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Environmental effects of an Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing

The additional Waitemata Harbour crossing is a crazy project for a variety of reasons. The blog has noted before that the project is both completely unaffordable and totally unnecessary because of the lack of the actual benefits when you look at the detail. One thing that hasn’t been noted before however is the huge environmental impacts this project will have the coastline, both and the northern and southern end.

In 2010 an extensive study was carried out, which outlined the major options, looking at both bridge and tunnel options. This was the study that finally put an end to the even more ridiculous bridge idea. Usefully the study for the first time provided some detailed plans of what each option would look like on the ground. The issues is not so much the tunnel itself, but the complex arrangements required to allow for traffic merging between the different routes at the north end south ends. To recap the existing bridge will be used only for city bound traffic, and the new tunnel will be directed straight to the congestion at spaghetti junction.

AWHC north of Onewa

 

The plan above shows the motorway between Akoranga Drive (left), and Onewa Road (just out of picture to the right). The northernmost line is the railway line, however would be sure to take up much less space just built as a rail corridor, and would have a much higher capacity. The red hatched area is all of the land that would be reclaimed, while green is new viaducts or bridges. This would result in the corridor taking up twice as much space as it does now. As for what this would mean, this is the current view in the area. The large area of coastline to the right would be reclaimed.

P1050458

Looking north from public footbridge accessible from east end of Exmouth Road.

This next plan shows the area in the vicinity of the Onewa Road interchange, as well as the tunnel portals of both rail (left) and road (right). Again a huge amount of reclamation occurs.

AWHC Sulhur Beach

However what is hidden beneath the plans is the total destruction of Sulphur Beach and the marina located there.

P1050446

Looking towards the city from public path alongside motorway. Accessible from Sulphur Beach and Tennyson St beside police station.

Currently this beautiful area is not well known. However in a few years this will very likely change. With Skypath to go ahead within the next few years, this will be the route of Seapath, which would give a great easy link through to Takapuna. Once that happens people will appreciate this area much more, and won’t like to see it disappear under 6 lanes of motorway.

This area will also become a large construction yard, potentially for about 5 years. This will have major effects on areas of Northcote Point, with a large number of houses looking straight into the area. Their seaviews may well be replaced with views of more motorway lanes and flyovers. People on the Bayswater side of the harbour would also have their views affected negatively.

P1050431

View from Beach Road on Northcote Point towards area of sea to be reclaimed

On the south side of the harbour things aren’t much better. Around Westhaven marina there is yet more reclamation. The yet to open Westhaven Promenade will have to be completely rebuilt, with part of the marina needing to be reclaimed as even more width is required to account for the sweeping motorway curves. The extra width required is highlighted by the need to extend the Jacobs Ladder footbridge by about 50% so people can still cross the motorway corridor. A number of marine related businesses along Westhaven Drive will also disappear, as the road needs to be pushed north to give the corridor the space it requires.

AWHC Westhaven

The Landscape and Visual report prepared for NZTA summarises the issues that will arise:

The landscape of Shoal Bay and the northern sector will be significantly affected by the scale and magnitude of roading and reclamation. Effects are: changes to landforms and natural features including increased separation of the bay from; loss of beaches, reefs, and open spaces; impacts on cliffs (including diminution of scale and loss of vegetation); loss of natural vegetation and potential change due to weed infestation; diminished/decreased experience and appreciation of natural landscape for travellers. In addition structures such as flyovers, bridges, tunnel portals, buildings and vent stacks are all expected to have adverse effects on existing landscape character and alter the balance between the natural and manmade landscape. The cultural and heritage of the existing landscape will also be affected by changes in the southern sector, particularly in and around Victoria Park. Such changes will include loss of buildings and trees but could also include positive effects due to the removal of the existing flyover.

Unfortunately it makes no attempts to actually visualize what the effects would be, including the vent stack, which would be a very dominant feature. Note 35 metres is about 10 stories high!

” Vent building estimated to be 70m long by 30m wide by 20m high and stacks 35m high”

The stack was rather contentious during the Waterview proposal due to the fumes of a high volume of traffic all begin released in a concentrated area. They will be located at the tunnel portals. One will be in the vicinity of Sulphur Beach, near where the second photo above was taken from the walkway.

Vent Building north

The southern vent stack will be between Beaumont St and Westhave Drive, where the Crombie and Lockwood building is (opposite Air New Zealand).

