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.

Waterview Connection July Timelapse

A few of the latest videos and images from the Waterview Connection project. As of the end of last week tunnelling on the second tunnel was just under 70% complete.

The July Timelapse

And a video of the construction of the massive ramps

We often see what the project looks like from above so here are a couple of photos I took the other day of the view those using the NW cycleway get of the ramps.

 

Waterview Ramps - 2

A view coming to the Northern Motorway at Constellation Dr soon?

Waterview Ramps - 3

Waterview Connection June update

The latest time-lapse and images from the huge Waterview Connection project. There is also a project update here.

Once again the images really highlight the vast scale of the new interchange being built at Waterview.

Waterview Aerial - June 15 - 1

Waterview Aerial - June 15 - 3

Waterview Aerial - June 15 - 4

The tunnel portal at the southern end

Waterview Aerial - June 15 - 2

And these are of the old Wiri Quarry which is being filled in with the muck from the tunnels is sent

Waterview Aerial - June 15 - 5

Waterview Aerial - June 15 - 6

2014 – A Year in Review Part 3 – Roads

In the third in my series of posts wrapping up the year I will look at what’s happened with roads this year.

Roads of National Significance

The RoNS have continued as they did last year with one notable exception.

Western Ring Route

The Western Ring Route works are in full flight now as will be evidenced to anyone who drives along SH16 with roadworks in place from east of Western Springs all the way through Northwest of Lincoln Rd from 5 separate projects.

  • St Lukes Interchange
  • Waterview Connection
  • Causeway upgrade
  • Te Atatu Interchange
  • Lincoln Rd Interchange

The TBM working on the Waterview connection has broken through with the first tunnel and in December made a start on the second one. At the same time the most visible part of the project has been the large yellow gantry has been building towering ramps that will connect the tunnels to SH16 in each direction.

Over the next year we should finally see the Lincoln Rd section completed and I imagine significant progress on the other projects – although they are still a few years from completion.

Puhoi to Wellsford

In 2014 the NZTA were issued with consent to build the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway – a road even the NZTA’s analysis says is only really busy during holiday periods. Amazingly we’re still yet to see any real economic analysis for the project which is likely because it’s terrible based on the work we saw before the government named it a priority. The government of course continue to claim it’s all about the economic development of Northland despite the existing toll road – which saved more time than this motorway will – not making any difference.

Confirmed route

Over 2015 we’re likely to see the NZTA working towards a PPP to get this project built however it’s not likely we’ll see any construction start.

Basin Reserve Flyover

Perhaps the biggest surprise of 2014 was the Board of Inquiry declining the NZTA’s application to build a flyover around the edge of the Basin Reserve. In the end the commissioners hearing the case concluded the impact on the local community from having a massive flyover was just too much after it was able to be shown that most of the benefits the NZTA claimed the road would provide were actually attributable to other projects.  The decision was embarrassing for the NZTA and the government seeing as it was using the governments new fast track process which means the decision can only be appealed on points of law – which the NZTA are doing.

Basin Bridge Image 1

I’m not aware if a date has yet been set for the appeal but it is likely to be later next year.

Transmission Gully

Also in Wellington, the first transport PPP was signed in July for the construction and operation of Transmission Gully, another project with a horrific business case. Initial works should have started by now however won’t really ramp up till next year. The PPP will see the NZTA paying $125 million a year for 25 years once the project has been completed. Unlike many PPPs that failed overseas, for the consortium building the road there is little risk as all the demand risk sits with the NZTA, in other words we pay providing the road is open – and if it is damaged from a something like an earthquake we have to pay at least some of the costs of that too.

Other RoNS

The other RoNS projects in the Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Christchurch have continued along. I’m not sure of the progress of all of them however the Tauranga Eastern Link is meant to be completed in 2015.

Auckland Motorway Projects

In 2013 the government announced a series of additional motorway projects for Auckland. The widening of the Northern Motorway between Upper Harbour and Greville Dr has just been completed and in November started consultation on ideas for further changes to that section including a motorway to motorway interchange between SH1 and SH18. Some of the ideas are absolutely massive in scale such as concept 3.

