2016 – A Year in Review Part 3 – Roads

This is Part 3 of our series wrapping up the year and in this post I’m looking at Roads. You can also see:

Here’s my summary

ATAP

The Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) has been a huge feature of the year and while not strictly road related, I’ll include it in this summary. Importantly, despite I think asking many of the wrong questions and focusing too much on the modelling, it largely came out with the right answers. For example, it highlights

  • We can’t build out of way of congestion
  • A major expansion of the “strategic public transport network” is required
  • Auckland’s motorway network is basically now finished (and also that scope for further widening seems quite limited)
  • The Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing really isn’t needed for a long time
  • We need to move to a comprehensive, better pricing system – which ATAP calls “smarter transport pricing”. It suggests it could take a decade to work though the details before it became a reality.

Below is the proposed strategic road network for the next 30 years. As you can see most of this is already in place now.

Waterview/Western Ring Route

Near the end of 2015 the tunnelling was completed at Waterview over the course of 2016 the work has focused on fitting those tunnels out and completing all of the other aspects of the project, including the ventilation buildings and mitigation projects.

In September we revealed the NZTA had some new traffic modelling predicting the opening of the new connection to create havoc and that they were planning to emergency widen a number of surrounding motorways and local roads in a desperate bid to stop the shiny new centrepiece of their system from getting congested.

The tunnels are due to open in April, which is later than I thought it would be but I also wonder if that’s related to getting the emergency widening completed first.

In May the NZTA officially opened rebuilt Lincoln Rd and Te Atatu Rd interchanges as part of the wider Western Ring Route (WRR) project. Both were over budget and Lincoln Rd was three years later than originally stated (and that was even after moving one leg of the interchange to another project). In October the NZTA also celebrated the completion of the St Lukes interchange, with the Pohutukawa still intact.

In July work started on the next stage of the WRR, to widen the motorway between Lincoln Rd and Westgate. A section of motorway that might need to be rebuilt again in just a few years to add a north-western busway – something the government agreed (through ATAP) that was needed within a decade. We have heard rumours though that the NZTA engineers are changing their designs for the Royal Rd and Huhuhuru Rd bridges to accommodate a busway after they were told they might be responsible for delivering it.

Northern Corridor

Related to the WRR, just a few weeks ago the NZTA applied for consent for the Northern Corridor which will turn the section of SH18 east of Albany Hwy into a full motorway and provide a direct connection to SH1 (northbound). Importantly it also includes the extension of the Northern Busway. That process will be concluded in 2017 and previous indications from the NZTA suggested construction would start in 2018.

East-West Link

The East-West Link loomed larger in 2016 as the project marched on, culminating in the NZTA applying for consent a few weeks ago, at the same time as the Northern Corridor. The NZTA is almost certainly going to face a much bigger fight to get this project over the line though as it also faces significant community opposition, especially to plans to effectively cut off the port area with a motorway and swallow large packets of land for various roads

In June we revealed documents from the NZTA showing the cost had ballooned from $600 million to potentially over $1.8 billion, more expensive than the Waterview Tunnels ($1.4b). Yet from what we can tell the economic assessment is still based on earlier cost estimates. The documents also revealed some of main risks identified for the consenting of the project, with designs at the time putting the roads completely on newly reclaimed land.

Some of those risks have been mitigated a bit over the year as the latest plans place the road mostly back on current land with most of the reclamation planned to be for more extensive mitigation.

Puhoi to Warkworth

While on the topic of big State Highway Projects, the NZTA announced in November they had awarded the contract for the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway. Presumably construction will start in 2017 and is expected to be completed in 2022.

Auckland Transport consents for Mega Projects

Auckland Transport got consent for two of it’s mega road projects, both expected to cost north of $300 million.

Mill Rd

Penlink

They’ve also applied for consent for the Lincoln Rd upgrade which could cost more than $100 million.

Surprisingly little has been heard about AMETI this year. AT were meant to be applying for consent for the Busway between Panmure and Pakuranga but nothing has been made public yet.

 

Speed limits

In November the government announced a new speed limit guide which when in place would allow for some specific roads to have a 110km/h speed limit but also make it easier for local authorities to have lower speed limits in urban areas which would be welcome.

Road Toll

And despite the talk of safety, the road toll continues to defy the trends of the last few decades, increasing again over the last few years, as the graph below shows (to the end of October)

Are there any key changes I’ve missed?

Tomorrow’s wrap up will focus mainly on non transport stuff.

