Motorways interchanges completed late and over budget

On Friday Transport Minister Simon Bridges officially opened the Te Atatu and Lincoln Rd sections of the Western Ring Route.

Simon Bridges officially opening the two projects

Simon Bridges officially opening the two projects

The NZ Transport Agency says the official opening today of two upgrades to Auckland’s Northwestern Motorway kicks off a significant year in the city’s transport history.

The Lincoln Interchange and Te Atatu Interchange projects were officially opened by Transport Minister Simon Bridges at a ribbon cutting ceremony this morning.

They are the first of several improvement projects to be opened this year as part of the Government’s $2.4b Western Ring Route – designed to keep Auckland moving.

Both of these projects are crucial building blocks in the Western Ring Route, providing an additional route to State Highway 1 and the Harbour Bridge and changing the way people move around Auckland.

NZ Transport Agency Highways Manager Brett Gliddon says the improvements at Lincoln and Te Atatu are part of a series of projects being completed during the next year to ensure the Northwestern motorway is able to handle the growing demands from everyone who uses it – drivers, people using public transport and those who walk and cycle.

“Increasing the motorway from two to three lanes in each direction on this stretch of the motorway will help traffic to flow better leading to greater travel time reliability, and an efficient alternative route to use instead of State Highway 1,” says Mr Gliddon.

I was apparently invited to the opening but the NZTA sent the email to the wrong address – not that I would’ve been able to attend due to work commitments.

Regardless of what mode you use, for many out west the completion would be a welcome change as works and the disruption that came with it have been an ongoing challenge. But I wonder just how successful the project has been, especially the Lincoln Rd section. Here’s are some of the quick facts from the NZTA’s press release.

The $145million upgrade of the Lincoln Interchange has widened and realigned the onramps and motorway exits to improve safety and traffic flow. There are new dedicated, purpose built bus lanes providing a greater level of service than before. The Northwestern Cycleway has also been extended and improved.

The $65million Te Atatu Interchange project has added an extra lane in each direction between Te Atatu and Lincoln Roads, new motorway on and off-ramps as well as raising and widening the Te Atatu overbridge.

….

Work will begin later this year on the Lincoln to Westgate project to tie into this just completed work at the Lincoln Road Interchange. It will include widening the Northwestern motorway to three lanes, improved on and off ramps, creating bus lanes and extending the Northwestern Cycleway.

So let’s take a quick look back to when these two projects each began.

Lincoln Rd Interchange

The project started all the way back at the end of October 2010 and has seen the interchange vastly supersized, for example the bridge over the motorway was widened from two lanes to seven. At the start of the project the NZTA laid out these basic facts. The important ones for this post being that it would cost $100 million, be completed in 2013, include all four ramps and extend the cycleway as far as Huruhuru Road.

Lincoln Rd Key Features

Immediately you can see a few glaring issues, these being that the project is $45 million over budget and three years late. To be fair, I understand the timeframe was deliberately delayed so that funding could be diverted to help deal with the immediate aftermath of the Canterbury earthquakes, three years late? I can also accept the idea that they slowed construction so it could better be tied into the progress of the rest of the Western Ring Route. Not much point adding lanes and capacity only for it to hid the queue not far down the road. As infomercials love to say “but wait, there’s more”.

As I mentioned the works were to include all four ramps and extending the cycleway to Huruhuru Rd – via a torturous four leg crossing of Lincoln Rd, no underpass here. Here’s a map of the interchange design. I’ve rotated it to better compare with the following image.

Lincoln Rd Interchange details

Here’s what it looks like as of the beginning of April.

Lincoln Rd Interchange - April 2016 2

You can see very clearly that the westbound onramp and the extension of the cycleway past Lincoln Rd are completely missing. That’s because they’ve been moved in with the project widening the section of motorway from here to Westgate – another ~$100 million project.

So all up it appears we’ve got a project that is $45 million over budget, three years late and they still haven’t even completed some of the work they said they would do.

