NZTA OIA Response on Additional Harbour Crossing

Prompted by the news that the NZTA is tendering work for route protection of the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (AWHC), I initiated an OIA request to the NZTA which has now been responded to.

I requested, on behalf of the Campaign for Better Transport:

1. A statement defining the land transport problem or issue that the proposed AWHC solution is attempting to address.
2. The studies and comparative assessments of alternative solutions that the NZTA has conducted, including, but not restricted to, an electrified rail only crossing of the Waitemata Harbour between the Auckland isthmus and the North Shore.

The NZTA responded with the following PDF documents:

  • Attachment A: Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing Preliminary Business Case, January 2011. The business case includes a statement outlining the problem which the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing project is attempting to address (refer to ‘Description of Service Need’ on page 9)
  • Attachment B: Waitemata Harbour Crossing Study Phase 1: summary report option short listing, November 2007
  • Attachment C: Waitemata Harbour Crossing Study 2008: Study Summary Report, April 2008

Question 1: What Problem Are We Trying to Solve?

The Description of Service Need is this:

statementofserviceneed

What stands out here is the statement that the “AHB currently provides the only direct, cross-harbour vehicle link between the CBD and the North Shore.”  Resiliency seems to be a major driver behind a solution which supports six lanes of general traffic in a tunnel, with the possibility of rail at some indeterminate point in the future. What is odd is that there is no mention in any of the supplied documents of the Western Ring Route, a $2bn project adding resiliency and reducing demand on the existing Harbour Bridge which, in the NZTA’s own words, will “create a seamless motorway between Manukau and Albany”.  This is due for completion in phases in the next few years.

There are also the usual predictions of increasing traffic volumes, which threaten to “adversely impact on the length and reliability of travel times”. Quite why it is vital to minimise the travel times of single occupant cars isn’t explained.  Regardless, the Business Case uses traffic volumes in 2008 as the basis of forecasting, before the Northern Busway had a chance to make much of an impact.

traffic volumes

However, as Matt pointed out in this post, traffic volumes across the bridge have stubbornly stayed at 2008 levels, at least up until 2014.

AHB Annual Volumes to 2014

And that pretty much sums up the statement of need. As far as analysis of the need for mass rapid transit goes, there’s this analysis of the Busway:

Forecast demand for the Busway indicates that the morning peak hour flows into the CBD could increase to 250 buses per hour in 2041, representing a 138% increase over the 2009 volumes. This figure is the recommended target capacity for the Busway system, representing 12,000 passenger movements per hour6. However, achieving the target capacity is currently hindered by capacity constraints close to the CBD where the provision of dedicated bus facilities is more expensive and bus volumes are at their highest. One of the advantages of a new crossing would be the ability to have dedicated bus lanes across the AHB which would maintain a high level of trip reliability for passenger transport users.

On rail, the Business Case assumes a rail link between Gaunt Street Station in the Wynyard Quarter (underground) and Akoranga Station (at grade). The basis for modelling the tunnel is this diagram:

tunnel map

Construction cost alone of the combined tunnel is $4.6bn in 2010 dollars, with a total nominal cost over a 30 year period calculated as $12bn for the tunnel, including all capital expenditure and operating costs, with a risk factor as well:

nominal costs

The Business Case document comes up with a BCR of 0.4 for the combined tunnel option, including wider economic benefits and not including tolling.  Not so much a Business Case for the proposed AWHC then, but more a massive red flag suggesting  that not building the proposed tunnel is actually more economically beneficial for Auckland.  Even more worryingly, even though there is an assumption that the motorway will be widened to four lanes between Esmonde and Northcote road, there doesn’t seem to be any explanation of how the capacity of the Central Motorway Junction will be increased to cope with the additional three lanes of traffic each way that a new tunnel crossing will provide for.

Incidentally, transport modelling and the Cost Benefit Analysis excluded rail (p.25)

A parallel work stream to this study — The Network Plan — undertook an assessment of the longterm capacity of the existing Busway and concluded that a rail crossing was not required within the timeframes considered for the CBA. As such, the transport modelling excluded the modelling of rail, and the CBA includes costs for the roading component of the crossings only (i.e. the cost for the rail tunnel is excluded).

There is an interesting discussion on tolling (up to $8 each way modelled), but perhaps that is best left for another post.

Question 2: What alternatives have been evaluated?

The Business Case takes it as a given that capacity for additional vehicles is required.  This stems from the earlier options papers, which do indeed include an examination of a rail only crossing, which is the second question of the OIA request. Attachment C covers three short-listed options, with variations for each:

options

The study concludes (p.43) that a combined road / rail tunnel option is best – Option 2C.

summary

So although a rail tunnel was the best passenger transport option, the study recommends a combined road / rail tunnel. The option evaluation process appears not to have used a CBA / Economic Evaluation Manual approach, and it is difficult to tell exactly why option 2C is favoured over a rail only crossing. There is no comparison of BCRs between the rail only and combined tunnel options.  Presumably there is a strong weighting for resilience, but again discussion about the Western Ring Route is non-existent. However, the study also carries this warning on p.45:

Limited spare capacity on the strategic and regional arterial networks on both sides of the Harbour, together with the need to move towards a more sustainable transport system, mean it will be neither practical nor desirable to provide sufficient cross harbour road capacity to match demand. Any additional connectivity should therefore be provided to the best practicable standard, that is, in balance with the remainder of the Auckland road network, and in a cost effective manner.

And cost should probably be one of the most important factors. Page 36 has a table of costs for the different options.

optioncosts

A rail only tunnel was costed at about a quarter of the cost of a road / rail tunnel.

In summary, I don’t really think NZTA’s solution is going to work.  By design, it will increase the number of single occupant cars in the CBD and surrounding motorway networks and, according to their own analysis, make the economy of Auckland worse than if the project doesn’t proceed.  (And that isn’t even considering the impact of tolls on the economy.)

