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

Matakana Link Rd fast-tracked

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

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

Hill St GIS

The Hill St intersection as it is today

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

Matakana Link Rd location

The Matakana Link Rd is shown by the green arrow

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

matakan-link-rd-cost-options

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

matakan-link-rd-possible-cross-sections

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

The Puhoi to Warkworth Business Case

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about how the NZTA had shortlisted three groups of companies to build the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway.

Confirmed route

One of our biggest complaints about the project is that despite repeated attempts over many years – including Official Information Act requests and via the CBT in the board of inquiry process – we’d never seen the business case for the project. Well the afternoon of that post the agency finally published it (4.6 MB) – although a heavily redacted version of it. As you can see by the revision history below this document has been around for a long time and has been frequently updated. The total document is over 160 pages in length.

Puhoi to Warkworth Business Case - Revisions

At a high level the business case confirms that the primary driver for this project is the simple fact that the government designated it a Road of National Significance (RoNS). The distinct impression I’m left with is that it’s a project about a decade too early and as such one that has massive consequences for a lot of other more beneficial projects. This is also backed up by the timeline of events showing that prior to being named a RoNS there was very little work – only a high level strategic study – that had been done on the project. One comment I think is particularly pertinent is below. Compare and contrast that statement with how the government have

The RoNS projects represent a ‘lead infrastructure’ approach. This means the Government is investing in infrastructure now to encourage future economic growth rather than wait until the strain on the network becomes a handbrake on progress.

Compare and contrast that statement with how the government have treated the City Rail Link for which they are requiring the rail network to be bursting at the seams before they’ll even consider funding.

From there it almost seems like the authors are trying to find reasons to justify the project – something that becomes clear when looking at the economic analysis. One of the big reasons for needing the motorway is the fact that in the Auckland Plan the council identified a lot of potential for greenfield growth. What’s not mentioned is one of the reasons the council put growth in Warkworth was because the NZTA/Government said they were going to build the motorway. A classic example of the motorway industrial complex at work

 

Another key reason is the often cited need to improve the Northland economy – even though the road stops well short of Northland. The improvement in the economy is supposedly about the fact that a motorway would allow a lot more freight to move in and out of the region. Yet the business case seems to give conflicting information about just how much more freight will be moved. In the executive summary it says:

 

Freight volumes between the regions are forecast to increase by 70% by 2042 – referencing the Ministry of Transport’s 2014 National Freight Demand Study which I talked about here.

Yet in the body of the report it says

Freight volumes are forecast to double by 2031, with the vast majority of this increase being carried by road vehicles – referencing the 2008 version of the National Freight Demand Study

The problem with both of these figures is from what I can see the 2014 freight study doesn’t support either of these claims. The tables below show the 2012 volumes vs what is forecast for 2042. Also of note is that of volumes leaving Northland, 7% go by rail and 60% by coastal shipping. Excluding the freight that stays within Northland, I’ve calculated the change in volumes at just 43% out to 2042, well short of the claims in the business case. There are also high and low forecasts with the increase range being from 38% to 48%.

2014 Freight study Regional Freight Movements - 2012

2014 Freight study Regional Freight Movements Forecast - 2042

As for why some of the potential increase in freight couldn’t go on rail, the main reason they give is that the rail network doesn’t have much available capacity. It seems to be the NZ way that a road with ‘capacity constraints’ get huge sums of money thrown at it while a parallel rail route with capacity constraints is left to rot and threatened with closure. The NZTA justify this position by effectively saying that even if the rail route was upgraded that it is unlikely to have much impact on road demand.

It seems the most valid of the justifications is that the road has a poor safety record and it suggests the road is the 16th worst in NZ. My issue with this is that by waiting for a full motorway solution to be built we will continue to have crashes in the future. Had the NZTA not been under a political directive that the road must be a motorway then it’s possible safety improvements like we’ve suggested in the past could have already happened by now.

 

One of the most interesting sections is how they say the preferred route performs against the project objectives. This is on page 43 (actually page 51) of the report. Some of the impacts are

  • Compared to not building it, traffic volumes increase from 25,000 to 29,000 vehicles per day in 2026 and from 30,000 to 42,000 vehicles per day in 2051.
  • Even in 2051 the road will achieve Level of Service A meaning the road will basically feel pretty empty almost all of the time.
  • They claim it will produce $9.1 million in crash reduction benefits in its opening year. Unfortunately no mention is made of what happens to the existing road which will still have all its existing safety issues.
  • In 2026 travel time will improve by 17 minutes in the PM peak. This is shown below and amazingly they say that with the new motorway it will take just 10 minutes to get from Grand Drive in Orewa to north of Warkworth. That’s a distance of about 24km so suggests vehicles travelling on average in excess of 140km/h.

