Thursday didn’t disappoint with the usual flood of press releases from all directions. At The Gauntlet, we prepare a draft early in the week, expecting for the final version to look very different. Since it is a holiday weekend, we’ve decided the clear the desk and put together a bumper issue covering the past week.
(NOTE: This issue contains large graphics that can be viewed in more detail at the foot of this newsletter.)
IN A NUTSHELL
The NZTA announced at midday on Thursday that $2 million will be set aside to investigate and design a major upgrade to the Hill Street intersection. We are cautiously optimistic and will be making sure that the design phase is expedited so that the NZTA can dynamically respond to future pressures on the intersection.
As we said, there have been press releases and news bombs from all directions, spinning the heads of many journalists and politicians since the 31 March meeting of stakeholders. Fortunately, the situation settled down with NZTA’s announcement at midday thirteen days later that “Up to $2million has been set aside to investigate and design changes to the intersection.” (Read the full release here: http://bit.ly/2os9Xbo)
To recap, this announcement is precisely what Rodney Member of Parliament and minister Mark Mitchell told the Rodney Times 10 days prior at the presentation of the petition, when he said, “We have secured some funding to actually get a dedicated project manager to now get some serious work on the redesign of Hill Street.” (http://bit.ly/2p2N51b)
Two days later, the NZTA and Auckland Transport put out two releases in quick succession, which appeared inconsistent with the minister (NZTA here: http://bit.ly/2oDawlK; and Auckland Transport here: http://bit.ly/2nLHAUe.)
Relying on the information, the Mahurangi Matters lead their issue with the headline “Hill Street petitioners ignored.” (http://bit.ly/2p1D88h) The following day, the NZTA clarified that “The NZ Transport Agency and Auckland Transport have brought forward planning for the future of the Hill Street intersection in Warkworth” with the $2million package. The Mahurangi Matters then updated their online edition. The Rodney Times rang around and put together this piece: http://bit.ly/2pcvGH4.
Cooler heads prevailed.
WHY THE SHIFT?
The full release says:
The NZ Transport Agency and Auckland Transport have brought forward planning for the future of the Hill Street intersection in Warkworth.
Up to $2million has been set aside to investigate and design changes to the intersection.
The Transport Agency is working closely with Auckland Transport to work through designs that have been developed by both Auckland Transport and the Warkworth community. These designs will form the list of options which will be considered by the project team.
“When the new motorway is finished in 2021, along with other upgrades such as the Matakana Link Road and Western Collector, much of the current traffic will be able to bypass Warkworth, easing a significant amount of the existing pressure on Hill Street,” says Ernst Zollner the Transport Agency’s Auckland Relationship Director.
The Transport Agency says it’s continuing to work with Auckland Transport to investigate and deliver short term solutions to improve the capacity and efficiency of the intersection during peak periods.
Auckland Transport’s Delivery Manager, North and West, David Nelson says “With the funding for this project we can do a full investigation for re-designing the intersection. We’ll also look at any land acquisition and regulatory requirements needed before we can physically start the work.”
This release is the fourth significant shift in the position of the NZTA and AT. Originally, the 2009 plans for a major upgrade to Hill Street intersection were canned due to the fear of disruption after the upgrade of the Woodcocks to Whitaker section of State Highway 1 proved troublesome. The focus then shifted towards the motorway as the solution.
The next shift was the works to install lights at Hudson Road, the removal of the right run into Hill Street, the pedestrian/cycleway, and the lengthening of the right-turning lane into Sandspit Road.
The third shift was the Matakana Link fast-tracking. Since then, the Unitary Plan fast-tracked the zoning to the north of Warkworth, allowing for as many as 2300 houses by 2022. More than half of the 2300 homes will be to the north west of the Hill Street intersection, which will include Stage 2 of the Western Collector between the Mansel Drive/Falls Road intersection and the Matakana Link/State Highway 1 intersection.
All four shifts have been the result of traffic growth far greater than anticipated. The developers of the North Western Warkworth want to move as quick as possible and we may see Stage 2 completed before the Matakana Link. We may also see significant developments in the new light industrial zone between Goatley Road and the showgrounds.
BUT WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Clearly, NZTA are worried about disruption and their announcement is very carefully worded. The investigation, design, regulatory, land acquisition, and even tendering could be completed before any suitable time is set to commence works.
So, when is a suitable time? It all depends on the design that is chosen and the least disruptive way to build it.
We could see a design that completely avoids disruption. In such a situation, if other projects are delayed, we could see works completed in stages, like we’re seeing in Waimauku: http://bit.ly/2kNtIs8.
The Matakana Link is taking its time. The final alignment will be confirmed in August. It won’t include a Sandspit Link. If the NZTA won’t move on their current position, Sandspit Road average daily traffic will increase from 9000 to 18200 by the time they will start works to upgrade the Hill Street intersection.
Can you see the problem? Where will Sandspit Road traffic go when Hill Street is being upgraded? Sharp Road? Where to from there? Matakana Link, Western Collector, Woodcocks Road and then Whitaker Road to get into town?