Northern Corridor Improvements Concept 3

Of the other projects, works to grade separate Kirkbride Rd moved ahead and earlier this month the NZTA announced the contract had been signed with construction starting in January

We haven’t heard much about the other accelerated project which will see the southern motorway from Manukau to Papakura widened but I would expect we will do in 2015.

In addition to the accelerated projects the NZTA has now made a start on widening SH1 Northbound between Ellerslie-Panmure Highway and Greenlane – a project that’s been on the cards for a while and for which the Ellerslie Station platform was narrowed a few years ago to accommodate.

Accelerated Regional Roads

In addition to the RoNS, and to shore up their support from some rural communities, this year the government announced a spend up of over $200 million on a number of regional state highway projects that can’t get funding due to it being sucked up by the RoNS. The Funding for these projects is coming from the proceeds of asset sales the government has undertaken. Some of the projects appear to be of low value however not all are.

Govt Accelerated Rural Road Package

AMETI

Auckland Transport started the year with the opening of the new Panmure station and in November they opened Te Horeta Rd which is the new road running alongside the rail line and Panmure station from Mt Wellington Highway to Morrin Rd.

East West Link Connections

In October both AT and the NZTA launched consultation on ideas for the East West Link after calling off a proposal for a motorway through Mangere right at the beginning of the year. They haven’t announced the results yet but I’m fairly certain either option C or D has been picked as the option they are proceeding with.

EW Option - Option D

Mill Rd

In November AT announced they have come up with a route for the Mill Rd corridor and will be working towards securing a designation for it. The most disappointing aspect for me about the project – other than some of the case for it has likely been destroyed by the fast tracking of the SH1 widening – is that even with a brand new corridor, AT are still designing a crap outcome with features like unprotected cycle lanes or shared paths and pedestrian/cycle unfriendly roundabouts.

We’re still driving less

One positive trend I have started to notice is our transport institutions are starting to take notice of is that we’re driving less. In the last few months in particular it’s started to be mentioned in publications such as the Briefing to the Incoming Minister and in research papers.

ResizedImage600304-FutureDemand-Diagram1

What have I missed?

Just another $500 million

The herald this week ran a large piece on the projects under construction as part of the Western Ring Route (WRR) including aerial photos of the progress. The projects covered were:

  • The Waterview Connection breaking it down by:
    • The Southern end
    • The Northern end
    • The Waterview interchange
  • The raising and widening of the Northwestern Motorway Causeway
  • The Te Atatu Interchange
  • The St Lukes Interchange
  • The Lincoln Rd Interchange

But the thing that got me about the article was this part

The 4.8km link between the Southwestern and Northwestern Motorways will fill the last-but-one gap in the 48km Western Ring Route. It will bypass the city to the west and link Manukau, Auckland, Waitakere and North Shore.

All that will be left to complete, by about 2019, will be a $500 million-plus motorway-to-motorway interchange at the northern end of the route.

It’s made to sound like it’s some sort of minor completion task but in reality at $500 million it would be the second most expensive road project in Auckland after the Waterview tunnels. What’s more it’s all just to satisfy some transport planners desire to make a map look prettier.

SH18-SH1 map gap

The project is more than twice the cost of a similar junction at Manukau built just a few years ago. It’s even almost enough to get a fully offline busway all the way to Silverdale – not that it’s needed that far yet (but NEX services to Silverdale are). It will be eclipsed in price any time soon by $800 million Puhoi to Warkworth motorway (if it goes ahead). 

Further it’s also technically incorrect to say that’s the final project for the Western Ring Route as there is still an estimated $100 million upgrade of the Royal Rd interchange (and associated widening either side of it) that will be left to do. Also needing to be included are the costs of widening the Northern and Southern motorways either side of the western ring route which the NZTA say are needed to handle the traffic from the WRR.

All up over the span of the roughly 13 years that we will have actually been building it, the Western Ring Route will costing us almost $4 billion. That’s on top of other major motorway projects that have been/are going on like the Victoria Park Tunnel, Newmarket Viaduct replacement and the myriad of projects the government announced last year they would fast track. Here’s a breakdown of the costs of the various WRR Projects

WRR Costs

It’s the ability to really break some of these mega projects down into small chunks that I think has been instrumental in Auckland forging ahead with so many motorway projects ahead of other transport investments. Projects like the CRL have suffered because they require the entire thing to built before they become usable and the price tag then looks scary. However spreading out the cost of the CRL over the years it will take to build shows that annually it’s about the same as what we’ve been pouring into these motorway projects. (note: cost of CRL in today’s dollars is ~$1.8 billion other costs often quoted include extra trains for an inefficient operating pattern and future inflation).