Barnett: Do more of what we’ve done and see if we get a different result

A few days ago the Herald published an op-ed from Michael Barnett, the CEO of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce. I found it an odd article as it was never quite clear about what Barnett’s key point was, seemingly jumping between two of them with liberal amounts of anecdata, logic leaps and outright incorrect data sprinkled in. So I thought I’d take a look at some of these.

After kicking things off with a “some people say their traffic is getting worse” statement, he dived headfirst into his first false fact and what first had me groaning internally at how bad the rest of the article might be.

the 400,000-plus North Shore residents are not getting back a fair share of the rates and taxes they pay towards fixing Auckland’s big transport issues.

Population figures are often able to be easily gerrymandered but even with some creative massaging it’s hard to see how he gets this figure. A look at Statistics NZ latest population estimates suggests that even including the Hibiscus Coast and the eastern half of Rodney all the way up past Wellsford only yields 336k people, well short of the 400k+ claimed.

As for the share of transport spending, we have a system with multiple parties involved. Auckland’s transport challenges are such that some areas need high levels of council spending (e.g. AMETI) while other areas the majority of funding will be from the NZTA due to projects more centred on upgrades to state highways. Even so, Auckland Transport have just completed a $40 million upgrade to the northern end of Albany Highway and looking forward, within the next few years the NZTA will be starting a $500 million-plus upgrade of SH18 and SH1 which also includes the extension of the Northern Busway to Albany.

Northern Corridor - June-16 Design

 

All this is before even considering that if the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing is ever built, it would be the largest single transport project in NZ history by a significant margin. Speaking of harbour crossings, he says:

About 200,000 vehicles cross the Harbour Bridge each day, and the commute for many is up to two hours – well above the city average of 30 minutes.

I’m not sure if Barnett is aware of how averages work but by their very nature mean some results will be higher and others lower than what most people experience. Generally if you live a long way from where you work or study you’ll have a longer commute and if driving, have a greater chance of being a part of congestion.

As for the 200k vehicles across the bridge, I’ll let that one slide. The NZTA’s published information suggests about 168k per day but daily data they once provided us shows that on weekdays that can be around 200k. Of course as users of the bridge will know, despite being one of the busiest stretches of road in the country, it’s not the bridge that’s the bottleneck.

He then finally kicks in with I think may have been his main point, that he wants Penlink built. It is also where he makes the first part of his biggest leap of logic. Traffic he says, is backed up down the peninsula every morning and so Penlink will free up give an easier journey to the motorway freeing up local roads. That is followed by this statement.

The only excuse officials seem to have is that building Penlink would shift the congestion from Silverdale and the Peninsula on to State Highway 1. That’s unacceptable.

Unless he’s claiming that the northern motorway is free flowing at peak times, it’s not going to matter if they use Penlink or go through Silverdale, they’re still going to be sitting in traffic on their trip down the North Shore. There may be some net gain from using Penlink, but not likely a lot.

But it’s the next part of the piece, and the part that’s referenced in the headline, that helps to confuse the article and complete that large leap of logic.

Imagine the uproar then, and implications for the state highway north of the Harbour Bridge, if any serious effort was made to relocate the Ports of Auckland vehicle import trade to NorthPort near Whangarei.

Currently Auckland imports around 21,000 vehicles every month, or 252,000 a year. Eighty percent of the imported vehicles are for customers in South Auckland.

The car-carrying trucks on average take about eight vehicles. The industry advises that over a 24-hour cycle there would be a heavy truck on the road to and from Auckland-Northport every 2-3 minutes.

The pressure on the bridge and state highway between Northland and South Auckland wouldn’t cope. The freight sector is already under notice that trucks will be restricted to centre lanes of the Harbour Bridge from around 2020 due to stress on the clip-on lanes.

Having a state highway clogged with freight trucks would be untenable for Northland tourism, those who live along the State Highway and other traffic through Spaghetti Junction or the Waterview Tunnels.

First let’s just do a little bit of basic maths. There are 252,000 vehicles delivered a year (the ports themselves say 244k but close enough) and 80% of them are going to South Auckland, although I’ll ignore that part for now. That’s 690 vehicles arriving per day and if a car carrying truck can carry an average of 8 vehicles, that’s 86 return trips that are needed. With operations 24 hours a day it equates to 1,440 minutes. Dividing 1,440 minutes by 86 trips tells us there’d be a vehicle carrying truck in each direction every 17 minutes. That’s a lot but nowhere near the truck every 2-3 minutes.

