Earthquake recovery

The impact of Sunday’s earthquake and its aftershocks have been astonishing to see, especially the damage caused by slips along State Highway 1 and the rail line around Kaikoura. They are numerous and many are absolutely massive. I suspect the impacts of this quake will be felt for some time, and not just to the areas physically impacted. Here are a few thoughts that have been rolling around in my head in response to the event.

kaikoura-slip

There’s a road under there somewhere

 

Firstly, the size and scale of damage suggests it is going to take many months, maybe even more than a year, and likely hundreds of millions of dollars to repair. As a comparison, the huge Manawatu George slip in 2011 took 13 months and over $20 million to fix (yesterday Simon Bridges suggested it was actually around $35 million). Some of these slips look just as big, if not bigger and of course there are a lot of them. On top of that there are about seven of road and rail bridges that need repairing.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges has already said that both the road and rail lines will be repaired simultaneously which is a good sign. I had wondered if there was a real chance the government might have just cut that rail line but I guess given the rail line is right next to the road, they’ll be having to dig it out anyway. I do like the fact that the NZTA and Kiwirail will be working closer together and hope it’s something we see more of in the future. Below is a video of Bridges talking about the various issues yesterday.

 

One of the interesting comments he makes is that the agencies plan to not just put the road back as it was but where possible improve it too. I presume that could mean there’ll be some localised realignments but I also wonder if it means structures like rock slides – as seen in Arthurs Pass. It certainly doesn’t seem like a cheap option given how much might be needed.

Image by Greg Hewgill

The biggest barrier to substantial changes to the road is likely to be the sheer cost of it all. To put things in perspective, in the year to the end of June, the NZTA spent just $2.1 billion on new or improved state highways and on road maintenance ($1.67b on new & improved and $461m on maintenance). Assuming a similar level of spend this year, fixing this road is likely to take up a decent chunk of that spending and the big question is where that money comes from.

Bridges said that up to around $500 million might able to be found within existing budgets and a decent chunk of that comes from emergency works budgets. For example the National Land Transport Programme has a budget of $154 million over the 2015-2018 period for emergency works on State Highways. Unfortunately, the snapshot data is a bit old but indications are that a lot of that funding might still be untouched. There are also local road emergency works buckets too. But even combined these budget buckets don’t seem like they’ll be enough and so it appears inevitable that the improvement and maintenance buckets will need to be looked at too. This raises the obvious question of what projects get delayed as a result, although I can think of a few I’d like to see delayed *cough*East-West Link*cough*.

Former Auckland Mayor Len Brown has also said that he felt Christchurch earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 were a factor in government taking so long to support the City Rail Link, although there’s more to it than just that. While the scale of  the damage to infrastructure doesn’t seem as extreme as Christchurch following its large quakes, could dealing with this quake have flow on effects in getting the government to fund their share of ATAP. Similarly, what does it do to the chances of light rail down Dominion Rd moved up the priority order.

One thing we can be thankful for with these slips is that at least it appears no one has been caught in them. I guess that’s a function of it being at midnight and the fact the road only carries very low volumes of traffic with fewer than 3,000 vehicles per day traversing the road, of which about 20% of them being heavy vehicles.

 

Council-Government agreement on CRL signed

Another milestone was reached on the City Rail Link (CRL) yesterday with the government and the council signing their first official agreement to work together and jointly fund the project. The Heads of Agreement (HoA) sets out how the two parties will work together to come up with a more detailed ‘sponsors’ agreement which is likely to be signed off next year. It also gives some broad details on how the council and government will fund and oversee the project. One good thing is that Auckland Transport now seem to be filming events like this so you can watch the announcement below

The good news on funding is that the government has agreed to pay for 50% of the cost of the CRL including the work already underway – although given Auckland contributes an estimated 36% to the economy it actually means Auckland picks up about 68% of the overall cost. There is a small caveat that the crown doesn’t have to fund any financing costs including interest that are incurred before July this year but I suspect that’s not going to be major in the grand scheme of things. Although it does sound like it means that cost of the hundreds million+ of property purchases for the project will be fully borne by Auckland rather than shared by both parties.

The outcome is far better than some feared which would have seen the government only pay for 50% of the remaining costs after the early works or as indicated in January, they might allow the project to proceed but only provide funding from 2020 onwards. Much was made in the media yesterday about the cost of the project with most reporting it had blown out to $3.4 billion but as is often the case in these situations it is a bit alarmist. The government has stated they think it will cost somewhere in the range of $2.8-3.4 billion and reflects more detailed design work that has taken place. Len Brown’s comments were to remind that the project cost of $2.5 billion was always +/-20%. The cost the government and council will ultimately target to pay is something that will be worked out as part of the more detailed sponsors agreement. Of course a lot will depend on how the tender contracts go.