Puhoi to Warkworth Business Case - Travel Time Savings

Also in the wider section they’ve included the following table on the risks to the project from a 2010 study. They noted that it’s highly likely that the project’s costs would outweigh its benefits and that traffic volumes would be lower than needed to justify a motorway.

Puhoi to Warkworth Business Case - 2010 Project Risks

 

So what about the economic assessment, they were right that the costs would outweigh the benefits. Assessed over a 40 year period and a 6% discount rate it achieves a BCR of just 0.92 or just scraping over 1 if wider economic benefits were included. Hardly a massive economic saviour. Unfortunately almost all details about the assessment have been blacked out.

Puhoi to Warkworth Business Case - Economic Assessment

There’s no mention of what impact tolling would have on the BCR however they do say this.

An initial toll revenue forecasting exercise has been carried out based on the forecast traffic volumes and light and heavy vehicle mix, and using the conservative price assumption that the same pricing is applied from NGTR. [Blacked out section]. The conservative price assumption was used to produce a lower-end forecast.

This analysis suggested a conservative tolling revenue forecast in the first year of operations (2022), net of collection costs and diversion (but excluding the costs of the tolling gantry equipment), of around $10M, growing to $17M in 2030 and $28M in the last year of the P-Wk PPP concession. The total nominal tolling revenue over the PPP period was forecast at $440m. The potential tolling revenue profile based on this analysis is presented in the figure below:

Puhoi to Warkworth Business Case - Toll Revenue

They suggest this may just cover the operation and maintenance costs of the road.

Lastly the project is going to be built as a PPP. There’s quite a bit of information as to why they think it should be a PPP which you can read though if you’re interested. What caught my eye was Appendix G which covers off where risk sits between the NZTA and the contractor. Below is just the first part of the table.

Puhoi to Warkworth Business Case - PPP Risk allocation

 

Puhoi to Warkworth PPP shortlisted

While Auckland remains waiting on the government to commit to its share of funding for the most transformative transport project since the Harbour Bridge – the City Rail Link – the NZTA have just announced that they’ve shortlisted three groups of companies to build the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway as Public Private Partnership.

Confirmed route

In the past the NZTA have said the project could cost around $760 million however as PPPs are just glorified hire purchase arrangements it means that over the course of the loan it will cost us considerably more than that. As an example the Transmission Gully project in Wellington costs around $1 billion however after the interest accrued during construction is capitalised it pushes up the cost to about $1.3 billion. That cost is then paid off back to the private companies which the NZTA say will likely be $120-$130 million annually.

That cost might be justified if the current road was heavily used however it isn’t and even the NZTA’s own analysis during the consent hearings admitted it was only really busy a few times over summer. Neither is it the economic saviour of Northland like the government and some other politicians claim. For starters it finishes just north of Warkworth and from there north traffic is normally around 10,000 vehicles per day. Also if this new road was really going to make a difference in connecting Northland with the rest of the country then why hasn’t the existing toll road done that, or even the extension that got the motorway to Orewa/Silverdale in the early 1990’s.

Unfortunately we’ve not been allowed to see the business case for the project as in the past when asked the NZTA they’re keeping if secret until after they’ve awarded the tender.

Here’s the press release:

The NZ Transport Agency has today taken another step towards building the new Pūhoi to Warkworth motorway by announcing the consortia shortlisted to progress to the next stage of the project.

Transport Agency Chief Executive Geoff Dangerfield says the building of the motorway is a significant step towards improving the safety, reliability and resilience of State Highway 1 between Northland and the upper North Island freight triangle of Auckland, Waikato and Tauranga.

In September 2014, a Board of Inquiry confirmed approval of the Transport Agency’s application for designation and resource consents for the project. This was followed, in May 2015, by the Cabinet approving an application by the Transport Agency to procure the motorway through a Public Private Partnership (PPP).

The Cabinet approval came after the Transport Agency determined, following an extensive business case analysis, that the project met the Treasury’s criteria to be procured as a PPP.

The consortia shortlisted to receive a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the financing, design, construction, management and maintenance of the Pūhoi to Warkworth project under a PPP are:

  • Northlink – made up of Cintra Developments Australia Pty Ltd, InfraRed Infrastructure III General Partner Ltd, John Laing Investments Ltd, Ferrovial Agroman Ltd, Fulton Hogan Ltd.
  • Northern Express Group – Made up of Accident Compensation Corporation, HRL Morrison & Co Public Infrastructure Partners, Acciona Concesiones S.L., Fletcher Building Ltd, Macquarie Group Holdings New Zealand Ltd, Acciona Infrastructure Australia Pty Ltd, The Fletcher Construction Company Ltd, Higgins Contractors Ltd.
  • Pacific Connect – made up of Pacific Partnerships Pty Ltd, VINCI Concessions S.A.S., ACS Infrastructure Australia Pty Ltd, Aberdeen Infrastructure Investments (No.4) Ltd, Leighton Contractors Pty Ltd, HEB Construction Ltd.

