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.
There has been discussion for many years about whether a local road bridge connection should be made between Te Atatu South and the Rosebank industrial area. The latest Transport Committee agenda raises the project as a potential option – to add to the list of major transport projects considered at last month’s meeting of the Committee.
Here’s what’s said: There’s also a useful map outlining a few options for the bridge’s route:While I’m generally not one to jump on support of a transport project that is unlikely to have too many public transport benefits, I actually think there’s a reasonable amount of logic to this project. It would divert traffic away from a couple of really nasty bottlenecks: the southern end of Rosebank Road and the stretch of Te Atatu Road between Edmonton Road and the motorway. In fact, it could have been a useful alternative to the massively expensive widening of State Highway 16 currently being progressed by NZTA.
Now that the upgrade to SH16 is progressing, I think it’s unlikely this Whau Crossing project will go ahead any time soon. And I think that’s a shame – I’m a fan of transport projects that give people more options, rather than widening existing roads: where the congestion relief gains are usually quickly lost to induced demand.
A week or so ago the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notified NZTA’s application for consent to build the Waterview Connection and to widen State Highway 16. Submissions are now open until October 15th. It’s possible to download a submission form here, and then email it to both email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. There are effectively two parts to the project: the Waterview Connection, which links the Mt Roskill end of State Highway 20 with the existing Northwest Motorway (SH16) and also a significant widening of State Highway 16. All up the two projects will cost around $2 billion – by far New Zealand’s largest ever transport project. Here’s an aerial photo of where significant parts of the project will be located: The documentation that has been prepared by NZTA is pretty massive, and really needs some breaking down in order to make sense out of it. We have:
- A general overview of the proposal – including all the application forms. This is a pretty boring section that isn’t really worth reading.
- The various assessments of effects. A lot of this is either quite technical, or a summary of the various specialist reports that I will mention later.
- The plans, maps and diagrams. There is a huge amount of information here, though some of the more interesting plans include operational scheme plans (keep an eye out for the green bus shoulder lanes and how they abruptly end at every onramp and offramp), a plan of the rail alignment and how it is being protected and some of the urban design and landscaping plans (though they are pretty big files!)
- The specialist reports. Here is where the real grunt work behind the application lies, with a large number of specialist reports being prepared. Perhaps of most interest to readers of this blog will be the transport assessment and the traffic modelling information.
I have blogged extensively on both the Waterview Connection and the SH16 widening in the past – and I’m pretty familiar with the project due to the various iterations it went through last year. One particularly interesting aspect of the documentation is the transport assessment, and how it addresses what is my main remaining issue with the project – and that is whether widening State Highway 16 is a complete waste of money because it will just “induce” traffic and quickly become congested again (just like what has happened with every other motorway widening project in the history of Auckland).
While the transport assessment is over 180 pages long and requires some serious effort to read through (something I certainly haven’t done in any detail). It has a very useful summary of the findings – in particular on the matter relating to whether widening SH16 will actually have long term benefits or not. To start with, it is worth noting the transport benefits the project will almost certainly have – particularly on the local road network that through-traffic will now be able to avoid: In order to realise many of the benefits to Great North Road, Carrington Road and Mt Albert Road it will be necessary to reallocate some of the road space to more “people friendly” uses – such as bus lanes, footpaths, cycleways and so forth. It will be interesting to see whether this happens or not, as both NZTA and Auckland City Council seem to have been pointing fingers at each other saying “your problem” over these matters for the last couple of years.
Getting on to the traffic effects on the actual motorways themselves, it’s a little bit wordy – but well worth having a dig through: In short, we see the motorway widening inducing an additional 25-35% of peak hour traffic by 2026 than was the case in 2006 (I do wonder what the “do nothing” for 2026 is – might have to have a dig through the documentation). That’s a quite significant amount of extra traffic that will need to get to and from the motorway along arterial roads that are generally around capacity at the moment. Looking at the peak hour eastbound direction (AM peak), it seems that there will be a slight improvement in travel times compared to the 2006 baseline. But for the peak hour westbound direction (PM peak), traffic in 2026 will actually be more congested than it is now – even though much of the westbound motorway will be widened from three lanes to five lanes. It seems that NZTA have finally acknowledged that widening motorways does not fix congestion. (Actually perhaps not, they’re still proceeding with the project).
