Waterview Connection July Time Lapse

The latest time lapse from the Waterview Connection project

The TBM is getting very close to the end of the first tunnel with it less than 300m to go.

The Completed Grafton Gully Cycleway

The Grafton Gully cycleway opened yesterday. My post yesterday afternoon covered the opening ceremony and this post is about the cycleway itself.

Moving from South to North the project starts at Upper Queen St before winding it’s way down beside the motorway to Grafton Rd where it meets the section completed last year which in turn leads on to Beach Rd.

01 Grafton Gully Cycleway Map 1

At Upper Queen St the bridge over the motorway has been narrowed down significantly to provide more space for pedestrians and cyclists. Previous the bridge had 6 lanes of traffic plus a parking lane and footpaths on both sides. This has been narrowed down and the carriageway is now only four lanes wide (yet still seems largely empty of traffic). While the cycling area is fairly clearly delineated it does feel a bit like there should have been a slight height difference been the footpath and the cycleway.

Grafton Gully Opening - Upper Queen St Bridge

On the Northern side of the bridge you enter the cycleway. Unfortunately there have placed some of the large staples which are obviously to slow cyclists heading towards Upper Queen to prevent them from blowing through on to the road. I wonder if the same effect could have been achieved by putting a short fence out on the road edge.

Grafton Gully Opening - Upper Queen St Staples

Moving on down and just after you pass under Symonds St the path starts to dip down. It’s quite interesting feeling seeing the motorway that close and merging in front of you

Grafton Gully Opening - Motorway Merge

Just around the corner you get the sight of the gully opening up ahead of you and spanned by the magnificent Grafton Bridge.

Grafton Gully Opening - Grafton Bridge

As you approach Wellesley St you can clearly see that if we ever decide to humanise Wellesley St (which we should) it would be very easy to add a connection to do so.

Grafton Gully Opening - Wellesley St

At the same location you can also see where a bridge will be added which will give access to Whitaker Pl and Symonds St. It is meant to be completed by the end of the year.

Grafton Gully Opening - Whitaker Pl

From then on it is under Wellesley St where some motifs have been embedded into the concrete on each side of each entrance.

Grafton Gully Opening - Concrete Motif

From Wellesley St it is a short ride down to Grafton Rd where the route joins the section opened last year which in turn flows on to the Beach Rd section. I do have one issue with this part which is the slip lane that has been retained at Alten Rd and for which the planting makes it difficult to see if anyone vehicles are coming when you are heading north. Also on the Northern side of the Alten Rd intersection there is a short and sharp incline which seems like it might cause a few issues.

The videos below show what the route looks like heading both uphill and downhill between Quay St and Upper Queen St.

While there might be a few issues they are fairly minor in the grand scheme of things and all up I think this is a fantastic addition for the city. One aspect I was pleasantly surprised about was that the uphill section between Wellesley St and Upper Queen St was no where near as steep as I thought it would be. Some people may need to get off and walk but for many people it is easily rideable. From a quality perspective these two projects do feel like a step or two above anything else we have which is great to see. I think this and Beach Rd are going to represent an important turning point in the development of cycling in Auckland and people are going to demand this level of comfort in future cycling projects. I think the challenge for Auckland Transport and the NZTA will be in how they can get similar results from projects for a much reduced cost, something that should hopefully be possible if it’s a case of reclaiming some space on our streets.

Wellesley St Underpass Timelapse

The timelapse below shows what it took for the NZTA and their contractors to build a cycling underpass at Wellesley St. While the road was narrowed the street itself was only closed for about a week. Now if only we could get some similar underpasses at interchanges like St Lukes.

 

Urban Farm Vehicles

Wow who knew there were so many farms in Remuera or have some locals just started taking the term Remuera Tractor a bit too literally.

Motorists are evading hundreds of dollars in vehicle licensing fees by incorrectly registering their cars as farm vehicles.

It follows the revelation earlier this week that hundreds of drivers were falsely registering their cars as ambulances to save more than $200 in fees.

