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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.


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 Rail Median

Los Angeles

LA Rail Median


Bogota BRT Median



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

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


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:


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.”


 “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.


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.

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.

Comparing the CMJ

This is a graphical representation of just how much land we’ve turned over to out motorway network. The image below is of what effectively constitutes the Central Motorway Junction (CMJ). This is 49 hectares in size.

CMJ Size comparison 1

It kind of reminds me of some sort of alien creature latched on to the southern end of the city sucking out its life.

As a comparison the second image shows what is really the core of Auckland’s CBD and is home to tens of thousands of jobs. This is also 49 hectares in size including the space taken up by roads within the boundary.

CMJ Size comparison 2

And how they look compared to each other:

CMJ Size comparison 3

Now this isn’t to say that if this land wasn’t a motorway it would be as developed or as valuable as the land in the core of the CBD, but particularly the parts west of Symonds St would be very different. You may remember this post which showed what the area south of K Rd used to look like – a dense inner suburb that if it still existed today would probably look a lot like Ponsonby or Freemans Bay. It’s been estimated that the construction of the CMJ displaced around 50,000 people which at the time was almost 10% of everyone living in the region.

Newton 1959 - 2010 - 2

Disney’s 1950′s vision for roads

I’ve posted this before but following on from my post this morning, this video from Disney in 1958 shows the kind of vision that has dominated our transport and land use planning for such a long time.

Some things mentioned in here have actually come true or seem close to doing so while others I’m very thankful that haven’t.

Now where’s my sun powered electro suspension car?


Just another $500 million

The herald this week ran a large piece on the projects under construction as part of the Western Ring Route (WRR) including aerial photos of the progress. The projects covered were:

  • The Waterview Connection breaking it down by:
    • The Southern end
    • The Northern end
    • The Waterview interchange
  • The raising and widening of the Northwestern Motorway Causeway
  • The Te Atatu Interchange
  • The St Lukes Interchange
  • The Lincoln Rd Interchange

But the thing that got me about the article was this part

The 4.8km link between the Southwestern and Northwestern Motorways will fill the last-but-one gap in the 48km Western Ring Route. It will bypass the city to the west and link Manukau, Auckland, Waitakere and North Shore.

All that will be left to complete, by about 2019, will be a $500 million-plus motorway-to-motorway interchange at the northern end of the route.

It’s made to sound like it’s some sort of minor completion task but in reality at $500 million it would be the second most expensive road project in Auckland after the Waterview tunnels. What’s more it’s all just to satisfy some transport planners desire to make a map look prettier.

SH18-SH1 map gap

The project is more than twice the cost of a similar junction at Manukau built just a few years ago. It’s even almost enough to get a fully offline busway all the way to Silverdale – not that it’s needed that far yet (but NEX services to Silverdale are). It will be eclipsed in price any time soon by $800 million Puhoi to Warkworth motorway (if it goes ahead). 

Further it’s also technically incorrect to say that’s the final project for the Western Ring Route as there is still an estimated $100 million upgrade of the Royal Rd interchange (and associated widening either side of it) that will be left to do. Also needing to be included are the costs of widening the Northern and Southern motorways either side of the western ring route which the NZTA say are needed to handle the traffic from the WRR.

All up over the span of the roughly 13 years that we will have actually been building it, the Western Ring Route will costing us almost $4 billion. That’s on top of other major motorway projects that have been/are going on like the Victoria Park Tunnel, Newmarket Viaduct replacement and the myriad of projects the government announced last year they would fast track. Here’s a breakdown of the costs of the various WRR Projects

WRR Costs

It’s the ability to really break some of these mega projects down into small chunks that I think has been instrumental in Auckland forging ahead with so many motorway projects ahead of other transport investments. Projects like the CRL have suffered because they require the entire thing to built before they become usable and the price tag then looks scary. However spreading out the cost of the CRL over the years it will take to build shows that annually it’s about the same as what we’ve been pouring into these motorway projects. (note: cost of CRL in today’s dollars is ~$1.8 billion other costs often quoted include extra trains for an inefficient operating pattern and future inflation).

All of this makes me wonder how different the public would have perceived these projects if upfront they had been told it would have cost almost $4 billion to build. Would public sentiment about what transport projects we should build be different if we could have had a more realistic discussion about how much things cost.