Vent Building

While an additional rail crossing will require some small reclamation, it will be a large magnitude less than what is required for the road crossings. This is because 2 tracks take the same space as 2 motorway lanes, and there will be no need for complex ramps and mixing of lanes, and of course there will be no need for huge vent stacks.

Hopefully this post will highlight a number of the major effects this project will have on the environment and landscape. Surely this will make some North Shore, St Mary’s Bay and inner city residents think twice about the need for this project, considering the effect on their backyard and harbour. This should also awaken reporters, including one John Roughan who was horrified at the sight of a comparatively tiny reclamation for the busway in 2007.

Stuart’s 100: #1 Transforming the Motorway Ring

Urban designer Stuart Houghton has set himself a personal project of coming up with 100 ideas for improving Auckland at the rate of one a day. He is Tweeting them here: @HoughtonSd 

Discussing this project with Stuart he said that I see the city is getting better and better and growing up fast, but everywhere I look as I move about the city I am struck by ideas big and small for how Auckland could be improved. I see this as a positive thing.” 

We agree.

In this task he has been inspired by Jan Gehl the Danish urbanist who famously said:

“How nice it is to wake up each morning in a city that is a little bit better than it was before”

Stuart has kindly agreed to allow us to run them here over the next 100 week days, here’s #1, enjoy:

1 Transforming the Motorway Ring

Day_1

I had to start my 100 ideas with this one; my urban design master’s thesis from 2009. The starting point was sitting in London panning across Auckland in Google Earth with my tutor, and his simple observation on the wastefulness of such a huge area of otherwise high value land being taken up exclusively by the motorways.

Stuart's 100 #1

The project basically asks: Wouldn’t it be great if rather than a massive barrier that shackles the city centre, the CMJ was actually a positive shaping force, becoming an urban and social connector?

Pages from FINAL_workshop_presentation_RevA_110308-2

I proposed retaining but reducing the capacity of the motorway lanes, and through a combination of tunnelling and capping enable other uses to take place over the motorway. This could join with the waterfront to create a continuous ring of public space. Along with the historical north-south Queen Street axis, these could become three major public space armatures around which the city grows and develops for the next 100 years.

This might seem far out. But it needn’t be a grand vision. In many ways, projects like the Grafton Gully Cycleway are already grafting new uses to the motorway ring. Potential projects like the Nelson St off ramp, and the idea of a Grafton Gully Boulevard as posted by Kent and Nick a few weeks back can all work towards this.

Pages from FINAL_workshop_presentation_RevA_110308-2_b

 

Pages from FINAL_workshop_presentation_RevA_110308-4

 

 

Robert Ellis’s apocalyptic vision of Auckland

This blog has often written about Auckland’s 1950s-era motorway development plan, which transformed the city in fundamental ways. New Zealand painter Robert Ellis was one of the first to grasp the significance and character of that transformation. His Motorway/City series, painted in the 1960s and 1970s, shows roads invading and dividing urban space. (As they proceeded to do in real life.)

The Auckland City Gallery is about to host an exhibition of Ellis’s paintings that will run from 9 August 2014 to 15 March 2015. From the press release:

Opening on Saturday 9 August at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Robert Ellis: Turangawaewae | A Place to Stand is the first solo exhibition in a public museum by senior Auckland artist, Robert Ellis in his ‘hometown’. Including many of his most important paintings, the exhibition will present Turangawaewae Maehe 1983, painted in 1983, a gift from the Friends of the Auckland Art Gallery to mark their 60th anniversary this year.

‘Together with Auckland artists Colin McCahon, Milan Mrkusich, Pat Hanly and Gretchen Albrecht, Ellis is nationally regarded for producing ambitious paintings on a large scale,’ says Auckland Art Gallery Senior Curator New Zealand and Pacific Art, Ron Brownson. ‘As a major figure, Ellis’ art addresses many cultural issues. His subjects range over tensions between transport and urbanism, contrast ecology with spirituality and look at the on-going nature of Māori-Pākehā relations.’

Here’s one of the more well-known works from Ellis’s Motorway/City series, which can usually be seen in the City Gallery:

Now, I’m an economist rather than an art historian, but Ellis’s vision of the city seemed to be something new in New Zealand art. New Zealand artists had not tended to focus on cities – think of all the attention Colin McCahon lavished on New Zealand landscapes – and when they did, it was to present vague, idealised scenes. Ellis was different. He showed the city in the process of expanding and mutating, and in the process creating a different New Zealand.

