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The Gauntlet: Issue #21



Newsletter #21 - 9 February 2017


There’s a lot of movement today after Monday came to a grinding halt.

GRIDLOCK

We’ve been asking around to determine whether Waitangi Day’s 13-hour traffic jam at the Hill Street intersection was the worst ever. The queues started to build just before 10am and lasted until 11pm.


Let’s remember that there weren’t any accidents, poor weather, or any other factors causing the gridlock. The 60-100-minute waiting times were purely the double bottleneck of Sandspit Road and Matakana Road squeezing through a State Highway 1 intersection. State Highway 1 queues stretched north through Dome Valley, along Matakana Road as far as Sharp Road, and along Sandspit Road to Hamilton Road.


After 6pm, Warkworth was the only place in the country with gridlock. The radio stations picked up on this. When weather throughout the country was clear and there were no accidents, Warkworth stood out like a sore thumb.


Let’s think for a second what the traffic would be like with the motorway and Matakana Link built. Think of all that Sandspit Road traffic turning right at the traffic lights towards the motorway. What is it like now for anyone turning right at the traffic lights even at off peak times? Yup, that one lane at the Elizabeth Street/Sandspit Road intersection doesn’t help, does it? Nor does the 10-15 second green light every 120 seconds.


Once through the Hill Street intersection, that Sandspit traffic wanting to get on the motorway must then go through the Hudson Road and Matakana Link traffic lights before negotiating the motorway junction roundabout. How is this “improved journey times” for Sandspit Road traffic?


DEADLOCK

There was a meeting/presentation held by Auckland Transport with the Rodney Local Board in Orewa on Thursday. The point of the meeting was to brief members about the results of the Elizabeth Street trial before they were released to the Warkworth Area Liaison Group next month.


We already knew the results of the Elizabeth Street trial. We collected better quantitative and qualitative data than Auckland Transport. In fact, we requested that a member of the local board ask certain questions. As expected, Auckland Transport couldn’t answer them and will endeavour to answer them for the WALG meeting.


A lot has changed since the Elizabeth Street trial. Auckland Transport are taking the issue of building capacity at the Hill Street intersection more seriously. As the trial was inconclusive and divisive, we just want everyone to move on and look at long term solutions.

UNLOCK

We’ve discovered a Little Red Hen in another department of the council. The Community Facilities Operations Division – in their planning for the Kowhai Park upgrade – have done all the work that the NZTA and Auckland Transport were too chicken to do. They not only used their ecologists and arbourists to assess the waterways and native trees in Kowhai Park but also got their assessments independently peer reviewed. For the works proposed to upgrade Kowhai Park, they prepared detailed resource consents and received detailed decisions.


Let’s remember that the Kowhai Park upgrade was all designed with the expectation that the intersection will one day be upgraded too. The budget to pay for it came from the depreciation account accumulated over 12 years that the park has been overdue for an overhaul.


We take our hats off to the team for taking the initiative. They were sick of waiting for the NZTA and Auckland Transport to fix Hill Street. Unlike Little Red Hen, I am sure that the team will share what they have gained from their project.


Work starts next month and will be finished within a few months. So, the whole project will be designed, planned, tendered, and completed within nine months at a cost of $570,000.

BENCHMARK

Over at Waimauku, the SH16/Muriwai Road roundabout will take over a year to build and cost $6m. To minimise the impact of traffic flows on the tight site, the works will be completed in stages. Check out the staging diagrams here: http://bit.ly/2kNtIs8.


The site is much tighter than the Hill Street intersection. Here is the plan:


Here is the Waimauku roundabout overlaid on the Hill Street intersection:

SH16 at the Waimauku intersection is a 70km/h zone with the Muriwai and Waimauku Station Roads being 50km/h. In other words, it is a 70km/h intersection. The Hill Street intersection is a 60km/h SH1 intersection with connecting local roads being 50km/h zones.


The Waimauku roundabout design can fit comfortably into the Hill Street intersection. The diameter is also much smaller than any of our designs. So, in other words, the excuse that roundabouts use too much land does not hold water.


What we propose is a large roundabout to improve the distribution of traffic, maximising the public land available.


There is little disruption caused by the Waimauku works. There was one complaint about a temporary barrier obscuring sight distances for Muriwai traffic at the intersection but we understand that has since been addressed.


Check out the photos of how separate the work site is to the operating intersection. Such a method can easily be applied at the Hill Street intersection.


