Last week I talked about Penlink and how it appears that it is back on the agenda and being pushed ahead fairly rapidly. This has also been partially confirmed by this listing on the Auckland Transport tenders site.
This Request for Proposal (RFP) is issued for Auckland Transport (AT). The aim of this process is to award a Contract for supply of Planning Professional Services to implement the Penlink Planning Strategy to successfully complete an alteration to the designation and obtain all required consents. This will involve the use of other professional services skills including design, project management and technical experts which are to be provided and managed by the Planning Consultant.
So with this post I thought I would look at some of the alternatives that should be done first – and the impacts properly assessed before committing to building Penlink. Like we have suggested with the East-West link and Operation Lifesaver the focus is on a series of smaller upgrades that can likely be done significantly quicker and cheaper than what is currently planned. Further some of these projects are already on the drawing board so aren’t actually new.
Firstly the primary areas of development that are going to occur in the area in the future is not so much on the peninsula but in the areas closer to SH1 in and around the Silverdale North area. As you can see in this Unitary Plan map there is a heap of land set aside for housing (cream), business (purple) as well as future urban (yellow). It’s this development that will really put a lot of pressure on the Hibiscus Coast Highway (HCH) between Whangaparaoa Rd and the Silverdale interchange.
So with that in mind the focus should be on addressing how we can avoid putting too much pressure on that section of the HCH. Here are a series of projects that could do that.
I understand this has been talked about for some time but the idea is fairly simply, Wainui Rd travels through the south western part of the Silverdale North area before crossing the motorway just over halfway between the Silverdale and Grand Drive interchanges. The idea is to create a set of south facing ramps and therefore providing a more direct connection to SH1 for the Silverdale North area. That would remove the need for many of the future residents to travel down to use the Silverdale Interchange. It would also help in serving that large section of Future Urban land to the west of SH1.
East Coast Rd and Curley Rd Extension
Again this is something that has been talked about for a while but the idea is to extend Curley Rd – a small stub road – to the east and eventually connecting up with Wainui Rd south of where the ramps mentioned above would be. An extension of East Coast Rd to the north across the Wheti River would then connect in with the Curley Rd extension. The idea is to create a connection allowing for traffic going north-south from one side of the HCH to the other to do so in a single crossing without having to use the HCH for part of the journey (other than a single intersection). The rough idea for these two roads is shown in the map below with the new road in red.
Whangaparaoa Rd Upgrades
Whangaparaoa Rd is generally a single lane road for most of its length except for a short section for about 1.5km west and south of the intersection with Red Beach Rd. A previous review of Penlink in 2010 found that while not a substitute for Penlink, widening the section between Red Beach Rd and the HCH would relieve congestion and push back the need for the expensive capital investment that would needed to build Penlink.
My understanding is that this widening was planned to happen fairly soon but has now been put on hold until a new decision on Penlink has been made.
Of course these are all road upgrades, what about some PT upgrades? To me there are two things that should be considered – probably together. First though what is current happening with PT in the area.
AT are going to be building a busway station and park n ride at Silverdale. I believe that stage one which includes access roads and the first 100 or so car parks has been built however stage two which includes the station itself has now been delayed by potentially up to a year. This is due to a neighbouring land owner who has fought the development all the way now seeking a judicial review by the high court. Assuming that eventually falls in AT’s favour then the station can be built and some Northern Express services extended Silverdale. Connecting in will be local services which I will talk about soon. At the other end of the peninsula is the Gulf Harbour ferry. So what could we do?
Improve Local Bus Services
Like most of Auckland the current bus services appear to be a shambles and the maps are hard to read. The new network proposes a much simpler network for the area.
However a key issue that will remain is the frequency of those services with the RPTP suggesting that they will only be half hourly during the peak and hourly off peak. At the very least we should consider what the cost would be to increase the frequency of the green route to be every 15 minutes during the peak and half hourly off peak. That would likely help a lot in making the system much more usable and is unlikely to cost massive amounts of money. Likewise the service to Gulf Harbour might need improving to go with some improved ferries.
The current ferry service is only any use for commuters travelling to the CBD during the peak. For commuters there are only two sailings towards the CBD in the morning (7:00 & 7:30) and two back again in the evening (4:40 & 5:35). Along with increased connector bus services, investing in improving the ferry service should be considered. That would likely require the investment in new ferries and would obviously cost a lot more to run that what exists now however the costs need to be considered in relation to what we would be paying for Penlink. Remember the talk is now that it will be built as a PPP which means we will be paying for the project out of operational budgets for the following 25 years. The cost of running some extra bus and ferry services is probably less than the amount we would be paying just to cover the private company’s interest bill.
So there we go a series of projects that would help in addressing some of the direct traffic problems in the area. I’m not sure how much it would all cost but is almost certainly a lot less than what is planned for Penlink which could now be more than $200m yet only make a difference of about ~7000 vehicles a day. It doesn’t mean Penlink might not be needed in the future but does help address things for the short to medium term.
For the last two days both Patrick and I have attended a conference on Auckland Transport Infrastructure that was even chaired by the founder of this blog. The agenda included talks on a wide variety of topics related to transport there were a number of quite good ones that I will post about in the future.
