Applying for Motorways

A few days before Christmas and the NZTA have been busy little beavers, lodging not one but two consent applications for major Auckland projects last week. the Northern Corridor and the East-West Link (despite the council asking them to hold off for just a few more months). With thousands of pages worth of reports in each of the applications plus their supporting documents, perhaps the NZTA were targeting those looking for something to do over the Christmas/New Year period. Due to the volume of information I’m not going into much detail about each of these but you can be sure we will in the new year.

The Northern Corridor is expected to cost around $500 million and is described on the EPA website as comprising of:

  • SH1 widened to include extra general traffic lanes in each direction between Upper Harbour Highway (Constellation) and Greville Road;
  • A new dual direction busway adjacent to the southbound carriageway shoulder of SH1;
  • Northern Busway extended from Constellation Bus Station, further north to Albany Bus Station;
  • A new off-road shared-use pedestrian/cycleway adjacent to the southbound carriageway of the Northern busway extension;
  • SH18 upgraded to full motorway standard from the Albany Highway interchange to SH1, with a motorway to motorway connection to SH1 (north facing SH1 – SH18 ramps only);
  • Direct connection of Paul Matthew Road to Upper Harbour Highway;
  • Local road intersection improvements; and
  • A new off-road shared-use pedestrian/cycle way initially tracking from Albany Highway along SH18 and up the length of SH1 to Oteha Valley Road.

Unlike the East-West Link further below, there isn’t much in the way of images for the Northern Corridor showing what it will look like. The images do show a couple of important things though, such as that the Constellation Busway Station will get an outbound platform accessed by an over bridge, like Smales Farm and Akoranga. As you can see the Rosedale drawing doesn’t include details about the proposed busway station as mentioned the other day.

While this one shows the proposed bridge that will give direct access from the busway to the Albany Busway station.

Here’s the plan version of that

The East-West is now expected to cost up to $1.8 billion, about three times what it was originally expected to cost. It is described on the EPA website as comprising of:

  • A new four lane arterial road between SH20 at the Neilson Street Interchange in Onehunga and the on and off-ramps on SH1 at Mt Wellington Highway;
  • SH1 widened in each direction between Mt Wellington Highway and Princes Street to increase capacity to allow connection to the Project. Several bridges will either be upgraded or widened to facilitate this;
  • Major upgrades to the Neilson Street Interchange to enable direct access between SH20 and EWL through free flow ramp connections in all directions;
  • A full pedestrian and cycling link between Māngere Bridge and Onehunga through to Sylvia Park Town Centre;
  • Local road improvements at Galway Street, Captain Springs Road, Hugo Johnston Drive and a new access road for the existing ports; and A grade separated intersection of Great South Road and Sylvia Park Roads to provide improved reliability and future resilience.
  • Landscape and recontour the coastal edge of Māngere Inlet to reflect the original foreshore which existed before extensive historic reclamation; and
  • Incorporate stormwater treatment wetlands located within new headlands on the foreshore of the Māngere Inlet.

 

Below are some images of what the East-West Link is meant to look like when finished.

This is the proposal for the Onehunga Interchange looking North and South. Notice in each of them how they show rail in the plan, which is now planned to go over the top of some roads. The also show the replacement walking and cycling bridge which the NZTA have gone very quiet on.

And here’s a shot showing the new road alongside the Mangere Inlet.

The map below shows the entire East-West plan which also includes widening of SH1 and upgrading the Princes St interchange. Click the image for a larger version or go here for the original (8.2MB)

This is a close up of the Onehunga Interchange.

As mentioned we’ll go into more detail about these posts in the new year, in the meantime, let me know if you see anything interesting in the technical documents

Rosedale Station decisions

The Northern Busway has been one of Auckland’s major public transport success story’s, helping ever increasing numbers of people get around the city while avoiding congestion. It’s been a key factor in seeing around 40% of people crossing the harbour bridge in the morning peak now doing so on a bus. And despite the busway itself opening in 2008, there’s been seeing a surge in usage over  the last year or so which has coincided with the introduction of Double Decker buses – which are now standard on almost all Northern Express services.

Yet this success comes despite the busway only being about 7km long, just 41% of the distance between Albany and the city.

One important win that’s occurred in recent years is that the NZTA will extend the hugely successful Northern Busway all the way to Albany in the coming years – although it only comes alongside a massive motorway project. However, an article on Stuff raises concerns about an important aspect of those plans, that authorities can’t seem to agree on where to put a new station.

The exact location of a new bus station on Auckland’s North Shore will finally be decided in 2017.

First mooted in 2015, the bus station is part of a project to improve the Northern Busway and has received “overwhelming” public support.