Next, the trucks are heading to South Auckland so if they’re coming from the north they’d be bypassing the city centre. Isn’t that kind of trip exactly the reason we’ve been spending billions on building the Western Ring Route? And if the motorway can’t cope with this traffic, how is dealing with the traffic from Penlink?

Let’s not forget, one of the core reasons the government has pushed their RoNS projects like Puhoi to Wellsford is that they call them ‘lead infrastructure’, because they think building a bigger road will magically create economic growth. In short, the government want more trucks on the road to Northland.

rons-nzta-text

From the NZTA

Other options for moving vehicles, such as by rail, which based on his figures would only require 11 return trips per day, are claimed not to work because first a gold plated, $1.5 billion solution would be needed. I don’t disagree that upgrades are probably needed but whether they’re needed to that extent and before any changes is debatable. I also imagine the amount of land freed up from not needing so much space for parking would probably exceed that figure.

Of course all of that assumes imported cars would go to Northland, although according to Barnett, apparently the same issues apply to Tauranga. Yet the rail line to Tauranga is already the busiest rail freight route in New Zealand. Its capacity was recently doubled to four trains an hour (two each direction) by spending only around $15 million on additional passing loops. The cost of more of more of them to further increase capacity and the completion of the third main in Auckland would cost less than the average motorway interchange and have other benefits, especially in Auckland.

The Chamber’s suggestion to all of this is to build a large multi-storey carpark on the waterfront to store the cars but knowing such a building wouldn’t be possible, suggest putting a ‘green space’ on the roof will somehow hide it.

And with one last jarring lurch the piece ends on this:

Meanwhile, let’s get real. Fixing the acute “here and now” roading issues on the North Shore should be our shared priority. The Penlink Project is “ready to go”. There are no excuses or credible reasons for the new Council not giving the project the green light immediately.

With the project expected to exceed $350 million, I can think of quite a few reasons why it shouldn’t get an immediate green light. For many years, business groups like the Chamber and local politicians have claimed there are private investors lined up and ready to go with funding this project. If the Chamber wants it to happen now, perhaps it’s time they convinced these investors to start opening their wallets and get building.

Until that happens, it’s probably best we focus our limited transport investment in the areas that will have the most overall impact, which was the exact purpose of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project that suggested Penlink wasn’t needed any time soon.

atap-major-transport-projects-by-decade-map

Is Penlink about to be approved?

Next week John Key is expected to announce the government’s support for starting the main works of the City Rail Link in 2018, at least two years ahead of what he said in 2013. He is expected to announce this at a luncheon being held by the Auckland Chamber of Commerce and it’s expected the announcement will cover not just the CRL but likely a package of projects. Many have suggested that they think he’ll also announce details about the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing and the East-West Link, both of which the NZTA and Auckland Transport are expected to progress getting consent for this year. In the NBR’s article on Key’s announcement they included some thoughts from Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Michael Barnett.

Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett said Key’s address would cover the issue of infrastructure funding for the region, similar to the June 2013 speech to the chamber’s membership in which he confirmed joint funding for CRL.

“I’m expecting a significant funding package similar to what Key gave in June 2013 and that he will use this occasion to say ‘ok, we can give more certainty to some projects’. What we have at the moment is so conditional, it’s difficult for plans to be put in place,” Barnett said.

Barnett said the other projects he expected Key to comment on include the East/West Connections project which would improve connections between Onehunga and Mt Wellington which is heavily used by industry, the $380 million Penlink arterial route between Whangaparoa Road and State Highway 1 which is touted as a potential public-private partnership business model, and a second harbour crossing.

It’s the middle of those three projects in the last paragraph – Penlink – that raised my eyebrows. There are a few reasons for this.

Penlink Map - 2015 Presentation

Auckland Transport recently applied for and obtained approval to widen the existing designation to create a 4-lane divided expressway. Perhaps Auckland Transport have been looking longingly at the NZTA and really want a motorway they can call their own. We also know that the NZTA had been pushing for Auckland Transport to progress the project as a PPP tied in with the one they are planning for Puhoi to Warkworth – however they’ve already short-listed contractors for that project.

The council and government are deep in the middle of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) which is meant to be reviewing options and timings for future transport projects in Auckland. Projects already underway or with funding confirmed for the near future are excluded, as are projects such as the City Rail Link but based on the timing as far as I’m aware that doesn’t include Penlink (I also believe AWHC is included within the ATAP scope). If Key was to come out and accelerate these projects or make funding announcements, it would undermine one of the key reasons for undertaking the alignment process in the first place.