Below is the project scope showing what is expected from the project – being the CRL and stations in the city plus a few other small upgrades elsewhere on the network.

crl-heads-of-agreement-project-scope

 

To oversee the project, they will separate out the CRL team from Auckland Transport and form a company called City Rail Link Ltd (CRLL) which will manage and deliver the project. The HoA states the government will have a 51% shareholding in the company vs 49% for the council and is very clear to point out that it won’t be a council controlled organisation. That makes me wonder if there was some legal or governance reason for the shareholding split.

crl-heads-of-agreement-crll-structure

The structure also means that both parties will benefit from ‘opportunities arising from the project’. As we know both the Wellesley St and Mercury Lane entrances have been designed for buildings to be built above the station entrances so those are likely to be some of the currently unbudgeted opportunities.

The signing of the agreement took place on on Victoria St where a 18m deep hole is being dug so a small tunneling machine can be launched as part of the task of moving the services. The hole is currently 13m deep so still has a little way to go. The photo below is from EmergingAuckland and there are more in the galleries – plus of many other projects.

 

While on the topic of the CRL, I came across this image from Auckland Transport showing the layout of Karangahape Rd Station

k-rd-axonometric-west

And in another piece of CRL news, Auckland Transport announced yesterday that the Albert St tunnels contract had won a sustainability award

The City Rail Link (CRL) has been awarded a ‘Leading’ Infrastructure Sustainability (IS) Design rating by the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA), the highest possible achievement in the IS scheme.

The rating to Auckland Transport is for the design and construction planning (with Connectus) of Contract 2 – Albert Street tunnels and a stormwater diversion.

To award a rating, ISCA considers project performance across six themes: Management & Governance; Using Resources; Emissions, Pollution & Waste; Ecology; People & Place; and Innovation.  The process the CRL has undertaken to engage and partner with Mana Whenua to embed cultural values into an industry recognised sustainability framework has been acknowledged as a ‘world first’ innovation.

Key unlocks Quay St

Aucklands newest and one of its most prominent cycleways was opened this morning on Quay St by John Key along with transport minister Simon Bridges, Mayor Len Brown and a host of other officials. The opening was certainly helped by the thunderstorms of we had overnight easing and the clouds even parting to make for a calm winter morning.

John Key, Simon Bridges, Len Brown and AT Chairman Dr Lester Levy all spoke before the ribbon was cut. I thought all spoke well about the need for us to develop integrated networks that are safe for all and not mixed with other vehicles like cars and buses. Lester also put his health hat on reminding people that on top of the transport benefits of being about to move a lot more people in the same about of space, those cycling also tend to be healthier which has benefits to the health system.

After the speeches it was time to cut the ribbon and for officials to take a ride.

Quay St Cycleway Opening 1

Like other cycleways, AT have installed cycleway counters but for the first time they’ve also added a visible counter so everyone can see how many people have passed every day and year.

Quay St Cycleway Opening 2

I suspect this will quickly become the busiest cycleway in Auckland. Before and even during the speeches there were cyclists passing by on a fairly frequent basis.

Quay St Cycleway Opening 3

As part of the project the entry to the port has also been made safer.

Congratulations to everyone involved in making this project happen..

Here’s the official release from AT on it which also highlights that there are a couple of consultations for other major project coming up soon including Ian McKinnon Dr later this month.

Auckland’s waterfront will be an improved urban space and an even busier cycle route following the opening of the Quay St Cycleway today.

The Prime Minister, Transport Minister Simon Bridges, Mayor Len Brown and a large group of people on bikes, were the first to use the city centre’s newest cycleway. The opening was preceded by a dawn blessing with Iwi representatives.

A new cycle counter on the promenade, a first for Auckland, will highlight the number of people cycling along one of Auckland busiest routes.

On the waterfront side of Quay St, the 1km, two way cycleway goes from Princes Wharf at Lower Hobson St to Plumer St. The $2.18m cycleway is being delivered by Auckland Transport and has local funding and an investment from the Government through NZ Transport Agency and the Urban Cycleways Programme.

It will benefit everyone who spends time at the waterfront and will encourage more people to start cycling into the city centre says Kathryn King, Auckland Transport’s Cycling and Walking manager.

“Having a dedicated cycleway like this means there is more space on the promenade for people to walk and enjoy the harbour views. The planter boxes, which provide protection from traffic, improve this wonderful space by adding some greenery.

“The cycle route into the city centre along Tamaki Dr is the busiest route in Auckland, and this will make cycling from the east even more attractive. Providing a protected cycleway on Quay St gives people working in the downtown area greater travel choice and an excellent cross-town route that avoids a lot of city traffic.”

Mayor Len Brown says it’s another important chapter in his vision for Auckland as the world’s most liveable city as it transforms the city centre into a pedestrian and cycle friendly destination.

“This project is another example of Auckland Council, Auckland Transport and the Transport Agency working well together to achieve a great outcome.”

Bike Auckland, chair, Barbara Cuthbert says the cycleway is a great addition to downtown Auckland. “It’s hugely exciting to have a safe separated space for people cycling and those walking close to rail and ferry services.”

