This is the first of our regular newsletters that aims to provide updates on our campaign to Fix Hill Street Now and review related issues. We’ve covered a lot of ground so far so this issue covers a myriad of things that we’ve been thinking about.
Throwing down The Gauntlet
The medieval Warkworth Castle was a venue for jousting, drivers through Warkworth run the gauntlet of local traffic, and transport officials run the gauntlet of frustrated drivers. A gauntlet is an armoured glove and Warkworth needs to punch above its weight. Fix Hill Street Now throws down The Gauntlet, challenging officials to work towards a solution.
The purpose of our campaign is to ensure that fixing Hill Street is a priority for decision makers and engineers. The alternative is disruption and gridlock. By fixing Hill Street first creates flow-on benefits for other roading projects.
Let’s not forget that there are currently four major intersections on State Highway 1 within Warkworth’s urban boundary. The Western Collector, Matakana Link, and Tollway will increase this number to seven. Matakana Road will also have a new intersection to cater for the Matakana Link.
Regardless of the number of intersections and collectors to avoid Hill Street, Hill Street will remain the hub for the wider area with the most traffic by a huge margin.
Local Body Elections
Our team have attended the first two Meet the Candidates events at Omaha Beach Golf Club and Mahurangi East Community Centre in Snells Beach. By far the most debated issue was Hill Street.
All candidates agreed that something needs to be done. There were, however, different positions on what needs to be done.
Vic Crone was the only mayoral candidate who turned up to the Omaha meeting and sat in the back until the end.Although “Hill Street” dominated the debate, her only mention of a local issue was “Hill Road” in passing.
Off the Map
Rodney is the largest Auckland ward with the smallest population. Considering Warkworth is Auckland’s gateway to the north, no mayoral candidate has mentioned Warkworth or Rodney once in any press release, media coverage, or even on their website.
The Rodney electorate is also one of the safest National party majorities in the country. When Phil Goff was Labour leader during the last election, we couldn’t find one event he attended here. Now that he is running for mayor, it is no different.
Rodney MP Mark Mitchell is taking notice. So is local NZ First MP Tracey Martin and Northland MP Winston Peters.
If there is one thing that opens a National Government’s purse, it is the threat of Winston Peters. Minister of Transport and Tauranga MP Simon Bridges has invested billions into roading in his electorate to entrench his seat. Northland voters during a by-election, however, revolted to the miserly offerings of a few one lane bridge upgrades, reversing a huge National majority less than nine months after a general election.
We doubt it will come down to this. In Kumeu – where they have a problem with one of their intersections – a petition to their local Member of Parliament (Prime Minister John Key) resulted in NZTA resources allocated to finding a solution.
Remember, we aren’t asking for much. The money is already allocated. We are just asking for Hill Street to be given priority over other projects due to the effects of those other projects on Hill Street.
Under the Radar
There has been some cynicism about the timing of the Matakana Link funding and Elizabeth Street safety announcements. We’ve known about these plans for some time. The timing of their announcements in the days that voting papers were arriving in letterboxes narrowed the window for discussion. The media were rushed and naturally came to us for analysis. A completely avoidable situation.
The major difference between Matakana Link and Hill Street issues is that support for Matakana Link has been from a united group, land easy to acquire, the planning process simple, and a lot of work could be done behind closed doors. Zoning pushed through without hassle.
Hill Street and the Tollway has been anything but hassle free. For Hill Street, short term and low cost tweaks have been the result and long term solutions have been avoided like the ranting uncle at a family gathering.
The saying “The bigger the lie, the more people will believe it” certainly applies to how politicians have treated Hill Street.
After the Omaha Beach event, it became clear to us how muddy the water was surrounding causes of and solutions to the gridlock at Hill Street. At the Snells Beach event, we handed out brochures identifying the misinformation and misconceptions and countering them with facts. We have also created a new section of our website at www.FixHillStreetNow.org/myths.
Auckland Council’s role
Part of the problem is the uncertainty about Auckland Council’s role. While the media have been described as having “All power and no responsibility”, John Roughan’s op-ed in the NZ Herald suggests that Auckland Council’s representatives have no power but take all the responsibility.
In Myth #9, we explain how Auckland Council is responsible for Hill Street. In a nutshell, most of the traffic at Hill Street is local traffic from local roads connected to the state highway and the design of those local roads is the cause of the problem. They need to take 'ownership' and drive the project. They need to find the best long term solution for the Warkworth area and then sell it to NZTA on a cost share basis.
Within NZTA’s Auckland communications office, Warkworth is the hospital pass.
Hill Street has been an issue since the 1970s. To them, it seems that everyone has an opinion, it is often ill-advised, and repeated often. The Tollway opened a can of worms. Even though the Tollway bypasses Warkworth, NZTA can’t avoid Warkworth. Legislation requires that Tollways have a viable alternative. State Highway 1 (including Hill St Intersection) will be transferred to Auckland Transport subject to being brought up to reasonable standard (or equivalent cash contribution).
This can be a blessing and a curse. When the Northern Motorway bypassed Albany, the former State Highway 1 became Dairy Flat Highway and Auckland Transport took over the administration of the road. Since then, Auckland transport lowered the speed limit and clogged up the road with further ribbon development.
Although Auckland is having a building boom and Auckland Transport pockets $6514 for every additional dwelling, they often cry poor and the NZTA stumps up the cash for projects, such as the Matakana Link.
So, what does this mean for Hill Street? NZTA have set aside a budget of $20 million - $100 million to improve Warkworth intersections and have lost interest in tackling Hill Street. While an integrated infrastructure and land use structure plan is necessary for Warkworth’s growth, NZTA should concentrate its budget on the region’s hub.
Our aim is to inform and unite our community to ensure that there is a consistent vision and a clear voice so that NZTA don’t have an excuse to avoid the problem. We want to make NZTA’s job easier.
Former US President Jack Kennedy famously said that all problems created by man can be solved by man. Hill Street is a man-made problem. It is five intersections crammed into a portion of a large public space.
Our team have tried to meet with decision makers and engineers to figure out a way to progress. The problem seems to be obfuscation and demarcation.
If the intersection was treated like a resource consent application, a board of inquiry would require that experts from both sides work together to identify where they agree and disagree. Commissioners would call on their own expertise to find a solution for all parties.
We are wondering, what would it take for the Minister of Transport and Auckland Mayor to get their engineers in the same room to find a solution?
Talking about the RMA…
It was pointed out that the Matakana Link and Northern Growth Cell was in the same catchment/watershed as the culvert under Sandspit Road at Hill Street. The Matakana Link is more than 2 hectares of sealed road. The Northern Growth Cell is the roads, footpaths, driveways, and roofs of 2200 new dwellings. Where is all that stormwater going to go?
Will all that earthworks require a publicly notified resource consent? Can the Matakana Link be built without upgrading the culvert at Hill Street? Is this an opportunity to also build a pedestrian underpass at the same time?
Central to our campaign is our website, which includes a lot of information and raises ideas for discussion. We’ve got a lot planned and a few surprises. Keep informed by liking our Facebook page.
We have met with stakeholders, shared our research with them, and will continue to meet with them on a regular basis to ensure that the focus remains on fixing Hill Street first.
If you would like to donate to our campaign, have ideas, or want to get involved in any other way, please send us a message on our website.