Even putting aside ATAP, the councils recent Long Term Plan doesn’t have the project starting till the decade starting in 2025 (page 11). It did include the project in it’s everything including the kitchen sink funding package paid for by tolls or increased fuel costs but that wasn’t passed. Interestingly Auckland Transport’s website lists the project starting construction in 2021. What do they know that the council don’t.

The biggest reason for concern is the project itself and what AT claim it will achieve. They say the key objectives are:

  • Improve travel times and reliability.
  • Improve network performance and resilience.
  • Facilitate economic activity, planned growth and transport mode choice.

So let’s look at Penlink does based on information AT provide.

The project is about enabling more growth in the North however critically there is actually very little growth that is expected to occur on the Peninsula itself, most of the growth is around Silverdale or west of the motorway. A summary of the residential and business growth expected is below.

Penlink Map - Household Growth

There’s also almost no growth in employment on the peninsula

Penlink Map - Employment Growth

Developments in Orewa have access to the motorway at Grand Dr and at Millwater a new set of motorway ramps have been built at Wainui Rd so the main argument seems to be that Penlink is needed to get cars from the Peninsula off the Hibiscus Coast Highway where more business growth is expected. Given how much of a pet project Penlink was to the former Rodney District Council it makes me wonder how much the growth there was part of a deliberate strategy to help justify Penlink in the future.

Looking at the issue of travel time and reliability as well as network performance AT include a number of outputs from their modelling and they present some very odd results. The show the predicted travel times both with and without Penlink to three destinations, to Grand Dr, to Silverdale Township and to Beverly Dr which is where Penlink joins into Whangaparoa Rd. They’ve also broken down the journey into three parts. From Oteha Valley Rd to Redvale where the Penlink Interchange would be, from Redvale to Silverdale interchange and from Silverdale to the final locations.

Penlink Travel Time map locations

Here are the results for all three and they seem completely not believable or based on any kind of plausible reality. The first thing that strikes me about them are the claimed travel times in 2041 both with and without Penlink. At more than an hour just to get from Oteha Valley Rd they seem to be assuming that traffic is going to merrily just pile up and no one will attempt to change their travel time, mode or both. It’s worth noting that the base case for both options also assumes the NZTA will widen SH1 between Oteha Valley Rd and Silverdale to three lanes each way at around 2031.

Penlink Travel Time - Grand Dr

Penlink Travel Time - Silverdale Township

Penlink Travel Time - Beverley Rd

What I also find odd is that within none of the documents AT have published is there any mention of the impact of the traffic volumes on SH1 south of Oteha Valley Rd. If they’re this bad north of there it must require SH1 pumping a ton of traffic north or alternatively a lot joining at Oteha Valley Rd to head north. If traffic is this bad then as some readers like to frequently suggest, perhaps some road pricing to better manage demand is needed – and before we embark on spending $380 million on this motorway.

Speaking of road pricing the documents do talk a lot about Penlink being tolled. They say it would use the same system as used on the Northern Gateway motorway north of Orewa and the cost would match that toll road – at the time $2.20 for light vehicles and $4.40 for heavy vehicles. By 2041 the predicted 16,600 vehicles a day crossing the Weiti Bridge (where the toll gantry will be) will be paying about $13.5 million a year in toll revenue. Interestingly the modelling suggests that without a toll, traffic volumes would be 23k-24k per day across the bridge.

Penlink Toll Revenue Collectoin

Over 30 years they say the estimated toll revenue is $321 million which has a net present value of $112 million. Toll collection costs over that period are $77 million with a NPV of $28 million so at NPV that leaves around $84 million to go towards paying for the project. Of course the project is expected to cost around $380 million so the tolls won’t cover all that much.

Penlink Toll Revenue vs costs

Despite the cost of project roughly doubling over the last few years AT claim the project is positive economically. They actually list two Benefit Cost Ratio’s, a National BCR of 2.5 and a Government BCR of 3.1. Please correct me economists but as I understand it the Government BCR counts all benefits but only accounts for the net financial cost i.e. project costs minus toll revenue while the National BCR accounts for the full cost of the project.

Based on the language in the Business Case it seems almost certain that Penlink will be built as a Public Private Partnership where they finance, build and operate the road while AT pay for it to be open. This is the same as is happening with Transmission Gully in Wellington and will happen with Puhoi to Warkworth.