Mr Dangerfield says the announcement of the shortlisted consortia comes after a rigorous evaluation and selection process.

“We are very fortunate to have such high-quality companies and organisations showing an interest in the Pūhoi to Warkworth project. All of these companies and organisations have sound experience in delivering large infrastructure projects.

“I’m confident that any of these consortia can deliver a high-quality motorway which will provide greater resilience, improved road safety and journey time reliability, and a better connection for freight, tourism and motorists.”

Mr Dangerfield says the RFP will be issued to the shortlisted consortia later this month and the Transport Agency expects to announce a Preferred Bidder by mid-2016.

Subject to successful contract negotiations with the Preferred Bidder, the PPP contract for the project is expected to be awarded in October 2016.

He says the Pūhoi to Warkworth project seeks to procure a PPP contract that would deliver a value-for-money motorway which will assist economic growth in Northland.

“A PPP contract will likely see the PPP consortium manage and maintain the motorway for the 25 years that will follow the anticipated six-year period to build it.”

“PPPs are a particularly suitable procurement method for delivering great results for large-scale and complex infrastructure.

“Using a PPP for key infrastructure projects will open the door for private sector innovations that are not always achievable under traditional public sector procurement methods.

“PPPs allow specific outcomes to be established and measured – and for risks to be identified and transferred to the private sector.

“An outcomes-based PPP for the Pūhoi to Warkworth project will also allow great flexibility within the designation to achieve optimised innovative outcomes.”

Mr Dangerfield says that under a PPP, full ownership of the motorway will always remain with the public sector.

“The nature of the contract to be used will provide a strong incentive for the successful PPP consortium to deliver the best possible results for road users.”

Tentatively, construction of the Pūhoi to Warkworth motorway, under a PPP arrangement, could possibly start in late 2016 with the road completed and open by 2022.

Mr Dangerfield says no decision has been made on tolling for the Pūhoi to Warkworth route but should the motorway be tolled, the Transport Agency would retain responsibility for tolling.

“The public would be fully consulted on any tolling proposal which must also obtain Ministerial approval,” he said.

He says the Transport Agency will continue to consider PPPs for other large-scale and complex infrastructure projects which could potentially benefit from the innovation and value-for-money that can be achieved through a PPP approach.

The first state highway in New Zealand to be delivered through a PPP is the Transmission Gully (MacKays to Linden) project in Wellington.

In July 2014, the Transport Agency signed a PPP contract with the Wellington Gateway Partnership (WGP). Work on Transmission Gully began in September last year, and the motorway will be open for traffic by 2020.

2014 – A Year in Review Part 3 – Roads

In the third in my series of posts wrapping up the year I will look at what’s happened with roads this year.

Roads of National Significance

The RoNS have continued as they did last year with one notable exception.

Western Ring Route

The Western Ring Route works are in full flight now as will be evidenced to anyone who drives along SH16 with roadworks in place from east of Western Springs all the way through Northwest of Lincoln Rd from 5 separate projects.

  • St Lukes Interchange
  • Waterview Connection
  • Causeway upgrade
  • Te Atatu Interchange
  • Lincoln Rd Interchange

The TBM working on the Waterview connection has broken through with the first tunnel and in December made a start on the second one. At the same time the most visible part of the project has been the large yellow gantry has been building towering ramps that will connect the tunnels to SH16 in each direction.

Over the next year we should finally see the Lincoln Rd section completed and I imagine significant progress on the other projects – although they are still a few years from completion.

Puhoi to Wellsford

In 2014 the NZTA were issued with consent to build the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway – a road even the NZTA’s analysis says is only really busy during holiday periods. Amazingly we’re still yet to see any real economic analysis for the project which is likely because it’s terrible based on the work we saw before the government named it a priority. The government of course continue to claim it’s all about the economic development of Northland despite the existing toll road – which saved more time than this motorway will – not making any difference.

Confirmed route

Over 2015 we’re likely to see the NZTA working towards a PPP to get this project built however it’s not likely we’ll see any construction start.

Basin Reserve Flyover

Perhaps the biggest surprise of 2014 was the Board of Inquiry declining the NZTA’s application to build a flyover around the edge of the Basin Reserve. In the end the commissioners hearing the case concluded the impact on the local community from having a massive flyover was just too much after it was able to be shown that most of the benefits the NZTA claimed the road would provide were actually attributable to other projects.  The decision was embarrassing for the NZTA and the government seeing as it was using the governments new fast track process which means the decision can only be appealed on points of law – which the NZTA are doing.