I don’t accept claims that the tunnel will be “future proofed” for rail either.  You only need to look at the history of future-proofing in Auckland (think Te Iririrangi Drive or the Manukau Harbour Crossing) to know that most likely it will never happen.

The taxation and expenditure of over $4bn dollars could make a real difference to Auckland if it was spent on the right things.  I think Aucklanders should get a say on this. Allowing the AWHC route protection to proceed in its current form, at a cost of tens of millions, is the thin edge of the wedge. If planning starts for a tunnel for single occupant cars, then that is what we’ll end up with.

This isn’t urgent. We’ve got time to get it right.

Submit on the East West Connections

Post from Ryan Mearns of Generation Zero

In June NZTA and Auckland Transport finally came out with a new proposed route for the East-West Connections, which is a new road route long pushed by business groups that would link SH1 and SH20 either north or south of the Manukau Harbour. An earlier proposed route that cut through the heart of Mangere was dropped in January 2014 after a huge public outcry, and an excellent local campaign. This new route effectively involved joining SH1 at Syliva Park with SH20 at Onehunga, with a direct connection that looks a lot like a motorway.

East-West Preferred Option

This area does suffer from traffic congestion, and does have a large amount of truck traffic, much of it leading to the major Kiwirail terminal and inland port along Neilson Street. So this is one area where we would support some investment to reduce congestion hotspots. However NZTA admitted that it would cost over $1 billion dollars. This is a huge amount of money, and for example is roughly equivalent to the government contribution of the CRL. There is already severe strain on the transport budget from the government spend-up on RONS and the Auckland accelerated motorway projects, so this is bad news for those of us that want the government to progress projects such as the Northern Busway extensions and North-Western busway.

 

The primary concerns we have for the project are that;

  1. The design of the proposed new motorway makes it even more difficult to build rail to the airport. To ensure either light or heavy rail can one day go to the airport, any designs for the motorway should preserve the rail corridor.
  2. The only public transport upgrades proposed are discontinuous shared bus and truck lanes which are poor quality and potentially unsafe. The project should focus on improving public transport in the area to reduce congestion with a network of high frequency bus services with continuous bus lanes.
  3. Current bike infrastructure in the area is disconnected and of low quality. The solution is to provide high quality bike connections linking Onehunga, Penrose, Mangere, Mangere Bridge and Otahuhu.
  4. The new motorway proposes to block off the limited public access there is to the Manukau east of Onehunga, with the cycleway on the land side of the motorway. The project should not have to reclaim the Manukau Harbour and should ensure any works near the harbour improve public access, rather than separate the community from the harbour.
  5. Congestion is an issue in the area, but a billion dollar motorway is not the way to go. The Government should focus any road spending on cheap upgrades to fix localised congestion spots.

NZTA are taking feedback on the East West Connections until the end of Friday. They do have an online form, however it bizarrely focusses on the bus-truck lanes, which are effectively an entirely different project. To help people get the key points across Generation Zero have created a quick submit form, which will send your feedback straight to NZTA.

Click here to go to the form to submit your feedback to NZTA.

More information on the project is available on the NZTA and Auckland Transport websites.

What’s happening with VKT?

We’ve talked for some time now about how people have been choosing to drive less and how it’s a trend that has been noticed across much of the developed world. The increases in how far we’d travel in cars were so predictable you could almost be safe betting you’re house on them. The chart below is from the Ministry of Transport. While we’ve only recorded Vehicle Kilometres Travelled (VKT) since 2001 the two fuel sales and consumption series are used as a proxy for vehicle growth. Note: VKT figures come from the odometer readings of cars when they get a warrant of fitness.

2015 GPS - Travel Demand & Fuel

Our road evaluation process even used to have a default growth rate set at 4% per annum. That all changed in the middle of the last decade as many countries including New Zealand saw that growth stall. That’s had a huge impact on projections as the Ministry of Transport has started to acknowledge over the last year or so.

ResizedImage600304-FutureDemand-Diagram1

Looking around the NZTA website the other day I came across the 2014 VKT data – including at a regional level and the results are quite interesting.

First up here’s the total VKT for all of New Zealand. As you can see it’s gone up slightly (1.0%). You may also notice it’s a little different to the graph above, I’m not quite sure why but the same issue exists on the MoT data set where the overall result doesn’t match the regional data.

2014 VKT - NZ

Looking specifically at Auckland there is quite an interesting trend developing. We’ve talked a lot in the past about changes in VKT per capita but the argument has sometimes come back that even if people travel less per capita, increases in population will negate that and more driving will occur overall. Yet what we’re seeing is that over the last three years VKT in Auckland has been flat and that’s before we take into account population growth – which has been high as shown.

2014 VKT - AKL VKT + Pop

For sake of comparison the graph below includes Christchurch, Waikato and Wellington as the next three largest regions. You can see there’s been continued growth in the first two while VKT in Wellington remains flat.

2014 VKT - WLG,CHCH,WAI VKT

 

The results above are just the total VKT for each region, so how do they look on a per capita basis. The chart below shows this. You can see that there are some quite different stories. Wellington continues to trend downwards while Auckland and NZ as a whole are also down slightly. For Auckland, VKT per capita is about the same now as it was in 2001. At the other end of the spectrum the trend for both Christchurch and Waikato is that people are travelling further. In Christchurch I suspect this is largely due to the population becoming increasingly spread out as a result of the earthquakes.