All of this makes me wonder how different the public would have perceived these projects if upfront they had been told it would have cost almost $4 billion to build. Would public sentiment about what transport projects we should build be different if we could have had a more realistic discussion about how much things cost.

WRR up to $4b and counting

A couple of weeks ago I looked at the cost of the the Western Ring Route which when it is all said and done will have cost us over $3b however I did miss out some important details. I forgot about the impact on the connections to State Highway 1 in both the north and the south. Readers may recall than when the connection at Manukau was opened in 2010 there was chaos on the Southern motorway as scores of vehicles joined from SH20 which resulted in considerable congestion and frustrated motorists. As a quick fix the NZTA was forced to install ramp signals on the connection to the South to control the flow but said that the long term solution was to widen the motorway further between Manukau and Papakura to relieve the pressure. They also realised that the same thing might happen on the Northern motorway where SH18 joins SH1 so said they want to widen that part too. But how much will these works cost?

Another of the papers the NZTA released to me was their State Highway strategy from 2010 which sheds some light on the issue. In the South they are only showing the costs of adding a third lane southbound from Hill Rd to Takanini which would cost $40-$80m but they all four stages would likely need to be completed before ramp signalling could be removed from the SH20-SH1 connection. I think we could easily add in an extra couple of hundred million for the other works based on the costs we have seen elsewhere.

In the North it is going to cost even more, the paper says that the desire is to the route fully upgraded to expressway standard which means they would need to grade separate the likes of Paul Matthews Rd as well as installing ramps to allow motorway to motorway connections. Widening would also need to take place at least to Greville Rd which would also need an expensive upgrade.

All up from the listed projects we have additional costs in the range of $565m-$910m not including the projects out south that haven’t been costed. All of this is on top of the other $3 billion we would have already spent on the WRR  which means that when all is said and done this one motorway would have cost more than $4b alone.

Comparing Big Transport Projects

One of the big complaints about the CRL is the cost and at over $2b it is understandable that people balk at it. The project is actually likely to come down in price as a result of the refinement that is going on behind the scenes and things like staging some of the stations as has been mentioned will also help and may even get the cost down below $2b which should help its image enormously. But how does a project like the CRL compare to something like the Western Ring Route (WRR) that is being built. There have been numerous parts completed for it over the last few years but one thing that has happened is that the costs have been spread out over various projects and so the general public doesn’t really seem to have had as much objection to it. Here is a map of the entire WRR:

Thinking about it a bit further I decided to add up all of the costs for the WRR to see just how much had been spent and how much is predicted to be spent in the next few years. After a bit of searching I managed to find the costs for all the projects bar the Royal Rd interchange which is the NZTA haven’t listed yet.

 

So all up just over $3b will have been spent on the route over a period of roughly 10 years. That is a huge amount of money and I can only imagine what would have been said if the NZTA or its predecessor had tried to build the whole thing in one go. At $2b over the next 10 or so years, the CRL starts to actually sound a bit more reasonable but then of course is the issue of how much each of these projects would be used. Its pretty hard to directly compare the two as there are so many different variables so I decided just to do a really rough calculation. The best numbers I have for the CRL come from an OIA request our former admin did over a year ago.

That shows that in about 30 years that with the CRL the rail network would have 47.6m trips per year or about 130k per day, this is compared 22.2m per year without the CRL or just under 61k per day. From that we can say that the CRL provides for an additional 69k trips per day. A few quick calculations show that for us to be getting the same number of additional trips, the improvements to the WRR would need to generate roughly an extra 80,000 vehicle movements per day on top of what was using SH16 and SH20 before these improvements were started (accounting for an occupancy of 1.3 people).  To put that in perspective, that is only just a little less than the number of vehicles that cross the causeway today.

I guess the one big thing with the CRL is that with the exception of perhaps a few of the stations, there is not much chance to stage things and everything else will have to be be built in one go.