce they are seeking a designation for a $300 million mini highway through currently rural south Auckland. The need for the road is claimed to be the huge amount of greenfield development expected to occur in the area in the next few decades.

A route has been identified for the upgrade of the Redoubt and Mill Road corridor, which is needed to support large housing growth in the area.

Traffic is predicted to double on the route in 10 to 15 years due to the growth. More than 22,000 new homes are proposed for the area, about 10,000 are in special housing areas that are likely to be fast-tracked.

Auckland Transport has identified the route for the upgrade of the Redoubt Road-Mill Road corridor and applied to Auckland Council to designate land (Notices of Requirement) for the project.

The council is expected to publicly notify the Notices of Requirement (NoR) for the designation in early 2015, with a hearing before independent commissioners to follow.

Auckland Transport Project Director Theunis van Schalkwyk says the project is driven by significant growth planned for the area and to improve the roads’ poor safety record.

“Congestion is already affecting Redoubt Road and Mill Road. The large number of new houses leads to traffic doubling in 10 to 15 years, meaning the road won’t cope without a major upgrade.

“Between 2009 and 2013 there were 283 crashes, including four deaths, with a number of accident hotspots on curves and junctions. The upgrade will improve the alignment to the safety standard required on an arterial route.

“With growth happening quickly in the area we need to give certainty to both existing and future property owners what land is needed for the upgrade. New housing areas can then be built knowing where the transport infrastructure to support it will be.

Mr van Schalkwyk says a number of route options have been investigated, consulted upon and evaluated before the final route was confirmed, with an independent environmental assessment a key factor.

The assessment recommended a number of mitigation measures to minimise impacts.

The route includes 23m high viaducts at Puhinui Creek gully and a 17m high viaduct at South Mill Road gully above native bush to minimise impacts. The project also includes about 30,000 sqm of native planting, stream restoration, wetlands created, pest eradication and environmental monitoring during and after construction.

Auckland Transport has contacted affected property owners directly about the project and is meeting with them to discuss their land owner rights and the planning process. The upgrade will need future purchase of 54 full properties and 257 partial properties, for example part of a driveway or frontages.

Project features

  • Redoubt Road widened to two lanes in each direction between State Highway One and Murphys Road
  • Westbound bus lane along Hollyford Drive and Redoubt Road towards Manukau.
  • On road cycle lanes on both sides and an off road cycle and foot path for the length of the upgrade.
  • Replacement of the existing Mill Road with a new arterial with two lanes in each direction between Murphys Road and Popes Road.
  • Murphys Road widened to two lanes in each direction between Flat Bush School Road and Redoubt Road.
  • Murphys/Redoubt Road intersection realigned and traffic lights added to improve safety.
  • 17m and 23m high viaducts at Puhinui Creek gully and South Mill Road gully above native bush.
  • Widened footpaths on both sides of Redoubt, Mill and Murphys roads with pedestrian crossings at key intersections.
  • Replacement planting and stream restoration.
  • Improved stormwater facilities, including wetlands areas.
  • Landscaping of the new road corridor.

Here’s a video of the route.

This is a massive project that has an almost mini motorway feel to it and it highlights just how much greenfield growth is possibly going to occur in the area. We regularly get told by those pushing for more greenfield growth that developers cover the cost of new infrastructure however this project is a great example that this is simply incorrect. In reality they only pay for some localised infrastructure and it’s left to tax/ratepayers have to pick up the tab for mega projects like this.

On to the project itself and the designs they’ve come up with are hugely disappointing and show either AT, the designers or both are still stuck in a time warp. Despite the fact that they’re basically building a brand new road, facilities for those not in a car are extremely substandard. For example to cater for walking and cycling it is proposed to build both on road cycle lanes that vary in width between 1.5 and 2m, and a shared path. Instead AT should be moving straight to proper protected cycle lanes with the footpaths left to those walking. Of course the biggest problem with that is it would mean they might have to cut into the 3m of space being set aside for a median and hell would have to freeze over before they even considered such a change. Making the cycle lanes sage is going to be really important as this mini motorway looks like it’s only going to encourage people to speed.

Here’s a few examples of what they’re proposing for the road (click to enlarge).

Redoubt Rd/Murphys Rd Intersection

Mill Rd - Murpheys Rd intersection

As you can see massive 4 lane road proposed which splays out to even more lanes at the intersection of Murphys Rd.

Mill Rd/Alfriston Rd

Mill Rd - Mill Rd, Alfriston

A big multi-lane roundabout, ugh. That won’t be fun for people in a car or on a bike.

And some of the cross sections

Mill Rd - Cross sections

Overall this project seems like it’s straight out of the bad old days and was previously said to be needed to help ease pressure on the motorway. However now we know the government are about to widen the southern motorway in the area increasing its capacity which likely reduces the need for such a massive upgrade.

Auckland Transport’s 30 Year Project List

As part of the discussion on Alternative Transport Funding, which was launched yesterday, the Council also released a copy of Auckland Transport’s entire 30 year transport programme which includes the cost of projects and seemingly ranked according to some combination of criteria. The programme unfortunately does not include state highway projects, which makes it difficult to fully assess the merits of the overall transport packages outlined in yesterday’s announcements. However, it’s certainly clear what Auckland Transport projects can and cannot be afforded over the next 30 years under the two scenarios.