2014 VKT - per capita

There are quite a number of people who will suggest that the results above are just being caused by an economic blip and will return to strong growth again in coming years as the economy improves. Additionally there’s also been a narrative emerging from the likes of the NZTA that investing in roads is about improving the economy and productivity while investing in PT and active modes are just about improving choice. This was highlighted most recently in the NLTP where the NZTA say 55% of spending is going towards “economic growth and productivity”, 23% to safety and 22% to “travel choice, health and environment”. There are also comments such as this:

Within urban areas, increasing the capacity of the network to move more freight, particularly to ports, airports, freight hubs and new development sites, will improve productivity.

In Auckland, for example, the proposed investment in the East-West link will provide more efficient, predictable and safer freight journeys to and from the Onehunga-Penrose area in south Auckland.

So can we blame the lack of VKT growth on the economy?

In a word No. With the exception of a blip around 2008/09 GDP growth from Auckland has been strong. In addition the number of people employed in has also risen

2014 VKT - AKL Econ 2

Of course there is some modes which are growing and the strongest of these is rail which has had annual patronage increases of over 20% the last year. Across all PT modes the per capita growth in kilometres travelled on PT has increased by 188% since 2001 – and the 2015 data is likely to be significantly higher still. The chart below shows this in comparison to the flat VKT volumes. Of course PT travel is still only a small proportion of overall travel but it is one that’s growing and will likely continue to do so.

2014 VKT - AKL VKT vs PTKT

Can increases in the use of public transport and active modes keep the current trends of flat or even falling VKT going?

 

Reviewing Road Projects

Post implementation reviews (PIRs) are an important step to seeing whether projects achieve what they were intended to and to learn what can be improved for future projects. Every year the NZTA conduct PIRs on a sample of projects and for a few years now the NZTA have been publishing the results online. I’ve covered them before here and last year Peter has looked at the trends in them here. Now the results of from 2012/13 and 2013/14 are online and they make for interesting reading. Below are some of the interesting points I’ve picked up from a few of the ones I’ve read.

SH20 Manukau Harbour Crossing

This project duplicated the existing Manukau Harbour Bridge allowing for 8 lanes of traffic plus bus shoulders as well as widening approach roads and a few other changes. The PIR says the business case for the project forecast that 97% of the benefits would come from travel time savings, 1.6% from reduced crashes, 1.3% from vehicle operating cost savings and 0.1% from reduced emissions (quite how you can get emissions reductions when traffic volumes increase is beyond me).

The report says travel times between the airport to Hillsborough Rd were forecast to reduce by 43% however based on their estimates actual travel time savings are more like 37%. They then that’s a good result as traffic volumes increased by 14%. Unfortunately that in itself is way less than expected as shown by the graph below which looks remarkably similar to some other predictions we’ve seen.

Manukau Harbour Crossing Traffic Volume actual vs prediction

Traffic growth predictions ended up ~45% above the actual volumes of 102k vehicles. I can only assume that had traffic predictions been met that that the travel time savings predicted might have evaporated away. While a few reasons are given for the traffic predictions being wrong, the main blame is aimed at the traffic models and the assumptions within them.

There are some positives though, safety has improved with the annual crash rate falling by 28% which is above the regional average of 24% – although they note this isn’t statistically significant. The biggest positive is the cost which at $218 million was 19% less than estimated ($268m) which is in part due to the project being completed seven months early.

SH20 Mount Roskill Extension

Closely related to the Manukau Harbour Crossing and built partially at the same time, the Mt Roskill Extension saw SH20 extended from Hillsborough Rd by 4.5km though to Maioro St. Again the vast majority of expected benefits (99.34%) came from travel time savings.

The report notes that compared to the 2011 traffic predictions, the actual volumes were 9% lower – although that has grown in 2011-13. Importantly these motorway projects are often partially justified as taking traffic off local roads. The report notes that of the limited monitoring available, traffic volumes on local roads in the area were 21% higher than forecast meaning just a 6% reduction in volumes when it should have been a 22% decrease. So less traffic on the motorway and more stayed on local roads than expected – that’s not a great outcome. Amazingly they also note that no detailed project specific traffic model was produced, instead relying only on high level strategic modelling. This isn’t the kind of behaviour you’d expect for a project costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

There is also quite an interesting comment around the provision of PT. They note that the original documents including the paper that went to the board for funding approval noted that 3m shoulders would be added that could be used as bus lanes if needed. However as built the shoulders are “currently of variable width or absent at some points”.

Another area where the project didn’t perform well was with construction. The project ended up costing $227 million which was 22% higher than the $186m forecast which is blamed on ground conditions, associated earthworks and other items not fully specified or considered in the original tender and consent process. In addition the project was completed one year later than initially expected.

Lake Road Widening

This one is a local road project and involved widening Lake Rd on the North Shore between Esmonde Rd and Hauraki Corner which was said to be to relieve congestion. The reviewers say that in their view, the main issue with Lake Rd is that traffic queues on Esmonde Rd to get on to the motorway but that fact wasn’t recognised in the brief. I guess the planners and engineers involved had their horse blinkers on when working on the project, only focusing on the direct aspect they were looking at.

Economic benefits for the project primarily came from travel time savings (63%), reduced driver frustration (23%) – not sure how this is measured or impacts the economy. Like the other project traffic volumes haven’t been realised and the data available suggests it has actually declined.

Lake Rd Widening Volumes

The project was originally conceived as a single project but ended up being split in two stages. The total cost was initially $11.8 million however the figure was revised to $16.5 in a new assessment after the small first stage was completed. It ended up coming in 2% less than the revised figure but that was still 37% higher than initially expected

Bethlehem Township Improvements – Tauranga

The NZTA fast tracked the widening 400m of SH2 through the Bethlehem Township after the Tauranga City Council received approval to build a roundabout at the western end. They predicted that would “substantially exacerbate existing congestion problems at Bethlehem unless the highway was widened”. Travel time savings made up 88% of the BCR for widening the road.

