I recently received back an OIA request from the NZTA on a few projects. One part of that was related to the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing and the other which I’ll cover in this post was about the East West
Link Connections. Among other things the documents highlight a project that is rapidly increasing in cost to a level around three times initial suggestions. Like I did with the AWHC post, I’ll highlight what I found interesting from each of the nine documents in chronological order.
The preferred East-West option
A briefing to the former Minister of Transport Gerry Brownlee giving an update on the project and informing that they would soon start public consultation on the various options they had come up with. They also offered to walk him through the options and “get any input you wish to make on the next phase of the project”. A later document hints at some of that feedback.
A paper to the NZTA board with the recommended approach following the public consultation. This first highlights the initial expected cost at well less than $1 billion.
The East West Link (as it was previously known) was considered by the Board in February 2014 (14/02/112) and was reported to the Minister as part of the Auckland Accelerated Package. The basis for the recommendations at that stage was a scope that is roughly equivalent to the current Option C, with a cost range of $550 million to $660 million.
For reference this was Option C was an upgrade of part of Neilson St and then a route in a little from the foreshore but the costs mentioned don’t quite add up with the ones also listed in the document as shown below
The NZTA ended up choosing option F but also bringing in some of the elements of other options too. In their listing of the reasons for choosing it they praise it for being a new route and one without driveways like Neilson St has. That highlights one of the odd things about this whole project, it’s supposedly about improving freight connections but it’s being pushed mainly for through traffic so all of the local freight traffic will still be trudging through all of the local routes.
They also like Option F as they’d identified four distinct phases. These are shown below along with some of the information about each stage. Stage 2 looks to be over a bridge over 1.2km in length. The section on risks also acknowledges it creates issues for rail to the Airport.
As mentioned earlier there was some mention of the Ministers response with the NZTA saying this.
The expectation was that the Transport Agency would report back to the Minister and Treasury on the preferred option to inform funding decisions as part of Budget 2015. Included in this, the previous Minister of Transport asked the Transport Agency to investigate an option for providing a complete link between State Highway 1 and State Highway 20.
The paper says this in relation to rail. This seems to suggest that rail improvements are a justification for more roads. But why then is the third main not included as part of the East-West project, the cost of doing it would be tiny in comparison the cost of the overall project and would go some way to addressing the MOAR ROADZ feeling of it all.
A memo for the CEO’s board report. It suggests that the board didn’t confirm the preferred option listed above at that time and that more work was being done for approval in April. It notes that if approved to move towards consenting, which is currently happening, that part of the process is expected to cost $20-25 million over a two-year period.
A paper to the board seeking approval of the preferred approach to the project. The first thing I note is they’ve reduced the project to three stages and suggests progressing stages 1 and 2 in the short the medium term with stage 3 not being needed till later, possibly around 2035.
The cost for the project is also confirmed and that it’s not possible to fund it based on normal funding sources.
- The expected scheme cost of a complete staged link is in the range of $1,050 million (at the 50th percentile) to $1,400 (at the 95th percentile) with a benefit cost ratio range of 1.4 to 1.9.
- The financial case being progressed indicates that delivery of the full staged project within a ten year timeframe is not affordable with funding from the NLTF alone. This view is based on the current mix of the forward capital works programme. A change in the forward capital works programme mix or additional sources of funding may change this view.
Following the above, a briefing note was sent to the Simon Bridges as Minister of Transport. There isn’t a lot of new information that wasn’t in the document above but it does note that property costs alone are expected to exceed $100 million. It also says Iwi are supportive of the planned reclamation.
Another briefing was sent to Simon Bridges on the feedback from the Auckland Business Forum ahead of a meeting between Bridges and Michael Barnett. It responds to some of the talking points you occasionally hear in the media such as why not widen the bridge at Mt Wellington. It also suggests that the new E-W road is being designed to expressway standards rather than motorway standards. This is what the NZTA say about the difference between the two.