Map QuaystThe three-metre-wide cycleway connects with the Beach Rd Cycleway at Britomart Pl and by the end of 2018 will link with the Nelson St Cycleway and Westhaven to City Cycleway at Princes Wharf and the Tamaki Dr Cycleway.

When phase two of Nelson St Cycleway is constructed next year, the city centre cycle loop will be complete. This loop includes Lightpath, Nelson St, Grafton Gully, Beach Rd and Quay St cycleways.

Auckland Transport is working with project partners Auckland Council and the Government through the NZ Transport Agency and the Urban Cycleways Programme on a $200m programme of cycle improvements from 2015 to 2018.

Quay St Cycleway

  • The Quay Street Cycleway is delivered by Auckland Transport and is one of the projects funded in the 2015-18 Urban Cycleways Programme (UCP).
  • Auckland Transport is working with project partners Auckland Council and the Government through the NZ Transport Agency and the Urban Cycleways Programme on a $200m programme of cycle improvements from 2015 to 2018.
  • The UCP involves central government partnering with local government to accelerate the delivery of $333 million of key cycle projects around New Zealand over the next three years
  • The $2.18 million cycleway is funded from $0.70M Central Government, $0.75M National Land Transport Fund, $0.73 million Auckland Transport. This project is part of the wider Auckland city centre package project announced through the Urban Cycleways Programme.
  • The one kilometre long, three metres wide, two-way cycleway goes from Princes Wharf, Lower Hobson to Plumer St. The majority of the route is on-road, physically protected from traffic with concrete separators (similar to Nelson St Cycleway) and planter boxes.
  • This cycleway connects with the existing shared path on Quay St in the east. By 2018 AT will have delivered another cycleway that will connect Quay St Cycleway at Plumer St with the start of the Glen Innes to Tamaki Dr Shared Path at Hobson Bay. People will be able to cycle and walk from Glen Innes to the city centre.
  • Beach Rd Cycleway connects with Quay St at Britomart Pl allowing people to cycle all the way to the Northwestern Cycleway via Beach Rd Cycleway and Grafton Gully Cycleway.In the west, people can now cycle over Te Wero Bridge to Wynyard Quarter and around the Viaduct. Ultimately it will connect with Westhaven Dr to City Cycleway and Nelson St Cycleway when they are completed in 2017.
  • When Nelson St Cycleway phase two is complete next year, a city centre cycle loop will be complete including the pink Lightpath, Grafton Gully Cycleway, Beach Rd Cycleway and Quay St Cycleway. The project team is currently working on how best to connect Nelson St Cycleway (which currently ends at Victoria St) with Quay St Cycleway.

Cycling in Auckland by numbers

  • 750 cycle trips per day on pink Lightpath since it opened December
  • A doubling of the number of people cycling into the city over three years.
  • 50% increase in people cycling in Symonds St/Grafton Gully corridor following opening of Grafton Gully Cycleway in 2014
  • 20% increase in people cycling on Northwestern Cycleway in May 2016 compared with May 2015.

Upcoming cycle projects in Auckland

  • Mangere Future Streets opening late September
  • Mt Roskill Safe Routes opening late October
  • Ian McKinnon Dr Cycleway public consultation starts July
  • Karangahape Rd Streetscape Enhancement and Cycleway public consultation by August.
  • Great North Rd Cycleway public consultation by the end of 2016.

Thoughts on the CRL ground breaking event

So yesterday was the symbolic ground-breaking, or perhaps more accurately the ground-exploding for the City Rail Link. If you weren’t there and didn’t watch the live stream the video is below and the actual ceremony starts from about 48 minutes. I thought I would give some of my views of it.

Over the years now I’ve been to a number of ground-breaking ceremonies and this was by far the most interesting. Auckland Transport and the Council certainly put a bit of effort in here but I guess when you’re celebrating the start of largest single transport project that is kind of justified.

AT held the event right out in front of Britomart which was a good choice. While they had a marquee (and some tasty CRL cupcakes) for those who had been invited, it also allowed members of the public to join in too and there appeared to be quite a few people doing so. The people in shot below were outside of that invited area. For those outside of Auckland, as you can see the weather also turned it on which was a nice change after the last 3 weeks or so.

Some of the CRL cupcakes

CRL cupcakes

Right off the bat one aspect that was quite different and I thought a nice touch, was to have quite a strong focus on youth. This was optimised by having a 17-year-old from Waitakere College as the emcee for the event. She brought a lot of energy to her role which was refreshing to see.

John Key was the first speaker and I thought his comments were very good, in particular this part.