Despite the widening travel times have actually increased and embarrassingly have done so at the same time that traffic volumes have decreased – as shown in the charts below.

Bethlehem Township Travel times

Bethlehem Township Traffic volumes

Perhaps things would have been much worse without the widening but it certainly doesn’t seem to have lived up to expectations.

Mangatawhiri Deviation

Not all projects have had bad outcomes though. One of the good ones is the Mangatawhiri Deviation which replaced a notoriously dangerous section of SH2. Despite the project cutting 3km off the existing route, 61% of the benefits came from improved safety with travel time savings making up 21%. The impact of the project on crashes is clearly shown below. They also not there have been three minor crashes on the old road which is now a local road.

Mangatawhiri Deviation Crash record

The shorter and straighter length of road has reduced travel times (although they say there is no reliable base line info to compare with) however they also point out that the exception to this is over holiday periods when there are huge increases in traffic volumes.

The project also came in more than 6 months early and $2.9 million (6%) under the original funding allocation. I’ve long viewed the Mangatawhiri deviation as an example of a project we should be using in other places such as instead Puhoi to Wellsford. It’s also a shame that the current focus on building the RoNS has delayed similar projects east and west of this one.

All up these and some of the ones I haven’t covered highlight some significant issues with our planning and assessment processes. That doesn’t create a huge amount of confidence in me that the same issues won’t be repeated with projects such as the East-West Link or an Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing – projects that have costs orders of magnitude larger than the ones above. In the case of the latter I certainly don’t think the NZTA should even be contemplating trying to predict things like traffic volumes until Waterview has opened and they have a good handle of the impacts it has.

Letter to NZTA

 BRITOMART JULY 15_3753
After the launch of the National Land Transport Programme in Auckland last week  I wrote the following letter to NZTA with our concerns focussed on two future projects in particular. We have already received a reply confirming engagement on the issues raised:
We are all having quite a bit of trouble taking all the transport institutions seriously over RTN designations and intentions. The failure for any action to have been taken over a route through Mangere and the Airport over the last decade, and the constant reductions of any available space for a rail ROW there, or at least one not prohibitively expensive, make all the assurances we hear increasingly hard to believe.
 
Now we are expected to have no concerns at all about a process which shows every sign of just being another massive state highway with a little pretend drawing of a train in the sump of a massive road tunnel.
 
Tommy Parker confirmed today that buses on the bridge are to be the RTN solution, ie what there is now.
 
Our view is that this puts the cart before the horse. NZTA should not be starting with a solution without any clear description of the problem. We do not see why it needs a designation over a stretch of water to analyse what may be missing across here. Although it is not the designation that is the problem, but the lack of a needs focused, creative, and open minded analysis that troubles us.
 
As to us it is clear that what is missing from the existing bridges is a real RTN route [assuming SkyPath happens]. Therefore we expect to see real exploration of what delivering rail only tunnels [or bridge] would do to shape demand here. A rail system would certainly be higher capacity than road tunnels, and, well planned, would also likely be much cheaper and stageable. Adjacent rail systems do add resilience as the TransBay Tunnels did in Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 in San Francisco. And not do have all of the disbenefits of the massive increase in vehicle numbers throughout the whole city [congestion!] that more traffic lanes will.
 
We know than any additional road capacity here would be a total disaster for the city, which we are currently de-carring, and the CMJ which is already full, and the North Shore local roads. We also know, and NZTA almost brags about this [see below], the main outcome would be a traffic inducement on a massive scale:
 
AWHC - Induced Demand
This is ‘decide and provide’ in a bad way, a huge programme of traffic creation; $6 Billion to get people out of buses and into the driver’s seat. What ever we build across this route will be used; what an amazing opportunity to choose to shape both demand and the city in a wholly positive way.
 
However the fact that NZTA is not currently allowed to spend on rail capex, and anyway really is mainly a State Highway provider and then is not calling for any outside expertise to explore rail systems is also not encouraging:
AWHC -Route Protection scope
It is our view that both a driverless Light Metro system, or a continuation of AT’s proposed Light Rail network across the Harbour, to Takapuna and up the Busway, need to be properly explored as the next possible crossing over the harbour. As they are likely to achieve all of the aims NZTA and AT are charged with delivering for the city much more completely and at a lower cost than any additional traffic lanes and without any of the disbenefits.
 
– the economic benefits of true spatially efficient urban transport system linking the Shore to city and the isthmus RTN
– make a massive transformational shift to public transport
– real carbon and other pollution reductions of scale from a 100% electric system
– huge place benefits, including a real reduction in city car and bus numbers
– no additional massive costs on approach roads
– resilience of additional systems as well as route
 
We would like to meet with NZTA at the highest level to discuss this further.
 
We are extremely concerned that institutional momentum is building for a very very poor outcome for the city and country and are determined to improve this process.
 
We look forward to your reply,
 
kind regards
 

More on the National Land Transport Programme

Last week the latest iteration of the National Land Transport Programme was announced. This is largely a business as usual plan, dominated by the big spend on a few massive state highways projects. However there are a few things to be celebrated, especially for cycling, and even more in the language and thinking in the supporting documents. This was repeated at the launch too, especially in the words of NZTA CEO and AT Board representative Geoff Dangerfield, and NZTA Auckland/Northland Regional Director Ernst Zöllner.

BRITOMART JULY 15_3344

The high level aims are all strong and commendable. The focus on ‘economic growth and productivity, safety, and value for money’ are incontestably valuable. If they were to add ‘resilience, energy security, and environmental performance’  it would probably be a perfect list. But of course this is really set by the Government Policy Statement.

