We have been fairly critical of the NZTA for choosing to close the bus lanes along SH16, slowing buses considerably which not only makes the bus services less attractive but results in increased operational costs due to needing to run more buses to maintain the same level of service. However it wasn’t just the motorway bus lanes that have closed as the Bus/Truck/T2 lane at the Gt North Rd on-ramp had also been closed meaning that buses have had to struggle just to get on the motorway.
Well the NZTA have announced that they will be doing something about it the interchange at least. Here is the press release.
The NZ Transport Agency is opening a new westbound priority lane to improve access for Aucklanders from the Great North Road intersection with the Northwestern Motorway (State Highway 16) this Sunday, 20 October.
The dedicated lane at the intersection can be used only by buses, trucks and T2 vehicles which carry two or more people. The lane will join the new bus, truck and T2 lane on the westbound on-ramp to improve access to the motorway.
The Transport Agency’s State Highway Manager, Tommy Parker, says it is the latest initiative the Transport Agency and its Auckland Transport partner are implementing to help keep people moving as work accelerates to complete the Western Ring Route.
“It is one of a number that have already been introduced or are planned to keep disruption to a minimum, and they will all be monitored to ensure that they are effective. This Sunday’s initiative will benefit people who carpool, or who rely on public transport. It is expected that the priority lane will return bus travel times through this section to what they were before our Western Ring Route construction work began,” Mr Parker says.
The Transport Agency say introduction of the priority lane this Sunday is weather dependent.
“All going well we will have it operational in time. This change is being made amongst some comprehensive construction work and it will take some time for people to get used to the new driving layout. For everyone’s safety, we ask them to drive with care and to be patient.,” says Mr Parker.
Completing the Western Ring Route is one of the Government’s roads of national significance to provide better city and regional transport options. There are five separate projects underway or planned to join the Northwestern and Southwestern Motorways.
The Transport Agency says that the projects will cause disruption and it advises people to use its www.nzta.govt.nz/stayconnected web site to stay informed about changes so that they can better plan their journeys.
My understanding is that the Bus/Truck/T2 lane that going in a case of the agency re-marking one of the lanes on Gt North Rd on the downhill stretch of Gt North Rd to the motorway onramp. That should hopefully allow buses to bypass any congestion caused by cars queuing to get on the motorway. Buses will still have to battle it out with general traffic once on the motorway however the NZTA has also reduced the number of westbound lanes through the Gt North Rd intersection to two so that may help keep the causeway flowing better. It’s good to see the NZTA are starting to work through these issues, perhaps there is hope for them yet.
One question is, does turning one lane into Bus/Truck/T2 lane also count as the first new priority lane in Auckland for over three years? I guess it probably does and it will hopefully be retained once the motorway works have been completed. It does raise the question though, if the NZTA is prepared to use a bit of paint to install a priority lane, why can’t Auckland Transport do the same elsewhere?
The work to widen the North Western motorway is becoming ever more prominent – and soon requiring the closure of the bus lanes. So I thought I would look for some old photos from when it was under construction to help show how much the area has changed in the just over 60 years since it was built.
Back in 1949 Auckland was a very different place. For a start there were no motorways and we had trams rolling around most of the isthmus which was where most of urban development was focused. The land on the Avondale and Te Atatu Peninsulas was used for farming and of course the North Western motorway didn’t exist. One of the key reasons for building the motorway was apparently to provide better access to the airport – which at the time was at Whenuapai. This was also to be the main route north out of Auckland and it was only after the harbour bridge opened that plans to run the main highway north cutting through the central city emerged.
Avondale, Whau Creek, Upper Waitemata Harbour, Auckland. Whites Aviation Ltd : Photographs. Ref: WA-23472-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22344505
By late 1951 construction would be well under-way. In the two images below you can see the causeway extending out into the harbour.
Te Atatu highway, Auckland. Whites Aviation Ltd : Photographs. Ref: WA-29676-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23259836
Te Atatu highway, Auckland. Whites Aviation Ltd : Photographs. Ref: WA-29678-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23259842
Further along the route you can see construction in the early stages between Te Atatu and Lincoln Rd
Te Atatu highway, Auckland. Whites Aviation Ltd : Photographs. Ref: WA-29675-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23259316
By late 1955 you can see the Te Atatu Rd interchange starting to emerge.
Development of the North Western Motorway, Te Atatu, Auckland. Whites Aviation Ltd : Photographs. Ref: WA-39904-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/30119523
On the city side, the motorway ended at Pt Chevalier where it joined Gt North Rd. It wasn’t extended to the city till the 1970′s when the CMJ was built.
Point Chevalier entrance, showing the development of the North Western Motorway, Auckland. Whites Aviation Ltd : Photographs. Ref: WA-39903-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/30113959
Since opening the motorway has been widened and added to numerous times. It started out as a four lane motorway and by the time the current upgrade is finished, some parts will be up to 11 lanes wide when you include the bus lanes.