Second thing I think is that ultimately what we’re seeing in cities around the world that are doing well and progressing is that they’re places where people want to work, obviously, but they’re also places where people want to live and people want to be entertained. And what we’re seeing as Auckland grows up and indeed grows out, is a lot more apartments being built and I think over time you’re going to see more and more people live in the CBD, they’re not going to own cars, they’re going to get on the City Rail Link, they’re going to get on the train for transportation, they’ll get on the bus, and frankly they’ll probably take a taxi or Uber. And they’ll have their living, working and entertainment happen here in the CBD and that’s really what this is about, it’s an investment in the future, it’s an investment in Auckland, it will make a great difference in transforming the city, it’s a very futuristic project.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard Key speak positively about transport or urban issues and I guess some of that comes from his time spent overseas in the likes of New York so it’s all the more surprising that these attitudes haven’t flowed through to some of his ministers or transport priorities.

Key was followed by Simon Bridges who also talked very positively about the project and the impact it will have even referencing the council’s “World’s Most Liveable City” goal. Both Bridges and Key also paid respect to Len Brown for his ongoing advocacy for the project which has been instrumental in getting it to this point.

Next up it was Lester Levy who talked about what it takes to make a project like this happen including highlighting that they’ve got experts from around the world working on the CRL

Then it was time the speech that most were keen to see, Lens speech. As expected Len was ebullient and so he should be given the history of the project and the attitude of the government up until recently. Len covered off a lot of topics in his speech but one I thought was quite important was that today probably would never have been possible without the government having amalgamated the councils of Auckland in 2010. On a personal level it was nice that he acknowledged the role of transport advocates in helping to get to this stage. As John Key said, Len should rightly be proud at what he’s achieved with the CRL.

One interesting fact that came out in Len’s press release after was this showing just how much patronage to the city is expected to increase in just the first year.

“Auckland Transport is forecasting in the first year of operation an 88% increase in rail passengers travelling to the city centre and a 40% increase in rail patronage across the network in the morning peak.

Following the speeches there was a flash mob before the grand finale of Bridges, Brown and Key pushing an oversized detonator to set off some pyrotechnics and balloons to start the project – although as Bill Bennett pointed out, that detonator is reminiscent of something else.

Although as Luke discovered later, that sod has been unturned and filled back in again

Did AT go over the top with the dancing and pyrotechnics? It was certainly a unique ceremony for a unique project.

With the ceremony out of the way we can now look forward to the project really getting under way, despite the disruption that will bring.

Did you attend the ceremony or did you/have watched the live stream? What did you think of it?

Government Neuter Bus Lanes

The government want to increase the currently dismal uptake of electric vehicles, increasing the numbers on our roads from about 1,200 to 64,000 in just 5 years. To do that yesterday they announced a package to encourage more people to buy an electric car. Most of the initiatives, such as extending the Road User Charges exemption on light vehicles and introducing an exception for heavy vehicles, are probably fine but one of the initiatives is completely nuts – letting electric vehicles us bus lanes and busways.

Northern Busway

Enabling electric vehicles to access bus and high occupancy vehicle lanes

Access by electric vehicles to bus and high occupancy vehicle lanes (lanes where a vehicle must have more than a certain number of occupants) will be of value to households and businesses. Access to such lanes will mean electric vehicles will be able to travel more quickly than vehicles otherwise held up in traffic.

At the same time, the changes will also empower road controlling authorities to allow electric vehicles into special vehicle lanes (such as bus lanes) on their local roading networks.

The Government will make changes to the Land Transport Act and Rules to allow electric vehicles to drive in bus and high occupancy vehicle lanes on the State Highway network, which it controls. One example is the Northern Busway in Auckland.

This is madness. The whole point of busways, bus lanes and to a lesser extend transit lanes is to make buses, which are much more spatially efficient, more viable and work better. They can make buses:

  • faster, making them more attractive to use and can also make them time competitive with driving.
  • more efficient, because buses are faster they can run more services can be run for the same cost or alternatively fewer vehicles and drivers may be needed
  • more convenient as if they allow more services to be run it means higher frequencies so less time waiting at bus stops.
  • more reliable as they’re more likely to arrive at stops and the final destination on time.

The introduction of bus lanes meant that far more people have been able to be moved along many key corridors than they would have otherwise. For example, the Northern Busway carries about 40% of all traffic crossing the Harbour Bridge during the morning peak – five lanes of traffic and 40% of the people are in fewer than 200 vehicles. On other corridors like Dominion Rd more than 50% of people are on the bus yet in both situations the lanes can look empty. But a bus lane that looks empty normally means it’s actually doing its job and allowing buses to flow, uninterrupted by congestion.

Adding electric vehicles to this, which will mostly be carrying only a single occupant, will undo some of the benefits and make buses less efficient. That’s because there’s a greater chance that buses will be held up or miss lights etc. It means a double decker carrying 100 people have the same level of priority as a single person in an electric car. And this isn’t just theoretical, back in 2010 the old Auckland City Council trialled changing the then Tamaki Dr bus lanes to T2. As the results of that showed, it actually had the effect of slowing other road users, especially the general traffic. One of the reasons for this is the T2/3 drivers would push back in to the general traffic queue to get around buses at bus stops..

tamaki-person

table5-1

table5-2

I believe the same situation would apply to electric vehicles allowed in bus lanes.