Here’s number 15 from the Motorway/City series. It contrasts New Zealand’s stereotypically bucolic rural space (below) with the encroaching city (above). The latter is dynamic, disordered, vaguely sinister. (What was it that Allan Ginsberg wrote about “Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone”…) And it is ceaselessly growing into the countryside.

In other paintings, Ellis depicts the city not as the invader of a rural landscape but as an invaded space. Motorway/City number 22, for example, appears to show an existing urban fabric, complete with a more or less rectilinear street grid, that has been overwritten by the smooth curves of the motorway. The pre-existing city has rendered incomprehensible in the process – notice how the lines of the motorway draw in your attention instead.

I’m often struck by how quickly artists and writers grasp emerging truths, especially when compared with technical experts of various stripes. Robert Ellis’s art was an especially prescient view of New Zealand cities – painted at a time when New Zealand had barely begun to think of itself as an urban country and when the promise of the motorway was still novel enough to be seductive. I highly recommend going to see the upcoming exhibition.

How should we value the future?

Transport networks and urban planning can have extremely long-lived effects on society, the economy, and the environment. The government’s decision to invest in an electrified commuter rail network for Wellington in the 1930s led to an early form of transit-oriented development in the region. Wellington’s post-war urban growth has been concentrated in areas served by rail lines – providing the region with long-lasting benefits.

800px-WellingtonRailMap

Source: Wikipedia

In Auckland, of course, things were very different. After the role that rail played in Auckland’s early development, successive governments decided to:

And, of course, these years of refusal were coupled with a decision in the 1950s to invest heavily in a motorway network for the region. The Master Transportation Plan of the era contains some truly awe-inspiring concept designs, including an elevated Quay St motorway that would have doomed any chance of Auckland’s recent waterfront revival:

1950s Transportation Master Plan Quay St

Leaving aside a few extremely white elephants, many elements of the plan are quite familiar to modern Aucklanders. The Southern and Northwestern Motorways and the Harbour Bridge were built, kicking off development booms in Manukau, the North Shore, and West Auckland. In a 2010 Policy Quarterly article, Andrew Coleman assessed the effects of motorway development in Auckland and the US, concluding that:

transport infrastructure choices can have long-term and potentially irreversible effects on city form. A city that chooses to invest in roads rather than public transport infrastructure to improve its transport system is likely to reduce the efficiency of any subsequent public transport investments, by causing population and employment in the city to disperse widely over space. When making decisions to build roads, therefore, the city planners need to take into account the way roads affect the operation of subsequent transport infrastructure investment choices.

So it’s worth asking: Are we valuing future outcomes in the right way? In economese, this means asking about our “rate of time preference”, or the degree to which we value present-day outcomes over future outcomes.

A 2011 NZIER paper by Chris Parker provides a fairly accessible introduction to this topic. (Transportblog reviewed the paper when it originally came out.) Parker highlights how much of an effect different discount rates can have on our decisions about the future. As Figure 1 below shows, an 8% discount rate – recommended by the NZ Treasury – means that we place no weight on outcomes that occur 40 years in the future. (To put that in perspective, the average New Zealander lives twice as long as that. I certainly expect to be alive in 40 years!) A 3% discount rate, by comparison, means that we place a much higher value on outcomes that far in the future.

NZIER discount rate comparison

Last July, NZTA decided to lower its discount rate from 8% to 6%. This change means that transport evaluations now place a slightly greater weight on future outcomes than before. However, as NZTA’s documentation showed, we still discount the future to a much greater extent than countries like Germany (3% discount rate) and the UK (1% to 3.5%).

NZTA’s new discount rate might still be too high to properly account for the long-lived effect of infrastructure development on urban form. As we’ve seen, Auckland and Wellington are still benefitting from, or coping with, with the effects of investment decisions made 60 to 80 years in the past. Under current evaluation procedures, we wouldn’t have considered such long-lasting effects.