Basin Bridge Image 1

I’m not aware if a date has yet been set for the appeal but it is likely to be later next year.

Transmission Gully

Also in Wellington, the first transport PPP was signed in July for the construction and operation of Transmission Gully, another project with a horrific business case. Initial works should have started by now however won’t really ramp up till next year. The PPP will see the NZTA paying $125 million a year for 25 years once the project has been completed. Unlike many PPPs that failed overseas, for the consortium building the road there is little risk as all the demand risk sits with the NZTA, in other words we pay providing the road is open – and if it is damaged from a something like an earthquake we have to pay at least some of the costs of that too.

Other RoNS

The other RoNS projects in the Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Christchurch have continued along. I’m not sure of the progress of all of them however the Tauranga Eastern Link is meant to be completed in 2015.

Auckland Motorway Projects

In 2013 the government announced a series of additional motorway projects for Auckland. The widening of the Northern Motorway between Upper Harbour and Greville Dr has just been completed and in November started consultation on ideas for further changes to that section including a motorway to motorway interchange between SH1 and SH18. Some of the ideas are absolutely massive in scale such as concept 3.

Northern Corridor Improvements Concept 3

Of the other projects, works to grade separate Kirkbride Rd moved ahead and earlier this month the NZTA announced the contract had been signed with construction starting in January

We haven’t heard much about the other accelerated project which will see the southern motorway from Manukau to Papakura widened but I would expect we will do in 2015.

In addition to the accelerated projects the NZTA has now made a start on widening SH1 Northbound between Ellerslie-Panmure Highway and Greenlane – a project that’s been on the cards for a while and for which the Ellerslie Station platform was narrowed a few years ago to accommodate.

Accelerated Regional Roads

In addition to the RoNS, and to shore up their support from some rural communities, this year the government announced a spend up of over $200 million on a number of regional state highway projects that can’t get funding due to it being sucked up by the RoNS. The Funding for these projects is coming from the proceeds of asset sales the government has undertaken. Some of the projects appear to be of low value however not all are.

Govt Accelerated Rural Road Package

AMETI

Auckland Transport started the year with the opening of the new Panmure station and in November they opened Te Horeta Rd which is the new road running alongside the rail line and Panmure station from Mt Wellington Highway to Morrin Rd.

East West Link Connections

In October both AT and the NZTA launched consultation on ideas for the East West Link after calling off a proposal for a motorway through Mangere right at the beginning of the year. They haven’t announced the results yet but I’m fairly certain either option C or D has been picked as the option they are proceeding with.

EW Option - Option D

Mill Rd

In November AT announced they have come up with a route for the Mill Rd corridor and will be working towards securing a designation for it. The most disappointing aspect for me about the project – other than some of the case for it has likely been destroyed by the fast tracking of the SH1 widening – is that even with a brand new corridor, AT are still designing a crap outcome with features like unprotected cycle lanes or shared paths and pedestrian/cycle unfriendly roundabouts.

We’re still driving less

One positive trend I have started to notice is our transport institutions are starting to take notice of is that we’re driving less. In the last few months in particular it’s started to be mentioned in publications such as the Briefing to the Incoming Minister and in research papers.

ResizedImage600304-FutureDemand-Diagram1

What have I missed?

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.

Economics and the Puhoi Warkworth Board of Inquiry

The final decision from the Board of Inquiry confirming the Puhoi to Warkworth toll road was published on 12th September but, what with one thing and another, I’m only now getting round to writing about it. The final report is largely unchanged from the draft version.

Here’s a reminder of the route, which runs from Puhoi to a point 2km north of Warkworth:

Puhoi to Warkworth toll road

Puhoi to Warkworth toll road

The toll road will be just 700m shorter than the existing SH1 and reduce travel time to the north of Warkworth by just three minutes compared to the current journey time.  Most Warkworth residents will find the new toll road won’t be quicker (and in some cases slower) than the existing SH1.

Probably the most perplexing thing about the BOI Report is the complete absence of any consideration of the economic impacts on the community.

Section 8.5 of the report is headed “Economics” and starts off promisingly, but it is only three paragraphs and really just sets the scene for the Board’s consideration of economic impacts:

[200] It is necessary to consider the economic impacts of the Project in the context of the Act. These impacts are particularly relevant to the Part 2 assessment that the Board conducts later in this Report.

[201] The purpose of the Act is to promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources in a manner which enables people and communities to provide for their social, economic and cultural wellbeing (s 5). Under s 7 of the Act it is necessary to have particular regard to certain matters
including the efficient use and development of natural and physical resources.