Dangerfield was his usual clear and persuasive self, setting a high level context and skilfully bating away questions. Zöllner was particularly articulate about both the dynamic nature of the situation in Auckland and the unformed quality of Auckland’s PT networks; especially the incomplete nature of the core Rapid Transit Network. Both noted the strong growth of PT ridership numbers, which will see a rise in the PT opex spend.

Here’s what the agency says about the Transit and Active modes, in the Providing Transport Choices document:

NZTA The role of PT.
And
NZTA Economic Growth through PT

All incontestable good sense, and exactly the sort of points regular readers here would recognise, especially the emphasis on the value of the high quality own-right-of-way Congestion Free networks of rail and dedicated busways.

People using public transport on high-quality public transport services with a dedicated right of way, like the Auckland Northern Busway or metropolitan rail networks, can now enjoy fast, efficient journeys on comfortable modern buses and electric trains, while freeing up road space for other people and freight.

There remains, however, some considerable daylight between this analysis and the actual projects being funded. This is especially the case with the comparatively tiny sum of $176m for Public Transport Capital Works in Auckland out of a total $4.2 billion spend over the three year period in the region [~4%] and $13.9 billion nationally. This sum [half of which is from the Council’s Transport Levy] will bring much vital kit, like the Otahuhu, Manukau City, and Te Atatu bus interchanges. But is a long way from fixing those big gaps in the RTN network. In response to my questions on this they quite reasonably countered that some funding for bus capex is in other budgets, notably under the AMETI programme, as part of the North Western massive highway works, and the Northern Busway extensions.

However the two Busway sums do not result in the construction of even one metre of additional RTN. For the Northern Busway the previous minister deleted construction of the proposed extension from the accelerated motorway package [a loan to be met from future NLTF], so all we are left with is ‘future proofing’ and no one can ride on a busway that has only been future proofed for. On the Northwestern we do get the improvement of bus shoulder lanes and a station at Te Atatu; but no RTN. AMETI is the best of the bunch, but that’s only if the proposed BRT does happen instead of the place-ruining flyover that appeals more to some entitled voices there.

Then we come to the great problem that the National Land Transport Fund is barred from investing in rail infrastructure yet Auckland is now showing the huge value of using this separate network for moving increasing numbers of people completely outside of traffic congestion. And some RTN routes are clearly best served by rail. Just as well the Council has the courage to just get on with the CRL first stage by itself so at least this vital gap at the heart of the RTN is getting a start.

The case for near term investment in PT and especially for completing the RTN can be summarised thus:

  • current demand growth of 20+% on Auckland’s Rapid Transit Network,
  • the RTN is showing improved operating cost effectiveness as it grows,
  • the strongly voiced value the agency sees in quality PT networks especially their positive effects on traffic congestion and economic growth,
  • the well known relationship between what is invested in and what then grows in use plus the positive externalities of increased PT use,
  • and the observed sub-optimal nature of the city’s current PT networks in both quality and extent, ie the clear opportunities for improvement.
So despite the good work being undertaken by many in all our transport agencies: NZTA, AT, and MoT, there seem to be structural problems that are leading to important opportunities being missed in our only city of scale. It is this context that I wrote to NZTA Auckland and Northland Director Ernst Zöllner with concerns about two specific projects that embody these issues. As this post is already quite long I will run the letter tomorrow morning in a follow-up post…

Kirkbride Interchange and Rail Future Proofing

Rail to the airport is in the news again – and not in a good way – this time related to the Kirkbride interchange the NZTA are currently building and whether it’s future proofed for rail. The answers by Auckland Transport and the NZTA also hint at some of the dysfunction, lack of critical thinking and potentially deliberate sabotage that’s long plagued this project – one which is constantly one of the most popular publicly.

Auckland Transport is having to stump of $21 million to “future-proof” a motorway project for trains or trams to the airport.

The council body is paying the money to the Government’s Transport Agency, towards extra costs of designing a motorway interchange for trams to run through a trench beneath Kirkbride Road, Mangere, or trains on an elevated line.

That is additional to $140m the agency is spending on the 580-metre trench and a motorway extension to the airport in an accelerated Government-funded project.

Preparations are well-advanced for the trench to be dug west of George Bolt Drive.

 

Considering that airport rail has been talked about for decades and has been on regional plans for probably just as long it’s absolutely absurd that AT are having to pay $21 million to widen the trench to be able to accommodate rail. Long-time readers may remember the excuse given by the NZTA for not building a busway along SH16 at the same time as all the motorway widening going on was that the old Auckland Regional Council didn’t list the route as a rapid transit one (rail or busway). That isn’t the case here because as mentioned rail has long been on the plans and been subject to many studies, some of which they themselves have been involved in. The NZTA should also remember the public desire the project in the form of the 10,000 signature petition the CBT organised back in 2007.

So why are AT now paying the NZTA future proof the interchange?

As I understand it when the government announced they were accelerating the project back in 2013 the Highway Network Operations (HNO) team within the NZTA quickly went to work on designing the interchange. They didn’t look at the work their planning teams had been working on with AT and designed the interchange to take up the entire space of the motorway designation. They claimed their design future proofed the interchange for rail but what they really meant is there was space beside it for rail to go but it would effectively require starting from fresh including needing to purchase and designate all the land. In other words the NZTA’s work didn’t preclude a future rail line but didn’t do anything to help it either.

When AT realised and challenged HNO they claimed it was a done deal and they were on too tight a schedule to make any changes. They also tried to use Watercare – who need to build a new pipe through the area – as an excuse for not being able to accommodate any changes however it turns out Watercare were only bringing their project forward after being told to by HNO. After working out they only needed a few extra metres and some high level talks HNO backed down and agreed include the project but with a new catch – AT would have to pay. They then tried to claim the extra work would add something like $60 million to the $140 million project. The price of $21 million has come about after AT sat down and worked out what the actual extra cost would be.