But, after two years of investigation by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) and Auckland Transport (AT), a precise site for the new station has still not been chosen.

The Northern Corridor Improvements project will see the Northern Busway extended from Constellation Bus Station in Mairangi Bay all the way through to Albany Bus Station.

Original project plans proposed the new station at Rosedale, as part of the wide-ranging works.

However, the new bus station has been left out of plans that were lodged with the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) in November.

NZTA’s Auckland highway manager Brett Gliddon says the bus station is still being “actively investigated” and a final decision on the location will be made next year.

This is what the NZTA have said in relation to the busway in the past and it also hints at what some of the problem might be.

A station linked to Rosedale Rd makes a lot of sense, given there’s a decent little patch of employment within easy walking distance.

I suspect part of the problem of why it’s taking so long to make a decision might be hidden in the text from the NZTA, specifically:

Auckland Transport are also investigating a new bus station and Park & Ride options at Rosedale. It is envisaged that, like Smales Farm, this proposed station will be a destination station for the many people who work, go to school or attend sporting activities in Rosedale.

Destination stations are usually reserved for important locations such as large centres or interchanges, for example, New Lynn, Newmarket, Otahuhu, Panmure and of course, as mentioned in the text, Smales Farm. These stations are normally impressive but are both costly and/or where bus interchanges are concerned and they can consume significant amounts of land. This would be especially so if they also plan to include a park & ride. As such, it would be no surprise if we were to learn that cost of such a station, both monetarily and in land use, was a sticking point in the decision.

In my view a destination station is wrong for Rosedale and instead something more akin to the Sunnynook Busway Station, a fairly simple but efficient station, seems more appropriate. What’s more it could span Rosedale Rd to give easy access to footpaths on either side of the road and to bus stops for local bus services.

Let’s hope they can get the details of this busway station sorted soon so the NZTA don’t leave AT behind.

ATAP Indicative Projects Costings

In September the Final Report of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) was released and we’ve talked about it a lot since then. It focused on strategic recommendations following multiple rounds of modelling of packages of projects and with & without Smarter Pricing. The Final Indicative Package can be seen on the map below, however please note these are indicative and may change as each project goes through the necessary business cases.

ATAP Indicative Interventions

The ATAP report found that in the first decade alone, there’s a $400 million funding gap and while the aggregate costings where available, the estimated cost for each project where not. So, I decided to OIA that very information & thankfully the NZTA were happy to oblige, giving us this information in a very nice format which you can see below.

Please note the projects are indicative and subject to the regular business cases, the costings are preliminary estimates for example the ATAP team did not receive the information regarding updated CRL costings until after the Report had been finalised, the costings are also not inflation adjusted which is why some in the third decade in particular look cheaper than previous estimates you may have seen.

ATAP Projects Estimates

ATAP Project Costs Page 1

ATAP Project Costs Page 2

Rail Development Programme

Rail Development Programme

I wont go into to much regarding the information, as this is best done in a series of follow up posts on ATAP, but some things to note are

  1. A (Road Only) Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing is $3.7b but will be much more with inflation.
  2. They budget $585.3m of level crossing removals.
  3. There is over $4b in state highway widening projects (Does not include East West Link & AWHC), those projects bring it up to over $9B.
  4. $784m to four track Westfield-Papakura.
  5. $503.7m for Isthmus Mass Transit is budgeted in the first decade meaning only $622.5m needs to be accelerated to make it a first decade project.
  6. Mass Transit between Wynyard Quarter – Takapuna is budgeted at $1.8b.

What do you think of the costs and what stands out to you?

Could the government fund light rail

Radio NZ reports that the government, though the NZTA, could fully fund significant chunks of a light rail line from Takapuna to the Airport.

Govt considers fully funding Auckland light rail

The government is considering fully funding a light rail network in Auckland, reaching from the airport to the North Shore.

The projects were listed as potential candidates for taxpayer funding by classifying them as State Highway projects, in a report prepared by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA).

The report, which was obtained by the Green Party under the Official Information Act, listed $9.1 billion worth of Auckland projects, most of which would traditionally be jointly funded with the Auckland Council.

The June report pre-dated the less-detailed September release of the government and council’s joint strategy to tackle the city’s needs, the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP).

While ATAP and the council continue to use the vague phrase “mass transit” to describe new links to the airport and across the Waitemata Harbour, the NZTA report called them light rail projects.

The memo was in June so a few months before ATAP was finalised and appears to be just looking at potential options to address the funding gap that had emerged in earlier stages of the ATAP process. That funding gap ended up estimated at $400 million a year just for the first decade alone. I’ve now seen the memo too and some of the information from it is below.