This was signalled a few months ago but the NZTA has today announced that more of the bus shoulder lanes alongside SH16 will start closing from next week as part of the upgrade works. Here is the NZTA press release.
People can expect significant changes travelling on Auckland’s Northwestern Motorway (State Highway16) from this Monday (16 September) as part of the NZ Transport Agency’s long term development of the Western Ring Route.
Some bus shoulder lanes along SH16 now need to be closed for up to three years so that contractors can complete their work safely as the Transport Agency’s project to widen and raise the causeway gets under way.
- From Monday morning the eastbound bus shoulder lane from the Causeway Bridge to the Great North Road off-ramp will be closed for three years. The 110m closure extends the existing 700m closure on this section of the motorway.
- Also on Monday, the eastbound bus shoulder lane from the Whau River bridge to the Patiki Road off-ramp (300m) will be closed for two years.
- From Wednesday 18 September, a section of the westbound bus shoulder lane along the causeway to the Rosebank Rd off-ramp (400m) will be closed for three years.
- From early October the westbound bus shoulder lane from the Great North Road on-ramp merge to the Causeway Bridge (400m) will be closed for three years.
The Transport Agency’s Highways Manager Tommy Parker acknowledges that these long term closures will have a significant impact on people using the route.
“Even with six lanes of motorway here, the corridor is very narrow and space is at a premium. With our work ramping up we need these shoulder lanes to give our workers the room they need to do their job safely. New bus lanes are expected to open in stages from 2015 as the project progresses”, he says.
To help, the Transport Agency is working with its partner Auckland Transport, and Auckland bus companies, to do everything possible to reduce delays and keep people moving. Mr Parker says that in the next few weeks the Transport Agency will introduce a number of measures to manage the impact of the work and help people stay connected with developments.
“One option for Northwestern regulars is to leave the car at home and take the bus to help reduce the number of vehicles using this tight space over the next few years.
Mr Parker says the Causeway Upgrade Project is one in a series of projects to complete the Western Ring Route connecting the Northwestern and Southwestern motorways giving Auckland a better transport network.
“The Western Ring Route is a huge roading project – the largest in NZ to date. To get it all done before the Waterview Tunnels are opened in early 2017 requires a massive programme of construction.
“Regrettably, this does mean impacts on people using the Northwestern over the next few years. We’re asking for your patience and care when driving to help make this a success so we can get the Causeway Upgrade and its neighbouring projects completed and delivering benefits for all New Zealanders.
The Western Ring Route is one of the Government’s seven roads of national significance. When finished, it will provide a motorway alternative to State Highway 1, reducing reliance on this heavily used corridor and providing Aucklanders with more options for travel. The Western Ring Route is also part of improving roading connections between Northland, Auckland, Waikato and the Bay of Plenty – helping to boost the economy and improve safety.
“There is going to be a lot of disruption as our work accelerates. But at the end of the day when our job is done the Northwestern will be a much improved motorway whether you drive, catch a bus or walk and cycle. In the meantime the Transport Agency thanks you for your support and patience,” Mr Parker says
I can fully understand that the need to reduce the lanes due to construction however it is quite comical for the NZTA to suggest that perhaps people catch a bus to help congestion when at the same they are removing any incentive for doing so as the bus will be stuck in the same congestion as cars. I wouldn’t be surprised if the opposite ends up happening with the people who do use buses along this corridor moving back to driving where possible making the situation worse.
As was suggested when this came up in July, they should be considering turning one lane into a bus and high occupancy vehicle lane to encourage people to use those options.
Other possible suggestions could be to do more to encourage people from the Henderson/Lincoln Rd area to try using the trains (not sure if there is capacity though) and also encourage people from the North-West to try out the Hobsonville and West Harbour ferries. I realise the frequencies and sailing times aren’t ideal for many but AT should be giving it a go. Of course the cycleway will still be open and with summer on the way it could be another great way for people to avoid the traffic.
Yesterday marked the official start of the project to raise and massively widen the SH16 causeway. Here is the press release from the NZTA:
The Prime Minister, John Key, today turned the first spade of soil marking the official start of work on the NZ Transport Agency’s $220m upgrade of the Northwestern Motorway (State Highway 16) causeway in west Auckland.
The upgrade is one of six connected infrastructure projects to join the Northwestern and Southwestern (SH20) motorways as part of the Western Ring Route road of national significance to improve both city and North Island regional transport connections.
At this morning’s ceremony, Mr Key was joined by the Minister of Transport, Gerry Brownlee, Auckland Council and NZTA representatives, elders from Te Kawerau a Maki and Ngati Whatua and the Causeway Alliance responsible for the upgrade.
The 4.8km-long Causeway Upgrade Project will raise and widen the existing six-lane causeway and add extra lanes between Great North Road (Waterview) and Te Atatu interchanges. This will prevent flooding onto the motorway during extreme high tides and weather conditions.