Other categories, including farm vehicles, also pay reduced fees, which one testing station owner says is being exploited by some drivers of Remuera tractors.

Farm vehicles fall under the Class B category, which are exempt from paying ACC levies, fuel excise and excise duty.

The classification relates to vehicles which are designed for agricultural operations and have restricted use on public roads. Alan Parker, who owns a vehicle testing station in Auckland’s eastern suburbs, said he often sees cars with central Auckland addresses come into the testing station for a Warrant of Fitness that are registered as farm vehicles.

“When we go to enter them into the system we get red flags come up about these vehicles,” he said.

“A farm vehicle sometimes doesn’t need a warrant, so we override it and we tell the system we’re inspecting them as private vehicles.”

Such customers were typically from wealthy suburbs, he said.

“There’s so many up in Remuera that are registered as farm vehicles, Toyota [Land Cruiser] Prados and that,” he said. “And maybe these people do legitimately own farms, but they’re not legitimately using that vehicle for farm use. It gives the name the Remuera tractor a new slant.”

Other customers were struggling beneficiaries, he said.

“Sometimes I can’t blame them for doing it because they’ve got nothing, and at least they’re not picking up a $250 fine for no rego.”

Typically the licensing fee for a petrol-powered Exempt Class B vehicle is $50.22, the NZ Transport Agency said, compared with $280.55 for a petrol-driven passenger car.

At over $200 for a petrol vehicle it doesn’t take too long to rack up over $100,000 in licencing fees that should go to the government while for a diesel vehicle this could be even more as a Class B exemption also means the owner doesn’t need to pay Road User Charges.

As the article mentions it isn’t only farm vehicles that people claim their vehicle as with a lot also claiming their vehicles as ambulances.

Hundreds of motorists are falsely registering their cars as ambulances, avoiding more than $200 in fees.

The NZ Transport Agency said last month’s figures showed 2681 vehicles were registered as ambulances.

But St John and the Wellington Free Ambulance services have only 705 registered ambulances between them – meaning up to 1976 private vehicles could be falsely registered.

An ACC levy exemption for ambulances means it costs only $52.11 a year to register a non-commercial ambulance, compared with $280.55 for a petrol-driven passenger car – a difference of $228.44.

The difference is even greater for commercial vehicles, which cost up to $590.78 to register.

The total loss in levies to ACC is at least $392,500 a year.

A couple of hundred thousand or perhaps even as much as a million per year might seem small compared to the billions collected annually from the NZTA’s funding sources however it still represents a large sum of money. It also seems like this would be something fairly easy to resolve as after all the NZTA should have the address for the owner of each vehicle so surely they shouldn’t be too difficult to track down.

More highways failing to meet projections

An article on Philly.com highlights a number of new or expanded highway projects in the US are vastly failing to meet traffic projections:

Before beginning a $2.5 billion project to widen the New Jersey Turnpike, turnpike officials said the construction was necessary to reduce existing congestion and to cope with future traffic.

“Turnpike traffic is on the rise,” the state Turnpike Authority said in its justification for the project. “By 2032 northbound traffic volume is expected to increase by nearly 68 percent [above 2005 levels]; southbound traffic is forecasted to increase by 92 percent.”

Now, one-third of the way through that 27-year forecast, turnpike traffic is actually about 10 percent lower than it was in 2005.

And this particular project is hardly a one-off:

Similar traffic declines have occurred around the region, challenging long-established assumptions about the need for bigger highways and bridges.

“If these trends continue, it would definitely change the way we need to plan for our transportation future,” said Chris Puchalsky, associate director of systems planning at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission. “But I think the jury is still out on that . . . we need two or three more years of data.”

In 2007, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission assumed that traffic would grow 3 percent to 5 percent every year to help pay for debt as it took on a new obligation to contribute up to $900 million a year to fix other roads around the state.

Instead, traffic has been essentially flat.

And when the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission decided in 2003 to replace the 50-year-old, four-lane Scudder Falls Bridge on I-95 with a $328 million, nine-lane, 180-foot-wide toll bridge, it assumed that traffic would increase 35 percent by 2030.