Te Atatu Interchange

Thankfully the Te Atatu interchange doesn’t appear to have the delays that the Lincoln interchange suffered, but it does appear to have had its own cost blowout. This is from the press release when the project got under way.

Key features of the $50m project include widening the Northwestern motorway between the Te Atatu Road and Patiki Road interchanges, widening all five ramps on the interchange, enhancing existing facilities for walkers and cyclists and widening and raising the Te Atatu Road overbridge.

….

Work will start on the improvements at Te Atatu in the new year and is set to be completed in 2016.

Here’s the Te Atatu interchange from April

Te Atatu Interchange - April 2016 2

So the project was completed in 2016 like they said it would be but was $15 million over budget.

Te Atatu Rd Underpass

The Te Atatu project includes the fantastic cycleway underpass

So all up we’ve got projects over budget, late and missing components. Perhaps not quite the NZTAs finest hour. Imagine what kind of amazing local cycling network that extra $60 million could have delivered if spent within the area.

It’s quite likely that within the next decade we’ll be seeing the heavy machinery out in these sections once again, this time adding the piece of the puzzle that was absurdly left out of this project, the Northwest Busway.

Bike Te Atatu – A Futurementary

Bike Te Atatu has put together this fantastic video which they describe as:

A look into a possible future for Te Atatu and eventually Auckland. Made by Bike Te Atatu for the purpose of starting a conversation about our streets and what we want for our community.

I see a few blog regulars in there.

I think we’re going to increasingly see local communities stepping up and demanding more liveable streets. The question is if Auckland Transport will step up their game?

The Birth of the North-Western Motorway

The work to widen the North Western motorway is becoming ever more prominent – and soon requiring the closure of the bus lanes. So I thought I would look for some old photos from when it was under construction to help show how much the area has changed in the just over 60 years since it was built.

Back in 1949 Auckland was a very different place. For a start there were no motorways and we had trams rolling around most of the isthmus which was where most of urban development was focused. The land on the Avondale and Te Atatu Peninsulas was used for farming and of course the North Western motorway didn’t exist. One of the key reasons for building the motorway was apparently to provide better access to the airport – which at the time was at Whenuapai. This was also to be the main route north out of Auckland and it was only after the harbour bridge opened that plans to run the main highway north cutting through the central city emerged.

Avondale, Whau Creek, Upper Waitemata Harbour, Auckland. Whites Aviation Ltd : Photographs. Ref: WA-23472-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22344505

By late 1951 construction would be well under-way. In the two images below you can see the causeway extending out into the harbour.

Te Atatu highway, Auckland. Whites Aviation Ltd : Photographs. Ref: WA-29676-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23259836

Te Atatu highway, Auckland. Whites Aviation Ltd : Photographs. Ref: WA-29678-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23259842

Further along the route you can see construction in the early stages between Te Atatu and Lincoln Rd

Te Atatu highway, Auckland. Whites Aviation Ltd : Photographs. Ref: WA-29675-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23259316

By late 1955 you can see the Te Atatu Rd interchange starting to emerge.

Development of the North Western Motorway, Te Atatu, Auckland. Whites Aviation Ltd : Photographs. Ref: WA-39904-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/30119523

On the city side, the motorway ended at Pt Chevalier where it joined Gt North Rd. It wasn’t extended to the city till the 1970’s when the CMJ was built.

Point Chevalier entrance, showing the development of the North Western Motorway, Auckland. Whites Aviation Ltd : Photographs. Ref: WA-39903-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/30113959

Since opening the motorway has been widened and added to numerous times. It started out as a four lane motorway and by the time the current upgrade is finished, some parts will be up to 11 lanes wide when you include the bus lanes.

Te Atatu Bus Interchange hits stormy waters

I’m not sure whether to be disappointed or optimistic. Auckland Transport has announced that following consultation, they are now looking at other options for the Te Atatu bus interchange. Here is the press release.

Auckland Transport has decided to look at further options for the site of the Te Atatu Transport Interchange.

The preferred option was the development of a bus interchange between Titoki Street and the realigned southbound off-ramp from State Highway 16.