The memo creates a long list of possible funding and financing options, a table of which is below (they also note that the categories and options are not priortised in this table). As a quick glossary, FED – Fuel Excise Duty, RUC – Road User Charges, FAR – Funding Assistance Rate (NZTA’s share of local project costs), NLTF – National Land Transport Fund.

There is then a brief discussion on some of the options suggested, such as that a higher FAR for Auckland could have impacts elsewhere in the country. It’s option 6 that’s sparked interest as it would see the NZTA designating a number of projects/corridors as state highways which would mean they get fully funded from the NZTA – this is the same thing that’s already happening with the East-West Link. They say (emphasis mine):

Projects to be considered for re-designation as State Highways include:

a) An arterial road that could potentially be re-designated as a state highway, or
b) a rapid transit (RTN) similar to previous RTNs that the Transport Agency has funded

By similar to Previous RTNs I assume they mean the Northern Busway where the busway itself was paid for as a state highway with the former North Shore City Council contributing for the stations.

Most of the projects suggested are big arterial road projects but it’s the inclusion of Light Rail projects that’s sparked the interest – although I’m surprised that the Northwestern Busway isn’t included on there.

Funding the strategic PT projects the same as state highways is certainly something we’ve suggested before so it’s good that the NZTA are thinking this way too, even if it is limited to just a few projects.

One of the more interesting aspects though, and as mentioned by Radio NZ’s Todd Niall, is that the memo directly mentions Light Rail. The final ATAP report talks about the suggested light rail projects as Mass Transit, a vague, mode neutral term. This is because some in the government and it’s agencies seem to have an allergic reaction to the work rail. What this document shows is that clearly the decision to start calling it Mass Transit came quite late in the piece. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of them probably thought earlier analysis would rule light rail out and got a fright when the work showed it wasn’t a stupid idea. Currently he NZTA is busy trying to prove that you can get the same outcome as light rail with buses, as long as you don’t mind a wall of buses down Queen St.

But just coming back to the thrust of the Radio NZ piece, that the government could fully fund light rail (or parts of it). The one thing I wonder is, what would the government really have to lose by supporting and funding the project? All surveys I’ve seen over the last 5-10 years has shown that improving public transport is immensely popular with the public and some form of rail to the airport is normally the number one or two most popular individual projects. It would be even more so after the traffic issues to the airport recently. We know the technical case for it stands up so other than annoying a few cranks, it seems they have far more (politically) to gain by supporting it than not.

Airport Anarchy

For years, we and many others have been saying that better options are needed for accessing the airport and for even longer, politicians, officials and experts have either wilfully ignored the need to serve one of Auckland’s major destinations with public transport or have actively opposed and sabotaged it. Now the chickens are coming home to roost with roads reportedly clogged so bad that many are missing flights or commenting that it took longer to drive home from the airport than fly to Auckland from Sydney. It seems even Mayor Phil Goff got caught in the mayhem. And things could get worse with the airports busiest days of the year coming up.

The transport planners from the NZTA have pinned their hopes on upgrading the motorway to the airport by grade separating Kirkbride Rd – due to be completed next year some time – but one of the major problems with it is that while it removes an intersection, it doesn’t really add any extra capacity to the road network so going to do bugger all to solve congestion within the airport itself. There are of course some bus options but they suffer from the same congestion as cars.

To really have a chance of making a difference in getting to the airport, we need good alternatives. Perhaps one of the issues we’ve had is that almost all of the discussion is focused on long term solutions, currently expected to be light rail (we don’t need another debate about rail mode in this post thanks). Yet despite this route being a major issue for Aucklanders, in the six years since Auckland was amalgamated, almost nothing has been done to protect the route and ATAP doesn’t suggest anything will be build (from the north) till after 2026. That’s simply too far away.

 

One of the reasons things have come to a head so rapidly has been due to a surge in airport usage. In the 12 months to the end of October, 17.3 million people passed through the airport (domestic and international), an impressive increase of 11% over October 2015.

Essentially it appears that a tipping point has been reached where growth at the airport, along with the heavily auto-dependent development around it, have combined to cause chaos. It now appears to have caused enough embarrassment that authorities are pretending to do something about it.

Transport authorities and Auckland Airport have set up a taskforce to tackle traffic chaos that has led to some passengers missing flights.

The NZ Transport Agency, Auckland Transport and the airport company have established a group to find immediate ways to improve travel times and congestion on the roads and state highways to, from and around Auckland Airport.

Of course, what’s proposed is mostly nothing more that tinkering around the edges.