In fact, bridge traffic has declined slightly and is now below the levels of 2002.

The implications of getting previous projections wrong are significant if funding was expected from toll revenue – which is what has sent a number of PPP transport projects bankrupt. For publicly funded projects though, the failure to meet expected usage hasn’t been so obvious. However, the implications for future transport planning are significant – as we’ve highlighted so many times before. Back to the article:

Highway planners misjudged the future because the Great Recession reduced both commercial and passenger travel, and because of an unexpected drop in driving by young adults.

Now, planners and policymakers must decide whether the last decade was an aberration or the beginning of a new normal.

The decisions are taking on new urgency, as Congress struggles to come up with a new transportation-funding plan by the end of September, when the current one expires. The federal Highway Trust Fund, which pays for road projects around the country, is nearly broke.

“The last decade was a really tough decade for forecasting,” said James W. Hughes, dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University.

Traditional expectations of economic growth – which typically fuel traffic growth – were undone by the recession of 2001, the Great Recession of 2007-2009, and anemic job growth for the entire decade, Hughes said.

Add to that the unprecedented behavior of young adults, driven by technology, lifestyle choices, and economic prospects.

“The millennials are really changing the world dramatically,” Hughes said. “We have a younger generation that is driving less and doesn’t want to live in Valley Forge. They want to live in Center City Philadelphia.”

“We had a 50-year period of unrestricted suburbanization, and now there’s a dramatic shift.”

Cars and driving are less important to young adults, who find that trains and buses allow them to work and socialize on mobile electronic devices, he said.

That may mean fewer cars on future roads.

“Nobody was really anticipating this,” Hughes said. “The models have to be recalibrated.”

Some projections have already been lowered.

NZTA have already noted in changes to their economic evaluation manual that traffic growth can no longer just be assumed – and any assumptions need to be proved. It’s a shame though that complex traffic models still seem to defy reality and project traffic growth.

It makes me think about all of our recent state highway improvements, think Newmarket Viaduct replacement, Victoria Park Tunnel, Greenhithe Deviation, Hobsonville Deviation, Mt Roskill extension, Manukau Harbour Crossing Project, SH20-SH1 Manukau Connection, CMJ Improvements and Orewa-Puhoi extension. All have seen increases in traffic volumes in recent years as people shift their travel behaviour however I wonder how they are currently tracking compared to the traffic projections for 2014 when they were proposed and funded. That would be interesting information to get from NZTA.

Not all regional road projects bad

We recently highlighted a blog post by Rob Salmond looking at the government’s regional roads package. Rob based his post on the results of an OIA request to the minister for briefing papers he had received on the projects and noted:

Five of the roading projects receive the worst kind of assessment from the officials at NZTA, an estimated benefit cost ratio of “0 to 2.” (see page 32) This means the officials cannot discount the possibility of these roads having no benefits at all, despite costing the taxpayer millions. More on this later. All the projects have a benefit cost ratio quoted as a range, partly to fudge against the public knowing the exact numbers.

Why would they want to do that? More on that later, too.

Officials estimate that up to $130 million of the highways money mooted in these projects and investigations would be wasted on roads with likely no net benefit. If some of those roads are not ultimately funded, that will represent less money wasted on roads, but more money wasted on unnecessary investigations to tell us what we already know – these projects are dogs.

NZTA considers a benefit cost ratio of 1 as an absolute minimum, as anything below that involves the country actually losing money by doing the project. Usually, of course, benefit cost ratios have to be much higher than that to attract funding, because there are so many possible good things a government can do with its limited money.

As I mentioned in my post, I had also sent of an OIA request when the package was announced however instead I had gone to the NZTA asking for the reports which contained the economic evaluation. I limited my request to reports from the last 5 years – as any evaluation done prior to that should really be discounted considering the amount of change our transport sector has seen in over that period – and as such I didn’t get back results for all projects. The projects that the NZTA said they had no reports for were:

  • Normanby Overbridge Realignment, in Taranaki
  • Motu Bridge replacement, in Gisborne
  • Taramakau Road/Rail Bridge, on the West Coast

However for the other projects the results were surprising and in some case significantly higher than range in the briefing papers given to the Minister which is below (click to enlarge)

Rob Salmond Regional Road OIA BCRs

Below are the BCRs in the reports I received (which are all available here).