“The Causeway Upgrade Project is one part of our programme of works to complete the Western Ring Route – a motorway alternative to SH1- that will have a significant impact for people driving in Auckland and for those driving through the city,” says the NZTA’s State Highways Manager for Auckland and Northland, Tommy Parker.
The projects that will link the two motorways are:-
- Maioro Street interchange upgrade (SH20) – completed
- Waterview Connection (SH20/16) – construction underway
- Causeway Project Upgrade (SH16) – construction officially underway today
- Lincoln Rd interchange upgrade (SH16) – construction underway
- Te Atatu Rd interchange upgrade – under tender
- St Lukes interchange upgrade (SH16) – seeking industry expressions of interest
“This is a massive amount of work and the challenge for the NZTA is to coordinate all these projects and have them completed by the time we plan to have traffic using the tunnels at Waterview at the end of 2016,” Mr Parker says.
The Causeway Upgrade Project is being constructed by the Causeway Alliance – made up of the NZTA, AECOM, Coffey, Fulton Hogan, Leighton Contractors and Sinclair Knight Merz – and it is scheduled to be completed in late 2016.
“The upgrade will improve travel times for commuters, freight and also bus users. We’re also aiming to keep the motorway open and flowing during peak times as we construct the project over the next three-and-a-half years.
“By raising the causeway 1.5 metres to prevent flooding onto the lanes we’ll create a safer and more reliable route for all road users,” says Mr Parker. “The result will be a more level surface, protected from the nearby marine reserve.”
Other key features include widening the motorway between the Whau River Bridge near Te Atatu and the Great North Road Interchange to four lanes citybound and four/five lanes westbound. Bus shoulder lanes will be extended and facilities improved for walkers and cyclists on the Northwestern shared path alongside the motorway.
The project team will be using special measures to reduce the impact on the Motu Manawa Pollen Island marine reserve beside the causeway. Data gathered from earlier trials last year will be used during construction to monitor the effects on birdlife and the environment.
Taupuni – the project’s temporary base has been set up in Te Atatu next to the pony club overlooking the harbour. Preparatory work has started and the work will stretch from the Whau River Bridge near Te Atatu to Waterview, including improvements to the Rosebank and Patiki interchanges.
Some lane layout changes are already in place on State Highway 16 including the priority lane at the Great North Road westbound on-ramp which has temporarily closed.
For more information about the project visit: www.nzta.govt.nz/sh16causeway
John Key’s twitter account posted this photo of the event.
Now the ceremonial turning of the first sod for a major project attracts politicians like moths to a flame and there were a couple of things that immediately struck me. First of all this project is obviously very much in Auckland yet there appears to be no sign of Len Brown. Perhaps he was busy or more likely I’m guessing that he wasn’t even invited which if it is the case, shows just how little respect the government holds towards the council (note: I asked Lens office but they didn’t reply).
Further you can understand both John Key and Gerry Brownlee being present but list MP Tau Henare who is based in Te Atatu was also quite clearly there. Yet neither of the two MPs whose electorates the project is actually in are there – the project is in the Mt Albert and Te Atatu electorates which are currently held by David Shearer and Phil Twyford. I’m guessing they definitely didn’t get invites to this event.
If you are interested in how the causeway is going to be raised and massively widened then these diagrams should help to explain it. With the inclusion of the bus lanes, will probably be the widest stretch of road in the country.
Last week there was a report and presentation to the Council’s transport committee about the Northwest Busway, asking that a ‘staged approach’ to implementing busway be supported. The minutes confirm that the Committee did support this approach. It seems the main driver of the recent support for this project is the realisation that the northwest is planned to grow significantly over the next 30 years – with this fact being well illustrated in the graph below:
The numbers are pretty massive, but that’s not too surprising when you look at the area in question and the changes proposed for it by the Auckland Plan’s development strategy:
One agency that seems somewhat far from impressed with the relatively recent surge of support for this project is NZTA. I suppose this is to be expected to an extent, as their plans for shoulder lanes only along SH16 are now being called into question – especially for the less advanced section of SH16 for upgrade, between Te Atatu and Westgate. This is what NZTA had to say about the project in the Herald a week or so ago:
Although Labour transport spokesman and Te Atatu MP Phil Twyford is pleased about support for the concept in a staff report, he is disappointed the Government’s Transport Agency will not “future-proof” the motorway project for a dedicated off-road busway like that on the North Shore.
“My view is that we are going to need a full-service busway there within a decade,” he said.
Transport Agency acting northern highways manager Steve Mutton said a 2010 study had indicated passenger demand for a busway was “decades away” and a plan to widen and extend shoulder lanes would suffice for now.
This 2010 study somewhat intrigued us, and helpfully Matt L pointed out that in one of his recent OIA requests to NZTA he’d actually received a copy of this report. The whole thing is over 20MB so a bit big for WordPress to handle but it does show that NZTA actually have asked for quite a bit of analysis around how a busway could fit along SH16 and were guided by previous Councils only including this corridor as either a QTN or a “possible future RTN”. This is the report in question I think:
The study delved into the very issue that is now at the top of everyone’s minds. To what extent will shoulder lanes really provide for the long-term public transport demand along the Northwest Motorway corridor and when might something more than this be necessary?
