The Puhoi to Warkworth Business Case

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

Confirmed route

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

Puhoi to Warkworth Business Case - Revisions

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Yet in the body of the report it says

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

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

2014 Freight study Regional Freight Movements - 2012

2014 Freight study Regional Freight Movements Forecast - 2042

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

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

 

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

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

Puhoi to Warkworth Business Case - Travel Time Savings

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

Puhoi to Warkworth Business Case - 2010 Project Risks

 

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

Puhoi to Warkworth Business Case - Economic Assessment

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

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

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

Puhoi to Warkworth Business Case - Toll Revenue

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

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

Puhoi to Warkworth Business Case - PPP Risk allocation

 

NZTA’s Traffic Assessment for Puhoi to Warkworth

This is the first in a series of posts based on the Campaign for Better Transport’s submission to the Puhoi to Warkworth Board of Inquiry. The full presentation can be found over at bettertransport.org.nz

In this post we take a closer look at the Transportation and Traffic Assessment Report which the NZTA have supplied in support of their application for a $760m toll road from Puhoi to north Warkworth. In particular, we will examine the forecast traffic growth and volumes “further north”.

NZTA have modelled traffic growth at a rate of 4.4% per annum (straight line) until 2026. This is the forecast growth without the toll road, explained on p.27:

base-volumes

 

As you can see, NZTA claim that the 4.4% growth figure is “consistent with the growth rate observed over the last five years which has averaged 4.1%.”

Footnote 21 says the 4.1% figure is based on NZTA’s TMS count site south of McKinney Road, which is just south of central Warkworth. Looking at the data from the NZTA State Highway Traffic Volumes, a growth rate of 4% does indeed appear to be not a bad fit.  The figures quoted are two way traffic counts.

mckinney2

However, the report does not explain why this particular count site has been chosen. Traffic counts at McKinney Road will reflect the growth of trips in and around Warkworth itself – trips that aren’t necessarily travelling long distances at all.

It would therefore make more sense to consider the number of vehicles that currently travel the whole distance from Puhoi to Wellsford and beyond every day, and vice versa – what I will refer to as “further north” trips. We can get an idea of the trend in this traffic by looking at Kaipara Flats road, which is just north of the northern junction of the project.

kaiparaflats

As you can see, this chart tells a very different story – no long term growth whatsoever for the period 2008 to 2012.  Other traffic counters like the one at Waipu show a similar “flatline” trend.  

But at this point we still don’t know what proportion of these trips are “further north”. I asked NZTA if they had modelled “further north” trips and it turns out they had, but hadn’t included it in the report.

The 2009 Base Case model comes out at just 4,460 trips a day. The 2026 Project model, 5 years after the project is complete, has 5,930 trips travelling to or from “further north”.

This seems like an astonishingly small number of trips for which to build a four lane toll road. NZTA claim that a number of toll road users will have origins or destinations in Warkworth and Matakana, despite the fact that it will be quicker to use the existing SH1.

NZTA originally provided a projected split of toll road traffic at the northern junction as 10,500 travelling to/from the north and 12,100 travelling to/from Warkworth, as shown in the following diagram:

Northern-Intersection-Original-cropped

However, along with supplying the “further north” figures, they have also supplied a new diagram for the toll road split, which looks like this:

Northern Intersection Revised Cropped

Go figure. Apparently NZTA are no longer sure what the split in traffic will be.  Without this, trying to get a handle on expected traffic flows becomes hard.  If we know only 5,930 trips are travelling to / from “further north”, then this represents only 31% of the traffic north of Kaipara Flats (19,200).  Where are all the other vehicles coming from, and what impact will the proposed toll road have on their travel times? I’m hoping NZTA will be providing the revised split of traffic or, ideally, the whole report will be subject to an independent review.

In the next post I will discuss NZTA’s forecast traffic volumes for Matakana, and why the forecast of 14,000 vehicles a day for the new toll road may be way overstated. (Hint: it is to do with the toll.)

Update:

Thanks to mfwic in the comments below, we have an extended series of data for McKinney Rd.  With a base line of 2003, linear growth of just 2.1% is observed. Which makes NZTA’s modelling look even more overstated.

extendedMcKinney

Hill Street Blues

We’ve discussed Warkworth’s notorious Hill St intersection previously, but it seems timely to revisit again with the Board of Inquiry underway on the Puhoi – Warkworth toll road and NZTA’s recent press release on the subject:

The NZ Transport Agency says its priority to improve traffic flows in the Warkworth area is to first construct a new highway between Puhoi and Warkworth before it upgrades the community’s Hill Street intersection.

“I acknowledge that many in the community want Hill Street upgraded as soon as possible, but it is important that we have a reliable alternative route in place first for people before we tackle Hill Street,” says the Transport Agency’s State Highway Manager, Tommy Parker.

Mr Parker says upgrading the intersection and the state highway and five local roads that feed into it will be a complex task that will take some time to complete.

“There’s not a lot of room at the intersection and we will need to keep all those roads open during the upgrade. We estimate construction could take two summers to complete and that will mean considerable disruption for everyone – children from the nearby school, residents, local businesses and road users.