Naturally the highlight being the presentation of the Congestion Free Network at the end of day one . The good news is that many of the people in the audience, representing a wide range of the industry are very supportive of it. This included people heavily involved in the design, funding, construction and operation of roads and even heavy users like the freight industry. The general feedback we get from people within the industry when we present the CFN is that people really like it as an idea for fixing Auckland which really highlights to us that the key problem is one of leadership – primarily from a political level but also from senior management.
For this post I’m primarily going to focus on one particular part of Len Browns opening address. The primary theme of his talk was about how infrastructure providers and operators need to improve how they understand and deal with communities, both from a compassion and communication perspective – cue comments about the East-West Link. He cited both the Victoria Park Tunnel and now Waterview as projects that have engaged with the community well during construction.
He also talked about the need to keep an eye on costs and noted that as part of the upcoming review of the Long Term Plan the council would be going through the transport projects on a line by line basis to decide if projects were really needed. That shifted his discussion on to the issue of funding as based on the current wish list of projects which we simply won’t be able to afford everything without raising more money somehow. However this is where things started to take a strange turn as Len started talking quite a bit about PPP’s and how the council will be using a lot of them to help fund that wish list. He even told the attendees that they would need to help in selling the benefits of PPP’s to the wider public.
But just when it couldn’t get worse he then confirmed that the Council/Auckland Transport are planning on fast-tracking Penlink and that they are looking to do so by tying it in with the PPP that the NZTA will use for Puhoi to Warkworth. So with this post I thought I would look at Penlink and explain why it is such a crappy project.
What is Penlink?
Just in case you’re not fully aware of what Penlink is, it’s a new road that would connect the Whangaparaoa Peninsula to SH1 as shown in the map below. All up it includes:
- a new 6.8 km stretch of road
- a new 540-metre bridge spanning the Weiti River
- a new motorway interchange at Redvale which also require some modifications to East Coast Road
- widening of Whangaparaoa Road between Brightside Road and Arklow Lane. Penlink will intersect with Whangaparaoa Road through a new roundabout
Penlink – a road we don’t think is needed
As you can see it’s a fairly sizeable project and one that has the potential to save a huge amount of time over travelling through the existing route at Silverdale. But as you would expect, the big question is if its really worth it especially as this isn’t going to be cheap. The cost from a few years ago was $175 million however that is almost certainly going to be over $200 million now however it could be significantly higher than that. It’s worth noting that the road has already been consented and the former Rodney District Council had purchased the land needed.
To help pay for the road the plan has always been to toll the road – suggested to be somewhere between $1.50 and $2.50 – yet despite that, the toll was only expected to pay for about 29% of the cost with the rest coming from taxpayers and ratepayers. If the construction cost has increased we can likely expect the percentage covered by tolls has reduced further.
Is Penlink worth it?
This is where things get interesting. As mentioned it is a shorter route off the peninsula and for those to the east of where it joins Whangaparaoa Rd the saving is less than 4.5km with those to the Northwest of the route the saving will less depending on their location. Based on the last census there were roughly 21,500 people living to the west of Penlink that would benefit the most with just over another 9,000 on the peninsula up to where it connects to the Hibiscus Coast Highway. Not everyone on the Peninsula will be trying to get to town either, especially with an increased number of businesses around Silverdale.
However critically there is little growth that is left available on the peninsula. There will be a few sections here and there that are yet to be built on but according to the Unitary Plan then by and large the areas highlighted in red on the map below show the only locations left which are able to be developed. They are generally Mixed Housing Suburban but I would be surprised if there was able to be more than 2,000 dwellings build on here. Further many of the sites may end up being developed as retirement villages which have quite different travel demands to other dwellings. Further as you can see there has been almost no intensification allowed on the Peninsula with only a few pockets of THAB or Mixed housing allowed.
As such there is very little potential growth that will occur in the area so that removes the argument that we need to build the road to cater for future growth. Instead the project is more about moving the existing population. This is also confirmed in the results from the traffic modelling done in 2011 to support tolling which shows that by 2021 without Penlink there is almost no change in traffic west of Whangaparaoa Rd and only small increases in traffic east.
You might also notice another key point from the numbers above, the toll road is only expected to make a difference of about 7,000 vehicles per day. Most single lane arterials in the city carry considerably more vehicles than that yet not cost $200 million plus.
Lastly it doesn’t seem to do anything to address where the main future residential and business growth will occur which is in the new greenfields developments around Silverdale including Millwater. Yes it would remove some traffic from the Hibiscus Coast Highway which would free up space for vehicles from these developments but there are other ways we could deal with that.
To me it seems the main aim of the project is to provide a super expensive new road that would only be useful for a very small segment of the population in a part of the city that has almost no growth left. For those people all it does is serves to reinforce driving as the only realistic option yet as it only connects to SH1 southbound its only purpose is to get people to the end of the motorway queue a little bit faster. I don’t know about you but I can certainly think of a better way to spend $200 million. Of course if it’s built as a PPP we won’t have to pay for it upfront but it will end up costing us considerably more than $200 million as we will be paying a company who will be building the project with private financing.