The taskforce had agreed to accelerate a number of planned initiatives, including:

  • changes to lane configurations at the State Highway 20B (Puhinui Rd) / State Highway 20 interchange before Christmas to increase traffic flows through the intersection;
  • the Auckland Transport Operations Centre will optimise traffic signals to increase traffic flows at peak times on the state highways and airport roads, and publish additional airport-specific travel time information;
  • changes to lane configurations on George Bolt Memorial Drive / Tom Pearce Drive to improve traffic flows to both airport terminals;
  • changes to lane configurations on George Bolt Memorial Drive / Laurence Stevens Drive roundabout to improve traffic flows to the domestic terminal; and
  • deploying special temporary traffic management plans on Auckland Airport’s roads to increase the network’s resilience.

The immediate solutions are in addition to the major improvements already underway to deliver additional network capacity and improve travel times, including:

  • the $140 million upgrade of State Highway 20A and improvements to the State Highway 20A / Kirkbride Road interchange which will create significant extra capacity;
  • the upgrade of the George Bolt Memorial Drive / The Landing Drive / Verissimo Drive intersection; and
  • new bus lanes heading towards the airport on State Highway 20A.

So here are my views on solutions that need to take place.

Long Term – and that needs to happen within the next decade, not remain over a decade away like ATAP suggests, a dedicated Rapid Transit line is needed. As mentioned earlier that is currently planned to be light rail but the government and their agencies are trying to get that downgraded to just a bus connection.

Medium Term – As Patrick pointed out in this post, a quick first stem to getting an RTN style connection to the airport would be to build a busway connecting the Puhinui Train Stations with the airport. This would require a busway alongside Puhinui Rd (SH20B).

Short Term – Here are a few thoughts on some short-term options.

  • Skybus – Skybus operate services to the city with fares of $18. Unfortunately, like cars these buses also gets caught in congestion on the motorway. Further I’ve seen a number of comments in months that the quality of the service has been decreasing. Perhaps Skybus could be encouraged to run more services and with AT/NZTA covering some of the costs.
  • The 380 option – The 380 bus runs from Manukau to the airport via the Papatoetoe Train station which can have trains stopping in each direction to/from Britomart every 5-minutes. This could be a great option but it currently suffers from a few issues.
    • AT don’t market this option very much so many people don’t know it even exists – this could be easily fixed.
    • Last I heard, transferring between the train and bus wasn’t well advertised or signposted – this could be easily fixed
    • Unfortunately the congestion referred to above affects both SH20A and SH20B. With no bus lanes on the latter it means the bus gets caught in the same congestion as the cars.
    • The service is nowhere near frequent enough, only running every half hour during the day and this is an issue that we shouldn’t even have. Back when AT announced the result of consultation on the new bus network that has just rolled out in South Auckland, the ’30’ bus (a new name for the 380) was listed as one of the frequent services that would see a bus running at a minimum of every 15 minutes, 7am-7pm, 7-days a week (as shown below). Yet after AT finished tendering for services this was dropped back to a secondary route running only every 30 minutes, despite AT crowing about saving money. As such, as a first step they should implement the new network as they told the community it would be and improve the frequency of this service back to frequent status.
      • The article says this: “Auckland Transport’s chief executive, David Warburton said AT would continue to focus on how it can increase public transport services to and from the airport “. So I’m sure David will be announcing improved services soon?

 

 

 

  • Interim priority lanes – If the NZTA were really serious about improving options, perhaps they could dedicate one of the motorway lanes to high capacity vehicles. This would obviously include buses but could also include other vehicles with a lot of occupants, perhaps T4 and above.
  • Park n Ride – Even if the NTZA got underway now with their plans to widen SH20B, it would be years before that work was finished. We don’t normally advocate for Park n Ride but perhaps in this situation, one along Puhinui Rd, near the whereas it could be justified along with a shuttle – or ideally a much more frequent 380 bus.

Those are just a few thoughts, what do you think should be done to make some quick wins?

Transport Spending in NZ in 2016

More was spent on transport in Auckland during the last financial year (to end of June 2016) than any time in the past, at least in nominal values. Based on the NZTA’s funding data, $1.435 billion was spent in the region in the year to June-2016, up slightly from $1.414 billion spent in the 2015 financial year. Although it’s quite likely that these figures only include spending associated with the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF) and not council direct spending, such as has been happening with the City Rail link where the council funded 100% of the early works (which the government will share the costs of in the future).