Here is a photo of the barrier on the southeast corner of SH16 and Muriwai Road. Think of how this could be applied to Kowhai Park.


Next, here are the temporary barriers east of the previous photo looking east from the same point.


And finally, here is the view of the temporary barrier on Muriwai Road opposite the school looking north towards the intersection.


Overall, the excuse that the risk of disruption to Hill Street intersection traffic poses too much of a problem is not credible. We have been saying this for years: http://bit.ly/2kxNDNf.

COOKING THE BOOKS

We have been scratching our heads about why certain people are so stubbornly opposed to fixing the Hill Street intersection. Now that the NX2 organisation have the contract to build the Puhoi-Warkworth Road of National Significance, NZTA have become more tight-lipped. It seems that the fates of careers and projects are aligned.


Here is what we know. Increasing the capacity of the Hill Street intersection to a five-point traffic light intersection was part of a “Do-Minimum” option up to 2015. NZTA saw that increasing the capacity of the Hill Street intersection did not add any value to the motorway. So, they decided to do less than the “Do-Minimum” option by extending the right turning lane towards Sandspit Road, removing the right-hand turn into Hill Street, and building a footpath on the north-western side of the state highway that is rarely used.


According to NZTA’s Business Case for the Implementation of the project (http://bit.ly/2kUWOIh), the present value/cost of the project was $744m whereas the economic benefits were $759m. From what we could gather, the PPP part of the project cost was a construction cost of $629m and running costs of $19m – a combined cost of $648m (page 64 of the report). In the NZTA’s press release last year, however, the present value of the PPP has increased to $709.5m. (http://bit.ly/2lpZj23)


So, in other words, the net benefit of the project has plummeted from a rosy +$15m to an ominous -$46.5m net cost. But wait, there’s this proviso (page 66):


The assumptions in the analysis related to the Hill Street intersection works are conservative and the benefits of P-Wk are likely to have been understated (with a resulting understatement of the BCR).


Great. The reason for the six-year delay to fix Hill Street is to make the motorway look better on paper.


Usually a big project requires a much higher Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR). As Transportblog observed, the main justification for the motorway is its labelling as a “Road of National Significance.” (http://bit.ly/2k4XeMW)


We asked around. Of the $759m of benefits that the motorway would so-call produce, our experts reckon that the NZTA calculated that between $200-250m is congestion through Warkworth (roughly half of that being at Hill Street).


So, based on the NZTA’s own criteria, spending the $100m on the SH1 intersections in Warkworth would produce benefits that outweigh the costs by a factor of more than 2:1.


But the motorway has pilfered those benefits. That’s why the report records the present value of fixing Hill Street intersection as $0. We also suspect that the case for the Matakana Link also performed the same creative accounting.


The NZTA have never differentiated between local and through traffic. Never. In their calculations, they cooked the books to suit their case to benefit through traffic at the detriment of local traffic.


NZTA Auckland and Northland Highways Manager Brett Gliddon reckons that the motorway will divert a daily average of 8,500 vehicles away from the Hill Street intersection. The evidence for the motorway, however, said that between 5,700 and 13,700 will use the motorway on average each day. In other words, very few local motorists are expected to use it.


By our calculations, of the 37,000 vehicles that use the intersection on average each day, 5900-6500 are State Highway 1 through traffic. That’s 31,500+ local traffic that will never benefit from the motorway or Matakana Link. That figure will grow to 60,000+ by the time the motorway and Matakana Link is finished.

HAVE YOUR CAKE AND EAT IT

We’re not against the motorway. We’re just not happy with making locals suffer to justify a motorway that others will benefit from.


We reckon that there can be a motorway and an upgrade of Hill Street. You can have your cake and eat it. The cost to fix Hill Street is only crumbs compared to the motorway project.

Local traffic growth is higher than anticipated. Congestion at the Hill Street intersection is more regular and worse than when the BCR calculations were made. To make the motorway more feasible, it needs more vehicles to use it. The NZTA needs to make the motorway inviting to local motorists by removing the congestion at Hill Street.


Putting all these arguments aside, NZTA Brett Gliddon said that the reason for not upgrading Hill Street “is not a lack of funds or engineering ability - it's simply one of construction impact.” (http://bit.ly/2kUkrl4)


Good. We've proven that construction impact is not a problem. We say, get on with it.


Maybe we should forward the Auckland Council's Community Facilities Operations Division's phone number?


THANK YOU

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Please contact Alan at (027)2419033 or alan@fixhillstreetnow.org if you have any time available to help us collect signatures for our petition.


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