In a separate post I will look at what alternatives there are to Penlink to improve transport in the area.
With the East-West Link, the various motorway projects, Puhoi to Warkworth and now this it really does feel like someone is pushing to double down on road building. Who’s behind it (because I know it’s not the construction industry) and is this all just a part of a last gasp being pushed by the road lobbies who are seeing the writing on the wall that public want change? I also note it’s on the close agenda for today’s Auckland Transport board meeting.07
The sheer stupidity of the Puhoi to Wellsford project might be starting to hit home for some of the residents of Warkworth and surrounding areas as the exact route of the motorway starts to be understood.
Warkworth residents hoping for a link from the Woodcocks Rd industrial area to the new motorway proposed from Puhoi appear to have had their hopes dashed.
The latest version of the route finalised by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) shows the new motorway would bypass Warkworth completely, forcing residents to drive almost as far north as Kaipara Flats Rd to access the new route.
Concerns have been raised that many residents in Warkworth, Sandspit and Snells Beach are unlikely to travel north in order to head south, and will therefore not benefit from the new motorway.
NZTA staff told a meeting of the Warkworth Area Liaison Group this month that Mahurangi College had opposed any access along Woodcocks Rd. Staff also stressed that the main purpose of the motorway was to improve access to Northland.
However, they have confirmed the motorway would almost certainly join up with a new link road to Matakana, via a large roundabout, which is highly likely to push development to the north of Warkworth, and towards the coast.
It is understood Auckland Council planners are already redrawing the rural urban boundary proposed for Warkworth, to reflect the same changes.
While Puhoi residents have won their battle to get access to the motorway, the latest route shows there will only be a northbound off-ramp, and a southbound on-ramp, meaning anyone heading north would not be able to hop off, and then back on, the motorway.
The NZTA is planning to lodge an application to secure the designation within the next month as the first step in the process towards getting the road built. Once that has been completed it is expected that construction could start sometime between late next year and 2019. Here is a map of the confirmed designation they are seeking
One of the biggest issues I have with this project is that it does absolutely nothing to improve the existing road which as a result of the motorway completely bypassing Warkworth will still be used by a lot of Warkworth residents as well as people wanting to avoid paying the tolls that are likely to be on the road. It means that the safety issues on that stretch of road won’t get addressed as why would they spend any serious money on a road that is about to be bypassed. Further it will end up becoming Auckland Transports problem to deal with as the NZTA will almost certainly hand the road over to AT as they would no longer need it – just as they have done with the old state highway that acts as the free route for those wanting to avoid the toll road.
The new route will likely need to be tolled too. For starters it hooks directly into the existing toll road with no north facing ramps at Puhoi so it means that unless the NZTA plan to remove the existing toll and wipe the $100m+ debt from the books, there will be no way for someone using the Warkworth to Puhoi section to avoid paying to use this new road. However the Governments roading binge is also putting a lot of pressure on our transport funds which is one of the reasons for the 3c per litre increase in petrol that occurred at the start of the month and which will happen again in at least the next two years. I think it is quite likely that the toll will be increased to help cover some of the costs of the new section – although not by a level which would be in proportion to the length or cost of the project.
The existing toll road between Orewa and Puhoi is about 7km long and saves drivers about 10 minutes as well as 5km of windy and suburban roads yet even so the NZTA have said in the past that only 70-80% of all vehicles travelling between the two points use the toll road. By comparison the route proposed above only saves about 1km over the existing road and even with having to go through Warkworth, people generally average about 80km/h over the distance. Assuming you would travel at 100km/h for the entirety of the slightly shorter new road the time saving would only be approximately 3-4 minutes. That isn’t bad but when compared to the expected cost of $760 million as well as how many people are actually using the road it simply doesn’t seem feasible. The South facing ramps at Puhoi also mean that it will be easy for travellers to avoid any toll imposed on the new section as they could still drive the existing road to Puhoi then get on the motorway and travel the existing toll road (and depending on where they are coming from this could be just as fast)
It’s also worth pointing out again just how stupid the travel time savings promoted by the government are with comments made by Gerry Brownlee suggesting vehicles would need to be travelling at over 250km/h to be achieved.
One key issue is that the existing road is only really busy at holiday times when Aucklanders are flocking to the beaches to the east of Warkworth or further north which is why the term “Holiday Highway” was coined. Of course the NZTA, the government and Northland keep telling us, this project is more about connecting Northland to Auckland. So let’s look at those two claims a bit closer. Handily the NZTA release monthly data on traffic volumes at a number of sites around the country. The sites measured aren’t as exhaustive as their annual numbers but there are two very useful ones. One is the traffic volumes on ALPURT – the name for the toll road – and is useful for indicating how many people might use the new motorway while the second is from a site just north of Wellsford which is helpful for showing just how much traffic is moving between Auckland and Northland. The graph below shows the monthly average daily traffic volumes recorded at these two sites along with the 12 month rolling average.