Keep in mind of course that when this study was done the Auckland Council hadn’t even been formed yet and the growth envisaged for the northwest was a lot less than what emerged out of the Auckland Plan.
Interestingly, NZTA’s consultants for this particular study seem to be a bit unsure themselves about the level of infrastructure which high level policy documents were suggesting should be constructed along SH16 – especially the Lincoln Road to Westgate section classified as a “possible future RTN”:
Some discussion was held between different parties to get an idea around the priority of a busway standard piece of infrastructure – notably only focusing on the Lincoln to Westgate section:
Preliminary ideas around the location of a busway were explored:
It seems the key goal was to ensure that construction of motorway interchanges would not preclude the future provision of a busway – with that busway most likely to be on the southern side of the motorway (at least for the Westgate to Lincoln section). This is good, and hopefully was carried through to the most recent designs of the interchanges (including Te Atatu).
Perhaps the most interesting part of the study are the diagrams at the back, which show a few possible designs of the different interchanges that could accommodate a full busway – at least for the Te Atatu to Westgate section. Let’s start with the Te Atatu interchange:
And the Lincoln Road interchange (though it’s not particularly clear how this would connect to the Te Atatu-Lincoln section of busway):
And Royal Road, where I think the offramp would pass under the busway (or vice-versa obviously):
What I take out of this interesting document is that actually a surprising amount of work has been done on studying a busway along SH16 in the past – at least along the Te Atatu to Westgate section. Because, at the time, this was only either a QTN or a “possible future RTN”, NZTA quite rightly felt that they only needed to plan for shoulder lanes as part of their motorway upgrade project. Yet to their credit, they made sure that interchange upgrades would be designed in a way that allowed a busway through them reasonably easily in the future.
The issue now is that things have changed. The Auckland Plan has confirmed all of SH16 between Waterview and Westgate as forming an important part of Auckland’s rapid transit network. Growth in the northwest is likely to be much greater than previously anticipated. It seems that the upgrade of the Waterview to Te Atatu section of motorway is too far advanced to radically change its design, and even in the longer run a busway mightn’t be required as there are not too many conflicts here and no likely stations.
But for the Te Atatu to Westgate section, I think it would be foolish to build shoulder lanes when they might only be useful for 10 years, due to the immense growth in the northwest. Surely it would be smarter in this section, where the stations actually are, where there’s overlap with the Henderson to Albany corridor, where the design is less advanced, to build the busway from the get-go. After all, quite a bit of design has already occurred which looks at where the busway might go.
I just noticed today that Auckland Transport have come up with a bit of information on a proposed upgrade to the notoriously congested Te Atatu Road, between the motorway interchange and the roundabout with Edmonton Road. My understanding is that at peak times this is one of the most congested parts of the roading network – in some respects having similarities to Onewa Road on the North Shore as it’s the only connection to the motorway for a pretty large chunk of West Auckland. Here’s a map of the area the upgrade covers: The need for the project is pretty obvious as the stretch of road suffers from really bad congestion problems as well as safety issues. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to cross at peak times. Here’s some background information from the AT website:
Te Atatu Road is a regional arterial road which provides a gateway for some 38,000 vehicles per day that access the North-Western Motorway (State Highway 16), Te Atatu, Henderson and greater Waitakere.
This part of the road network has a high incidence of accidents, with some 170 reported crashes occurring in the past five years. Although none of the crashes was fatal there were a high number of accidents involving turning rear-ending, and overtaking collisions. There were unfortunately a number of serious injuries involved.
There is also considerable congestion at peak hours along the project corridor, and travel times can be inconsistent for those using the road.
The NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) is also planning to upgrade the Te Atatu Road Interchange as part of the State Highway 16 Waterview to Te Atatu widening section between approximately 2013 and 2014. The upgrade of the Te Atatu corridor will support the improvements planned at the motorway interchange.
I would say that some upgrade to Te Atatu Road is utterly critical to occur at either the same time, or before, the northwest motorway is widened. It’s fairly typical of NZTA to widen their motorways in a way that will inevitably dump a huge amount of traffic onto particular local roads (think Maioro Road, Tiverton Road & Wolverton Street). In terms of safety, wow 170 accidents in the last five years along a pretty short stretch of road seems really high.