At this point its worth noting that when the Northern Busway was first designed and approved it was it was done so with the idea that high occupancy vehicles (HOV) could potentially also be allowed to use it. This was because at the time they were worried not enough people would catch a bus and is why for example that there’s a blocked off access at the Constellation Station. Of course as we know not a single HOV has used the busway because it’s performed above expectations.

There are other reasons this is a bad idea too. This includes:

  • Bus lanes are also often considered cycle lanes too. Allowing electric vehicles into those lanes could increase the risk for people on bikes. We also know from the recent Grafton Bridge trial (that has now ended) that many drivers simply don’t follow the rules. This would be no different with electric cars.
  • Getting single occupant vehicles back out of bus lanes in the future will be difficult. It’s also worth noting that other parts of the announcement had sunset clauses on them of either time or a once a percentage vehicles went electric. There was nothing mentioned for access to bus lanes.
  • Enforcement will be much harder as it is difficult to tell which vehicles are electric and which ones aren’t. In addition, many drivers seem to exhibit a bit of a herd mentality and if they see a couple of drivers getting an advantage they’ll start to copy. This would exacerbate the issues of cars in bus lanes.
  • Currently electric vehicles are more expensive than their fossil fuelled counterparts and the biggest buyers of them seem to businesses for fleet cars. It means the benefit of driving in bus lanes will likely be exclusive to a small(ish) group of early adopters.

 

Perhaps to help address this issue, Auckland Transport now more than ever need to fast-track the conversion of key bus routes to Light Rail. Perhaps they should also consider building it where they can with a grassed track.

Light Rail grassed track

In seriousness, a key reason for looking at light rail on the isthmus is about trying to relieve bus congestion on some corridors. Allowing electric vehicles to this mix will likely only mean Light Rail will have to happen sooner.

Overall this is a terrible idea, unless of course you drive an electric car already or are planning on getting one. The busway is owned by the NZTA but most of the other bus lanes let’s hope that Auckland Transport are able to say no to his idea on local roads at least. If they can’t then the government have managed to neuter bus lanes and possibly set them back years.

A good highway upgrade

The government made two significant state highway announcements within a week. The first was the announcement of a new motorway in Tauranga which was followed last week by the announcement of a significant $278 million upgrade to the 32km of SH2 between Pokeno and Mangatarata. This project, like the Mangatawhiri Deviation completed in 2008, are examples of exactly the kind of projects I feel the government should have been focusing on for the last eight years instead of some of the massively expensive Roads of National Significance.

This project should significantly improve safety on what is one of the country’s most dangerous roads, so much so that in 2011 the NZTA even lowered the speed limit on all but the new Mangatawhiri deviation to 90km/h. According to the press release from Simon Bridges, there have been 18 fatal crashes causing 34 deaths in the last five years alone – although a quick look at the info on the NZTA website says there were 15 fatal crashes over 10 years (to 2014).

As part of this upgrade three new deviations will be built, west of Mangatawhiri, at Kopuku and at Maramarua. In addition, the road will be widened to three lanes with two of them westbound towards Auckland. They say the upgrades will be designed so that a future a fourth lane could be added if/when it’s needed. Presumably this means also widening the existing Mangatawhiri deviation which was designed with future widening in mind. The NZTA will also install other safety features such as wire rope median and side barriers.

SH2 Maramua Upgrade 1

I’ve written before about how the Mangatawhiri Deviation has been a huge success. Not only did it come in 6 months ahead of time and $2.9 million (6%) under budget. It had a significant impact on safety as this graphic shows.

Mangatawhiri Deviation Crash record

From memory this project – or at least a previous iteration of it – was meant to have been started some years ago but it was put on hold and funding for it was diverted while attention shifted to the RoNS and particularly the Waikato Expressway.

Below are the traffic volumes on the road over the last 20 years. As you can see volumes were relatively flat for much of the last 15 or so years but have picked up a little recently. The NZTA say that on some days with holiday traffic, volumes can top 25,000.

Mangatawhiri Traffic Volumes

The press release from the government is below.

The Government will invest $278 million to upgrade State Highway 2 between Pokeno and the SH25 intersection, Transport Minister Simon Bridges announced today.

Work will begin this year on the design, consents and property purchase for a long-term overhaul of the road that will be carried out in five stages over several years.

The 32 kilometre long stretch of road will be widened to three lanes, with two lanes for traffic heading west towards Auckland. The work will also be future-proofed, enabling the road to become four lanes if needed.

“These upgrades will help ease congestion and improve journey predictability, making a huge difference for the local community, the freight industry and for people travelling north after a weekend on the Coromandel,” Mr Bridges says.

Along with the extra lane, a new roundabout will be built and four interchanges separating state highway and local traffic will be constructed.

“Improving safety on this popular holiday route is a key part of this project. Over the last five years there have been 18 crashes resulting in 34 deaths and serious injuries.