The cost of the SH16 upgrade is not insignificant. When the whole Westgate to Western Springs widening is added up, an NZ Herald article from last year suggested that the cost would be $860 million. That seems an awfully huge amount of money to spend on a project that seems like it won’t actually make things much better at all.
The public transport benefits of the project are talked up a bit in the section below – and sure there will be some benefit from the longer bus shoulder lanes. But it’s pretty marginal compared with the project as a whole – perhaps a million or two out of the $2 billion budget. I look forward to seeing how the public submission process, and the eventual Board of Inquiry hearing proceeds. It feels like it has been so long in the “preliminary” stages of this project that it’s quite hard to believe we’re actually now right in the middle of the actual submissions process.
In general, I find myself probably supporting the SH20 section on balance – as it should take significant pressure of SH1, should take traffic away from local streets (as long as we reallocate road space to ensure the streets don’t fill themselves up again) and will “complete the motorway network”. However, with the SH16 section, while I can understand one additional westbound lane (to avoid a merging nightmare between SH20 and SH16), the massive widening of the motorway seems completely pointless – as NZTA’s own traffic analysis shows that it will make little or no difference to congestion in the longer-run. Surely a big chunk of that $860 million could be spent more usefully elsewhere?
Somewhat as the result of my pleading, the Regional Transport Committee back in April resolved to take a further look at the best way to provide public transport along the Northwestern Motorway in the medium and long-term future. As I have outlined before, SH16 is to be upgraded by NZTA over the next few years – at a cost of over $800 million. This upgrade will involve a huge widening of the motorway: from 4 to 6 lanes west of Te Atatu, from six to eight lanes on most of the stretch between Te Atatu and St Lukes, except for a stretch along the causeway where it will be nine lanes wide.
Yup, nine lanes of motorway. Five lanes westbound and four eastbound. This is shown in the picture below:
As I have also noted before, history (and the well known to all but transport engineers theory of induced demand) tells us that within a few years the widened motorway will be just as full of cars as it is now. The northwest motorway has been widened on many occasions in the past, and the result has been a year or so of congestion relief, before various factor lead to more cars using the motorway and the same congested outcome. To me, that seems pretty dumb: $800 million pretty much completely wasted (even a herald editorial on Saturday recognised that most Auckland motorway projects result in the road being just as congested as it was at the end of the project as it was at the start).
So while the idea of putting a busway down the northern side of State Highway 16 would definitely not be my first transport priority in Auckland, it seemed to me not entirely unreasonable to hope that we might actually end up with some lasting benefit out of this $800 million – and a busway would provide that. The extra lanes on the motorway would, in the longer term, make very little difference to the level of congestion on that road, but actually building a busway would create a lasting public transport benefit for west Auckland, serving an area that is a long long way from the western railway line.
It would appear as though the Regional Transport Committee thought long and hard about this issue back in April, and resolved to seek some further information from officers. This is what their resolutions were:
This month’s regional transport committee meeting agenda includes an item which reports back on these matters – which itself is largely based on some additional work that ARTA have undertaken on this issue (which is included as an attachment). The item is from pages 23-30 in this file.
The agenda item itself reports back the main matters outlined in the ARTA letter, which details what public transport upgrades are being proposed for SH16. This is outlined below:
There are some promising signs here. For a start, it is good to see that the bus priority lanes between Westgate and Waterview sound like they will be half-decent: with a 3.5 m width, and also somewhat continuous. It is also excellent to hear that interchanges will be future-proofed for bus priority and bus interchange measures (whatever that actually means). Achieving something close to an RTN standard would be good. Obviously, service patterns will change over time.