The graph below shows how much the council and the NZTA say they spent and it’s risen substantially from a comparatively paltry $400 million in 2002. Also on the graph you can see Auckland’s share compared to the entire country which has been hovering around the 35% mark. This is slightly more than Auckland’s share of the national population (over 34%) but below Auckland’s share of GDP (36.6%). Of the over $1.4 billion spent, 51% of it went on various state highway projects and maintenance.

transport-spending-akl-2016

Below is the same data but at a national level, although I only have it back to 2005. It shows that at $3.94 billion, we spent slightly less than the previous year. At a national level, an even greater share went on state highways with 55% of all spending going on them.

transport-spending-nz-2016

So how did other regions fare? Here’s how the 2016 figures broke down by region.

transport-spending-regions-2016

Because regions vary so much, I’ve also broken this down per capita to get a better picture of where the spending occurred. Like last year, the West Coast seems to dominate but this will be mainly due to the maintenance needed on a large road network covering a very low population base. Also like last year, the Waikato comes in second on the per capita stakes but this is more due to the large amount of construction going on with projects like the Waikato Expressway.

transport-spending-regions-per-capita-2016

I’ve also looked at the results based on spending per vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT), as a proxy for spend per travel. This method is probably a little unfair primarily to Auckland and Wellington which have larger uses of public transport than other parts of NZ.

transport-spending-regions-per-vkt-2016

Next, I’ve taken a look at what the money is being spent on however I’ve excluded the small ones such as transport planning as it’s difficult to see them on the same scale as road spending. You can see that spending on new and improved roads increased in the last year while the opposite was true for road maintenance. Combined both road spending was slightly less than last year which is in line with the overall results above. But PT spending was also down too and down substantially. I’m not sure of their reason for this but as you’ll see shortly, it wasn’t the result of changes in Auckland. You can also see spending on walking and cycling becoming more visible.

transport-spending-nz-by-activity-2016

Here is just the cycling info showing how dramatic a change it has seen in the last few years.

transport-spending-nz-on-cycling-2016

Finally, here is the same break-down by activity for Auckland. The thing you notice compared to the whole of NZ one is the difference in the levels of new road spending vs maintenance. Of course, public transport is also more of a factor in Auckland, as you would expect.

transport-spending-akl-by-activity-2016

 

Overall some interesting data on what we spend our transport money on.

Why we do this

Here is a great 15 minute look back at the work of Streetsblog and Streetsfilms from New York, that articulates the motivation behind what we do here at Transportblog. However modestly compared to their output. This is a worldwide movement; the profound improvement of lives, one street at a time. It is also, I believe, unstoppable, simply because it is so effective, so overdue, and therefore so powerful.

And it is, ultimately, about ending the dominance of our streets by traffic, about returning balance to this easily overlooked but vital slice of public space. Everything is interconnected in this increasingly urban age, and the street is really were it all comes together in the city. Get the streets right and so much else will follow; from human wellbeing to wealth creation and equity, from public health to personal freedom and opportunity, from environmental sustainability to social resilience and security.

A great thing in the film is also something we are seeing here; the mainstreaming of these ideas into our institutions. This does sometimes lead to confusion for some people, as when the Council, Auckland Transport, or NZTA do something we agree with we do of course praise them, yet some people think we should only ever be critical and never supportive. This is naive and would be counter-productive. Rather we would love to be made unnecessary; we believe our views are rational and supported by evidence and deserve to be the official ones. Here’s to the next decade and more of constant improvement and reasoned and evidenced activism. And thanks for reading.

Earthquake recovery

The impact of Sunday’s earthquake and its aftershocks have been astonishing to see, especially the damage caused by slips along State Highway 1 and the rail line around Kaikoura. They are numerous and many are absolutely massive. I suspect the impacts of this quake will be felt for some time, and not just to the areas physically impacted. Here are a few thoughts that have been rolling around in my head in response to the event.

kaikoura-slip

There’s a road under there somewhere

 

Firstly, the size and scale of damage suggests it is going to take many months, maybe even more than a year, and likely hundreds of millions of dollars to repair. As a comparison, the huge Manawatu George slip in 2011 took 13 months and over $20 million to fix (yesterday Simon Bridges suggested it was actually around $35 million). Some of these slips look just as big, if not bigger and of course there are a lot of them. On top of that there are about seven of road and rail bridges that need repairing.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges has already said that both the road and rail lines will be repaired simultaneously which is a good sign. I had wondered if there was a real chance the government might have just cut that rail line but I guess given the rail line is right next to the road, they’ll be having to dig it out anyway. I do like the fact that the NZTA and Kiwirail will be working closer together and hope it’s something we see more of in the future. Below is a video of Bridges talking about the various issues yesterday.

 

One of the interesting comments he makes is that the agencies plan to not just put the road back as it was but where possible improve it too. I presume that could mean there’ll be some localised realignments but I also wonder if it means structures like rock slides – as seen in Arthurs Pass. It certainly doesn’t seem like a cheap option given how much might be needed.