A new research paper by economists at the University of Chicago and New York University suggests that people place significant value on outcomes that occur dozens or even hundreds of years hence. The authors measure long-term discount rates using an innovative method that relies upon observing differences between the prices for freehold and leasehold houses in the UK and Singapore:

In Giglio, Maggiori and Stroebel (2014), we provide direct estimates of households’ discount rates for payments very far in the future, by studying the valuation of very long (but finite) assets. We exploit a unique feature of residential housing markets in the UK and Singapore, where property ownership takes the form of either very long-term leaseholds or freeholds. Leaseholds are temporary, pre-paid, and tradable ownership contracts with maturities ranging from 99 to 999 years, while freeholds are perpetual ownership contracts. The price discount for very long-term leaseholds relative to prices for otherwise similar properties that are traded as freeholds is informative about the implied discount rates of agents trading these housing assets. This allows us to gather information on discount rates much beyond the usual horizon of 20-30 years spanned by bond markets.

This analysis suggests that long-run discount rates are significantly lower than those we use for project evaluation – in the range of 2.6%. In other words, people making significant financial decisions today place some value on outcomes for future generations that they will never meet:

We use these estimated price discounts to back out the implied discount rate that households use to value cash flows to housing that arise more than 100 years from now. We find the discount rate for very long-run housing cash flows to be about 2.6% per year. Interestingly, we find similar implied discount rates in both the UK and in Singapore – two countries with very different institutional settings.

The authors suggest that their findings have implications for intergenerational fiscal policy and climate change policy. They’re also likely to have implications for the way we evaluate transport projects. Today’s planners should take care to preserve and improve transport options for future generations, rather than “locking in” a particular urban form.

Finally, with that in mind, it’s worth recalling the findings of the 2012 City Centre Future Access Study, which compared options for improving transport capacity to Auckland’s growing city centre. In Section 7 of the Technical Report, the authors found that when a longer evaluation period (60 years vs. 30 years) and a lower discount rate (5.7% vs. 8%) were used, the benefit-to-cost ratio of the City Rail Link almost doubled. In other words, the CRL looks even more valuable for Auckland if we take a longer-term view.

If our great-grandparents had decided to invest in Auckland’s rail system in the 1930s, we’d still be thanking them for it. Because they didn’t, though, we’re just getting around to electrifying Auckland’s rail network and still debating whether to build the CRL to unlock greater frequencies across the entire network. It is essential that we take a longer-term view on transport investments than we have previously done.

So, what’s your discount rate?

Photo of the Day: St Lukes Motorway Median

The motorway lanes at St Lukes have been parted as part of the project to widen the St Lukes Rd bridge.

St Lukes Motorway Median

In many other cities when you see the motorway parted like this it would be for a busway or rail line to be installed. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if this work was for the creation of a Northwest busway (Admittedly it probably isn’t quite wide enough).

Below are a couple of examples of median running transit.

Perth

Perth Rail Median

Los Angeles

LA Rail Median

Bogota

Bogota BRT Median

 

Istanbul

BRT Istanbul

Photo of the Day – St Marys Bay

Including Westhaven Dr I count about 13 lanes of traffic of which only one is a dedicated bus lane. Also not much in the way of active modes although that is currently being remedied.

Photo is credited to oh.yes.melbourne

Throwing Down A Half-Nelson

This is a guest post [as promised!] by CAA‘s Max Robitzsch
As shown in the previous photo blog, NZTA and the Auckland Motorways Alliance (thanks!) recently allowed Cycle Action and Transport Blog the chance to walk over a surplus part of our motorway building boom.
Both of our groups have some interest in what you might call “urban archeology” (it comes with the terrain when you are trying to understand how a city is shaped) – but we didn’t just go there for the view.
Auckland CMJ: Abandoned Lane in red

Auckland CMJ: Abandoned Lane in red

Instead, we were keen to see – you guessed it – how this could become Auckland’s evolution of the New York City High Line concept. A new walk- and cycleway to one of the currently least walkable and cycleable parts of our City Centre.
The Nelson Street ramp became surplus for motorway use when a new ramp was built some years ago – but the costs involved in tearing it down means it is still there, and not going anywhere. It was at a time proposed to serve as a bus depot – but a year or two ago, it was agreed by AT and NZTA that it would make a great future link in the Auckland Cycle Network – connecting the Northwestern and other routes entering the City Centre from the south and west to the western parts of our downtown and waterfront, along a Nelson Street cycleway.