However, there are also some rather strange aspects to the improvements, like why the Lincoln to Westgate section of SH16 is an RTN while the rest of SH16 is just a QTN. I certainly recognise the efforts to improve connections between Waitakere and North Shore cities along the SH18 alignment, but this route struggles to maintain even a standard bus route at the moment, so even the consideration that it might be suitable for rail in the future seems somewhat premature – to put it mildly!
The ARTA report contains a bit of further information around why SH16 is seen as a QTN (which would mean bus lanes) rather than an RTN (which would mean a full busway). It’s quite interesting:
We are probably close here to finally getting an answer about why officials aren’t too keen on the NW Busway idea. It is true that the catchment served by an SH16 is not particularly huge, with Te Atatu and Westgate being the main additional areas (I would add Massey and West Harbour to that list though). It is also true, to some extent, that we would want to be wary of the busway and the railway line competing with each other and thereby not being the most efficient use of resources.
However, I also do take some issue with the arguments put forward in the above paragraphs. While the catchments served by the busway might not be particularly large, once you add in feeder buses for areas like Te Atatu, Massey, Westgate, West Harbour and Hobsonville, you are probably looking at a fairly large population being served. Secondly, in terms of the busway ‘competing’ against the railway line, one would think that ARTA would be more worried about a brand new nine-lane wide motorway competing against the pathetically slow western line. If some passengers shift from using the train to using the busway, then surely that is better than the inevitable alternative of passengers shifting from using the train to using the newly widened motorway?
Nevertheless, perhaps ARTA’s most genuine concern is not so much about the practicalities of whether the projects would compete with each other, but the perception that politicians (particularly those who hold the purse strings in Wellington and don’t seem to like public transport very much) could use a Northwest Busway as an excuse to not build the CBD rail tunnel: which certainly is a much more needed project. The CBD rail tunnel will offer significant travel time benefits to rail users on the western line, and in order to push for that project to have the best possible “return on investment” (which seems to matter for public transport projects, unlike motorway projects) it seems necessary to ensure the ‘problem’ is as bad as possible. Somewhat bizarre, but true.
So where does this leave the dreams for a Northwest Busway? Well I think that it will come down the “the devil in the detail” about the quality of the bus-lanes proposed along SH16. While we know that there will be 3.5 m wide shoulder lanes, and that there will be ‘some’ future-proofing for interchanges, the details of that remain pretty unclear. It seems as though we will still have the stupid outcome of bus lanes ending just before each on and off-ramp, and potentially ending before each over-bridge. To be honest, if that is the result then it’s not much of an improvement on the current situation (and would stink of “PT-washing”).
However, if somehow the lanes can duck behind/underneath the motorway ramps, and that genuine provision is made for interchanges where people can get off feeder buses and onto express buses operating between the CBD and Westgate, we may well end up with something of a de-facto busway – even if it’s one lane on each side of the motorway rather than the whole thing on one-side. This would be a pretty reasonable outcome, particularly if sufficient land is set aside for a future upgrade to a proper busway. Here’s a map of what seems to be proposed:
Ironically though, one of the main advantages of a busway would have been to negate the need for all these extra lanes along State Highway 16 – if it were proposed as an alternative to the additional lanes rather than ending up with all the additional lanes plus some bus priority plus the potential ability to create a busway in the future. Which leads me back to the start of this point, and the point that the $800 million proposed to be spent on widening SH16 is an enormous waste of money – with perhaps the only legitimate part of it being a couple of auxiliary lanes to handle traffic exiting from the Waterview tunnel and the raising of the causeway. The rest of it is a huge amount of money wasted in the vain hope that perhaps this time adding a lane onto a motorway might ‘fix’ congestion – even though it didn’t work last time, or the time before that.
If the motorway widening proceeds, then it is likely that people will be ‘induced’ away from public transport through the momentary congestion-relief that will be offered by the widened road. Perhaps over time, as the widened motorway starts clogging up again, they will drift back to public transport – but if ARTA are really concerned about the effect on railway patronage of a NW Busway, I think they should be even more worried about the effects on railway patronage of a hugely widened SH16.