That it even got to that this point is absurd and puts into question both organisations claims of working together well in partnership. Putting this aside, so what are we now getting?

Auckland Transport project director Theunis van Schalkwyk has since, in a joint statement with the Transport Agency to the Herald, confirmed that his organisation has allocated $21m to make the trench 3.5m wider than planned.

Its new width of 29m would provide an 8m rail corridor, which the statement said would be enough for trams to run through the trench or for elevated trains above it.

So the NZTA almost severely hampered rail to the airport all for the sake of 3.5m – that’s less than a single motorway lane. Here’s what the current plan is for the project

Kirkdbride Layout

And a closer look at the interchange itself

Kirkdbride Layout - interchange

The answer and these images also raises new questions.

  • How will Light Rail run through the trench, presumably it would have to be down the centre and would have to be protected from cars by barriers. Is 8m enough space for both the tracks and barriers?
  • By designing so that heavy rail has to be overhead is that a strategy to ensure local opposition?
  • After either light rail or heavy rail pass the interchange then what? How does light rail get to or from the centre of the motorway, if elevated how does long is the line elevated for?
  • If an elevated line is built I’m assuming that it would have to stay elevated for some distance to get past Bader Dr and the SH20/SH20a motorway interchange. How will that impact on Mangere Town Centre. Alternatively it would be interesting to hear the local communities thoughts if as a result Mangere town centre was served by a station like this from Vancouver (Brentwood Town Centre).

Brentwood Skytrain Station

Of course Kirkbride is just one of what seem like many mountains in front of getting rail to the airport. Earlier promises by the NZTA’s predecessor to future proof the recently duplicated Manukau Harbour Crossing for rail turned out to be completely pointless – only allowing enough space for a single low speed track. At the other end it seems that rail will required to be in a tunnel though the airport property as it will have to get under a longer runway.

In addition to all of this I think that AT’s current fascination with Light Rail is distracting them. Light rail is appropriate for the isthmus routes they’re suggesting but in my view is completely inappropriate for rail to the airport as it simply won’t be fast enough. LRT would likely take around 50 minutes to get to the city vs 30-35 for heavy rail hooking into the existing network – either at Onehunga or perhaps as Patrick suggested the other day.

All up it feels like rail to the airport will go the same way as so many other transport projects in Auckland’s history. So much opportunity to easily get a great result hampered by short term thinking and expediency. So much hassle could have been avoided if AT and predecessors had applied just a little bit more urgency in obtaining a designation for the project.

The National Land Transport Programme 2015-18

The NZTA yesterday announced the what it would fund over the next three years as part of its National Land Transport Programme 2015-18 (NLTP). The NLTP combines funding from the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF) – which is essentially road/fuel taxes, council rates and from other government funding sources such as for the spend up on regional roads announced last year.

The headline figure is that over the next three years $13.9 billion will be spent on transport which is about 15% more than the 2012-15 NLTP and of which about $10.5 billion comes from the NLTF. Most of the rest comes from local councils through rates. Where the money comes from and where it is being spent is quite well shown in this graphic from the NZTA.

NLTP 2015-18 revenue and investment flows

As you can see above the vast bulk of the funding is going on building new and maintaining existing roads. Of the $5.5 billion for road improvements the majority (almost $4.2 billion) is going towards State Highways. None of this is particularly surprising as it’s a continuation of the trend we’ve seen for a few years now and one that has been continued with the current Government Policy Statement (GPS) which the NLTP has to give effect to. The GPS doesn’t set specific funding levels but it does provide funding ranges for each category. Just how the actual investment in this programme compares with it’s GPS funding range for each category is shown below. You an quite see quite clearly that for State Highways the funding level is well above the midpoint set by the government – although interestingly local roads are at the bottom of their range (note: this is just for funding from the NLTF so doesn’t include rates).

NLTP 2015-18 allocation vs GPS funding range

One area that is at the top of its range is walking and cycling where the NZTA are putting in over $100 million which is on top of the $96 million from governments Urban Cycling Fund.

One aspect I was interested in was how the money is divided up across the regions. A lot was said about how Auckland is getting ~$4.2 billion in funding however when you look at on a per person basis (using Stats 2014 population estimates) it appears Auckland is spending about the National average while it’s the Waikato doing pretty well.

NLTP 2015-18 Regional Spend

Just looking specifically at Auckland around $4.2 billion will be spent over three years. I find the press release and other information about this investment quite odd as it seems the NZTA are doing everything they can to avoid saying how much their spending on roads. They focus attention on the $1.175 billion going towards Public Transport (of which only about $176 million is for new PT Infrastructure and services), on the $960 million on road maintenance and the $91 million on cycling yet there is very little focus on the over $2.1 billion being spent on roads, $1.8b of which is state highways.

There are also a few other things I picked up on, including:

  • The term Congestion Free is entering the NZTA’s lexicon

Mr Zöllner says Auckland’s future depends on a strategic joined up approach to both its motorway and local road network, along with critical public transport, walking and cycling networks, to ensure highly reliable, dedicated and congestion free travel.

  • It is claimed that spending $960 million on maintenance will help ease congestion, I’m not quite sure how that will work.
  • That the changes to the Northern Motorway will include the design and consenting for extending the busway to Albany which is good although no actual construction on it will happen within this time. They also say the motorway widening is only to address predictions of large travel demand in the future i.e. there is no proof it will actually happen and of course any predictions of large demand for PT seem to be ignored, especially by the government.

These projects aim to address predictions of large travel delays in peak times within the next decade, and provide alternative travel options.