Auckland Cycle Network - City Centre

As you can see in the map above, the off-ramp and Nelson Street are both shown as red lines – future “cycle metro” routes (a route that is either fully off-road – or protected from traffic with physical separation). It goes from Upper Queen Street Bridge along Canada Street (or more likely in practice, along Canada Street, East Street and Galatos Street) onto the off-ramp, and then travels along Nelson Street to the waterfront.


Now, as Patrick has noted in his previous post, walking / cycling on the off-ramp is more pleasant than we thought – mainly because you are above or away from traffic noise and fumes for most part, rather than directly next to it. But it isn’t really the beauty of the route that is interesting here (that’s more for engineers and people who like looking at flyovers and skylines…).

The ramp-over route is useless without somewhere to go. So if it gets built, it really needs to link to a cycleway on Nelson Street itself, to give that transport-blighted area some human scale. Because who really cycles on Nelson Street at the moment? The numbers are so low, we might just as well treat them as rounding errors on two wheels – very brave rounding errors, but irrelevant nonetheless.

So it’s great so see that Auckland Transport has seen both the need and the opportunity for this cycleway, and included this route in their planning maps. But we know how long these kinds of projects take – years if you are lucky. Decades if not (still waiting for the Wellesley Street East walk and cycleway link to the Domain…).

And while this is a high-profile project that will appeal to many, it is likely to languish for quite a while before getting built, despite being prioritised highly in AT’s overall cycle project list. Funding is tight, bridges are expensive, even short ones like the one shown below (Day Street overbridge design produced by our good friends at Matter, for NZTA).

Day Street Bridge

 

So we started to think. Could this link be done a lot more cheaply, a lot more quickly? And yes, we think it can. As a pilot project.

The most difficult part is right at the start. It’s no use if the ramp is a dead end – so how to get onto it from the south? And on the cheap? 

What we came up with was that the best place to start from for a pilot project was not at the very southernmost end, near Canada Street or Galatos Street, where we would have to build a pretty sizable structure to get across a large gap of several motorway lanes underneath. Nor would a temporary bridge at Day Street as above be easy (unless of course, NZTA is willing to lend us one of their bailey bridges?).

We found the solution to our issue in Newmarket, back when the new train station was built a couple years ago. At that time, a company called Layher built KiwiRail several access ramps down to temporary platforms south of Remuera Road. Below, you can see an image from their company website – essentially, these structures are simply strong scaffolds with wheelchair-accessible ramps on them.

 

04 Newmarket Train Station - Layher Scaffolds

What Cycle Action Auckland is proposing is that we construct such a scaffold ramp down from K’Road overbridge, to the old Nelson Street ramp. It would require a minor reshuffling of one of the overbridge bus stops, and creating a gap in the side of the K’Road railings to attach the ramp to.

But importantly, it could be done without having the temporary ramp be above any live traffic lanes. The old off-ramp is almost 8m wide. So we can easily build a, say, 3m wide ramp directly in the centre of the off-ramp below, with no part having over (or getting anywhere close) to the edge of the southbound SH1 traffic lanes one level further down.

Scaffold Ramp from K Road Overbridge

It might cost us a bit to buy/rent that scaffold, but it’s likely to still be a steal compared to the permanent construction needed to access it from Canada Street or Day Street, which are going to cost us many millions (remember, time IS money here – if we wait until we get the money, we will have lots of time…). 

So now we are down on the old off-ramp, and now it gets cheap as chips. We can leave adding artwork and seats and planting to beautify the ramp later (or make it into a community initiative!). In the meantime, we simply cruise (or walk) northwards along a gentle incline towards Nelson Street.

At that intersection, we add a new signalised pedestrian / cycle crossing over the eastern side of the intersection of Nelson Street and Union Street.

 

06 Nelson Street - New crossing and cycleway

Easy. 

Why? Because the current Nelson Street off-ramp, to the west of the old one, doesn’t allow right turns into Union Street. So whenever that ramp runs, you can also run a signalised walking / cycling crossing in parallel on the right-hand side – no long discussions with the traffic control people about whether we can afford to lose precious car capacity. We simply sneak through in an unused part of the signal cycle!

And on Nelson Street?

We propose to create a two-way, planter-box protected cycleway on the eastern side of the road, at least as far as Cook Street (but ideally going even further north). The design would look similar to the below example from Vancouver, in Dunsmuir Street. It can be installed overnight for the total cost of a couple dozen planter boxes (reusable for our next temporary cycleway – after this one gets made permanent a few months or years later).