[202] A number of representations and submissions questioned the adequacy of NZTA’s consideration of alternatives. Also questioned were the wisdom of the use of public monies on the motorway Project and whether or not there had been an adequate cost-benefit analysis. These issues are dealt with in another section of this Report.

Regular readers will recall that the toll road hasn’t been subject to any economic analysis (even the standard Economic Evaluation Manual), however the Board discusses this in section 10.5, para 374:

[374] One of the difficulties with which these submissions posed the Board is that no expert evidence was called to challenge the economic and cost benefit assumptions on which NZTA’s applications were based. Nonetheless, the submissions generally, and the statutory status of “alternatives” in particular, require the Board to deal briefly with these issues.

In comments to the Board, CBT responded by pointing out that “no economic evidence in chief was supplied by the applicant in support of the project, so there was no evidence to challenge.”  CBT sought an amendment to the report, asking for some commentary from the Board as to why it considers an economic analysis of the Project’s impact on the community is not necessary, but none was forthcoming in the final version of the report.

Further on, the Board states in paragraph 379:

…Section 7 “alternatives” in the AEE sets out in detail the process whereby NZTA considered the various options and alternatives open to it.The Board is satisfied that the consideration of alternatives to the proposed route and designations by NZTA was conscientious and comprehensive. Many evaluation criteria were deployed, including a “value for money” criterion.

Again, in comments to the Board, the CBT pointed out the “value for money” criterion on p.144 of the AEE refers to the “ability of the option to be tolled”.  In this context, “value for money” refers to value for money for the applicant, and not to the value to the community.  Value to the community, alongside possible negative economic impacts to the community should be the primary consideration of the Board.

Neither of these and other comments resulted in any changes to the draft report. Instead, in a separate document, the Board notes the following with regard to the CBT and Generation Zero’s comments on the draft report in section 1.6

[18] There may, in respect of any proposal, be positive or adverse economic effects. These positive or negative economic effects may impact on entire communities or on individuals. It is also clear law that the financial viability of a proposal is not an appropriate matter for a consent authority to consider.

[19] It was against that background that the Board’s Draft Decision contained the various passages which the Campaign for Better Transport and Generation Zero seek to be further justified. But it is not for the Board to scrutinise the economic viability of the Project (regardless of whether the proposed highway is a toll highway or not).

[20] There were many representations from territorial authorities in Northland and transport groups that the Project would bring significant regional economic benefits and cost savings.

[21] Consent authorities and Boards established under the Act are required to make planning judgments which inevitably (as is the case with all decision makers) engage the common sense and life-experience of Board members. The effects of a heavy truck and trailer unit moving slowly up a steep hill, with other traffic stretching out behind it, on fuel consumption and journey times is self evident and need not be a matter for direct evidence.

[22] Whether or not improved highways designed for vehicular transport of goods and private motorists, with the resulting consumption of fuel, is desirable (economically, socially, or otherwise), or whether motor vehicle use should be discouraged and public transport enhanced, are indeed “high policy” matters and cannot properly be dictated or influenced by this Board.

[23] The Board accepts that Mr Pitches’ cross-examination of NZTA’s Traffic Report as it related to traffic flows in and around Warkworth5 indeed challenged some of the information provided by NZTA. But it was not, in the circumstances, necessary for the Board to make further factual findings beyond those which it did relating to Warkworth traffic generally and the Hill Street intersection in particular.

[24] As stated, the Board has noted the comments of the Campaign for Better Transport and Generation Zero. It is unnecessary, however, for the Board to do anything further. The economic concerns of both organisations were, to the extent that they can be, carefully considered. Those concerns certainly cannot be described as minor or technical.

And that’s it. So the Board hasn’t considered any evidence about the economic impacts on the community at all, as they set out to do in section 8.5.  Instead they conflate the economic viability of the project (which they don’t have to consider) with the economic impact on the community (which they do). It is also worth pointing out that the representations referred to in para 20 didn’t contain any economic evidence either. The Northland territorial authorities simply asserted that the toll road would be good for Northland’s economy.

So, all in all, a disappointing decision that doesn’t really address economic impacts on the community, other than accepting the assertions of the applicant which aren’t based on any hard economic studies.  I’m not an RMA lawyer, but potentially I see this as setting a precedent for all future infrastructure projects whereby economic benefit cost studies need not be supplied at all.

The decision is also in stark contrast to the Basin Bridge decision, which declined the Basin Reserve flyover. In that decision, the Board carefully discusses economic effects in the context of a cost benefit framework.  In the consideration of alternatives, the Board appointed its own peer reviewer and found that consideration had been inadequate.

NB: Any appeal would need to be lodged by the 3rd October, however the CBT decided at its last Committee meeting that we will not be pursing this option. The cost and effort would be prohibitive and the result of an appeal would simply direct the Board to reconsider their decision.