The document doesn’t explain the list in any detail, but it seems as though there are a number of projects on the first page which have some form of existing commitment or are ongoing requirements and therefore are not really considered “discretionary”. These are shown below:

committed-projectsThe ‘committed’ projects include those that appear to have contracts in place (electric trains, Albany Highway, a few things around Westgate), renewing existing assets and the City Rail Link. I actually wonder if it would be helpful for CRL to be ranked against all the other projects – rather than be included in this “other” list – as almost certainly it would rank either right at the top or very near it.

Anyway, moving on to the top of the list the projects listed below are those that are in both the Basic Network and the Auckland Plan Network – as well as some fairly broad brush allocation of funding to support sprawl in some of the areas identified by the Unitary Plan:

basic-network-projects

It’s a pretty short list for the 30 year transport programme, as well as being strangely focused on the first decade. The other key thing to notice here is the yellow boxes, which appear to be wrapped up programmes of projects (e.g. walking and cycling) where the amount of funding allocated to the programme varies quite significantly, depending on whether it’s the Auckland Plan Transport Network or the Basic Transport Network.

Even taking a fairly harsh look at the list above, there doesn’t seem to be too many projects that don’t make sense doing at all over the next 30 years. For me the three most glaring ones that need to be questioned are:

  • The Reeves Rd flyover at $141 million
  • The widening of the almost $200 million and soon to be opened Te Horeta Rd for another $74 million
  • Mill Road at $472 million which is something that we’ve highlighted could be looked at for a cheaper option, especially seeing as the government are now widening the southern motorway.

The rest of the projects are those which form part of the Auckland Plan Transport Network only. Essentially, these are the additional projects from Auckland Transport which the additional funding is being asked to pay for:

auckland-plan-network-projects

While there are a few really dumb projects on the list above (Mt Albert Park & Ride, what the heck?) there’s also a lot of pretty good stuff that is missing out under the Basic Transport Network. Furthermore, while there is some, it seems at first glance that there isn’t a huge amount of really expensive dumb stuff in the programme list of Auckland Transport’s projects. That contrasts with the package of state highway projects highlighted yesterday which doesn’t appear to have been questioned at all.

Over the next few days I’ll be starting to look into the detail at the overall balance of the packages, as well as assessing the extent to which they are similar to what we proposed in the Congestion Free Network.

Redoubt Road-Mill Road project causing angst

A fairly significant proposed roading project, from Redoubt Road in Manukau down to Mill Road in Takanini, has pretty much slipped by unnoticed as its investigation continues – although some elements of the project seem to be causing quite a bit of angst with the locals. This in the NZ Herald today:

Hundreds of homes are in the firing line of a new arterial road for South Auckland – of which the first section alone is costed at almost $250 million.

Auckland Transport says about 260 properties, many of them along Redoubt Rd above Manukau, are in the path of the first stage of what it ultimately envisages as a 32km eastern bypass of the Southern Motorway to Drury.

The council organisation revealed last night a cost estimate of $246 million for the 9.2km section from Manukau and Flat Bush to Alfriston east of Manurewa, parallel with Mill Rd – including $66 million for property purchases – although it has yet to hazard a price for the full project.

Only $82 million is allocated for the next 10 years, and the project could take twice that time to complete.

But it intends seeking a route designation for the first section from the council’s planners by the end of next month, and says it is powerless to stop landowners from building new homes until then.

The plan has horrified residents of the historic Redoubt Ridge, through which Auckland Transport intends carving a road corridor up to 30m wide, past a remodelled junction with a widened Murphys Rd running from Flat Bush.

At a high level there seems to be some logic in the project – providing an eastern alternative to the Southern Motorway, as shown in the Auckland Plan transport project map:aucklandplan-millroadHowever, as always a lot comes down to the details of project like these – particularly in terms of what kind of corridor upgrade we’re going to get for the massive quarter of a billion dollars proposed. Checking out the proposed cross-sections on Auckland Transport’s website I can’t say I’m particularly impressed as what’s proposed looks like a defacto motorway with no provision for public transport, rather than a true multi-modal corridor which will support high quality development around it in the future. For example:2-alexia-murphysA proposed cross-section of Murphys Road, which connects the corridor with Flat Bush, is even more bizarre:murphys-cross-sectionWhat on earth is the point of wasting 8.2 metres of road width with a giant median strip? It’s not like this road is going to be upgraded to four lanes each way at some point in the future utilising the median strip (at least I hope not). The impact of the road on the bush in this section is highlighted in the Herald article as one area that’s annoying the locals:

Redoubt Rd resident Raewyn Roberts, spokeswoman for an action committee to fight the proposal, yesterday called on Auckland Transport to avoid destroying what remained of a valuable ecological corridor from Murphys Bush to Totara Park and beyond.

Ms Roberts points to the design of the project as a “massive dual carriageway”:

“It’s appalling,” she said. “This is a mega, mega project – they have this massive dual carriageway which will come roaring up from the old Manukau City centre, wipe out the ridge, then sweep down Mill Rd.”

While a certain amount of “moaning locals” seems inevitable with most transport projects I think what’s horrifying people most of all in terms of this project is the vast over-design we’re seeing. A southern motorway bypass needs to be effective at shifting quite a lot of traffic, yes, but whether it needs to be designed for 80 kph average speeds (which is what the design looks like) with enormously wide medians is quite another matter. I think a scaled back project would not only be more likely to gain public acceptance, but it might also cost a hell of a lot less than the $250 million the current monstrosity is budgeted to cost.