  • The NZTA are now talking about the package of works to widen the southern motorway between Manukau and Papakura as part of the route between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga. As such seem to be lumping in the time savings from other projects such as the Waikato Expressway to claim the works will help save 30 minutes. This is odd seeing as one of the reasons they lost the Basin Reserve Flyover was that they lumped in time savings from other projects.
  • It’s been cut from the online version but in the original emailed version of the press release they claim the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway will save up to 30 minutes, odd seeing as it only currently takes about 20 minutes now except for about four days a year in a single direction.

Road of National Significance, providing a safer, more reliable connection between Auckland and Northland by extending the four-lane Northern Motorway (SH1) to Warkworth. The project is estimated to cut 30 minutes from journey times in peak periods.

  • This map shows where the NZTA is investing. It seems to me that the symbols are way off in some places and also minimise the impact of massive projects such as Waterview which only gets a single icon for all the North Western work that’s happening.

NLTP map auckland

One of my big concerns about the PT funding in particular is that it simply won’t be enough investment to cope with the increase in demand. The NZTA say they think with this investment that over the next three years PT patronage will increase to 21%. Given we’ve had roughly a 10% increase in patronage over the last year alone and we still have the New Network, integrated fares and the completed roll out of the new electric trains that 21% figure seems a little undercooked.

Lastly I think the NZTA deserve credit for how they’ve made the NLTP data available. Through this table you can select any combination of activity classes and regions and get a list of every single project that will be funded from the NLTF and also download all of the data easily.

Bring on the Cycleways

Yesterday the John Key and Simon Bridges announced the planned cycling investment throughout New Zealand for the next three years and pleasingly it represents a massive increase on anything we’ve seen before. There are two primary reasons for this increase in funding.

  • One of the government’s election promises was to create a $100 million Urban Cycleway Fund (UCF) to be spent over four years. The first year of projects (well half year really) totalling just under $10 million was launched in January and this announcement constitutes the remainder of the funding.
  • The NZTA are spending significantly more money from the National Land Transport Fund (which comes from fuel taxes, road user charges, licencing fees etc.). This funding is governed by the Government Policy Statement (GPS) which was confirmed at the end of last year and sets funding bands

In effect this is the first announcement of what’s inside the 2015-18 National Land Transport Programme (NLTP) which is the three year programme of transport activities that will be funded throughout the country and ties in with regional land transport programmes – which AT consulted on at the beginning of the year. I understand the rest of the NLTP funding will be announced next week.

The funding announced today is broken up by city below

NLTP 2015-15 cycling

We knew the urban cycleways funding was coming – and the government deserves credit for seeing it fully implemented – however as mentioned above the NZTA are also spending a lot more money. To highlight just how much of an increase in spending this $107m from the NLTF is, in the 2012-15 NLTP there was $53 million allocated for walking and cycling. That’s less than half what this announcement contains and itself was a 27% increase above the 2009-12 GPS. So even without the urban cycleway funding the level of money available for cycling has increased dramatically. Add in that remaining $90 million from the UCF and it represents significant increases in spending from Central Government.

One interesting aspect I’ve also noticed is that the $107 million from the NLTF is actually higher than the upper limit of the funding band in the GPS – if only they would also do that to PT funding.

The money shown above is going towards 41 separate projects.  Below are just the Auckland projects however you can see a table of all of them here. It’s worth noting that what’s shown only represents the projects where joint funding is taking place, a lot more cycle facilities will be delivered as part of other projects too. In addition the council have voted to significantly increase spending on cycling and that means it will be funding some projects on its own. It would be interesting to know just how much more network we could have had rolled out if were were able to at least get a 50% contribution from the NZTA for those other projects. The Auckland projects are split into four categories.

NLTP 2015-15 cycling - Auckland Projects

And here’s a map of the projects

Auckland urbancycleways map 2015-18

We’ve talked about many of these projects before and it’s really great that we should be seeing all of this within just three years. One new part I also really like is the addition of two programmes to link up the surrounding areas of New Lynn and Glen Innes to their train stations as well as other local amenities. I think that will be really useful in getting more people cycling not just to those town centres but also to catch trains and buses.

Quay St cycleway impression

An artist impression of a cycleway on Quay St that will be built within 3 years

Here’s Bridges and Key after making the announcement.

All up a great announcement and one that should see some major progress on improving cycling facilities in Auckland – and elsewhere around the country. After years and years of pushing for more funding it’s finally starting to arrive which is a testament to all the people who pushed so hard for a better future. Let’s just hope the various transport agencies have the capacity and capability to deliver all of these projects.

Next up – perhaps even today – we should hear if Skypath will be approved.

Mangere/Airport Rail 2.0

Below is AT’s proposed post CRL rail running pattern. Quite complicated, with some peak only services and an infrequent 3tph [trains per hour] Henderson-Grafton-Otahuhu crosstown service. One feature of this design is that the 6 tph Swanson-CRL-Onehunga service [core Western line service] has every second train stopping at Newmarket, so it becomes 3tph from there to Onehunga. This is because the branch line from Penrose to Onehunga isn’t able to take any higher frequency, but also because there probably won’t be the demand on this little line to balance that of the whole of the western line, unless it is to be extended. And at 12tph there is plenty of action south of Newmarket- a train every 5 minutes each way.

Post CRL running pattern

Another notable feature is just how important Otahuhu is becoming. It’ll have 18tph both directions at the peaks; a train every few minutes each way [correction: actually 21 tph in the peak direction]. A frequency only matched by the Centre-City underground CRL stations. So it will be a great place to connect; that frequency kills wait times and connection anxiety, but also it offers a one-seat ride to everywhere on the network bar the last three Western Line stations and, unlike Newmarket, there is space for an expanded track layout for all these train movements [plus dedicated freight lines]. Add the fact that as you read this, thanks to the Council’s Transport Levy, a bus interchange station is being built there too, it’s becoming a real busy hub.