What’s the difference between a motorway and an expressway?
Motorways are access-controlled, high-speed roads that normally have ‘grade-separated intersections’ – which means they have overbridges (or underpasses) so road users don’t have to stop at traffic lights.
Expressways are also high-speed roads, but they may include well-spaced ‘at-grade intersections’ – which means they often have accesses and driveways on to them and sometimes traffic signals or roundabouts.
Next we have an internal memo in to the CEO giving an update about the project. It mentions that the detailed business case was close to being finalised confirming the route all along the foreshore and also highlighting that the costs had increased further.
- The Detailed Business Case is currently being finalised and will be considered for approval by the NZ Transport Agency and Auckland Transport Boards in December. The business case recommends a new full link between SH1 and SH20 along the northern foreshore of the Mangere Inlet as the preferred long term response to the issues in the Onehunga-Penrose area (refer Attachment 1). It is proposed that the new link is a new state highway, to be planned, delivered, operated, and maintained by the NZ Transport Agency.
- The cost of the project is estimated to be in the range of $1.25 billion to $1.85 billion (escalated costs) with a BCR range of 1.4 to 1.9.
So the project has potentially increased in cost more than threefold. It’s interesting how there are politicians who decry spending on the CRL just in case costs increase but stay eerily silent on this project. Further how is it the costs increase but the BCR manages to stay the same?
The memo notes that the earliest they could possibly start the project was in 2018 after going through a Board of Inquiry process. It seems this memo could have been in response to press release from the Auckland Business Forum complaining that the project was going too slow. That press release is at the end of the document.
Another paper to the NZTA board, it seeks approval to move towards the consent process following the completion of the Detailed Business Case. It notes that they now want stage 3 started immediately after stage two and the entire project completed by 2028 because they say Neilson St will be too congested “because of additional traffic attracted to Neilson St through the improved access from SH1”. A classic more roads beget more roads scenario. I wonder if they’ve addressed some of the issues with the indicative business case that Cam highlighted very well in December.
As part of the “key outcomes” of the project they talk about travel time savings and reduced congestion but they also claim it will deliver “At least 5.5km of new dedicated cycle paths”. Given that about 4km of cycle paths already exist along the foreshore is this being double counted?
They think they will be able to fund this out of the National Land Transport Fund as a result of the Basin Reserve decision delaying spending in Wellington by what they estimate to be 5 years. If the Wellington planning work is finalised sooner than expected they will either need to re-prioritise work or potentially get a short term interest free loan from the government. On the costs they sought or noted the following amounts:
- $30 million for the NZTA to progress the project for consents etc.
- $135 million to start property acquisition along the route.
- $15 million for the NZTA’s early works projects.
- $32 million for Auckland Transport’s early works projects (which would be subject to NZTA funding assistance).
The early works are a series of projects mainly in and around Onehunga such as widening the motorway, widening parts of Neilson St and removing the bridge on Neilson St over the rail corridor, presumably to supersize the intersection. This work with the exception of the Galway St link was recently put out to tender.
I’m not sure if there is enough space under the bridge for two tracks but regardless, removing the bridge is surely just one more nail in the coffin for rail to the airport (light or heavy) which would now likely have to be built on bridge over the road/intersection. The East-West project has already made getting across the harbour difficult as shown in the video a few months ago from AT.
The final paper and is a briefing to Simon Bridges summarising some of the information from the paper above.
This project is looking to be a classic example of how differently we treat projects. The cost of it is already ballooned to $1.8 billion, seemingly without a single drop of concern and at the current rate it is quite possible it will end up costing taxpayers over $2 billion. Yet despite this and unlike the CRL it hasn’t been subject to detailed cross examination by other government agencies, it hasn’t had usage or job growth targets imposed on it. It was even pulled out of the ATAP process even though that is meant to include projects not yet committed to – which at that stage East-West wasn’t.