As you can see both sites have extremely strong peaks in January as well as smaller peaks in October and April which just so happen to coincide with public holidays. In saying that ALPURT has seen its annual average start to rise with it increasing by about 900 vehicles per day over the past few years but what is unclear is if that is a result of more vehicles doing the overall journey or more people shifting off the old windy road and onto the new shorter and much faster toll road. North of Wellsford however traffic volumes are falling, not at an alarming rate but they have fallen by about 300 vehicles per day over the last few years. In all there are about 8600 vehicles per day (over the course of the year) being counted north of Wellsford. That is certainly not a number to justify spending billions of dollars on. One thing to note is that other state highway sites do see seasonal variation but nowhere near to the extent that these two do (at least of those I have looked at).
Now remembering that the ALPURT numbers don’t include the traffic that bypasses the toll road what it suggests to me is two things. The first is that there simply isn’t that much interregional traffic movement occurring. Even during holiday periods the average amount of daily traffic is less than what many single lane roads within Auckland carry. Even many of our rail network level crossings – which will suffer increasing delays as we put more train services on – carry more daily traffic than what occurs even during the busiest month of the year on this section of the state highway network. With the vast majority of the traffic originating from Warkworth or the surrounding areas, it suggests that if you are going to spend money on the area – and the road does need some improving – then doing so in a way that allows the majority of people using the road would be a smarter move.
In the past we have suggested what is dubbed Operation Lifesaver. Like many of the roading projects in the Integrated Transport Plan we believe that the vast majority of then benefits can be achieved by cheaper solutions. The idea for this road is fairly simple, instead of building a fully offline motorway fix the key issues that exist with the road at present. That means bypassing Warkworth (that alone would deliver a lot of benefits), easing corners and installing additional passing lanes. It also means that the projects could start sooner as most of them would take place within the existing road corridor plus the benefits can be felt immediately compared to there being no benefits from the motorway until the entire road has been completed. We have suggested in the past that a the NZTA should consider an upgrade and link from Perry Rd to the new motorway as a way of allowing the project to be staged by building the bypass of Warkworth first then seeing if there is still the need to do the full project.
One other interesting comment from the article on the first link,
Meanwhile, investigation of the Warkworth to Wellsford leg has been postponed indefinitely, due to tests that have shown land in the area is so unstable, it would be uneconomic to build a motorway on top of it. It is the poorest possible soil seen in New Zealand.
I’m guessing the only reason the government hasn’t announced officially that this section has been cut back as it – combined with the proposed road from the end of the project across to Matakana Rd – would play even more into to suggestions that the road is primarily about getting people to their holiday homes in Omaha. It would definitely remove one of the arguments that the road is about connecting Northland. It is also worth noting that as the majority of traffic heading north of Albany is going to Warkworth or the surrounding areas, not further north, then without that link to Matakana Rd that traffic is still going to have to be forced back to Warkworth and through the busy Hill St intersection.
One of the recent OIA requests I had back also suggests that the NZTA are going to consider building this motorway as a PPP, like they are doing with Transmission Gully. I wouldn’t mind quite so much if the private sector was actually taking a risk on building these roads but the financial institutions have learned from the mistakes in Australia and so the NZTA get left holding almost all of the risk (including the risk that predicted traffic volumes won’t materialise). While we don’t pay the massive upfront cost of building the road, we will end up paying a huge amount more over a 25 year period. The payment structure is illustrated quite will in this graph which is for Transmission Gully. Note: the OIA request I mentioned has quite a bit of detail about how the contracts will be structured. I will try and get a more detailed post up about it in the next few days.
And just to make things even worse it appears that Auckland Transport are trying to shoehorn Penlink into the same contract.
Auckland Transport is working with the NZTA on a business case to progress Penlink as a possible joint public private partnership – to be constructed/tendered along with their Puhoi to Warkworth project.
“This is still under development and is expected to be completed in December,” Auckland Transport communications general manager Wally Thomas says.
An article in today’s NZ Herald picks up on the funding squeeze for transport that I posted about a couple of days ago. For a start, it points out the irony of potentially significant funding shortfalls at the very time we’re seeing public transport patronage skyrocket:
Auckland Transport faces a tight funding squeeze as it struggles to cope with unprecedented numbers of commuters switching to buses, trains and ferries.
After overseeing a record seven million public transport passenger trips in March, the organisation fears having to cut service costs by $31.2 million in the next financial year because of savings sought by its two main funders, the Auckland Council and the Government’s Transport Agency.
This is a little unfair on Auckland Council, as the decrease in operating funding of $31.2 million is caused by a $16 million shortfall in NZTA funding and the assumption that council will cut that amount too. Funding of local transport projects is generally funded approximately 50/50 between NZTA and the Council (previously public transport was regionally funded while roads were locally funded, but with Auckland Council the distinction no longer applies). So the Council could always choose to either continue its funding (in which case the only shortfall would be from NZTA) or even make up NZTA’s funding share – if it so desired. The table below seems to indicate a $2 million operational funding boost from the council in the Annual Plan compared to what had previously been expected: All of the $16 million decrease in operational funding seems to come from the reduced NZTA subsidy.
The $16 million decrease in funding for operations is peanuts compared with NZTA’s savage cutbacks in funding available for capital projects in the Auckland region:
A capital projects wish-list of $674 million of public transport infrastructure and local roading proposals inherited from Auckland’s former regional, city and district councils will also have to be hacked back after a gloomy Government subsidy forecast.