On the final objective facilitating transport mode choice. It seems to me there’s a very high chance that if built AT would leave buses to go the long way via Silverdale and Whangaparoa Rd which will only serve to further reinforce driving. The business case talking about buses seems boil down to a “buses can use roads too” argument and the only thing excluded from the project scope is:

Whilst facilitating and providing opportunities for improved public transport is part of the Project, the provision of public transport services and prioritised bus lanes on Whangaparaoa Road is not part of the Project.

Lastly it’s worth comparing the approach taken to the discussion back in 2010. 
alternatives-penlink

Back then widening Whangaparoa Rd was seen as a better option as the $20-26 million cost delayed the need for the hugely expensive Penlink. They now say that option isn’t viable as they’ll eventually need Penlink anyway.

So overall it seems like Penlink stacks up but that’s on the back of some very odd figures around travel times. The business case suggests that in the absence of funding constraints the project could have started in July this year – although that would be unlikely given the lead in time needed to procure it through a PPP. So perhaps John Key will kick that process off next week.

AT Board Report Feb-15

Auckland Transport’s board meet tomorrow and I’ve scoured the board reports for any interesting information. Here’s what caught my attention.

Projects

East West Link Connections

A detailed business case for the project is being worked on and will go to the board in April. AT still haven’t officially said which option they’ve chosen from their consultation back in October however this image – from a draft version of the RLTP (page 57) in the December Board meeting and which includes a note saying the map is not to be released to public prior to January 2015 – suggests it’s either option C or D.

East-West Priorities Dec-14

South-Western Multi-Modal Airport Rapid Transit (SMART)

AT say work on the design of the Kirkbride interchange includes future proofing for either light or heavy rail. The RLTP notes that this future proofing is costing AT $30 million which seems extremely high considering the rest of the interchange costs $140 million. One reason it could be so high is I understand the the NZTA team working on the project didn’t originally include rail in their designs despite rail to the airport having been on plans for decades along with other parts of the NZTA working with AT on the route.

Wynyard Quarter – Integrated Road Programme

We should start seeing more roadworks in the Wynyard Quarter in April with AT expecting to issue a contract mid Feb. Works for stage one are Halsey Street South and Gaunt Street between Daldy and Halsey. I’m not quite sure just what changes we’re going to see yet though.

Franklin Road

AT say they will feed back analysis of the submissions in March and I’ve heard rumours the current thinking greatly improved on what we saw earlier. An email update a few weeks ago suggested they were looking at whether parking between the trees could be retained in some situations.

Westgate

AT say the new mall being built as part of the new town centre is due to open in October this year and that new bus services to the area (new network) are due in October 2016. Those bus services will also need an interchange constructed and AT are trying to work out just how they will do that. They say resource consent will be needed and almost certainly will be publicly notified for which any submission will delay the project. A temporary interchange is being planned

Penlink

Work is still going on to update and amend the designation for Penlink and consent will be notified in early 2015 however a recent press release states that due to funding constraints, construction of Penlink is not anticipated until 2025. There are two open days about it, one this afternoon.

  • Thursday 19 Feb, 2pm-7pm, The Peninsula Retirement Village (441 Whangaparapoa Road, Whangaparaoa)
  • Saturday 21 Feb, 10am-2pm, Stillwater Boat Club (70 Duck Creek Road, Stillwater)

Otahuhu Interchange

The demolition of the old foot bridge and piling for the new station happened over the Christmas shutdown and AT say the construction for the interchange itself will begin in June. It’s due to be completed in February 2016 at which time the New Network for South Auckland can finally be rolled out.

Manukau Interchange

Consent is currently being sought for the enabling works for the interchange and AT are hoping to have the project completed in the first quarter of next year.

EMUs

At the time of writing the report AT say there were 42 of the 57 trains in the country and 32 of them had provisional acceptance. They also say that services in December were affected by issues with the signalling system and there had been some door closing issues. The door issues were upgraded over the break but the signalling ones are still being worked on.

Newmarket Crossing (Sarawia St level Crossing)

AT have created three concept designs and have taken feedback from residents and Manu Whenua into them. AT are wanting to lodge resource consent for the project in February and in the past have said that this project is required before they can deliver 10 minute frequencies on the Western Line. Given the stage it’s at and that some of the residents of Cowie St are bound to go to the environment court over it, it could be years before we see any peak frequency improvements out west.