Image by Greg Hewgill

The biggest barrier to substantial changes to the road is likely to be the sheer cost of it all. To put things in perspective, in the year to the end of June, the NZTA spent just $2.1 billion on new or improved state highways and on road maintenance ($1.67b on new & improved and $461m on maintenance). Assuming a similar level of spend this year, fixing this road is likely to take up a decent chunk of that spending and the big question is where that money comes from.

Bridges said that up to around $500 million might able to be found within existing budgets and a decent chunk of that comes from emergency works budgets. For example the National Land Transport Programme has a budget of $154 million over the 2015-2018 period for emergency works on State Highways. Unfortunately, the snapshot data is a bit old but indications are that a lot of that funding might still be untouched. There are also local road emergency works buckets too. But even combined these budget buckets don’t seem like they’ll be enough and so it appears inevitable that the improvement and maintenance buckets will need to be looked at too. This raises the obvious question of what projects get delayed as a result, although I can think of a few I’d like to see delayed *cough*East-West Link*cough*.

Former Auckland Mayor Len Brown has also said that he felt Christchurch earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 were a factor in government taking so long to support the City Rail Link, although there’s more to it than just that. While the scale of  the damage to infrastructure doesn’t seem as extreme as Christchurch following its large quakes, could dealing with this quake have flow on effects in getting the government to fund their share of ATAP. Similarly, what does it do to the chances of light rail down Dominion Rd moved up the priority order.

One thing we can be thankful for with these slips is that at least it appears no one has been caught in them. I guess that’s a function of it being at midnight and the fact the road only carries very low volumes of traffic with fewer than 3,000 vehicles per day traversing the road, of which about 20% of them being heavy vehicles.

 

Matakana Link Rd fast-tracked

Imagine you’re spent years pushing a motorway project, promising it will deliver travel time savings and economic nirvana for an entire region and then add in that you’re on the cusp on construction as the contract for the project, that will end up costing you over $1 billion, is about to be signed. Yet you also know that after it’s finished, the first time there is a holiday, the users of that road will wonder why you bothered as they’re all forced through an intersection that can’t handle the volumes thrown at it resulting congestion and frustrated drivers. There is a potential solution but it relies on a 3rd party and they don’t have it as a priority. What do you do?

That’s the situation the NZTA found themselves in with the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway which is due to have its PPP contract signed off in October. The vast majority of the users of the new motorway are expected not to head to Northland – like the rhetoric claims – but to Warkworth and the nearby eastern beaches such as Omaha. That would continue to see huge volumes of traffic forced through the notorious Hill St intersection which has long been the bane of many locals and holiday maker’s journeys. The solution is a new road that bypasses the intersection for those travelling to Matakana and beyond but is a project not on the current funding agenda till after 2025.

Hill St GIS

The Hill St intersection as it is today

To address this, yesterday Auckland Transport and the NZTA agreed to fast track the $25-40 million Matakana Link Rd (below) which is not in the council’s current Long Term Plan so it can open at the same time as the new motorway in 2022. The NZTA will even pay for it upfront and have AT pay it back in the future, or more specifically the NZTA won’t give them as much money for future projects.

Matakana Link Rd location

The Matakana Link Rd is shown by the green arrow

 

Auckland Transport and the NZ Transport Agency have signed an agreement that will speed up improvements to transport links in and between Warkworth and the eastern communities and help ease some frustrations around Warkworth’s Hill Street intersection.

The Transport Agency will provide early funding for construction of the Matakana Link Road project if Auckland Transport funds are not available.

The agreement means the project can be delivered ahead of schedule.

Once completed the Matakana Link Road will provide a connection between Matakana Road and State Highway 1 (SH1), just south of the intersection with the Transport Agency’s Ara Tūhono Pūhoi to Warkworth highway, expected to be open in 2022. It will give locals an alternative route between western and eastern areas of Warkworth and will bypass the SH1 Hill Street intersection, improving traffic flow and safety.

Both AT and the Transport Agency recognise that there’s an urgent need to improve transport links in Warkworth ahead of its expected future population growth, and to address frustrations around Warkworth’s Hill Street intersection.

Andrew Scoggins, Auckland Transport Group Manager Major Projects, says: “With Warkworth expected to grow by an additional 7,900 new dwellings over the next 30 years, the Matakana Link Road will be a key road network improvement to help address existing and future travel needs of the community”.

The Transport Agency’s Auckland and Northland Highway Manager, Brett Gliddon says the Pūhoi to Warkworth motorway has always been a part of a bigger vision to provide Warkworth with the transport connections it needs to ensure its residents can easily move around the growing town for work and leisure, as well as improving safety and efficiency on the link to Auckland.