Chief infrastructure officer Kevin Doherty has told Auckland Transport’s board that although the list assumed Government subsidies of $274 million, there was unlikely to be more than $147 million available, and possibly even less. He said the Transport Agency had indicated a combination of previously strong regional spending and lower than forecast revenue into the national land transport fund had depleted the amount available for subsidy distributions in 2011-12, the final year of a triennial funding cycle.
As I said the other day, this reduction in available funds for capital projects isn’t all bad news. Hopefully it might mean some really dumb projects get the cut – like Penlink and new multi-level carparks in Manukau City and Takapuna. The surprisingly large amount of money Auckland Transport was planning to spend on capital projects also reflects a lot of the former councils promoting big expensive transport projects in the last couple of years, when they knew they wouldn’t end up being the ones who had to pay for them. Penlink is probably the most obvious example of this. Mike Lee picks up on this point:
But council transport committee chairman Mike Lee, who is an Auckland Transport board member, said the council would be very unwise to cut public transport spending after years of patronage growth.
“That doesn’t mean throwing money away or open slather for subsidies,” he said. “It means ensuring expenditure is in place to meet the rising demand to maintain the momentum of recent years. Because going through my inbox of issues, complaints and questions, transport seems to be the major issue that is concerning Aucklanders.”
Even so, Mr Lee acknowledged that the region’s former territorial authorities had caused budget difficulties by “front-end loading” their long-term plans with spending on local roads “which they themselves couldn’t really afford. Obviously they hoped that if they threw it over to the Super City, they would get those items paid for”.
The really big issue that will need a lot of thinking about is how major projects that do make sense, like AMETI (in its revised form) and some form of Dominion Road public transport improvements, are going to end up being funded. Looking forward over the next 10 years, the government doesn’t seem to see itself as enabling NZTA to contribute much to these large and rather expensive projects. Will NZTA’s contribution to AMETI’s rapid transit aspect be able to be funded out of the local roads budget, or will it have to come out of the “Public Transport Infrastructure” budget that just about disappears over the next decade?
These are the consequences of the various Roads of National Significance being prioritised so much. I just can’t see how, if NZTA is spending billions on the Waikato Expressway, on tunnels in Wellington and the Transmission Gully motorway, or on the Puhoi-Wellsford “holiday highway”, they’re going to be able to make much contribution to projects like AMETI, Dominion Road or any other major local project. Which may mean that those local upgrades simply don’t happen.
There was a rather curious media release by Local Government New Zealand president Lawrence Yule today – talking about the next Government Policy Statement and its implications for local road funding:
The importance of local roads to the growth of New Zealand should not be forgotten when funding decisions are made, says Local Government New Zealand President Lawrence Yule.
Mr Yule’s comments come in response to the proposed direction of the Government’s Policy Statement on Land Transport Funding 2012/13 to 2021/22 (GPS 2012) released yesterday.
I’ve had a bit of a dig around the Ministry of Transport website and I certainly can’t find any release of the proposed direction of the next GPS (Even though Radio NZ seem to have a copy of the draft GPS). However, fortunately from the same OIA information that informed these two recent posts, I do have a very detailed document prepared by the Ministry of Transport that relates to local roads and how they may be considered by the next GPS. You can read that document here.
But before we get into the details of what that document contains, it’s worth taking a look at some further things Mr Yule says:
Mr Yule says the GPS 2012 released yesterday proposes to direct most funding to the state highway network and roads of national significance, to the detriment of local roads.
“Once again local roads, and therefore many smaller communities, lose out to roads of national significance. But this doesn’t have to be the case.”
Mr Yule is urging the Government to prioritise road funding with the big picture in mind. He would like to see a more equitable spend which takes into account the areas from where money is generated.
“If money is coming from local roads it should go back into local roads. We need to look at our roading network as a whole. At the moment there is a focus on state highways and roads of national significance. They may well be a vital part of the network but we also need to take into account the contribution local roads make to the New Zealand economy,” he said.
From reading through the various documents prepared by the MoT that will inform that next GPS one thing comes through extremely loud and clear – that the RoNS projects are placing an enormous financial strain on the transport fund, making it very difficult to find adequate funding for other things it’s meant to help pay for – like the contribution to local roads (which are paid for roughly 50/50 between NZTA and the local council). This is outlined below: It’s a pity that a part of the paragraphs outlined above has been excluded (to enable free and frank advice, as always), but one can logically ascertain what it’s likely to be saying – that taking money away from local roads to help fund state highway improvements seems to be simply transfering the congestion and safety problems from the state highways onto the local roads. This is pretty obvious in Auckland, where projects such as the widening of the northwest motorway are going to do nothing to solve the real bottlenecks on the roads feeding into the motorway: like Te Atatu Road and Lincoln Road. In fact, evening peak congestion on those roads is likely to increase as the widened motorway simply funnels more and more cars onto an already congested and overloaded arterial road.
One thing in the above section that did capture my interesting quite a lot was the assertion that traffic growth on local roads has increased more than on state highways in recent years. That’s illustrated very clearly in the graphs below: It would be interesting to see the 2010 traffic flows, let alone those so far in 2011 (NZTA monthly data provides more up to date information region by region, but only for state highway volumes).