So picture this; How about adding the heart of Mangere and the Airport to the list of direct Otahuhu rail connections?

MANGERE-AIRPORT LINE

The Line

Here’s how it could go, there are a couple of options at the northern end, but otherwise around 9km of track over flat terrain pretty direct to the Airport. And, importantly some very good points along the way to serve the local community and add catchment to the service. On the map above I am proposing new stations at:

Robertson Rd

Mangere Town Centre/Bader Drive

Montgomerie Rd

Airport Terminals

The first two are close together but serve communities separated by SH20, and both are on good perpendicular bus and bike routes to expand that catchment. Mongomerie is also at a junction for good bus connection and is in the middle of the growing employment area north of the Airport. So residential, employment, and the community, education, and retail of the Mangere Town Centre too. Importantly this would act as a way to reconnect the community flung apart by the motorway severance. More on local impacts below.

Otahuhu is 25 minutes from Britomart, a number that should come down when AT and their operator sort out their currently overlong dwell times, and would be around 10 or so minutes from the Airport Terminals. 35mins from the heart of the city? Even cabinet ministers from the provinces would see the point of that congestion free journey when [say] going to meet us at the Ministry of Transport or NZTA in the city. But also such a fast and direct service would make taking it by connection from the North Shore viable, improving options for what is currently an expensive and congestion prone journey by any mode.

And in terms of running pattern it’s already sorted: send all 6tph of the western line on to through the CRL, Otahuhu, Mangere and the Airport. An immediate 10min all day frequency, through the busy Ellerslie and Newmarket hubs, direct to Remuera and Parnell, all the city CRL stations and every point on the Western line. Easy transfer at Otahuhu for every other station and connection point on the network. Uber to any station on the network with your bags, and you’re on your way in comfort and at speed right to the Terminal, and out of the vagaries of Auckland traffic and cost and hassle of parking. Personally I would prefer that transfer to the one people make now in their thousands at Airport Park’n’Rides.

Or if it’s preferred the 3tph currently intended to stop at Newmarket plus the 3tph of the crosstown service on from Otahuhu to make up the frequency. That looks overly fiddly and illegible to me, but that’s not important for this argument; the point is that Otahuhu in fact looks like a better point to connect Mangere and the Airport to the rest of the city than Onehunga, for both speed of service, and onward connections. And the added bonus of improving network efficiency by simply extending existing services.

Local Community

Of course the route is not free. the section between the SH20 interchange and Otahuhu station goes down a highway designation that NZTA still probably want and that the locals recently fought to keep as it is. Here:

Mangere Central

It is possible that the local community, if treated fairly and with respect, may see the advantages for them in having to this line in their midst. It is substantially different from a highway in terms of width, noise, pollution and benefit. The current residents would need to be rehoused to their advantage and the line would have to come with high quality and numerous crossing points and increased community access to the new stations and other destinations. It could be a catalyst for a whole lot of improvements in the area. But I can’t speak for them.

Otherwise it just faces the same route issues that the one sourced from Onehunga has. The refusal by previous decision makers, especially Manukau City Council, but also NZTA, and ARTA, to future proof adequately in their plans here means more expensive elevated solutions will be required over SH20A. However we are assured that the current Kirkbride Rd works allow for that and that the Airport company is similarly preparing for such a line. Otherwise it doesn’t look to face any unusual engineering challenge. Only the standard political and financial ones.

Interestingly here is report by BECA for ARTA from 2008 that features this route, with exactly the same station placements [can’t be too illogical then]. That found that Route 2B, as they called it, scored well:

BECA @B

BECA Airport Rail

But the report is complicated by the inclusion of the Avondale-Westfield line. One I never seen the point of in passenger terms and can not picture an efficient rail running pattern for, and that is only there because of an ancient freight designation. Also I find it odd that the report doesn’t analyse routes it terms of how services would use them.

Avondale-Onehunga-Penrose, and further, looks like it could be a more useful Light Rail service, once AT have their ‘four finger’ routes all ending along this line. The rest of the report is very dated and I’m sure would use very different ridership projections now.

I am confident about the utility and therefore the appeal of such a fast and direct line for Airport customers and employees, especially with such good onward connections and a turn up and go frequency. So long as the Sydney pitfall of putting a punitive fare on the Airport Station is not applied. Add the local residential, employment, and student catchments and bus connections, and this looks like a strong option without either the slow winding route from Onehunga, or the cost of crossing the Mangere inlet.

There is still the problem of the conditions that the Airport company are demanding; in particular a more expensive undergound route to future proof for a second runway to the north and to keep it out of the way of their new terminal plans. However AIAL also predict huge rises in passenger and associated business volumes at and around the Airport which means that they are going to find other more valuable uses for land than just car parking. And, despite the heroic showering of money on State Highways if this growth is still to only be served by single occupant vehicles and buses stuck with them then these roads and the local ones in the area are not going to work. A really effective Rapid Transit route and service is only going to be needed here with increasing urgency, and nothing will give the capacity and time competitiveness like hooking into the existing rail network that is already much of the way there.

Yes the capital investment will not be minor, but the outcome is both a permanent and extremely valuable for both the city’s efficiency and resilience. It will also add efficiency to the operations of the rail network, increasing utility and cost effectiveness by working those existing assets harder. The always senseless claim that ‘Aucklanders won’t use rail’ or other forms of public transport, has been proven wrong beyond any doubt since recent improvements and booming ridership numbers.  It really is time for certain groups to drop their blinkered knee-jerk rejection of this mode, as it is based on historic conditions and experiences that no longer apply in the new Auckland, and as it really is the best tool for this important job.

Like the Rail Network the Airport appears to be on a trajectory for 20mil passenger movements a year by 2020: It is long overdue that we get these two critical systems linked together for their- and the city and nation’s- mutual benefit.

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