“Over the years the Warkworth community has told us that Matakana Link Road is a priority for them. We’re grateful for their ongoing support while we work with Auckland Transport to speed up the delivery of this important transport link.”

Planning and consenting works for the Matakana Link Road project are already underway and construction of the road is expected to begin in the second half of 2019. The new road is scheduled for completion just ahead of the Transport Agency’s new state highway opening in 2022.

The new Matakana Link Road will also align with AT’s new Warkworth Western Collector project – a three-stage plan to improve road connections to the west of the state highway. Stage One of the Western Collector route, connecting Mansel Drive to Falls Road, is currently under construction and will be completed in February 2017. The exact route of the remaining two stages have yet to be determined but will connect to the State Highway in the vicinity of McKinney Road in the south and the Matakana Link Road intersection in the north.

AT say the cost of the project is likely to be $25-40 million but that will depend on the final design and they haven’t even agreed on some of the basics yet, such as whether it will have two or four lanes, be a rural or urban road (footpaths, kerb & channel, lighting etc.). Some indicative costs were included in a closed session board paper that was later released.

matakan-link-rd-cost-options

Below are some basic cross sections for the types of infrastructure options suggested and priced above

matakan-link-rd-possible-cross-sections

What do you think of this project jumping the queue to get funding? Imagine if the same urgency was put into projects like needed bus and train interchanges which are a vital part of getting the new network to work.

Waterview Mitigation Needed

We’re now only months away from the opening of New Zealand’s biggest transport project to date, the Waterview tunnels – likely to be sometime between January and March. Waterview should have represented the last major new urban highway connection in Auckland but of course the NZTA and others have since started pushing other projects such as the East-West Link and an Additional Waitemata Harbour crossing.

While there are some positive things to the project, we’ve been concerned for some time about the impact the project will have across a number of areas, in particular the ongoing operational cost of the infrastructure and the traffic impacts. The concern for the latter issue was further strengthened by comments in the April Auckland Transport board report talking about how an Operational Risk Assessment had looked at expected traffic demand and that some additional physical mitigation works were needed and that workshops were taking place between AT and the NZTA. So I decided to OIA the information.

First up the issue of operational costs. Here’s what the NZTA said in response.

The latest cost estimate for Waterview Tunnels to maintain and operate on an annual basis is approximately $16 million.

To put that $16 million in perspective, in the 2014/15 financial year, the last for which data is currently available, the NZTA spent $108 million to operate, maintain and renwe the entire State Highway network in Auckland (up from about $90 million in the few years prior to that). That means the new Waterview Tunnels add almost 15% to the annual state highway operational bill in Auckland. Diving a bit deeper, the Auckland State Highway network is 1048km in length (by lane km). Waterview adds about 24km to that total, an increase of just over 2%. I guess what this highlights is that tunnels are really expensive, not only to build but also to operate.

OPEX spending on Auckland State Highways 2002-2015

On to the Operational Risk Analysis

We’ve long noted that one of the outcomes of Waterview is that it is likely to create a lot more pressure on the motorway network, especially east of Waterview as people from the southern isthmus use the new connection to drive towards the city or North Shore. When combined with all of the existing and new traffic from the west it’s likely to cause a lot of issues. We’ve also heard suggestions that for safety purposes the NZTA don’t want cars stopping in the tunnels because as I understand it, the ventilation system is designed based on moving vehicles to help push air through the tunnels so it can exhaust the fumes – happy to be corrected on this though.

Regardless it looks like we were right to be concerned and the NZTA are now pushing through a number of mitigation measures to state highways and local roads in a bid to boost vehicle capacity, possibly at the expense of PT and cycle infrastructure and potentially including the Northwest busway. What’s also not clear is why all of these mitigation measures wasn’t part of the initial assessment for project to begin with.

The Operational Risk Analysis is essentially a heap of new traffic modelling to try and determine if and where any issues might arise within the first six months and to test potential options to mitigate those issues. It’s the result of NZTA wanting to avoid the operational and reputational risk from something like a repeat of back in 2010 when they opened the SH20 to SH1 link at Manukau and finding it caused a heap of issues that they’re only now working to fix.

The modelling, which makes up the bulk of the report, highlights the areas of concern and is also assessed against three groups of mitigation measures – a summary of these mitigation groups are shown below.

Waterview Operational Risk Assessment Mitigation Groups

Ultimately the report recommends focusing on the Group 2 mitigations. These are:

It is strongly recommended that as many of the individual mitigations from Group 2 as possible be implemented prior to the opening of the WVT to manage the risks associated with tunnel operations and the operational and associated reputational risk that accompanies such a significant change to the configuration of the network.