The project description makes some promising noises about public transport benefits too:
The project will:
- Address road safety concerns
- Provide road improvements for all modes of transport
- Enhance public transport infrastructure
- Encourage modes of transport other than private motor vehicle
- Upgrade pedestrian facilities
- Expand Auckland’s cycle lane network and connections with the regional cycle network
- Provide easier vehicle access and turning for connecting roads off Te Atatu Road
Te Atatu Road:
- Cycle lanes in both directions (on or off road)
- 2 to 3 metre wide flush (painted) median
- 2.4 metre wide footpath on the West side and 1.8 metre footpath on the East side
- New traffic signals at the Edmonton Rd/Flanshaw Road intersection
- Upgraded traffic signals at Vera Road/Jaemont Avenue and Covil Avenue intersections
- Street landscape treatment/planting where possible
- Northbound bus advance lane on Te Atatu Road at the approach to the North-Western Motorway (SH16) eastbound ramps.
- Cycle lanes in both directions
- 2.5 metre wide flush (painted) median
- 1.8 metre wide footpath on each side
- Street landscape planting where possible
Sounds reasonably promising. Great that there will be cycle lanes (although would a two-way protected cycle-path on one side of the road be better than suicide lanes next to 35,000 vehicles a day?) Great that there will be a median strip making life easier for pedestrians and making turning movements safer for vehicles. Potentially great that something’s said about bus priority, particularly in the ‘features’ part of the project.
So let’s look at the maps and see where the bus priority is:
For the full size map click here. From what I can see, bus lanes are provided in one place only – on the westbound off-ramp. A transit lane is proposed on the city bound onramp, and that’s it. A cross-section view confirms that in reality there’s not much priority for buses in this project at all: Looking a bit closer at where the northwest cycleway crosses Te Atatu Road also highlights another problem with the proposal – that cyclists will need to cross four sets of lights (which of course will be timed to benefit cars not the cyclists) before they can continue on their journey: Unfortunately, much like many other transport projects in Auckland, it seems as though this is a classic example of “PT-wash“, much like ‘greenwash’ trumpeting the public transport credentials of a project when the actual benefits to PT are negligible or non-existent. And this is really a pity, because I wonder whether an Onewa Road T3 solution here could work quite well.
When thinking about the Western Ring Route the most common thought is about completing the Waterview Connection however there is also another bit part of overall project and that is widening SH16 from St Lukes all the way through to Westgate. The image below shows the planned number of lanes for this entire section.
The works from Te Atatu to St Lukes are included as part of the Waterview Connection but the other parts aren’t and recently the NZTA started construction on the Lincoln Road interchange. I think most people that have used it would probably agree that Lincoln Rd has to be one of the worst interchanges on the Auckland motorway network. The on and off ramps are generally quite tight an curvy with little space to merge, the overbridge is narrow and you would have to be pretty brave to try getting across on foot.
So here is what the NZTA have said about it.
$100 million seems like a hell of a lot of money for one interchange and a small stretch of motorway on each side. So what are we going to get for that $100 million? The most promenant thing is that they are going to widen the bridge from 2 lanes to 7. The bridge is almost exclusively for access to and from the motorway and most of that is to get to the citybound onramp so why on earth does it need 7 lanes and what are they going to do with them all?
Of the other things we will get, more bus shoulders are better than what we have now but it seems like such a wasted opportunity not to have put a proper busway in as it serves a completely different catchment to the western rail line. They will realign the ramps and probably the best thing of the project is the cycleway will be extended a further 2km. So what is the interchange going to look like and what are all those lanes for? The NZTA don’t seem to have anything in the way of maps or diagrams online but I have managed to find the NOR documents that were filed with the old Waitakere City Council. There are quite a few maps as the project actually extends from just east of the Henderson Creek to Huruhuru Rd but here is the one for the interchange itself.
So we can see that there will be three lanes heading north towards the citybound onramp and one of those is a bus /HOV lane which seems reasonable, the transport assessment indicates that there won’t be huge numbers of buses even at peak time so this should be ok. We can also see that the 4 lanes that make up the rest of the bridge are all Southbound which seems completely overkill, even though one is a turning lane. You can also see some quite big changes to 3 of the 4 ramps, removing the tight corners that currently exist.
You can also see they have highlighted all of the footpaths/cycleways in yellow which makes them much easier to see. This is definitely a lot more than there are now however I can see one big issue with this, for someone travelling along the cycleway they will have to cross 4 sets of traffic lights just to be able to carry on their journey. How much more expensive would it have been to put a bridge in while they were doing all of these works, by doing it at the same time it and being for pedestrians/cyclists only it surely wouldn’t cost that much. A bridge also wouldn’t look that out of place as the area is light industrial and the nearest houses are 150-200m away. If a bridge was to much, what about a simple underpass? again if done at the same time it shouldn’t end up costing that much more. To me it just seems like the NZTA put it in the to hard basket which is a real shame as the NW cycleway is probably the best infrastructure of its kind in the city and many of the other onramps or major roads have been bridged over to allow a continuous journey.
Lastly you can also see the existing red dotted line marking the existing motorway boundary. With the realigned ramps, particularly the Eastbound ones, I wonder if the NZTA have considered selling off the excess land after they finish as there seems like there will be quite a bit available which could be redeveloped.