“Evidence tells us the majority of crashes on this stretch of highway are either head-on or where the vehicle runs off the road so median barriers and guard rails will also be installed.

“The long term goal is to reduce death and serious injury crashes by 80 per cent over 20 years.

“We also want to provide safer choices for cyclists and ensure local people have safe access to their homes, schools and businesses,” Mr Bridges says.

Construction is expected to get underway in 2017/18.

I can’t help but think that had this approach been taken with the Puhoi to Warkworth RoNS, much of it could be in place by now and saving lives compared it being 2020 or later depending on when it finally starts construction. This is of course what was proposed with Operation Lifesaver.

 

Another Tauranga motorway approved

Tauranga continues to aspire to the title of mini-Auckland with an announcement from the government on Friday of $520 million for another motorway into the city, the 6.8km Tauranga Northern Link. The funding even includes a money set aside for a future extension of the to be built motorway a further 6km+ to Omokoroa.

Tauranga Northern Link Map

Transport Minister Simon Bridges today announced a $520 million roading package that will transform State Highway 2 (SH2) between Tauranga and Waihi.

The package includes:

  • The $286 million Tauranga Northern Link (TNL).
  • $85 million worth of safety improvements designed to reduce death and serious injury crashes.
  • Up to $150 million to provide for future traffic growth, paving the way for an upgrade between Omokoroa and Te Puna.

“This is a significant transport investment for Tauranga and the wider Bay of Plenty area. It will improve safety, reduce congestion and support growth on what is a very busy route, making a noticeable difference for motorists and easing freight movement,” Mr Bridges says.

“It is yet another example of the Government’s focus on increasing economic growth and improving safety through transport investment.

“We know that transport is an enabler of economic activity so we need to continue unlocking key congestion points to get people and freight moving efficiently around the country.”

The TNL is a new 6.8 km highway which will connect Tauranga’s Takitimu Drive Toll Road with SH2 Te Puna.

“The TNL is a long awaited project in the Tauranga community. Last week I attended a public meeting to hear the views of local people and it’s clear there’s a lot of support for getting this project underway.

“Once complete it will reduce traffic through the busy townships of Bethlehem and Te Puna, provide a better commute into the city, and support the Western Bay’s many industries.

“Today I’m also announcing that $150 million has been earmarked for a future extension of the TNL. A business case for extending the TNL from Te Puna to Omokoroa is expected to be completed toward the middle of next decade.

“All up this means the TNL will provide a four lane highway linking Tauranga’s Takitimu Drive Toll Road with SH2 at Omokoroa,” Mr Bridges says.

 

The project isn’t exactly new and a quick search finds it has been around in some form since the early 1990’s and was designated in 2001 so at least the project wasn’t just pulled out of thin air like the Puhoi to Warkworth project was. What surprised me the most about the announcement was the timing. I’ve seen discussion of the project before but it hasn’t been listed in various documents as happening at least within the next few years. It’s not even a project listed on the Bay of Plenty section of the NZTA website.

The daily traffic volumes at the western end of the project at Te Puna are shown below and the road is obviously busier once it gets closer to Tauranga – such as around Bethlehem. They’ve definitely taken a sharp upwards turn in recent years and given Tauranga’s plans to open up more development, especially around Omokoroa I suspect those volumes will increase.

Te Puna Traffic Volumes

While the announcement has been made now, the press release mentions construction won’t actually start till 2018 and the extension obviously some time later. As there’s already a designation the focus till then will be on design but it raises the question of why make such a public statement about it now? The funding for the as yet un-assessed extension also highlights the dramatic difference in playing field that exists with transport in NZ. Public transport, walking/cycling and even local road projects seem to have to jump through huge hoops to get funding but for state highways the cash is handed out without question.

The $436 million for those two bits of motorway can be added to some of the recently completed and currently under construction projects around Tauranga. This includes the $455 million Tauranga Eastern Link, the currently under construction $102 million to grade separate sections of SH2 through Bayfair and the $45 million to build an underpass at Maungatapu. There’s also the $62 million the NZTA recently spent to buy the failing Takitimu Dr (Route K) toll road off the Tauranga City Council.

The one aspect I do think is very good about the announcement is the significant amount of money going towards safety improvements between Te Puna and Waihi. One of the improvements already made a few years ago inspired me to write this post about how we need to see more focus on improving safety and so $85 million is likely to have significant benefits. The map below shows where the focus of that spending will be

Tauranga-Waihi SH2 Full Corridor Map

And this one focuses just on the Te Puna to Omokoroa section

Tauranga - Omokoroa to Te Puna Safety Improvements Map

Government Unveils “Eastern Ring Route”

The NZ Herald reports:

In a surprise announcement, the Government has today unveiled advanced plans for a combined transport and housing package in Auckland. The centrepiece of the announcement is an “Eastern Ring Route” between Takapuna and Drury to complement the soon to be finished Western Ring Route and take pressure off State Highway 1.