Puhinui

AT are planning to upgrade Puhinui station with most of the works completed in March and April and with a new canopy installed in June

Swanson Station Park and Ride

The extended park & ride is expected to be completed by the end of April.

Onewa Rd

Also to be completed by the end of April are the works to deliver the westbound transit lane and shared path.

Other stuff

Parking

One piece of good news is that parking officers are experiencing the lowest recorded volumes of aggression towards them and there have been no serious harm injuries since October

AT also say the removal of earlybird parking has meant lease revenue is ahead of forecast and in addition casual occupancy and revenue in the downtown carpark is increasing. The latter part is particularly good as it means the carpark is being used by more people throughout the day which was exactly one of the aims of removing the earlybird prices.

Taxi’s on Grafton Bridge

A 12 month trial allowing taxi’s on to Grafton Bridge will start in late March and AT will be monitoring bus travel times, cyclist safety and amenity along with how many infringements get issued. If any significant issues arise during the trial it can be stopped. AT say the Taxi Federation and Cycle Action Auckland have been involved in the development of the proposal.

Personally I don’t think AT should have even entertained the idea of allowing Taxi’s on the bridge and should have actually gone the other way and making it bus only 24/7.

Double Decker Bus Mitigation Project

To get double deckers on the streets AT need to complete a whole lot of mitigation works to ensure the buses don’t damage things or get damaged themselves. This includes moving power poles, veranda modifications, kerb build-outs and tree pruning. They plan to have this work done by June to enable double deckers from Howick and Eastern to start running. Mt Eden is the next route planned for mitigation works which is meant to happen in the next financial year however AT are awaiting the outcome of the LRT proposal before making any changes.

On the Howick and Eastern Double Deckers, a press release yesterday announced the company was spending $12 million on buying 15 double deckers – most of which would be built in Tauranga. They will operate between Botany and the City Centre. The most interesting aspect of these buses is that they will also include free WiFi, power points and USB ports. Those are great additions and hopefully something we start to see become standard on all PT vehicles and I certainly think they should be on our new trains. The buses are from Alexander Dennis – the same maker as the small NZ Bus buses.

Where to now for transport in Auckland?

In some respects Saturday night’s election result changes nothing from a transport perspective. It seems as though the government that will be formed over the next three years will be remarkably similar to that we’ve had for the past three years and there’s certainly no indication of a change in direction for transport policy from what we’ve had over the past six years. However, this has some important implications:

  • It’s almost certain that Puhoi-Warkworth will be built, with construction likely to start before the 2017 election and the project built/funded as a PPP.
  • There will continue to be a lot of discussion around the timing of City Rail Link and whether the Council or Government budges from their preferred start date.
  • Progress on any alternative funding mechanisms to close the so called “funding gap” for transport seems pretty unlikely. This is despite the fact some government departments have also being doing their own investigations on alternative funding sources due to lower than expected revenues into the National Land Transport Fund.
  • There is likely to be more money for cycling projects thanks to the $100 million for urban cycleways around the country over four years

Cam discussed Puhoi-Warkworth in his post yesterday, so in this post I’m going to focus on the CRL and alternative funding, particularly what the election results means for these two key (although not necessarily connected) issues.

Starting with the CRL, a start on the project as a whole anytime in the next three years now seems fairly unlikely. This means hopes of completing the project by 2021 are probably slim unless the Council can talk government into a very big change of position. The Council is keen to progress talks with government about the timing and funding of CRL, but it seems likely that these talks will focus on funding of the section underneath the downtown shopping centre:

Although the council wants to start CRL by 2016, the previous Government indicated no funding before 2020 unless certain rail patronage and employment targets were met. But [Penny] Hulse remains confident of middle ground.

“We’ve been working well with the Government over the last three years and we don’t expect that to change. The start time and funding are things we need to talk to the Government about,” she said.

This section is particularly important as it is key to delivering not just the redevelopment of the downtown shopping centre site but also a whole raft of projects that are part of the Downtown Framework including making things better for buses on Customs St.

I’m still confident the rail patronage targets set by the government – that patronage will track towards hitting 20 million journeys per year by 2020 – will be met or even exceeded, plus of course there’s still another election in 2017 between now and the government’s current preferred start date. But it seems prudent, for now at least, for the Council to just get on with building the section under the downtown shopping mall – like I said in this previous post. Once CRL is started, it will be much easier to “complete” and the section underneath the downtown shopping centre will make constructing the rest of the project much easier – especially if they can get the bit under Customs Street built as part of this first stage:

So I don’t really think Saturday’s election results change things much for the CRL. I would imagine that the main focus to negotiations over CRL between government and the Council is likely to be around whether the government stumps up with half the cost of the first stage of the project or whether they force Council to fund the whole thing – like has happened so far. I think it would be quite a good look for the government to provide CRL with some financial support for the first stage, to show that it’s serious about believing in the CRL project and to show that it values redevelopment of the city centre.