Reading through NZTA’s completely mental motorway plans the other day got me thinking about a phrase that often comes to mind when dealing with NZTA: and that is “Public Transport-wash”, or PT-wash. It’s a phrase that I think I came up with last year – playing off the term “greenwash” – to describe the process by which NZTA (or other agencies) emphasises the minuscule public transport aspects of a largely roading project, or a transport policy document, in order for it to gain wider support.
The Northwest Motorway widening is a classic example of PT-wash, with an enormous amount of the “talk” about the project relating to the shoulder bus lanes (even though they’re hopelessly inadequate, stopping and starting again at all motorway ramps), diverting attention away from the $800 million being spent on pointlessly widening this motorway. While certainly I wouldn’t want to see PT improvements disappear out of motorway projects, I think that NZTA need to be held accountable for the fact that the improvements they provide to public transport users are often pretty negligible (and the PT improvements are also usually a pretty negligible portion of the project’s cost) compared to the amount they “sell” these benefits.
I was reading through a piece put together by Paul Mees yesterday, on the difference between Melbourne and Toronto, and he says quite a bit about this issue being prevalent in Melbourne too (although he doesn’t call it PT-wash). The Melbourne 2030 transport plan was a prime example of trying to sell a plan as being balanced and promoting sustainable transport options, when in actual fact the vast majority of the funds get spent on roading: This is absolutely the case in Auckland too. If you look at public opinion on what Auckland needs to do to improve transport, you see massive support for public transport. Similarly, if you read our transport plans and strategies you would be convinced that we’re spending up large on improving public transport. Just look at the dominant projects detailed in the 2009 ARTA Auckland Transport Plan:
Out of these three projects you have five that are clearly for the benefit of sustainable transport options (electrification, CBD tunnel, New Lynn rail trench, integrated ticketing and walking & cycling improvements). There’s only one project that is for the total benefit of cars: the Western Ring Route. Even for a project like AMETI, you can see the “PT-wash” coming through in the massive emphasis of PT in a project that was – at that time – largely about building more roads.
Looking at the 2009 ARTA Auckland Transport Plan you’d be convinced that the bulk of Auckand’s transport spending over the next 10 years would be on public transport improvements. Yet when you take the time to look at the actual funding proposals it’s quite a different story: I’ve simplified the table down a bit to compare spending on new roads and new public transport infrastructure:
While this plan is somewhat out of date, I don’t necessarily think the numbers have changed too much since 2009. As you can see above, in the last four years of the Auckland Transport Plan (2015-2019) almost $1.4 billion was proposed to be spent on new roads, compared to just under $100 million on new public transport capital projects (this did exclude electrification).
At best, the mismatch between the rhetoric of the Auckland Transport Plan was misleading. At worst, it was downright devious – convincing the general public that it was a balanced, sustainable, multi-modal strategy while behind the scenes continuing the plough the vast majority of money into new roads.
It is worth being aware of “PT-washing”. In particular, beware of projects that make a huge noise about relatively minor public transport benefits – sure, they’re better than nothing but if the PT benefits are being “over-sold” it’s probably a sign that the agency promoting the project is trying to sneak through a project that will actually continue to make us more aut0-dependent. Similarly, beware of transport plans, policies and strategies that go on and on about how balanced, sustainable and public-transport friendly they are – but when you look at the funding, once again the vast majority is proposed for new, or widened, roads. The main reason I supported the 2010-2040 Regional Land Transport Strategy so much was because, for once, the pretty words were actually backed up by a balanced funding proposal: roughly a 50/50 split between spending on roads, and spending on other transport modes.
At least we know that PT-washing isn’t just an Auckland disease. For some reason it afflicts transport planners, policymakers and decision-makers in Melbourne too (and probably also in other cities). While they know, in their heart of hearts, that the public actually wants better public transport before widened roads – for some reason they can’t actually do it. But they recognise this mismatch and therefore try to deceive the public through over-playing minor PT benefits of huge roading projects and over-emphasising the PT aspects of transport plans and strategies, while continuing to spend up large on roads.
It’s time we called them on it.
After years of background work, arguments, designs, redesigns, re-redesigns and so forth, the Waterview Connection project will have its official planning hearing from Monday onwards. The hearing is likely to be quite lengthy, with NZTA putting forward a vast array of witnesses, Auckland Council doing similar, and a relatively large number of submitters also being very interested parties. Despite the lengthy lead-in period, because this project is being ‘fast-tracked’ through the government’s new planning structure – and has been sent to a Board of Inquiry – things have actually moved really quickly in the last few months. I would imagine that quite a few NZTA staff and their consultants would have been doing little else but this project in order to get everything ready. There’s certainly a mountain of paperwork!