Kawarau Falls Bridge, in Otago

The briefing paper was the same one that Rob received which showed the BCR at 1.1

Mingha Bluff to Rough Creek realignment, in Canterbury

A BCR 1.4 is obviously within the 0-2 range in the document above

Mingha Bluff to Rough Creek BCR

Akerama Curves Realignment and Passing Lane, in Northland

The BCR from in 2012 suggests it is over 4 which is greater than what’s in the ministerial briefing paper.

Akerama Curves BCR

State Highway 35 Slow Vehicle Bays, in Gisborne

The BCR from 2009 suggests a BCR of over 4 – although the costs now seem to be quite a bit higher.

SH35 Passing Lane

Whirokino Trestle Bridge replacement, in Manawatu/Wanganui

I was referred to this page on the NZTA website and the publications page contains this document showing the BCR at well less than 1.

Whirokino Trestle BCR

Opawa and Wairau Bridge replacements, in Marlborough

Opawa Bridge is at 1.4

Opawa Bridge BCR

 

Wairau Bridge is at 2.02

Wairau Bridge BCR

Loop road north to Smeatons Hill safety improvements, in Northland

For the short term options the BCR is quite good at 3.6 however the medium term options are poor. I’m not sure what the focus is with the governments package.

Loop Rd BCR

Mt Messenger and Awakino Gorge Corridor, in Taranaki

There are no reports on this but a link was provided to this document suggesting a BCR of 0.2-3.8

All up a real mixed bag showing some projects do seem to be decent value – and probably better than most of the RoNS – while others are quite bad, especially the Whirokino Trestle Bridge.

On a related note, in a separate OIA I received back yesterday I had asked for the business case for the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway project (along with a whole lot of other things). The business case was presented to the NZTA board in July 2013 however the NZTA have decided to withhold the business case

to protect information that would be likely unreasonably to prejudice the commercial position of the NZ Transport Agency.

I’m guessing that means

  • the result probably isn’t good
  • they want to hide any discussion about tolls
  • they don’t want details released about the PPP they plan to use to fund it

I may follow up with the ombudsman about this yet

Waterview Connection video and images

The latest video from the team digging the tunnels at Waterview, this time with the main focus on the spoil from the tunnel which is sent to help fill up the old Wiri quarry.

I guess there’s probably not a great deal of point in showing a time-lapse from inside the tunnel anymore seeing as they’ve already done that a few times and it would all look the same now. As a reminder this is what the inside of the tunnel looks like and the men walking though it help to give a sense of the size of it.

Waterview inside tunnel

As of three weeks ago here is how far the TBM had progressed and it is expected to reach Waterview in September.

Progress Bar - July 14

And here are some photos from June which helps to highlight the immense size of the project.

At the Northern End

The ramps and pillars look small from here but from ground level are massive

With the exception of the cycleway this whole area is really a massive pedestrian dead zone

At the Southern End

The space for a Mt Roskill Spur has clearly been left under the Maioro St Interchange but hasn’t been built under Richardson Rd (but space has been left for it)

More here.

Basin Bridge Bowled

In stunning news yesterday the Board of Inquiry hearing the case for the Basin Bridge bowled out the NZTA by declined consent for the project.  This is what it would have looked like had it been approved:

All up the bridge would have been 265m long and carved a slice out of Wellington’s urban fabric at a time when other cities around the world are starting to pull these kinds of structures down – and finding it doesn’t cause traffic chaos.

The independent Board of Inquiry delegated to hear and decide the Basin Bridge Proposal of National Significance has released its draft report and decision.

The Board by majority decision (3 to 1), has cancelled the New Zealand Transport Agency’s Notice of Requirement and declined its resource consent applications for the construction, operation and maintenance of State Highway 1 in Wellington City between Paterson Street and Buckle Street/Taranaki Street.