Dunsmuir Separated Bike Lane, Dunsmuir Separated Bike Lane

 

08 Nelson Street, Planter Box Cycleway Concept

But won’t that create traffic issues on Nelson Street? After all, there’s lots of cars moving along there in the peak hour. Won’t NZTA and AT have concerns, and won’t we have to run an extensive traffic model and somehow increase the size of the intersections?

No. Apart from the fact that we have been told that Nelson Street modelling has shown that the street CAN take some reduction in capacity without causing the (roading) world to end, what we propose is actually pretty limited again. 

We propose to run the cycleway along the current parking lane, which means that no “throughput capacity” is lost at all until we get to the Cook Street / Nelson Street Intersection (where the right-hand through lane would have to become a through-and-right lane). 

We can achieve this while losing barely more than 10 car parks over a stretch of 250 meters, because most of that street is already no parking. We might even be able to fit in one or two loading zones on the very wide footpath / verge (some sections still have ~6 m left before reaching private property).

So again, it is easy (if we keep some spine, and don’t give in to the “removing some car parks will doom the area” crowd). And if it leads to traffic jams because we lose 80m of dedicated right turn lane into Cook Street? Well, it won’t – but that’s the benefit of a pilot project. If it doesn’t work, you haven’t sunk millions into it, and can just modify the design as needed.

To summarise, Cycle Action Auckland thinks that the time is ready to throw down a Half-Nelson. We need some movement, some breath of fresh air – and a showcase project to prove that Auckland can be fast, flexible and at the front. 

We can do all that, and give the western City Centre a new cycleway in the next 10 months, rather than in 10 years.

 

 

Photo of the Day: Concrete Journey

Lovely day so Max and I went for a short walk down the middle of the CMJ. Here’s a peek at what we found, it was surprisingly pleasant:

CMJ CYCLE ROUTE_9746CMJ CYCLE ROUTE_9748CMJ CYCLE ROUTE_9749CMJ CYCLE ROUTE_9755CMJ CYCLE ROUTE_9756CMJ CYCLE ROUTE_9761CMJ CYCLE ROUTE_9770CMJ CYCLE ROUTE_9778CMJ CYCLE ROUTE_9783CMJ CYCLE ROUTE_9789CMJ CYCLE ROUTE_9759CMJ CYCLE ROUTE_9794CMJ CYCLE ROUTE_9792CMJ CYCLE ROUTE_9798
CMJ CYCLE ROUTE_9800

Stand by for a post with an exciting proposal for forgotten flyover from CAA’s Max Robitzsch…..

Government Transport Hypocrisy

The announcement of funding for a whole pile of new motorway projects in last week’s budget has once again highlighted the hypocrisy the government shows over the funding of transport projects.

First up here are the key parts to the government’s press release last week.

The projects will address congestion in our largest city, capitalise on the benefits of major roading projects already under way, such as the Western Ring Route, and improve access to Auckland International Airport.

“No Government has invested so heavily in transport infrastructure across all transport modes,” Mr Brownlee says.

“But with freight demand forecast to grow by around 50 per cent across the country in the next 30 years, and by almost 80 per cent in Auckland, and with a growing population, we’ve decided to bring a number of important projects forward.”

and

 “Some of these projects were up to a decade from starting, but we’ve decided they simply must begin sooner to give Auckland the best opportunity of moving people and goods around the region,” Mr Brownlee says.

The $375 million will be transferred to NZTA as an interest-free loan, to be repaid to the Crown by funding currently allocated to these projects in the National Land Transport Fund up to 2026/27.

So the government are saying the projects were on the plans but weren’t expected to be built for a long time. The government believes the predictions that traffic will always grow including the suggestion that freight demand will increase by a massive 80% and so has made a decision to bring forward spending on these projects. Effectively they’re using the traditional predict and provide method that has been a staple of road building for decades.

The problem is we know the predict and provide model hasn’t been working that well lately as in many places traffic volumes are still below their pre GFC levels. In terms of freight, the recent Freight Demand Study showed that while the amount of stuff moved had increased since 06/07, the tonne-kms (the amount of time on the roads) had actually dropped.