The 44 kilometre long route, including a new Eastern Alignment for crossing the Waitemata Harbour, was announced by Transport Minister Simon Bridges after a snap cabinet meeting on the issue and ongoing frustration about growing congestion in New Zealand’s biggest city.

“This is a bold response to the big issues faced by Auckland,” explained Mr Bridges at a press conference following the announcement. “With the Auckland Transport Alignment Project highlighting major issues being faced in the west and south of Auckland, we have made a well targeted approach by focusing our next major motorway project in the north and east of the region.”

Confirmed as a 6 lane motorway that will replace Lake Road in Devonport before passing under the Waitemata Harbour to the east of the Port and continuing underground along the old Eastern Highway to avoid angering core National Party voters before emerging again around Glen Innes and linking in with the AMETI and then Mill Road projects. The “Eastern Ring Route” has a currently estimated cost of around $25 billion and a likely construction timeframe of 3-4 years. The project’s route is shown in the map below:

eastern-ring-route

When questioned on the scale of the project’s cost, Mr Bridges appeared unfazed. “Oh it’s OK, we’ll just turn it into a PPP!” he said to surprised reporters.

For the first time in New Zealand the transport project will also contribute directly to addressing Auckland’s housing shortage. Housing Minister Nick Smith joined Mr Bridges to announce that the earth from the twin 9km tunnels would be used to reclaim parts of Shoal, Ngataringa and Hobson Bays. “Auckland needs housing and we need somewhere to put all of the dirt from the tunnels” he said.

He added “We want to ensure more Aucklanders can get a slice of the quarter acre paradise and so we’ll be passing legislation to ensure the new sections created will stay forever at a minimum of 1,000m². We believe this will also help allay the fears of nearby residents concerned that people not like them may move in to the area.”

Support for the project from business groups was quickly forthcoming. Stephen Selwood, Chief Executive of the NZ Council for Infrastructure Development stating: “this is a fantastic announcement by the government and exactly the project that we have been pushing for over the last few years. Our members are particularly pleased as this will be excellent for their balance sheets… sorry, I mean it will be excellent for Auckland for decades to come!”

On the project’s high cost, Mr Selwood noted that “it’s a good project because it’s expensive… sorry, I mean it’s expensive because it’s a good project.”

Outgoing Auckland Mayor Len Brown lent his support for the proposal: “This is the kind of big thinking that Auckland needs if we’re to accommodate an extra million people in the next 10 years. This is why we need to get on with introducing motorway tolls to pay for the City Rail Link so that all our normal transport budget can go on projects like this!”

Local support also appeared strong, with Devonport-Takapuna Local Board Chair Joseph Bergin highlighting excitement on the Board’s behalf that something would finally be done to fix the highly congested Lake Road. “While replacing Lake Road with a 6 lane elevated motorway that carves its way through Mt Victoria is certainly a novel way to solve the issues faced along this corridor, we are glad to see transport money being spent in our Local Board area and not in West Auckland, South Auckland or the CBD,” Mr Bergin said in an email to the Herald.

Chief Executive of the Ministry of Transport, Martin Matthews, whose staff led the month-long investigation into the project, was particularly enthused about its potential to be used by driverless vehicles and the possibility of the project replacing the Eastern Railway Line with a concrete “truckway”. “Rail is such 19th century technology and we are on the cusp of a technological breakthrough that will enable the productive use of infrastructure like this,” Mr Matthews stated from his 5 car garage.

Construction on the project is due to begin in August, with the first stage being a 40 metre cut into the side of Mt Victoria in Devonport for the harbour tunnel’s northern portal.

Transport discussions in Parliament this week

This week in Parliament the government have been using patsy questions to talk up their recent transport announcements about the City Rail Link and East-West Link. Both are entertaining in their own ways.

On Wednesday there was almost a bit surreal when Transport Minister Simon Bridges got asked a series of patsy questions by Botany MP and former councillor Jami-Lee-Ross about the CRL. This extended to a couple of questions from other members in the house. What I found most interesting is watching Bridges now defend the decision to allow construction to start in 2018 after he and his predecessors spent so many years defending why they wouldn’t make that a decision.

While we’re far from fans of the project, Bridges quip to Peters about Puhoi to Wellsford was at least funny.

On Thursday Jami-Lee Ross started another patsy to the minister, this time about the East-West Link. It was all a pretty staid affair until Green MP Julie Anne Genter jumped in highlighting that some of the other options for the project were cheaper and had better economic outcomes – something we highlighted here. I think she saved the best line till last.

RoNS 2.0 (again)

The idea of continuing the Waikato Expressway all the way to Tauranga including a tunnel under the Kaimai Ranges has once again been come up after Transport Minster Simon Bridges suggested the idea has some merit. Now apparently called the Kaimai Connection it is being pushed by a number government MPs from the region.

The Kaimai connection – completing the golden triangle between Waikato and the Bay of Plenty – is being discussed at the highest levels.