The draft report and decision is available on the EPA website here: http://www.epa.govt.nz/Resource-management/Basin_Bridge/Pages/Basin_Bridge.aspx

A total of 215 submissions were received, and evidence was heard from 69 witnesses and representations by a further 74 submitters.

The applicant and other parties now have 20 days to make comments on minor or technical aspects of the report.

The Board will provide its final decision to the EPA by 30 August 2014.

Basin Bridge Image 1

This is quite a setback for both the NZTA and the government as the project is a key part of the Roads of National Significance (RoNS) programme and the Board of Inquiry (BoI) process was specifically set up to try and streamline the consent process for large projects. One of the key changes the government made in creating the BoI process was that appeals against can be made to the High Court on points of law only, and any decision cannot be overturned by the Minister. The outcome of this is that it’s meant agencies have had to do much more work upfront as there’s no second chance if they get it wrong. This led to the process taking longer to ensure all I’s were dotted and all T’s crossed and that extra length of time along with the risk of getting it wrong is one of the reasons Auckland Transport went with the traditional consenting method for the CRL.

But the NZTA clearly got this one wrong and have paid the price by not getting consent. This has effectively sent them back to square one and a flyover option is now off the table.

Basin Bridge Image 2

The report on the BoI’s findings runs to almost 600 pages so naturally I haven’t had time to go through it all yet however I here are some points I picked up on about their decision which starts from page 444 (page 453 of the PDF).

  • That while the project would improve the cities transport system that it would do so at the expense of heritage, landscape, visual amenity, open space and overall amenity.
  • They are uncertain how the plan would have actually accommodated for Bus Rapid Transit as proposed in the Spine Study.
  • That the quantum of transport benefits were substantially less than what the NZTA originally said in lodging the NoR as they included transport benefits from other projects.
  • That while North/South buses would be sped up, that the modelling doesn’t show any impact effect of this on modal change.
  • That while there are some improvements for cyclists it’s mostly in the form of shared paths which will introduce potential conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists.
  • That the dominance of the bridge would cause severe adverse affects on the local area and the mitigation measures proposed would do little to reduce that. They also found the new building proposed for the Basin Reserve would exacerbate this.

Perhaps some of the most damming criticism is in relation to the consideration of alternatives. The board say that despite there having been 73 different options considered since 2001 that the methodology wasn’t transparent and replicable. They say that weightings were applied to some criteria at different stages of the process but that it wasn’t clear how criteria were weighted and the reason for any weighting. They say that in their view it was incumbent on the NZTA to ensure it adequately considered alternative options, particularly those with potentially reduced adverse effects. This simply was not done. Of course you may remember that the issue around alternatives was one of the critical issues highlighted in the independent review the BoI arranged.

I think the issue of the inadequacy of the assessment of alternatives is particularly important as that has been a key criticism of the Puhoi to Warkworth route, a decision on which is due back shortly.

Basin Bridge Image 4

Interestingly not all of the commissioners on the panel believed that the consent should be declined. Commissioner David McMahon voted to the project saying that in his mind the benefits outweighed the impacts of the project will have. His reasoning for doing so are also in the report.

The big question now is what next. The NZTA has to go back to the drawing board to find or progress some alternative options but how will the government react. As of the time of writing this post I still hadn’t seen any response from the government despite this putting a huge dent in the RoNS programme.

Overall this is a fantastic result for Wellington and congratulations to all those like Save the Basin who put huge amounts effort in to fighting this project.

East West Link and Old Mangere Bridge Open Days

Another series of consultation events that will happen this week will be for the East West Link and the replacement of the Old Mangere Bridge.

Communities will get the chance to have their say about two significant transport projects in their area – the East West Connections and the replacement of the of the old Mangere bridge.