The latest mountain of paperwork to arrive is what’s known as NZTA’s “Rebuttal Evidence”. Back in November last year NZTA lodged their “evidence in chief”: which is the primary justification for the project by NZTA and the analysis by their consultants about what the environmental effects of the project are and how they will be avoided, remedied or mitigated. You can read all of NZTA’s evidence here (both evidence in chief and rebuttal evidence). After NZTA had lodged their evidence, submitters who wanted to be involved at the hearing had the opportunity to lodge evidence themselves – and many did so. Out of the submitters’ evidence, three that I found particularly worth reading were what Auckland Council had to say about transport matters, what Auckland University economics professor Tim Hazeldine had to say about the project’s economic justification and what the principal of Waterview Primary School had to say about concerns relating to effects on the school.
NZTA have had the opportunity to respond to matters raised by the submitters, and their rebuttal evidence does just that. Perhaps the most useful rebuttal evidence to look at is that of State Highways Manager Tommy Parker: as he effectively summarises what many of the other expert witnesses have said in their rebuttal evidence – and he presents the “NZTA case” as it now stands. Mr Parker comments on a few interesting matters, including the following:
- Whether the project meets its stated objectives
- Whether a cycleway needs to be constructed along the alignment of the tunnel section
- Whether congestion charging would offset the need for the project
- Whether the project’s economic assessment is robust
- Whether a bus lane should be provided along Great North Road
- Whether the ventilation buildings/stacks (either one or both of them) should be undergrounded
- Effects on the school and kindergarten
The first useful bunch of these issues to discuss is the question of whether the project is justified. This encompasses issues over whether it will meet its objectives, whether congestion charging could alleviate the need for the project and whether the economic assessment of the project is robust. These questions were also raised in the Campaign for Better Transport’s submission on the Waterview Connection (although unfortunately the CBT could not afford to hire traffic engineers and economics experts to argue their case further).
Of course Mr Parker disagrees with submissions saying that the project does not meet its objectives: It’s amusing to see the cyclical nature of much of what’s said here – and how it actually avoids the real questions. The first objective is fairly obvious – yes the project contributes to the region’s transport infrastructure and yes it will link up SH20 with SH16. It will improve the resilience of SH16 by raising the causeway and therefore reducing the flooding. It will also increase the capacity of the road – whether that should equate to improving the capacity of the road should probably be left to others to determine.
The second objective of the project is the one that I’ve always felt hasn’t been well supported at all by the documentation. How does the project help support economic growth and productivity? Where’s the study? Where are the figures? What if the money was put into different projects – would they generate greater productivity gains? While the Waterview Connection has a more robust business case than most of the other RoNS: it just seems like a giant omission to not include much at all about how the project actually achieves all these supposed economic benefits. Maybe I need to read the economics rebuttal evidence in some detail – it might be in there.
The other objective the project has is to support modal choice and mobility in the Auckland region – by improving public transport, walking and cycling. I’ve always thought the project only really makes token gestures when it comes to public transport: and we’d be much better off constructing a Northwest Busway than widening SH16 to nine lanes. Here’s what Mr Parker says to those who criticise the project’s lack of public transport, walking and (particularly) cycling infrastructure:
So it’s clear that NZTA are not going to build a connecting cycleway above the tunnel section of the motorway. Instead they’re going to request Auckland Transport do it and offer some funding assistance. The problem is that NZTA’s pot of money for cycling is incredibly small and this cycleway would have to complete against all the other great cycleway projects not being built – instead of being able to get a little bit of money out of the absolutely giant state highways funding budget. Oh how I wish transport projects of all kinds had equal access to funding!
Moving along a bit, in response to questions raised about the project’s economic justification, Mr Parker reveals that the cost-benefit ratio of the project has decreased dramatically in recent months since a new traffic model was used: Oh wow this raises so many interesting questions. What’s the difference between the ART2 and ART3 models? How on earth can one model generate traffic benefits vastly bigger than the other? Were petrol prices factored into ART3 more than ART2, causing the big difference? If ART3 is a more up-to-date model, then shouldn’t that be peer reviewed and finalised before we go and spent close to $2 billion of public money on this project?
What he also says about how NZTA prioritises projects also makes for interesting reading: Apart from the obvious typo, it is revealing to see the kind of words that NZTA uses to justify its projects – potentially those that don’t actually make economic sense. I can foresee this whole process potentially happening in a few years time for the Puhoi-Wellsford motorway: with NZTA justifying the project because it gives effect to the GPS despite it having an absolutely pathetic cost-benefit ratio.
Amongst all the gloom there is one usefully good piece of news – and that relates to a potential Great North Road bus lane through Waterview, a lane that is desperately needed to reduce the huge delays faced by bus passengers along this stretch of road in the morning peak: It will be useful to follow the extent to which we end up with a bus lane along Great North Road.
Another disappointment though is NZTA’s response to requests for the ventilation buildings to be undergrounded – with Mr Parker’s response setting up an interesting question for the Board of Inquiry: can NZTA get away with doing something that creates pretty massive environmental effects just because it’s expensive to mitigate those effects? Remember that the project cost is around $2 billion: so $20 million is only 1% of the project. I’m not quite sure whether the “it’s too expensive” will ‘cut the mustard’ with the board of inquiry: that will be something interesting to follow in the hearing and in the final decision the board makes.