Holiday Highway approved

Yesterday the Board of Inquiry announced their draft decision for the Puhoi – Warkworth motorway. Disappointingly they approved the Notices of Requirements and other related consents. This of course was in sharp contrast to the decision of another Board of Enquiry to reject the Basin Reserve flyover, which was announced earlier in the week.

Many serious concerns were raised about the proposal during the hearings stage. Cameron Pitches from the Campaign for Better Transport raised a number of concerns about the traffic modelling, alternatives and economic analysis of the projects. These were covered in series of posts back in April and May

Generation Zero (who I submitted for) also raised similar concerns about economics and alternatives.

Unfortunately all these serious concerns were dismissed by the Board of Inquiry. These are excerpts from the draft decision which can be found on the EPA website here.

379. The application documents filed by NZTA are comprehensive. Consultation with interested and affected groups has been extensive, spanning in some cases several years. Section 7 “alternatives” in the AEE sets out in detail the process whereby NZTA considered the various options and alternatives open to it. The Board is satisfied that the consideration of alternatives to the proposed route and designations by NZTA was conscientious and comprehensive. Many evaluation criteria were deployed, including a “value for money” criterion. Seven broad corridor options were evaluated. Inside the various sectors of the proposed motorway short-listed route options were considered and assessed.

385. The ‘do nothing’ option and alternatives proposed by some submitters of upgrading the current SH1 also merits a brief comment. The benefits (assuming appropriate mitigation) of the proposed motorway over the current SH1 route are compelling in terms of road safety, travel times and more efficient fuel consumption. Schedewys Hill features large. The effect of slow heavy vehicles travelling north up this hill on speed, travel time and fuel consumption of other traffic is considerable. The cost of converting the current SH1 alignment on the hill to three or four lanes would be significant, requiring cantilevering over the edge of the hill feature, quite apart from considerations of gradient.

Both of these comments are frustrating.  On the first point, the NZTA provided no rationale for the four lane RoNS standard.  No reason was stated for the requirement that the road should be tollable, thus ruling out an upgrade of the existing alignment.

On the second point, the Board claims the benefits of the toll road are compelling, however NZTA never quantified the benefits of the toll road in the form of a Cost Benefit Analysis that complies with their own economic evaluation manual.  Similarly a Cost Benefit Analysis was not performed on any alternative.

Another part of decision is interesting in that it highlights the need for submitters to bring along experts to ensure their points can be accessed. This of course usually requires substantial sums of money to be raised by these groups, which can be very difficult unless there are wealthy local residents who are locally affected. This was the case with the Kapiti Expressway and Basin Reserve, but not the case with the Puhoi – Warkworth highway. It is also extremely difficult to find an expert willing to go up against the NZTA.

One of the difficulties with which these submissions posed the Board is that no expert evidence was called to challenge the economic and cost- benefit assumptions on which NZTA’s applications were based.

The Board does have the power to appoint their own experts, however they chose not to.  The proposed highway would also have substantial negative environmental effects from earthworks, sedimentation of streams and harbours. These effects were said to be covered by the conditions, most of which were written by NZTA and presented to the board. However some stricter conditions on sedimentation and monitoring were put in place.

Especially contentious during the hearing was the removal of several stands of native bush, including a 0.44ha grove of kauri trees. However the BOI found they were unable to require the designation to be shifted away from the kauri trees!

362. As discussed in Chapter 8.3, the Board considered whether it had the power to shift the designation further east to avoid the kauri stand, in response to submissions received and their own concerns. The Board considered that it did not have the power to modify the designation boundary to an extent sufficient to achieve that outcome.

The news to grant the decision was obviously welcomed by the Government and NZTA, who both are determined to push on with the highway. However the consent of course does not mean that the highway has to go ahead. The claimed $760 million cost (nowhere in the application documents is the cost stated, this is the most recent figure from 2012)  is totally out of proportion to the benefits that result, and the Campaign for Better Transport alternative would ensure that the safety blackspots are fixed. The NZTA release noted that the highway won’t be finished until 2019 at the earliest. That means that no progress would have been made of fixing existing safety issues for over a decade. A focus on safety could have eliminated these blackspots already.

Of course there is sure to be excitement from Northland leaders who have been seduced by the highway. However this highway will cost about twice as much as the NZTA have spent on both existing and new state highways in Northland over the last decade! Northland leaders should really think again about the link between Roads of National Significance and the cuts to regional and rural roading budgets.

Few seem to realise that the new toll road will be just 700m shorter than the existing route, shaving just three minutes from current travel times outside of the holiday period. Reaction from Warkworth locals suggests that they have no idea that they won’t actually benefit from the toll road.  Because the northern junction lies two km north of Hill Street, any Warkworth resident using the toll road will travel about four km further for trips south than if they just use SH1.