The NZ Transport Agency and Auckland Transport say there is an open invitation for people to attend three community days planned for later this month. Two of them – at the Onehunga night market (Thursday 24 July, 6pm-10pm) and at Sylvia Park shopping mall near the foodcourt (Sunday 27 July, 10am-1pm) – focus on the East West Connections project. The third – at Waterfront Road Reserve, Mangere Bridge (Saturday 26 July, 10am-4pm) – will focus on both the East West Connections and the next stage of replacing the old Mangere bridge.

The Transport Agency’s acting Highways Manager, Steve Mutton, says the community days deliver on earlier commitments from the Agency and Auckland Transport to work with local people.

“We want to build on the great feedback we’ve had from people to replace the bridge and carry that on into the East West Connections programme. This is the latest step for us to ensure that we fully understand what people are experiencing when travelling in Onehunga, Mt Wellington, Otahuhu, Penrose, Mangere and East Tamaki,” Mr Mutton says.

Community input will help the Transport Agency and Auckland Transport develop their East West Connections programme to improve commuter and freight links, public transport and walking and cycling options over the next 30 years.

“We have already identified freight issues that need immediate attention in Onehunga-Penrose – that’s a key priority given the area’s importance for jobs and the Auckland and New Zealand economies. We will be working with stakeholders and the community in coming months as investigations progress for those improvements.

“But we are not losing sight of the issues people are facing in the wider area. The vibrant communities in the area are likely to experience a growth in the number of people who chose to live and work in them. The predicted growth will put additional pressure on the existing transport network”

“We’ve already identified the need to improve reliability of public transport between Mangere and Sylvia Park – there will be other areas for improvement. We want the conversation with local people now so that as we progress with improvements in Onehunga-Penrose, we can also continue to work with communities to address their issues,” says Mr Mutton.

The community day at Mangere Bridge on 26 July will also be a chance for people to see the proposed design for the new bridge connecting Onehunga and Mangere Bridge.

“The earlier feedback from the community was a catalyst for the project and guided the bridge design,” Mr Mutton says. “We’ve worked hard to integrate the community’s requests, and we’re optimistic that they will be pleased with our design when they see it.”

Some features of the original bridge will be retained, with the new structure curving towards the motorway bridge. It will be high enough for small boats to pass underneath. A wider span also means that some form of opening for larger craft is not precluded in future. Two artists have been commissioned to incorporate the area’s history and values into the design through art.

“Replacing the old bridge and the East West Connections are two very different projects with one similar outcome – helping the Transport Agency and Auckland Transport get the best solutions to improve the area’s transport network. We want to hear the views of people to help achieve that,” Mr Mutton says.

On the East West Link it will be interesting to see if they actually show what they plan to do for the project or if they will just talk about the need for it. This is especially the case as I know they showed business and road lobby groups exactly what they plan to build about 7 months ago.

We can get a bit of a background as to what they will show from some of the information on the AT website including this image which highlights all the issues they’ve identified in the area.

East-West Issues

For a big click the photo or for the original it’s from here (5MB).

This image (on the NZTA website) shows all of the projects going on in the area.

East West Other Projects Large

As for the Old Mangere Bridge Replacement this newsletter shows a couple of impressions of what it may look like.

Mangere Bridge Replacement Total

 

NZTA and OPUS Travel Survey

The NZTA and OPUS are conducting a travel survey looking at the travel patterns of New Zealanders and in particular looking at future anticipated changes in travel patterns in the future. While the survey is open to anyone they are focusing primarily on those who are in the 15-35 age bracket. By filling it in you can also win $1,000 worth of vouchers.

How do you want to be able to travel in the future? The NZTA and Opus are currently conducting an online survey which needs your opinions to inform upcoming transport infrastructure investment reviews.

All respondents to this approximately 20 minute long survey can enter a prize draw for $1000 worth of vouchers* of the winners choosing. Note that there is a particular focus on those aged 15-35 years, however, anyone can participate as the perspectives of a cross-section of New Zealanders are desired.

If you are interested in participating or would like further information about the survey, please click here before Monday the 4th of August 2014. Please also feel free to share this link with anyone else you think may like to participate.

It should be interesting to see what the outcomes of the survey are.