The proposal for an interchange at Titoki Street went to public consultation and Open Days, 150 people made submissions.

Simon Milner, Public Transport Operations Principal Network Planner says, “In light of those submissions, other sites will now be investigated. Titoki Street as an option will be placed on hold pending the investigation of other options. Investigation is planned to begin immediately and is expected to be completed in October this year.”

A Transport Interchange will be needed in Te Atatu by 2015/16 as part of the New Network structure for public transport in Auckland.

This will see a frequent service network which will deliver services at least every 15 minutes throughout the day, seven days a week. The Te Atatu Interchange will be a key part of this New Network.

The report can be viewed at: http://www.aucklandtransport.govt.nz/improving-transport/te-atatu-interchange/Pages/default.aspx

I’m disappointed because a bus interchange is going to be key for the new bus network that gets rolled out over the next few years. It also seems that locals who have complained did not fully understand the proposal. They still seem to view buses as noisy smelly vehicles full of poor people just waiting to vandalise their neighbourhood when the opposite is true. They also failed to see just how beneficial it would be having what would be the equivalent of a train station on their doorstep giving them quick and easy access to many parts of the city. It is also disappointing that such a small group of people can prevent development that will positively impact on probably tens of thousands of others.

Te Atatu Routes

Yet at the same time I am optimistic. The proposal would have seen westbound buses along SH16 have exit then cross over the motorway to access the interchange, then get back across the motorway again before getting back on the motorway. With AT now looking at other options, hopefully they will now consider adding the interchange as part of a proper busway proposal.

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Te Atatu Interchange 3

The interchange is now on hold

AT have also included in their information a report on outcomes of the consultation through which they received 150 pieces of feedback.

Concerns over the Te Atatu bus interchange

Last week we showed the plans for the new Te Atatu bus interchange that Auckland Transport are thinking of building. Its primary purpose is to support the new bus network which will see frequent buses serving both Te Atatu Rd and SH16, allowing passengers to transfer between services. But it seems that some of the local community are quite upset by the plan. This article in the Western Leader a few days ago highlights this as well as what I think is a bias that exists in our media.

Fumes, noise and vandalism are on the minds of Te Atatu Peninsula residents.

Auckland Transport is preparing a design for a bus interchange on Titoki St which will host 19 buses an hour.

Under its current plans up to 17 houses will be demolished.

The properties were purchased by the New Zealand Transport Agency for the widening of the northwestern motorway and the Te Atatu Rd motorway interchange improvements.

Titoki St resident Raewyn Michael is worried about the visual impact as well as the noise and pollution from bus exhausts.

“I can see the area it is going in from my house and I’m concerned about the lack of consultation. The first I heard of it was at a public meeting on February 20.”

She says it would be a sensible move to put the bus interchange on the other side of Te Atatu Rd on council owned land currently leased by the Te Atatu Pony Club.

Lets just work through some of this. The bus interchange appears to be being blamed for the houses being demolished even though they were already planned to be removed as part of the motorway interchange works. The bus interchange is really just making use of space that wasn’t being used.

As for the comment from the local resident about noise and pollution. Buses have historically had a very bad reputation on these counts however it is changing, the requirements for new buses are much much better in both of these areas. In the future we are also likely to see technologies like hybrid or even fully electric buses that will completely remove these concerns.

You also have to laugh about being concerned about the noise and pollution of a few buses when you are living next to a motorway interchange.

In addition to these plans Te Atatu Rd bridge will be widened to three lanes each way, the motorway will be lowered to give better clearance under the bridge and an extra lane will be added each way to the motorway to allow for more buses.

New Zealand Transport Agency will be putting up noise walls and planting trees to ease the effects of the motorway moving closer to neighbouring houses.

Ms Michael says this is a good thing but she is more worried about the 19 buses passing her house every hour.

“The noise from the motorway isn’t too bad and after it’s widened it won’t be that much closer to my house but the buses definitely will be. I also worry about the type of people that bus shelters attract,” she says.