In relation to alternative transport funding, this might be a bigger hurdle to resolve as the government has been pretty clear on its position previously – no congestion charging and no additional tolls on existing motorways. To some extent this may not be an issue, as I highlighted a few weeks back the “baseline transport programme” (what can be afforded without additional funding with 2.5-3.5% rates increases over the next decade) doesn’t actually look too bad, at least in terms of what big projects are in (CRL, AMETI, new bus network stuff etc.) and out (Penlink). The devil may come in the details of what projects can be afforded when and how much additional walking and cycling funding is available, but at least for now it doesn’t seem like the end of the world if there’s no progress on alternative funding schemes in the next three years. Unless you’re a Penlink supporter, of course!

In saying that it also seems government agencies are becoming increasingly interesting in the issue of alternative funding as a way to provide certainty to the revenues flowing into the National Land Transport Fund (the account that collects all of the transport taxes). It may be a few years away yet but I get the feeling the noise surrounding alternative funding sources is just going to get louder and louder so we’re likely on a course to needing a nationwide discussion about them. When this happens the work put in by the council on the matter is likely to come in quite handy.

The last main issue relates to cycling improvements. From a transport point of view this was one of the highlights of election campaign as every major party (and most of the minor ones) all agreed on the need to spend considerably more on walking and cycling than currently happens. For their part National promised to spend $100 million over four years on urban cycleways. Based on Auckland’s share of the urban population that could see it receiving over $40 million over the four years which would represent an approximate doubling in spending. In saying that a lot will hinge on just how much the council agree to in the Long Term Plan. With the government now seemingly on board with cycling there is a risk the council will try to use the enlarged cycling pot as a chance to cut back on some of the council’s spend. Instead the opposite needs to happen and they need to at least double funding to go on top of whatever the government plan to provide.

So overall, aside from the fact we’re near certain to waste three-quarters of the billion dollars plus whatever the PPP costs on Puhoi to Warkworth, I don’t think the election results is too much of an issue for advancing key transport issues in the next few years. It does mean the slower delivery of CRL, but that’s not unexpected and may help ensure key bus infrastructure for the new network can be completed in time. There’s a certain irony that the government’s dislike for alternative transport funding options probably means a delay to Penlink, a project I understand the local National MP has pushed strongly for, but that project’s a waste of money anyway.

Lastly it was disappointing that despite many requests the first time we got to meet transport minister Gerry Brownlee was at the election debate night. I will also be keeping an eye out to see if we get a new transport minister and whoever it is, I hope they become open to meeting with us this term.

Is Penlink worth it?

As the Council puts together its 10 year budget over the coming months there will be some really big questions that need to be addressed in the area of transport. When to start City Rail Link? How fast to build AMETI? How much to spend on cycling? Which “legacy” arterial roading projects to delay or cancel? Over the past couple of days Luke has outlined how challenging this task will be if the Council wants a lower level of rates increase than had previously been anticipated.

Our long-running criticism of the current transport plans is that they haven’t made any tough calls – the push for improving public transport is simply on top of all the grandiose roading projects earlier “legacy” Councils had come up with over the years. In an ideal world where money wasn’t an issue, then maybe this would be an OK approach – but that’s simply not the reality and the time is coming in the near future when Council and Auckland Transport will need to face up to this issue and properly confront it.

One project that came up a lot in yesterday’s discussion and certainly deserves significant scrutiny through the upcoming budgeting process is Penlink. The map below shows the proposed route of this connection – which was pushed hard by the previous Rodney District Council:

The Auckland Transport website describes the project’s benefits as being:

  • 7km of new road, including a new bridge across Weiti River
  • Four lane toll road (two in each direction)
  • Provisions for pedestrians and cyclists
  • 100km/hr speed limit
  • Five minute saving for commuters using old route
  • 12-18 minutes savings for commuters using toll road
  • 5.8km shorter route

Essentially it’s a short-cut between the Whangaparaoa Peninsula and the rest of Auckland – with the main benefits being faster trips for those who use the new road as well as less congestion through Silverdale for those who continue to use the existing road. I’ve highlighted my concerns with the project in the past – particularly because the Whangaparaoa Peninsula that it largely benefits is not expected to grow much in the future – so the transport system may not get much worse than it is now, especially if a number of other smaller-scale improvements proceed.