When the data is broken down even further, it seems that local urban roads are where the highest levels of traffic increase are to be found – and particularly in the Auckland area: The next graph shows how much Auckland’s local road traffic dominates the VKT across all local roads in the country – I guess because in the smaller centres it’s difficult to drive too far without eventually ending up on a state highway: One interesting thing the document also looks at are measures of congestion – in Auckland it seems that morning congestion has worsened while evening congestion has alleviated somewhat over the past few years: The footnote (5) is relevant because it says that this is only congestion on the state highway network. Overall, one might conclude that our state highway policy of the past few years has been an utter disaster in Auckland. It goes something like this:
- We have spent vastly more on building new state highways: up from around $200 million a year in 2005 to around $500 million a year in 2010.
- Traffic on those state highways has remained relatively steady, grown slowly or declined.
- Despite the huge amount of extra money spent, and little new traffic, congestion on the motorways has only become worse (see graph above).
Moving along, the remainder of the document really focuses on the risks outlined earlier in this post of having a transport policy that focuses so much on building new motorways. A significantly greater chunk of the local road spend over the past few years has been dedicated to maintenance an renewal, rather than new projects – probably because there simply isn’t much money available to build new local roading projects. The MoT seems extremely concerned about the impact of these trends on the achievement of general transport goals – such as reducing (rather than shifting) congestion and improving (rather than shifting) road safety.
Personally I question the need for many local roading projects quite often – such as Penlink – and it would seem that the current Auckland Council may have a desire to spend less on new local roads in order to free up money for public transport improvements (at least that’s what their rhetoric seems to say, the Annual Plan reality looks quite different). But good arterial roads, with bus lanes, cycle lanes, safety improvements and whatever else is needed, really are the essential link-points in a city like Auckland. The motorway network is just about complete here, what we need is a well functioning arterial road system to support the state highway network (plus obviously a far better public transport network); rather than a growing mismatch between a hugely over-spec state highway system and a vastly underfunded local road network.
But yet again the Minister seems to see things differently, and would rather focus on building motorways between Cambridge and Taupo.
Auckland Council’s Draft Annual Plan includes a section on transport, outlining in broad terms the money the council intends to spend over the 2011/2012 year on transport. Overall, transport spending is the biggest section of Auckland Council’s budget – so I was quite surprised to see the lack of detail in the Draft Annual Plan on where transport spending is going. Particularly capital spending. All we see about particular projects is a list of “key projects”: Most of the projects listed above are public transport related – surely a good thing. But, as I have noted previously that doesn’t really seem to be where the money is going. In fact, most capital spending actually seems to be on roading projects. This is shown in the table below: It turns out that the Draft Annual Plan does actually provide more detail on individual projects. You just need to dig right to the end of the many-hundred page long document. In terms of capital spending, finally we have a list of projects proposed for funding and the amount of money they’re anticipated to cost. So what are the most expensive projects? Where will that $307m of capital spending actually go? It seems we finally have some answers – and the table below shows the name and cost of every project above $10 million: AMETI is mentioned in the “Key Projects and Priorities” above, so is the New Lynn TOD project. I’m not quite sure what the ‘Gasometer Site Investigation and Design’ project is, while ones below that seem to generally make sense. But what about the most expensive project of all – the “Weiti Toll Road”? That sounds awfully like Penlink to me.
While I’m not the biggest fan of the Penlink project, that’s not what really concerns me here. What concerns me is the secretive way in which the project is being pushed through. The “Weiti Toll Road” project is by far the most expensive transport project Auckland Council intends to fund next year, so why was it not included in the list of key projects and priorities? Because the Council and Auckland Transport wants to seem a lot more public transport friendly than they really are? That they know Penlink is an unpopular project and want to sneak it through?
It’s a bit strange really.
Although it will (justifiably so) be quite some time before we get past the initial human tragedy of last week’s Christchurch earthquake to think about the financial cost of the disaster, clearly it will be an extremely expensive disaster to recover from. This is outlined below, from a Scoop Article on the quake’s financial cost:
Last Tuesday’s quake, which killed at least 154 people, will cost as much as $15 billion, adding to the September disaster’s $5 billion bill, and equating to about 7% of the nation’s gross domestic product. Reinsurer Validus Holdings estimates the cost of the quake to the insurance industry will be as much as $10 billion.
A lot of the money will come through insurance companies, and their ‘reinsurance’ through the wider industry. That will be to the tune of around $10 billion. EQC also has money available to spend, but above and beyond that it seems the government will need to spend at least a few billion on works that are not covered by insurance schemes: generally in the form of welfare assistance packages in the short term, plus infrastructure rebuilding in the longer term.
Now that’s a lot of money for a government currently borrowing around $300 million a week just to stay afloat. Let’s remember that the Waterview Connection project and the widening of State Highway 16 to complete the Western Ring Route comes to around $2 billion. So if the government spends a few billion on infrastructure fixes in Christchurch, that will need to come from somewhere.