I’ll have a good read through more of the rebuttal evidence over the next few days and see if there’s other interesting stuff. Having a good read through the economics, transport and visual effects rebuttal evidence might be particularly revealing.
A lot of focus on the ‘Western Ring Route’ in recent times has centred on the Waterview Connection project and to a lesser extent the SH20 Manukau Connection project. Sneaking under the radar have been two further sections of the Western Ring Route that are also supposedly necessary to finally ‘complete’ this motorway project: one from Henderson Creek to Huruhuru Road Bridge and another from the Huruhuru Road Bridge to Westgate.
The Northwest Motorway between Te Atatu and Westgate is currently four lanes wide: two in each direction. The two projects above, which essentially can be linked together to form one single project, will basically widen the motorway to three lanes each way as well as upgrading the Lincoln Road interchange. It’s somewhat difficult to work out the cost of these two projects, but they form part of a general widening of SH16 between Westgate and St Lukes that in total will cost more than $800 million.
A plan of the Henderson Creek to Huruhuru Road bridge section is shown below. It basically is the Lincoln Road interchange and surrounding areas:
Most of the works can be undertaken within the existing designation, which means that unfortunately the public can’t have too much of a say on this proposal. What is interesting to note is that NZTA are only proposing to construct bus shoulder lanes along here, even though the Regional Land Transport Strategy and the Regional Public Transport Plan have designated SH16 between Lincoln Road and Westgate to be part of the “Rapid Transit Network”. NZTA managed to sneak out of providing a Northwest Busway along the SH16 sections of the Waterview Connection project by arguing that it was only part of the “Quality Transit Network” (and that busways were only required along the RTN) – so it’s bizarre that they have now ignored their own previous advice and are not providing a busway west of Lincoln Road.
Here’s what NZTA State Highways Manager for the Auckland Region Tommy Parker had to say about busways, shoulder bus lanes, RTNs and QTNs when it came to the Waterview Connection project:
It seems weird for NZTA to say that they won’t build a busway along the St Lukes to Te Atatu part of SH16 because it’s not classified as an RTN, but then still refuse to build a busway along the Lincoln Road to Westgate section of SH16: even though that is classified as an RTN.
The Huruhuru Road bridge to Westgate section is quite a bit longer than the Henderson Creek to Huruhuru part, but generally looks like what’s shown in the plan below. There are three lanes each way and bus shoulder lanes. Even though this section of SH16 is part of the RTN, the bus shoulder lanes end at the Royal Road on and off ramps, forcing bus traffic to merge back in with general traffic: defeating the whole purpose of the RTN which is to offer a completely grade separated alignment that isn’t affected by congestion.
The RLTS and the RPTP clearly show SH16 being part of the “possible future RTN”, whatever that happens to mean. This is outlined in the map below: And a close up of the area in question:
That is most definitely a red dashed line running along SH16 between Lincoln Road and Westgate – so most definitely this part of SH16 is part of the RTN, rather than the QTN (which is the remainder of SH16 to the east).
I do have to say that it would be a bit weird to build a busway between Westgate and Lincoln Road, and then a lower standard bus shoulders between Lincoln Road and Pt Chevalier. As far as I know, very few buses at all use SH16 between Westgate and Lincoln Road at the moment – particularly when compared to the number of buses that use SH16 between Te Atatu and Pt Chevalier. However, there is a kind of “chicken and egg” situation here: the bus services linking Henderson and Albany take so long that hardly anyone uses them, meaning that only low frequencies can be supported, which as a result means that even fewer people catch the bus as not only does it take forever, you can also find yourself waiting forever.
Building this section of busway would make the trip faster (thereby encouraging more passengers) and also have other benefits – like enabling a pretty decent Westgate to downtown express service via SH16 and Great North Road between Pt Chevalier and the city. The busway could include stations at Westgate, Royal Road and Lincoln Road: with some buses at Lincoln Road branching off to Henderson and others continuing to the city via the bus shoulder lanes along SH16 and then via Great North Road. It would be a useful first step towards and eventual completed Northwest Busway – the busway that Tommy Parker says above has not been compromised by the design of the Waterview Connection project.
But perhaps the most important part of getting the busway built would be the principle: if NZTA are upgrading a route that is classified as an RTN, then they must build a full standard busway. Over time, hopefully more routes will become RTNs (I don’t buy the argument that a Northwest Busway would compete against the Western Railway Line, they serve two distinct parts of West Auckland) and there will be a strong precedent that NZTA cannot simply ignore the RTN classification – they have to build a proper high-standard busway.
You have the opportunity to submit on this proposal – asking NZTA to build a busway here rather than just bus shoulder lanes. Make your submission here and make sure you say that you are submitting on both the Henderson Creek to Huruhuru Road Bridge section of the motorway and the Huruhuru Road Bridge to Westgate section.
I will try to put together a ‘model submission’ in the next few days to make things easier.