Here is a simple proposal highlighting what could be done for the same amount of money.

  • $240 million – Operation Lifesaver including Warkworth bypass and safety upgrades
  • $350 million – One third of the government contribution to the City Rail Link
  • $160 million – Special boost for funding of Northland transport infrastructure. Could cover safety upgrades needed on the Brynderwyns (which has been closed for the last week) and other key routes, as well as major upgrades to the rail network which could carry substantially more freight. This would double the amount of funding spent in Norhtland over the next decade.

Splitting the the funding along these lines would deliver much greater benefits to Aucklanders, Northland and users of the existing road. The funding of the road will be the next step of the project. Given the current stress of the transport budget, and the hundreds of millions in loans required for Auckland projects hard to see how the National Land Transport Fund can cover this. Their have been rumors of a Public-Private Partnership approach for this, but of course that would mean this would be an even bigger drain on the budget, just spread out over several decades instead.

Roading in Northland

There’s been quite a bit of discussion in the last week about roads in Northland following storm damage that saw part of State Highway 1 closed due to large washout. The severity of the slip saw traffic diverted on lengthy detours on roads clearly not designed to handle more than a handful of cars per day. Another series of slips have happened in the last few days, this time closing SH1 over the Brynderwyn Hills.

Understandably it’s led to people in Northland saying that their roads simply aren’t up to the same quality as roads in other regions. Oddly though it also led to Labour’s Kelvin Davis saying he supported the the Puhoi to Wellsford Road of National Significance.

“They want a safe and solid highway that’s going to get our people and goods in and out and that’s not at the whim of Mother Nature.

“This weather event has shown how vulnerable and susceptible the North is and it’s really important that we have a road where emergency services and whatever can get through, but also we’ve got to have a road that’s going to be able to export our produce outside of Northland and one that’s not going to be washed away in the next storm or flood.”

If the statement above was to be a blanket statement and not referring to P2W then I would be in complete agreement however I say it’s odd for him to bring up P2W as doesn’t even leave Auckland and would not have done anything to help with the slips that have occurred. In fact in many ways P2W is actually likely to be working against Northland as it will suck up funding that could be being used for widespread upgrades to address issues that exist in the roading network.

All up P2W is said to cost ~$1.6 billion with the first section to Warkworth estimated at $760 million. If the goal is truly about helping the Northland economy as the government love to claim then we need to be asking what else we could do with the money. What if we spent ~$300m on operation lifesaver to address the key issues with the existing road. We could then spend about $500 million on actual roads in Northland while still leaving up to $800 million which could be used for other projects – like part of the governments share of the City Rail Link.

But how would $500 million compare to what’s currently spent in the region and is it a significant enough amount of money?

Data from the NZTA can help to answer that question. Unfortunately the 2013/14 data isn’t available yet but this is for the 10 years to 30 June 2013.

Transport Spending in Northland 2003/04 to 2012/13 NZTA Local Authorities Total
State Highways – New and Improved $163,617,783 $163,617,783
State Highways – Maintenance, Operations & Renewals $249,305,778 $249,305,778
Local Roads – New and Improved $174,917,159 $56,850,123 $231,767,282
Local Roads – Maintenance, Operations & Renewals $312,908,053 $226,434,207 $539,342,260
Public Transport $9,481,230 $8,440,738 $17,921,968
Walking & cycling $342,494 $90,300 $432,794
Other $24,816,399 $2,661,551 $27,477,950
Total $935,388,896 $294,476,919 $1,229,865,815

And here’s the new and improved road spending over that 10 year periodNorthland New and Improved Roads Spending

So spending $500 million (on top of what would normally be spent) would be more than all the money that was spent on new and improved state highways and local roads for over a decade.

That seems like it could deliver more game changing outcomes for transport in Northland than a motorway to Warkworth/Wellsford ever would. As an example of what might be able to be delivered, the governments Accelerated Regional Roading Package named two projects that would see road realignments happen. One was on State Highway 73 near Arthurs Pass and the other was just south where the large slip occurred the other week with the project known as the Akerama Curves Realignment and Passing Lane. The latter is a 3km section of road that will be upgraded and have an additional passing lane added for a cost of $10-13.5 million. Comparing the costs for each project it suggests that for $500 million we could probably get 100-150km of upgraded state highway which is a substantial amount.

I guess the big problem with this suggestion is that small scale projects like road realignment and passing lanes aren’t the types of projects that get politicians in the national media cutting turning a first sod or cutting a ribbon.

Puhoi Warkworth Hearing Finishes Today

This is the seventh in a series of posts based on the Campaign for Better Transport’s submission to the Puhoi to Warkworth Board of Inquiry

The Board of Inquiry Hearing into the Puhoi Warkworth toll road was meant to finish last week, however NZTA are giving their closing submission today (Thursday 5th June) at Courtroom 2.01, Level 2 Chorus Building, 42 Federal St, from 10am.