The Scoop Article linked to above has a few quotes from Finance Minister Bill English on the matter:
Finance Minister Bill English says the government will reshuffle its priorities to make sure Christchurch is rebuilt, and will look at all options, including curbing interest free-student loans and Working for Family tax credits which it previously said wouldn’t be changed.
Prime Minister John Key had already signalled the government will cut its new spending by as much as $300 million as it deal with a high level of foreign indebtedness that’s raised the ire of ratings company Standard & Poor’s.
The government will keep its spending focus on front-line services, and income support for people on low incomes, and continue to spend on “infrastructure and productive investment.”
“The earthquake means (tighter spending) is now absolutely necessary and we need to produce definitive results from that process,” English told a media briefing in Wellington. “We won’t change that recipe significantly, but we are going to have to test the limits of it.”
Whether the extra money should be found through more borrowing, spending cuts or an additional disaster levy (like what Australia’s doing) is a matter for debate that’s probably outside the scope of this blog. However, what is relevant are the potential effects on infrastructure projects – notably transport projects. This is discussed further:
English said spending on major infrastructure projects, such as Auckland’s central business district rail loop, may get pushed out, though the government won’t change its general approach.
“With the infrastructure projects, you’ve got some choice about the timing, such as the CBD loop in Auckland, and a year or two can make, over a longer period of time, a significant enough difference for us,” he said. “We’ve got some fairly big commitments we’d like to maintain, such as the ultra-fast broadband.”
To be honest, that’s about the most positive thing I’ve ever heard Bill English say about the CBD rail tunnel – that he actually foresees it happening in the future, it’s just a question of “when”.
In my opinion, the earthquake does change things quite significantly. There is no doubt that Christchurch will require a lot of expenditure when it comes to fixing up the infrastructure – and that’s fine. What it means is that we need to be really careful about the money spent on transport infrastructure – in short, we need to ensure we get good ‘bang for our buck’. Time for Operation Lifesaver instead of the holiday highway, time to take a good long pause to think about how badly we really do need another harbour crossing, time to think about more cost-effective solutions than Penlink. And so forth.
However, I think we need to be careful about scaling back on infrastructure investment in Auckland too much. Over the next few years it seems very likely that Christchurch’s economic activity will be reduced as a result of the quake (although there should be a fairly good construction sector there for a while to come). In order for the country to pull itself out of the current economic downturn, I think there will be an increased reliance on Auckland to “pick up the slack”. While we may be able to do that without some of the previously proposed infrastructure investment, I think it would be short-sighted to stop or delay too many of Auckland’s projects.
There has been quite a lot of discussion in the last week or so about what the priority of the “Penlink” road is. This connection would provide much quicker access between the Whangaparaoa Peninsula and the Auckland urban area, by cutting off a relatively huge detour vehicles must make at the moment. It would also provide the transport network with greater resiliency as there would be more than one way in and out of the peninsula.
A map showing the project is included below:
When it comes to ‘taking a position’ on transport projects I try to start off in a fairly neutral position and ask some key questions:
- Does the project ‘stack up’ in terms of its benefits outweighing its costs?
- Is it possible to achieve the project’s benefits (or a great big chunk of them) through a lower cost alternative?
- Will the project have significant adverse environmental effects and can they be avoided, remedied or mitigated?
- How does the project fit within our general transport strategy?
- Will the project foster more or less auto-dependency?
To answer the first of these questions, it’s always useful to get hold of the project’s business case – and I have done that for the Penlink project. In October last year, merely days before they got rolled into Auckland Transport, ARTA had completed for them a review of Penlink. That is the document linked to above, which provides a very up to date analysis of where the project is at.
The review sought to answer two main questions:
- Whether the PENLINK business case is robust and therefore justifies funding ahead of other projects in the programme;
- Whether the revised scheme satisfies the original designation requirements and is sufficiently robust to meet its objectives and future needs.
It seems like over the last few years there have been a few amendments to the design of the Penlink route, to provide the same level of functionality at a lower capital cost, and this review was to test whether the project makes economic sense (remember that NZTA seemed to put a big question mark around this matter in their NLTP). These revisions are outlined in more detail below:
So less widening at the Whangaparaoa end and the inclusion of electronic tolling gates.
If we look at our first question outlined earlier in the post, the business case document suggests that the project does ‘stack up’, with a fairly decent cost-benefit ratio:
The review document doesn’t provide much detail on how these numbers have been calculated (business cases rarely do for some reason, we’re just supposed to take the results as gospel), but it would seem as though – at a very basic level – this project wouldn’t be a money loser like the holiday highway.
In terms of our second question, about whether we could achieve the benefits of the project by way of a cheaper alternative, the review comments on this matter:
In short, the widening of Whangaparaoa Road between the Hibiscus Coast Highway and Red Beach road would alleviate many of the congestion problems likely to be suffered along Whangaparaoa Road if Penlink doesn’t proceed. This could be done at a much lower cost than Penlink and therefore has a much higher cost-benefit ratio. However, this would not achieve all the benefits of Penlink, such as a more resilient and robust transport network and the removal of conflict between commuting traffic and local traffic.