“Upgrading Hill Street, either in isolation or ahead of the new highway, will not provide substantial relief from congestion. It makes sense to construct the highway first to help us manage the disruption from that work and divert traffic away from the intersection.”

Before analysing NZTA’s announcement in more detail, here is a map of the current intersection:

Hill St Map

And the GIS view:

Hill St GIS

As you can imagine, the intersection turns into a real bottleneck at peak times, particularly in the summer months.

Traffic from Warkworth village heading to Matakana must turn right at a give way sign, across a lane of queued traffic, giving way to traffic from a number of directions concurrently. Traffic queues across the intersection can often block other traffic movements in other directions. In summary, it is a real mess.

Further down in their press release, NZTA mention a couple of other projects:

Mr Parker says the Transport Agency is working with Auckland Transport – Auckland Council’s transport body – to progress other options including the Matakana Link, which will connect with the new highway and bypass Hill Street to the region’s eastern beaches, the Western Collector in the town and the SH1/McKinney Road intersection south of the township.

Firstly, looking at the Western Collector:

western-collector

This is an AT sponsored project which is a complete bypass around Hill Street and central Warkworth. It starts at opposite McKinney Road in the south and ends at Hudson Road north of Hill Street. Anyone heading to or from the north on the existing SH1 will certainly use this, reducing pressure on Hill St. A number of intersections that make up the bypass have already been completed, but I can’t find any information via Google on when the missing links will be completed. It is supposed to happen before the Puhoi – Warkworth toll road, however.

Secondly, the Matakana Link is mentioned, crudely highlighted in blue on the map below. At this stage this is unfunded and does not form part of the Puhoi – Warkworth toll road project. However, without it the toll road will be useless for people wanting to travel to or from the Matakana area.

As currently scoped, the toll road will join 1.8 km north of the Hill Street intersection. Anyone travelling to Matakana on the new toll road will have to cover an extra 3 km at least to get to Hill Street, compared to using the existing SH1.

Puhoi Warkworth Northern Junction

So are NZTA right in delaying Hill Street by at least another 10 years? On the one hand, the scale of any new intersection could be reduced because of the Western Collector and the possibility of the Matakana link.

On the other hand, for Warkworth residents this is a long time to wait, so why not start now? Remember also that Warkworth residents won’t directly benefit from the new toll road either, as the fastest route south will still be the existing SH1, so they seem to be getting a rough deal from the announcement.

Sorting out Warkworth

Now that the $400 million Orewa-Puhoi Motorway has been shown to have done nothing to alleviate congestion north of Auckland (instead it has simply shifted the bottleneck from Orewa to Warkworth), it seems like there is quite a lot of talk about what should be done about this problem. As I explained a week or so ago, one solution could simply be for everyone to not drive at the same time, but if we are to spend a lot of money to “do something” about the bottlenecks north of Auckland, I really think that we should potentially look a bit outside the square for a solution. I also think that it’s truly bizarre that NZTA are widening State Highway 1 through Warkworth at the same time as having plans to bypass the town.

Further north there is a potentially useful template for what could be done around Warkworth, and that is the way in which Wellsford is progressively being bypassed – not through some grand massively expensive state highway bypass, but instead through a simple local road upgrade a decent chunk of the vehicles that used to pass through there to get to Mangawhai Heads, Langs Beach and potentially even Waipu Cove, now have an alternative route to use and don’t have to go through Wellsford. The roads have always been there, but over the past few years they have been fully sealed, and slowly the signage has been improved to encourage more and more people to take this route. I think that once a proposed improvement to the intersection with State Highway 1 is constructed, this will become the main route to that part of the coast.

The map below shows a comparison of the old route (red) and the new one (blue). As a bonus, the new route shaves around 5 minutes off the travel time, even off-peak:

Unfortunately there’s not such an obvious bypass route for Warkworth, although the potential is there as I discovered during a rather interesting detour on our way up north a few days back. As shown in the map below, at the moment if one is to bypass Warkworth (the blue route) then the route is a pretty arduous one (particularly as a reasonable chunk of it is unsealed). If that route was completely sealed then I guess it could be a useful overflow point if things are particularly nasty, but during off-peak times it’s probably going to take about three or four times as long as sticking to SH1.

The green route in the map below shows a potentially much shorter bypass of Warkworth, once again using existing roads (except for the short dotted area which would need to be built). Unless there’s a huge mountain where the dotted line is (which there may well be around there), then I think building this bypass would basically achieve what we need: a good alternative route to the state highway that runs through the town.

Instead of a fairly logical and simple solution, such as this, we are seeing a two-pronged approach from NZTA: firstly to widen SH1 through Warkworth to four-lanes, and secondly to build an unbelievably expensive full motorway bypass from Puhoi to Wellsford – the infamous “holiday highway”.

Here are NZTA’s plans for widening the road through Warkworth:

So instead of a relatively inexpensive solution, we have one project that will cut Warkworth in half with a wide high-speed road through the middle of it, and then we have a super-expensive motorway option that is likely to have a cost-benefit ratio of barely 0.3 (not that that will necessarily stop it from happening). I guess that a modest proposal like my suggested bypass route wouldn’t get as many headlines as the “roads of national significance”. Which just shows where transport thinking is heading.