With the Elizabeth Street trial, we know the capacity of Whitaker Road and it isn’t much higher than the traffic it currently handles. But the real worry is Woodcocks Road. In 2009, the average daily traffic was 5700, is currently 13,100, and will be 19,500 by the time the motorway, Matakana Link, and Western Collector is completed. Can it handle traffic that would otherwise use the Hill Street intersection?
In 2009, average daily traffic at the Hill Street intersection was 32550, currently struggles with 35900, and will be 42350 by the time the Matakana Link, Western Collector Stage 2 and the motorway are complete. And that’s NZTA’s projections, which have proved to be lower than actual data collected years later.
In other words, the problem has snowballed and the staging to fix Hill Street is time critical. The project manager appointed recently to head the upgrade must be thinking, “Why didn’t they do this a decade ago?”
The NZTA have proved to be more dynamic over the past couple of months. They have needed to be. No longer can they be complacent with obsolete cost and traffic projections in a constantly changing environment.
The Puhoi to Warkworth Road of National Significance is one of several projects caught short by urban growth, traffic growth, and cost blowouts. The Waterview Connection is needing to quickly adapt to congestion (http://bit.ly/2pcKlSv) and the North-Western Motorway works will close a lane for a year (http://bit.ly/2ob0moe). But the proposed East West Link especially caught our eye.
Simon Wilson at The Spin Off wrote this piece: http://bit.ly/2pf15G7. This passage gave us a sense of déjà vu:
NZTA told me in an email this week the new road will shave 9-15 minutes off the travel time.
Yes, you read that right. NZTA wants to reduce an 11-minute trip basically to no time at all. Truck drivers on the Southern Motorway will be able to hit that off-ramp for the South-eastern and pretty much be teleported onto Mangere Bridge. Hey, it’s only eight kilometres.
Is this just bullshit?
Well, not quite. First, the NZTA figures are future projections: that time saving will apply to the traffic flows they anticipate in 10 years’ time, in 2026.
We’ve covered 2026 projections in most of our previous issues. The NZTA recently revised them, based on the Unitary Plan changes.
With the completion of the Waterview Connection, there will be an alternative motorway route to the west of State Highway 1. The problem is that there are few efficient routes between the two motorways. The NZTA came up with the East West Link: http://bit.ly/2oaS7c4.
Our team has been analysing the effect of the urban expansion of Warkworth on the Puhoi to Te Hana motorway, and vice versa. The arguments for a motorway connection to the south of Warkworth is increasingly feasible.
Here is a diagram comparing the East West Link to a southern motorway connection for Warkworth:
As you can see, the orientation of the new motorways in comparison to State Highway 1 is similar in both maps, as well as the northern connections (red asterisk), southern connections (green asterisk) and the major hub intersections (blue asterisk). To reduce traffic at the hubs, the link roads distribute volumes between northern and southern connections.
We considered the revised traffic projections and calculated travel times based on GIS models. In this table, we compare the 2009, 2026 Base, and 2026 Motorway travel times presented as evidence for the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway with our own estimates based on the revised traffic volumes:
Clearly, there is a time saving for several routes. But is it enough? In the Spin Off article about the East West Link, it says:
In December 2015 NZTA published its case for the new road, stating the cost would be in the range $1.25 billion to $1.85 billion. The BCA was 1.9 at the low end of that range. One month later NZTA announced the upper end of the range, $1.85 billion, was more likely to be right. It said inflation accounted for the rise, and it also said the BCA was still 1.9. Since then it has consistently refused to produce a new BCA, saying the 2015 one still holds true and a new one will not be required until later.
How do they get away with that? With active government support. The East-West Link is on a fast-track. The Minister of Finance, Steven Joyce, has had it designated a Road of National Significance (RONS) which means it is not subject to some of the usual evaluations. A RONS, by definition, is an economically important road – even if the evidence for that is missing. Strange but true, the status overrides the facts.
So, technically, NZTA has established the business case for the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway and doesn’t need to revisit the BCR, even after the Warkworth to Te Hana Stage 2 of the RONS has doubled in price: http://bit.ly/2oaESbr.
But what if a southern motorway connection makes the whole project feasible again?
We crunched some numbers, based on the NZTA’s Economic Evaluation Model: http://bit.ly/2pfhSZD. Based on the traffic volumes and journey times, we produced this table:
These figures show that a southern connection would increase motorway travel volumes between Valerie Close and Puhoi, reduce travel times, and potentially make the motorway feasible. Furthermore, looking at the whole Puhoi to Te Hana motorway project, upgrading the Hill Street intersection as part of the project could make the whole project look better on paper.
The benefits of a southern connection were presented to the 31 March stakeholder meeting. From that meeting, NZTA are now investigating a southern connection to the motorway for Warkworth: http://bit.ly/2oxiFa5.
With the weather warnings, we expect lower than anticipated traffic volumes through Warkworth. If the weather systems bypass Warkworth, expect some surges in traffic volumes. Stay safe out there and be patient. Remember, everyone else drives worse than you.
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