Lets get this straight, the motorway is being widened to add more lanes for general traffic. Bus lanes are being added but they really are being done almost as an afterthought, stopping short of each interchange.

Assuming that this resident has been quoted correctly I think what her views represent are more a bias against buses more than anyone else. This is a shame but exactly the kind of attitude that needs to be countered. While there might be some impacts for residents, they also stand to benefit the most from this development. After it has been built she will have a short walk to a station that will see frequent buses through it going in all directions.

Auckland Transport have also released some images of what the station could potentially look like showing noise walls and planting.

Te Atatu Bus Interchange

 

Te Atatu Bus Interchange

The new bus network as proposed in the draft Regional Public Transport Plan received a large amount of support from the general public so it is a good bet that it will become a reality. The biggest changes it makes is that it relies on more people transferring to get to destinations but in return a much larger number of high frequency routes are able to be provided. The map below shows all the routes which will have a frequency of 15 minutes or better from 7am to 7pm, 7 days a week.

 New FTN Network

The network is expected to start rolling out later this year and will take around 3 years to complete. One of the key requirements to the success of the system will be around the interchange points and making it as easy as possible for passengers to change. Some thing we touched on this this post. One of the places that will be most difficult is at Te Atatu where the route/s that serves the peninsula intersects with the route/s that travels down the North Western motorway.

Te Atatu Routes

Auckland Transport, and presumably the NZTA, have been working on the how to solve the problem and they have come up with a solution. It involves building a bus interchange on Titoki St within the existing motorway designation.  AT describe the project as:

A bus-to-bus connection facility in the vicinity of Titoki St is planned, to be delivered alongside the NZTA Te Atatu motorway interchange upgrade project.

The interchange will

  • provide a high quality, safe bus interchange facility that allows easy connection between the proposed bus services;
  • ensure a high level of pedestrian safety is provided for, particularly school children;
  • provide a facility in a location that allows for efficient bus movements and minimisation of delay and diversion to buses that will use the facility;
  • develop a facility that operates effectively and safely with motorway and local traffic that will share its environment;
  • minimise the impact of the interchange on immediate residents through good design;
  • provide a facility that would be compatible with any future proposals for a North Western busway in the motorway corridor.

About the design they say:

  • A bus interchange bounded by the northwestern motorway Te Atatu southbound off-ramp, Titoki Street south and the eastern boundary of number 34 Titoki Street ;
  • Introduction of a bus-only right turn facility from Te Atatu Road into Titoki Street.  Note: The left-in-left out changes to Titoki Street-Te Atatu Road for general traffic will remain;
  • Provision of a separate bus-only southbound off-ramp from the north western motorway into the bus interchange;
  • Changes to the northwestern motorway off-ramp/Te Atatu Road intersection to include a bus lane between the two right lanes and left turn lane.  This would provide for bus-only straight-through movement back onto the southbound on-ramp;
  • Bus-only lane off Titoki Street into the interchange. The location of this entry point is opposite 7 Titoki Street.
  • Provision of a safe pedestrian environment in the vicinity of the interchange including safe crossing points across Titoki Street from the underpass and Te Atatu Road.
  • Design elements that are aimed at mitigating motorway noise impacts in a manner that is equivalent to that which would be delivered by the NZTA motorway upgrade project in the absence of the bus interchange.

The image below shows what is planned along with the houses that may be affected (the ones in pink are most affected.

Te Atatu Interchange 3

Compared to the fairly large Northern Busway stations this is quite small and an example of what it may look like is the Springwood Bus Interchange in Brisbane

Springwood Bus Interchange

I guess my the only real concerns is for westbound buses which need to exit the motorway, cross the motorway to get to the bus interchange then cross the motorway once again before heading further west. AT are now consulting on the project so see here for more info. There are also two public days to talk more about it next week so if you are interested, make sure you pop along. Also there is a bit more info at the end of this presentation.

While I don’t expect every interchange point to be like this, it is a good start by AT and hopefully we will see this kind of attention to passenger detail more common across the rest of the network.