Specific actions are recommended as follows:

  • Urgently engage with Auckland Transport to investigate if minor arterial corridor mitigations could provide a small increase in off ramp discharge capacity at the following three locations:
    • Maioro Street northbound off ramp.
    • Te Atatu Road westbound off ramp.
    • Royal Road westbound off ramp.
  • Design an additional lane at the following locations (using existing hard shoulders where feasible) to enable implementation prior to WVT opening:
    • SH20 southbound from Maioro Street on ramp to Hillsborough Rd on ramp.
    • SH20 northbound from Orpheus Drive on ramp to Queenstown Rd off ramp.
    • SH20 northbound auxiliary lane on approach to Maioro Street off ramp.
    • SH16 eastbound to from WVT to Western Springs off ramp and from Western Springs on ramp to tie-in to the existing five lane section near the Bond Street Bridge.
  • Carry out further assessment on the following:
    • Potential for operating some or all of the additional lanes recommended above as dynamic part-time (hard shoulder running) lanes.
    • Potential three laning between Lincoln Road and Royal Road (both directions).
    • Potential northbound auxiliary lanes on SH20 from Puhinui Rd on ramp to Massey off ramp and from Massey on ramp to SH20A off ramp.
    • Minor layout changes at CMJ:
  • Ramp signaling the SH16 eastbound to SH1 northbound and Port to SH1 northbound links separately.
  • Re-configuring the SH16 eastbound approach to CMJ to allow two lanes for AM peak queuing for the SH1 southbound link (merging to one lane before joining SH1) at the expense of one of the lanes leading to the port.

A second part of this assessment has still to be completed. This will relate to assessment of abnormal operations, mainly incidents. This assessment will include assessment of operating additional lanes as dynamic part-time running lanes (Hard Shoulder Running) to assist in incident management.

This is also shown in the diagram below

Waterview Operational Risk Assessment Mitigation Map

Below is an example of one of the modelling outputs It is a heatmap showing where, when the severity of congestion based on a scenario to a specific level of extra demand. As you can see the modelling suggests significant improvements to the motorway.

Waterview Operational Risk Assessment Heat Map example

There is no mention of just how much this mitigation will cost although the NZTA claim it will achieve $15 million in travel time savings per year.

The OIA also includes the minutes from a couple of workshops and they too contain some interesting information. I’ve just extracted a couple of items from each paper which are shown with the bullet points. The names/initials of the participants except for those from the NZTA have been removed so I’ve just used XX as a replacement.

Workshop 1

There’s a concern that because the NZTA are focusing on pumping as many cars off the motorways as possible it might now affect bus routes.

  • XX explained there would be more bus routes and increased frequency especially around Te Atatu and Lincoln Road. He expressed concern about the future reliability of these new services in light of the risk of congestion following the opening Waterview Connection

It sounds like AT want bus lanes or other layout changes to Blockhouse Bay Rd but that possibly the NZTA want it kept as is just in case something goes wrong with the tunnels.

  • XX mentioned that AT would be protecting Nelson Street capacity during peak times (CBD tactical team to maintain off-ramp capacity) from the motorway and with respect to planned work on the AT network. AT want to do any major maintenance work either before tunnel opening e.g. City bound buses lanes proposed for Blockhouse Bay Road.
  • XX mentioned that Blockhouse Bay Road would be a planned and incident diversion route for Waterview Tunnel closures and that if AT propose to reassign capacity, freed up by Waterview Connection, then these intentions of use of Blockhouse Bay Road could be in direct conflict with each other.

 

Workshop 2

Given this was in March of this year, how on earth were the NZTA not aware AT were looking at busway options for SH16?

  • XX talked about the need to consider the northwest busway with respect to the mitigation projects. XX mentioned there were some ‘medium term’ busway proposals to consider which include shoulder bus provision and highlighted a possible conflict.
  • XX NZTA now aware of a possible busway, need to know details and have a recommendation before deciding if there is a conflict. This has been passed on to the transport planning team at The Agency.

The minutes don’t say which school but given most of the focus seems to be around the Maioro St interchange, I’m guessing this refers to Wesley Intermediate. Why the school wouldn’t want kids to be safer is absurd.

  • XX said that the school did not support a mid-block crossing and preferred the provision to be provided at the intersection itself.

It seems the NZTA are planning a full interchange at Northside Dr near Westgate

  • GO, XX provided an update on Northside drive proposals, including consideration for a full diamond interchange.

So all up it seems we have the NZTA rushing to trying and add more motorway and local road capacity in a desperate bid to stop the shiny new centrepiece of their system from getting congested. What do you think of the papers?