The CBT was permitted to submit a written closing submission, which we did so on Wednesday of last week.

On Friday of the previous week, we were given permission to cross examine the NZTA’s traffic expert on the significant issues we have raised here in previous posts. You can read the full transcript yourself, but in general all of the points made in previous posts on the blog were confirmed, including traffic modelling being based on no toll tariff for the toll road.  Of course, in spite of all the inconsistencies with the traffic evidence, the NZTA still conclude that “No expert traffic evidence has been called to dispute the evidence”, and the Board haven’t been of a mind to appoint any experts of their own to advise them, as has been the case in the Basin Reserve Board of Inquiry.

To help with the legal aspects of our submission, the CBT engaged the services of Rob Enright, a former RMA solicitor now acting as a barrister, to write a closing legal submission. Rob had recent success on behalf of the Environmental Defence Society in the Supreme Court.  There is a lot for the Board to consider in the legal submission, but as Rob says:

Perhaps CBT’s strongest point is that the NZTA has failed to undertake a cost-benefit analysis of the relative merits of the proposed designation, despite this being commonplace for NZTA projects.

Remember, the proposed toll road is just 700m shorter than the existing route. At most, just 3 minutes will be shaved off current journey times.  For trips to Warkworth and the Matakana beaches, travel time savings are likely to be zero. It will be interesting to see how the Board and NZTA respond to the legal points Rob has made.

So the following issues remain in contention for the CBT:

1. Whether projected traffic volumes for the Project route and existing SH1 are realistic
2. Whether a supporting economic analysis consistent with the NZTA’s Economic Evaluation Manual should be supplied
3. Whether alternatives have been adequately considered
4. Whether unsafe sections of the existing SH1 require mitigation

We’ve covered all but the last of these issues in previous posts , so the remainder of this post focuses on the safety of the existing SH1, and comes from our closing submission.

The  Traffic Report 2026 Project case forecasts that the existing SH1 will remain three times as dangerous as the toll road, as illustrated here with the 3rd and 4th columns of this bar chart:

forecast injury crashes

 

The overall forecast reduction in accidents (23%) is only achieved if the forecast reduction in traffic on the existing SH1 eventuates.

In Section 2.4 Effect of Traffic Report Assumptions of our closing submission, we identified the potential for an increase in traffic on the 2026 existing SH1 of between 5,089 and 7,027 vehicles a day, primarily due to the effect of tolling.

Since accident rates are assumed to be in proportion to traffic, the forecast reduction in accidents will not occur if more traffic is on the relatively unsafe SH1.

In addition, we believe this could mean that the overall accident rate on the corridor between Puhoi and Wellsford will not improve as a result of the Project, as with current modelling there is only a small improvement in annual injury accidents forecast. More traffic on SH1 would potentially eliminate this slight improvement.

The Traffic Report considers future accident rates on the Project toll road and the existing SH1, and states :

The average annual number of injury crashes in the corridor is forecast to decrease by five (23%) in the year 2026 in comparison to the future traffic volumes on the existing SH1 route.

Modelling crash rates in the entire corridor, including the existing SH1, is the correct approach.

But it is unclear why a 23% improvement is an acceptable figure. It should not become a defacto target. Accident rates could be lower if further improvements to the existing SH1 were undertaken.

The Traffic Report identifies a number of accident black spots. For instance :

The 1.6km section of road between Valerie Close and McKinney Road has had the most serious and fatal crashes. The one fatal pedestrian crash was within this section approximately 160m north of the SH1 and Toovey Road intersection.

To remedy this is estimated to cost $2.9m, with a BCR of 2.1. (Costs and BCRs come from this OIA document.)

Schedewys Hill has a particularly poor horizontal and vertical alignment with two passing lanes on curves that terminate near bends. This geometry has resulted in a large number of minor injury accidents on this relatively short section of SH1.

To remedy this was estimated to cost between $25.8m and $70m in 2002, with a BCR of between 1.3 and 1.4.

Similarly, the Pohuehue Viaduct can be made safer for a cost of just $4.7m (2006), with a high BCR of 3.2.

It seems perverse that the NZTA will entertain spending millions of dollars in order to minimise the removal of the Kauri trees across the project area , and yet will not spend any money to provide for the additional health and safety of people and communities. Environmental mitigation is important, but the safety of people and communities should be even more so.

The fact that the NZTA has chosen a Project alignment outside of the current SH1 alignment should not exonerate the NZTA from making these safety improvements, particularly as positive BCRs have already been calculated.

A draft decision from the Board is due in late July