Contrast that stance with the one they have taken with the City Rail Link. They announced their support for the CRL at the same time as they announced the motorway projects however pushed the start date back from when it was planned. In doing so they questioned the predictions used in the assessment of the CRL – despite their own officials being involved. They then imposed a couple of arbitrary targets that need to be met before they’ll even consider funding it - and I’ve heard that even those are a smokescreen. At the time John Key said

“We will consider an earlier start date if it becomes clear that Auckland’s CBD employment and rail patronage growth hit thresholds faster than current rates of growth suggest.

“I realise 2020 is not what the Council leadership is wanting, but while we may differ on timeframes, there is clear recognition by the Government that the project will be needed to address access to the Auckland CBD and improve the efficiency of rail,” says Mr Key.

The targets are:

  • an increase in Auckland CBD employment of 25 percent over current levels, which is half of the increase to 2021 predicted in the 2012 City Centre Future Access Study
  • rail patronage is on track to hit 20 million trips a year well before 2020

Note: I actually think the patronage target will be achieved but not the employment one as developers simply won’t be able to build enough office space in that time-frame (hence why that target was imposed).

One of the problems though is that while we won’t have exhausted the post electrification capacity by 2020, it’s likely we won’t be far off it and so delaying the start till then will likely mean years of at/over capacity services.

So we have two completely different sets of criteria being applied depending on the mode. For roads, despite there having been low/no growth in some cases for over a decade we get told we need to build new projects to ensure that future growth can be accommodated. For rail it’s the opposite and we have to wait till after the growth has happened (and therefore the network is at capacity) before we can even consider new projects. To me either the CRL targets need to be dropped and the government accept the predictions or they impose equivalent targets for the motorway projects.

In addition the press release from Gerry Brownlee talks about the motorway projects capitalising on what has been billions the government (including the previous one) has poured into the motorway system over the last decade. Yet there’s seemingly no desire to capitalise on the investment in the rail network that has been happening. This is important as the combined cost of the various motorway projects is almost equal to what the government’s share of the CRL costs would be.

To make matters for the CRL even worse, last night on Sky New John Key said the CRL was in competition with another harbour crossing to be the next major project in Auckland. This is a new development as even in previous government statements any additional harbour crossing has always been considered to occur well after the CRL. Traffic volumes across the bridge have been flat for almost a decade (peaked in 2006) while rail patronage has soared (with the exception of a bump in large part caused by the RWC and the HOP implementation).

Rail vs Harbour Bridge

All up there seems to be a growing hypocrisy from the government towards transport in Auckland. Will the opposition parties actually to anything to highlight this (or win and change it). What about the mayor and council or will they continue to gleefully turn up to motorway project sod turning events with a smile and speeches praising the government?

More on the Budget

This is a more comprehensive post looking at the outcome of yesterday’s budget.

As mentioned briefly yesterday, when it comes to transport the big news of the budget was that government providing $375 million in an interest free loan towards $800 million of additional motorway projects that they had announced last year. The $800 million is made up of the projects below.

Budget 2014 - Auckland Transport package

The decision to do this along with the way it’s been done raises a lot of questions that I will try to work though below.

The projects will address congestion in our largest city, capitalise on the benefits of major roading projects already under way, such as the Western Ring Route, and improve access to Auckland International Airport.

“No Government has invested so heavily in transport infrastructure across all transport modes,” Mr Brownlee says.

“But with freight demand forecast to grow by around 50 per cent across the country in the next 30 years, and by almost 80 per cent in Auckland, and with a growing population, we’ve decided to bring a number of important projects forward.”

First of all since when have any projects like these ever ended up solving congestion for more than a couple of years at best. All they will do is encourage people to drive more either by taking additional trips, shifting trips closer to the peak or potentially even replacing trips currently made using public transport. As for the freight demand, while it is predicted to grow it’s not yet clear that it will actually happen. The recent Freight Demand Study released by the Ministry of Transport shows that freight volumes have been flat since 2006/07.

“Some of these projects were up to a decade from starting, but we’ve decided they simply must begin sooner to give Auckland the best opportunity of moving people and goods around the region,” Mr Brownlee says.

The comment saying that they’ve decided to bring the projects forward combined with the statement above show that despite what the government like to claim, they are really just picking projects they want to build. Alternatively they could just as easily have provided money to help kick start the CRL or build the infrastructure needed to make sure the new bus network can really hit the ground running. As for paying for it:

The $375 million will be transferred to NZTA as an interest-free loan, to be repaid to the Crown by funding currently allocated to these projects in the National Land Transport Fund up to 2026/27.