While there are clearly benefits from Penlink, especially for freeing up the Silverdale area and hopefully down-scaling the horrible semi-motorway that cuts right through the heart of Silverdale. Penlink is potentially a hugely expensive project – the ITP has its cost at just over $200 million but for a 7km four lane motorway with a long bridge that seems extremely conservative. As a comparison recently completed new motorway projects have cost between $25m and $50m per kilometre not including any bridges, meaning the actual cost of Penlink could be as high as $350 million or more. Because of this, we need to look at it very strategically from a regional perspective and ask it a few key questions:

  • Is the project in an area that’s a regional priority for major growth?
  • Is the project of critical significance in enabling a shift to better public transport?
  • Will the project benefit a significant proportion of Aucklanders?
  • Does the project clearly provide value for money and are there no cheaper alternatives?

In terms of the first question, the answer is a bit mixed. There’s not much growth on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula enabled in the Unitary Plan, but there is quite a lot of growth happening at Millwater and Silverdale at the moment. Part of the Millwater area was denoted a Special Housing Area, but is still only zoned Single Housing so will only allow pretty low density development. None of the “strategic” SHAs are located anywhere near Silverdale and certainly when compared to growth pressures in the South and the Northwest, Penlink doesn’t seem to be as critical for enabling growth as other key projects (like the Northwest Busway or Pukekohe electrification). Reinforcing this position is the ability to undertake a variety of alternative projects to “unlock” Silverdale.

On the second question, while it’s likely some buses will use Penlink, the major focus for the public transport service in this part of Auckland is feeding into Silverdale and eventually connecting to an extended Northern Busway right up the motorway to where the current Silverdale park and ride is located. Penlink is unlikely to significantly undermine public transport providing some buses use it, but generally is fairly unrelated to Auckland’s key effort of making a step change to public transport quality and use.

On the third question, obviously not every project can and should benefit all parts of the region, but for a major project that requires a very high level of investment it does seem that Penlink is particularly limited in the area it directly benefits – being mainly the eastern half of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula which all up is about 24,000 people which is less than 0.2% of the regional population

Penlink Population Location

There are indirect benefits for other areas – like Silverdale, assuming a significant proportion of traffic is willing to pay a toll and divert away – but we’re still talking a pretty small part of the region well away from where the vast majority of Aucklanders live and work.

Finally, in terms of whether Penlink is value for money this obviously connects to the earlier three questions (in terms of defining ‘value’) and what the project actually ends up costing. As noted above, we’re a bit sceptical whether such a long four lane semi-motorway with a huge bridge can be built for $200m – a much higher total would certainly raise additional questions about its value for money. Also as mentioned earlier, a key point in value for money is making sure a cheaper alternative couldn’t adequately do the job, and there remain a number of very real questions about whether that’s true for Penlink.

Perhaps a bit of a wildcard for Penlink is its potential to be tolled and therefore “pay for itself” to a reasonable extent. Some careful analysis of projected use and different levels of tolling could mean tolls contributing to a fairly large part of construction cost – perhaps one of the reasons why the project has been considered as a PPP possibility. Of course tolling doesn’t come without its own challenges and the we’ve seen many toll roads overseas as well as Route K in Tauranga continually fail to perform to the levels originally expected.

Overall, I remain unconvinced that Penlink is a major regional priority to fund in the immediate future – it just doesn’t contribute strongly enough to the main objectives for Auckland at the moment. I’m also very unconvinced of the need for the project to be four lanes – I thought it was just a two-lane road due to the toll suppressing demand to some extent. The potential for the road to be tolled and pay its way is a relevant consideration though, therefore as a two lane road perhaps this is something worth starting on towards the end of the next budgeting period.

Penlink alternatives

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.

Silverdale North UP Map

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.

Wainui Ramps

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.

Wainui Ramps

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.

Silverdale North - Curley Rd extension 1

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.

alternatives-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.

Whangaparaoa New Network

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.

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.

Penlink back on the agenda

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

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.

Penlink - UP Map

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.

Penlink - Traffic Projections

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 realities of Puhoi to Wellsford

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

Confirmed route

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.

P2W Monthly Traffic Volumes

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.

PPP Payment profile

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.

NZ Herald on funding squeeze

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.