On Friday, Transport Minister Simon Bridges said he is encouraged by the idea.

“It is pretty hard to argue against, at least in principle, the idea of carrying it on to some degree to the Bay of Plenty,” said Bridges. “It is a very compelling idea to continue.”

Early in January, Hamilton City Councillor Martin Gallagher and National MP for Taupo Louise Upston called for an expressway between Hamilton and Tauranga to be prioritised.

“Of course, I’m not digging myself into any election promises at this stage, because there is a whole lot of planning and investment required,” Bridges said.

An article on the call by Martin Gallagher and Louise Upston for the road is here.

Another Government MP is supporting the call and he was also calling for it around five years ago

National’s Hamilton East MP, David Bennett agreed it is time to turn concept into reality.

“The next phase for the Waikato is to connect with the Bay of Plenty,” said Bennett. “We have an existing connection, but it certainly can be improved.”

Tauranga is ready for the next step, said Bennett, and by 2020, the Hamilton and Huntly sections of the Waikato Expressway would be complete.

Of course this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this project be raised. Almost exactly a year ago a fourth government MP was saying also the same thing.

A vehicle tunnel under the Kaimai Range needs to be considered with the same weight as a second harbour crossing in Auckland was given, Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller says.

 

He included an interesting analogy:

“I look at somebody like Sir Dove-Meyer Robinson. He looked at what Auckland could be “one million people by the turn of the century “and people scoffed at him.

And who was it that did the scoffing and cancelled Dove-Meyer Robinson’s plans again?

Five years ago when David Bennett was suggesting it he was also supported by the truck lobby – although they at least acknowledged it wasn’t something happening soon.

Road Transport Forum chief executive Ken Shirley said road transport operators thought a road tunnel could stack up economically within 20 years as freight grew and time and fuel costs were taken into account. “When we look at the future projections, all the modes of transport have to step up. The bulk will go by road. We believe it could well be that in the longer term a road tunnel through the Kaimais would be viable.”

So there’s a lot of support for the idea but does it stack up?

As I understand it the long term strategy from the NZTA is to make SH29 (and SH1) the main route connecting Tauranga, Hamilton and Auckland which is in part to get more trips on the Waikato Expressway which is currently being built. That would divert traffic off the SH2 route through the Karangahake Gorge and towns of Paeroa, Waihi and Katikati.

Kaimai Connection

If built as an expressway it would require something to be done about the steep grades on some parts of the road over the Kaimai Range and that’s where the tunnel comes in. Reports from a few years ago suggested the NZTA were looking at a number of tunnel options in three locations,

NZTA regional director Harry Wilson says one option involves building a road tunnel near the existing rail tunnel, another is building a tunnel near Thompsons Track, between Katikati and Apata. The third option, known as a summit-level tunnel, involves building a tunnel half-way up the existing alignment of State Highway 29.

So far 10 options have been identified in these three locations.

“To date, high-level cost estimates indicate the price for each option including approach roading would range from $1.5 to 2 billion,” Mr Wilson said.

“While we are not discounting the possibility of building a tunnel, the early indication from the cost-benefit analysis shows that the cost of building a tunnel could outweigh the benefits of the project.”

I don’t recall ever hearing what option they chose as the preferred one however I have heard the cost could be more than double the $2 billion figure suggested back then. The last statement about the costs outweighing the benefits is likely a massive understatement. The NZTA’s traffic stats indicate that SH29 over the Kaimais has only just reached an average of 10,000 vehicles per day within the last few months.

Kaimai Traffic Volumes

It’s a project that would make the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing’s very weak business case look saintly and that’s with AWHC expected to induce up to 60,000 more vehicles a day to cross the harbour. The SH2 route through Waihi and the Karangahake Gorge just over 8,200 vehicles per day.

Back in 2012 the idea was added to the 2012-22 Government Policy Statement on transport as part of a list of potential future RoNS

28. Possible new routes have been identified through the State highway classification system. This system categorises State highways based on the function they perform, such as moving freight to and from ports or linking major population centres. The classification system provides a national consensus on the role and function of different State highways, and thus the levels of service that can be expected over a 20 year timeframe.

29. Routes that may be considered on this basis for future RoNS include:

  • Hamilton to Tauranga
  • Cambridge to Taupo
  • Napier to Hastings
  • State Highway 1 north and south of the current Christchurch motorway projects.

30. Based on the State highway classification system these four routes have high volumes of traffic, and are important for freight movements including port access.

Interestingly there was no mention of them at all in the 2015-25 GPS.

It seems to me that perhaps a key main reason these MPs are pushing for this project is that the Waikato Expressway will be completed in around four years and they are keen for more money to be poured into the Waikato which has had the second highest per capita spend on transport.

Spending - NZ - 2015 - Per Capita 3

 

 

From driving the route a few times per year I suspect there are a lot of much lower cost improvements that could make a big difference to issues like safety and travel times.