The concerns I have about the project probably fit within the last three questions I laid out at the start of this blog post. What would the environmental effects of the project be? Is this project a strategic priority compared with other things going on around the region (for example the project’s cost would be a significant contribution to the CBD rail tunnel or could provide light-rail along Dominion Road)? Does the project contribute to growing auto-dependency by encouraging further development in a fairly far-flung corner of the city and not offering dedicated bus lanes and perhaps not even a dedicated cycleway along its whole length?
I think overall I probably find myself coming to the conclusion that Penlink is a worthwhile project, but the real question is “when?” While it might have been the number one priority for Rodney District Council, when that was a separate council, I wonder how it stacks up against other necessary transport upgrades throughout Auckland. Furthermore, if many of the congestion relief benefits can be achieved by widening Whangaparaoa Road – at a fraction of the cost – then maybe it could be better to embark on that project first.
I noted in a post last week the weird mysteries in Auckland Council’s draft annual plan when it comes to what they’re going to be spending the transport money on. To refresh memories, here’s a table showing the council’s proposed capital expenditure on transport for the 2011/2012 financial year: The big mystery is the $307 million proposed to be spent on the “road network” in the 2011/2012 financial year. I can’t quite fathom why Auckland would need over $300 million of council spending on new roads over the next 12 months. I did wonder whether some of this money was going into projects that were technically local road improvements, but had a major public transport benefit – like the Dominion Road project for example. Perhaps some of AMETI could also contribute to the amount – but that’s a multi-year project that seems to be a while away from actual construction, when the real money starts getting spent.
After some discussion on the topic on the Campaign for Better Transport forums, we were helpfully directed to have a closer look at the 2009-2012 NZTA National Land Transport Programme for Auckland, which outlines all the projects in the Auckland region that NZTA will be funding during this three year period (the development of the next NLTP will be an interesting process over the next year or two). Page 9 of that document starts to potentially give us some of our answers to the question of “where’s the $307 million going?” as it outlines the new local roading projects that NZTA is planning on contributing to over the three year period covered by the programme: If we set aside AMETI for now, because it’s a multi-year project that has its final form very much up for debate, the next two most expensive roading projects are quite interesting: Penlink at $203 million and roading upgrades in Flat Bush at $80 million. Penlink is a project that has been proposed in various forms, and to be funded via various means, over the past few years. From memory, it was fully funded by the regional fuel tax until the current government got rid of that tax (and as a result Auckland’s any measure of transport funding independence). Here’s a map of the project: I can certainly see how the project would have benefits – offering a second access point to the Whangaparaoa Peninsula and cutting a big corner off the way in which people get from the peninsula to the city. But it’s very expensive, and I do wonder how much of a priority its completion really is for the Auckland region as a whole. The table below shows some more details on Penlink, including some serious funding allocations in 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 that haven’t happened – maybe they’re being shifted onto 2011/2012? It’s also worth noting that Penlink has only been given a “Regional Priority” of 90 – which I assume means that the region has 89 other projects of greater priority around. One might assume many of them would be a lot cheaper too.
What’s also interesting about both Penlink and the Flat Bush road upgrades is that the NLTP specifies that they’ll both only be funded if a funding plan develops which shows the current options are affordable and value for money. That would tend to suggest that neither project currently makes economic sense – especially not when compared to other projects.
It would be useful to have the $307 million the council is expected to contribute to new roads broken down into a “project by project” list. Particularly if we got an idea about the cost-effectiveness of the projects that make up this large chunk of money. It’s not that I’m saying we shouldn’t be spending $307 million on local roads in the 2011/2012 year – perhaps it makes good sense for us to do so. But perhaps it doesn’t? Perhaps the new political reality of the Auckland Council – with a stronger focus on public transport – might necessitate shifting some of this money towards other projects (like funding the rail station upgrades talked about a few days ago).
Or perhaps it could contribute to the $60 million that Auckland Council needs to save in order to keep rates increases below 5%. We simply don’t know until we see what the money’s going to be spent on and whether it represents good value for money. Hopefully we’ll see more detail on this soon.
Another major transport project that the Transport Committee’s agenda provides an update on is a link between the Whangaparaoa Peninsula and State Highway 1, via a bridge across the Weiti River – a project commonly known as “Penlink”. This project has had a fairly turbulent history: first proposed as a toll road, then it was to be funded by the Regional Fuel Tax, then when that tax was abolished by the government, funding for PenLink somewhat disappeared again.
So it’s useful to have an update on where the project is at: Here’s an indicative map of the route: I’m not quite sure what I think of this project actually. On the one hand I think it offers a useful alternative to the existing road and really would make a difference for travellers between the Whangaparaoa Peninsula and Auckland. On the other hand I worry that it could increase development pressure on areas around Stillwater, which plays an important role as a greenbelt between the Hibiscus Coast and the rest of Auckland.
I suppose that if the road is tolled, to the extent that its funding doesn’t take money away from projects elsewhere that might be seen as a higher priority, and we ensure that the land-use planning restrictions on urbanisation around Stillwater remain tight, then there’s no real reason to oppose a project like this. I wonder if it would be popular with a $3-4 toll? That would pay for a pretty significant chunk of the project’s construction cost I think.