The Government is also announcing today $32.7 million of new operating funding over the next four years to cover the debt financing cost to the Crown of the interest-free loan.

I think the decision to use debt to pay for these projects raises a lot of questions.

Why is the loan interest free. The closest comparison we have is with the funding package to buy the Auckland’s new electric trains. In that the government have provided the council with an interest only loan and the council pay the interest payments but don’t actually get to pay down the capital value till the loan term expires in 35 years. By comparison this loan is interest free and will be paid off using funds from the NLTF. That will inevitably have an impact on what else can be funded through the NLTF and it’s likely to mean other projects elsewhere won’t be able to be funded as a result. This is a similar situation to what is planned to happen with the PPP being let for Transmission Gully and being proposed for Puhoi to Warkworth. Speaking of PPPs, it once again raises the question of why even bother using them instead of using a facility like being proposed for these Auckland Projects. If we’re going to be using debt to fund something then we might as well use government debt rather than pay the commercial rates of private consortium.

On top of that $800 million the government also confirmed some small amounts of money for the local road projects they were supporting.

  • Further investigations to determine the preferred scope of the East-West Link over 2014/15 ($10 million).
  • Progression of the Panmure to Pakuranga phase of the Auckland Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative (AMETI) over 2014/15 ($5 million).

The AMETI part mentioned will likely be to help fund the Notice of Requirement which AT are planning on lodging later this year however it’s the East-West Link that’s interesting. Why are we still trying to determine the scope of the project. That is work that was said to have been done already or is the government re-litigating it after complaints from business owners who want a full scale motorway?

All up with the motorway based spend up I get the feeling that this cartoon I posted the other day is only getting more and more relevant.

More Roads

The second big announcement was an additional $198 million for Kiwirail towards it’s turnaround plan. It will be used for

  • Infrastructure renewals and upgrades.
  • New wagons and refurbishment of existing wagons and locomotives.
  • IT systems.
  • Earthquake remediation projects and other safety works.

This is quite a positive sign as it puts the government’s investment well above what they said they would do a few years ago when the turnaround plan was launched. It suggests that perhaps the government are getting more confident about the future of Kiwirail which is good news.

Looking at the more detailed budget documents for the transport section shows a few other key points, here’s the overview.

Road

The largest element of the Vote is the funding for roading ($3,873 million or 86% of the total Vote).

This is primarily the funding for the National Land Transport Programme which is funded from road tax revenue collected by the Crown ($2,850 million or 63% of the Vote).

$1,012 million of the balance (22%) relates to loans from the Crown:

  • $750 million for cash flow management. This appropriation does not take account of any repayments made and the facility may not exceed $250 million at any one time
  • $107 million to advance the construction of the Tauranga Eastern Link
  • $100 million to rebuild earthquake damaged roads in Christchurch
  • $55 million for projects in the Auckland Transport Package.
Rail

Funding for Rail makes up 11% of the Vote – $511 million, mainly:

  • $198 million for the KiwiRail Turnaround Plan, the aim of which is put the freight business on a commercially viable footing
  • $192 million for a loan to the Auckland Council to assist with the funding of the Electric Multiple Unit package
  • $90 million for a grant to the Auckland Council to assist with the funding of the Electric Multiple Unit package
  • $16 million for metro rail projects in Wellington.
Crown Entity and Other Funding

The balance of the Vote ($135 million) is mainly split between:

  • $33 million for the Ministry of Transport as departmental funding
  • $25 million for Crown entities for outputs. The transport Crown entities receive most of their funding from third party fees and charges
  • $26 million for SuperGold card public transport concessions
  • $19 million for weather forecasting services from the Meteorological Service of New Zealand
  • $18 million for road user charges and fuel excise duty activities which are funded from fees and road tax revenue.

One question that springs to mind is why is the Tauranga Eastern Link need an additional $107 million. Surely that would have been part of the final contracts.

I think it’s really disappointing that the government still refuse to even consider helping fund the CRL, especially the cut and cover section from Britomart to Aotea that Len suggested earlier in the year. I think that section is going to end up being crucial to a whole raft of transport and urban improvement projects in Auckland.

All up for transport there wasn’t anything particularly surprising as it really just more of the same, which also means more roads.