Buried within a rather triumphant “OMG we’re spending masses of money on this roading project” media release from NZTA on the Waterview Connection are a few rather interesting nuggets. For a start, here’s the media release:
NZTA to call tenders for NZ’s biggest ever roading project
The NZ Transport Agency today announced that it is to call tenders to build the Waterview Connection, the biggest and most complex roading project ever in New Zealand.
The 4.5km long Waterview Connection, linking the Southwestern motorway (SH20) with the Northwestern motorway (SH16), includes two 3-lane tunnels for 2.5kms of the route.
NZTA chief executive Geoff Dangerfield says the Transport Agency is up to the challenge of delivering a project of this size.
“This is hugely exciting news for Auckland and for New Zealand,” he says. “A project of this scale is a first for New Zealand, and it will deliver many, many benefits for the country and the region.”
“This is an ideal time to tender as the current economic conditions enable us to get the best market prices. It confirms our commitment to deliver the project as quickly as possible and with the best value for money,” Mr Dangerfield adds.
Calling tenders for Waterview Connection works follows a decision by the NZTA’s Board to approve funding of up to $2bn to complete Auckland’s Western Ring Route road of national significance.
Mr Dangerfield says a project of this scale will attract international interest and could create over 1,000 jobs in construction-related activities at the peak of activity.
The NZTA will run the tender process in parallel with its application for statutory approvals, through the new national consenting process.
“Running the two in parallel will save us up to a year in the construction timetable as well as offer significant savings on the overall cost of the project,” says Mr Dangerfield.
Mr Dangerfield adds that no construction on the Waterview Connection will start until all the necessary consents and approvals are in place.
The NZTA will lodge its route designation and resource consent applications with the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) in mid-August.
“We are continuing to give the community certainty as this project develops,” says Mr Dangerfield. “We are determined to work closely with them, and with local authorities and other stakeholders through the EPA process to address issues and concerns related to open space replacement, air quality, and construction impacts such as noise, traffic and dust.
Completing the Western Ring Route is one of the Government’s seven Roads of National Significance Projects to support and enable economic growth for the country. It involves extending State Highway 20 to link with the Northwestern motorway (SH16) at the Great North Road interchange, together with capacity improvements along the Northwestern motorway from St Lukes interchange to Westgate.
Once completed, the Western Ring Route will provide a 48km alternative to SH1 and the Auckland Harbour Bridge. It will reduce congestion and provide more reliable travel times for both freight and people.
The two things to me that stand out as quite interesting in this media release. The first is the funding issue – where seemingly out of the blue the price of this project has jumped from $1.4 billion to $2 billion. At first glance this seems like a giant increase of $600 million for the same thing, but it would seem as though the $2 billion costing actually relates to the works proposed to State Highway 16 (ie. the $800 million that will be flushed down the toilet by widening it). While I guess it’s good to get a final sum of what completing the Western Ring Route will cost, $2 billion is a heck of a lot of money.
The second issue that is quite interesting is that tendering for constructing the project will run alongside the consenting process. While I’m sure that is likely to save a bit of time, it does seem somewhat disrespectful to the consenting process. Already we know that the government is going to “call-in” the consenting of Waterview, into a new “one stop shop” process – thereby limiting the ability of the public to have their say in design changes that would improve mitigating its environmental effects. Adding this on top is almost like rubbing salt into the wounds of the community by saying “ha ha there’s absolutely no chance this will be declined consent, no matter how terrible it is, and we’re so confident of that we’re already letting the contract tenders”.
While I do think it’s very unlikely the project would be declined consent (for political reasons as much as anything else) through the new process, as appeals would only be possible on points of law to the High Court, if it was to be turned down the result would be quite catastrophic for NZTA. Which I guess gives the local community some hope.
I can’t help but wonder what kind of public transport improvements could be constructed for $2 billion.