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NZTA accused of highway robbery

Information released under the Official Information Act reveals that the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) neglected New Zealand’s worst intersection to unnecessarily justify the case for a motorway, according to the action group Fix Hill Street Now.

“The NZTA knew that the motorway wouldn’t fix the intersection, lied to the public that it would fix the intersection, and then robbed the money that was meant to fix the intersection to pay for the motorway,” group member Grant McLachlan says.

The Fix Hill Street Now Team this morning presented to the Transport & Industrial Relations Select Committee in Parliament.

The team spoke in support of the more than 9000 people who signed their petition to ask that the government fund the investigation, design, and construction of a major upgrade to Warkworth’s State Highway 1 intersection at Hill Street before congestion and safety problems deteriorate further.

Mr McLachlan said the presentation included damning evidence that the NZTA neglected the Hill Street intersection in order to reinforce the case for the Puhoi-Warkworth Motorway Road of National Significance and misled locals that the motorway and Matakana link road would fix congestion.

He said in the week that the petition was tabled in Parliament, the NZ Transport Agency gave $2 million to Auckland Transport to investigate and redesign the intersection, but won’t allow the works to commence until at least 2021.

“That throws the Hill Street intersection onto the same heap as Penlink. NZTA have wiped their hands of Hill Street and handed it over to a debt-ridden Council unable to fund Penlink or Hill Street.

“But NZTA don’t have clean hands. All the benefits to justify the cost of fixing Hill Street have been stolen by the NZTA to justify other pet projects, such as the Puhoi-Warkworth motorway and Matakana link. It’s highway robbery!”

According to reports released by NZTA and Auckland Transport under the Official Information Act, the business cases for the Puhoi-Warkworth Motorway and Matakana link relied on a deterioration of congestion at the Hill Street intersection.

“The case for the motorway was based on a major upgrade to Hill Street. Instead, they’ve decided that the less that they did to the intersection made the motorway look better,” Mr McLachlan says.

“But responses to Parliamentary questions from Winston Peters exposed that NZTA’s statements about the motorway and Matakana link were not accurate. Instead of traffic at the intersection reducing after the motorway and Matakana link were complete, NZTA predict that traffic volumes will dramatically increase.

“It’s not rocket science that having a motorway connection at the northern end of a town growing fivefold will increase local traffic heading north from the Hill Street intersection.”

According to the responses, the $709 million motorway will divert less than 15 per cent of the traffic that would otherwise use the Hill Street intersection. The $42 million Matakana link will only divert four per cent. In the meantime, total traffic at the intersection will increase from a current daily average of 35,900 vehicles to 42,350 by 2026. Auckland Transport research shows that the intersection is currently operating at capacity most of the time.

Mr McLachlan says the Minister’s response incorrectly exaggerates the benefit to cost ratio by a factor of four. The benefits are only $21 million according to his answers.

“The $21 million is more than enough to fix Hill Street. Why spend $42 million diverting four per cent of the traffic when $21 million will fix 100 per cent of the problem?

“But the NZTA spin machine keeps conjuring up excuses, which Auckland Council’s Kowhai Park upgrade have disproved. It is possible to complete major earthworks in that environment without causing disruption or damage.

“In the meantime, to maximise the use of the $2 million fund, Auckland Transport has developed a protracted process to find a solution.

“Once Auckland Transport has done the $2 million to death, it will be too late. We will be another Whangaparaoa.

“Under the Roads of National Significance programme, the benefits of each project does not necessarily need to outweigh the cost of building it. The misappropriation of the benefits to fix Hill Street needn’t have been reallocated towards the motorway.

“The motorway robbed something of no value to it that is invaluable to fixing Hill Street. Users of the intersection will continue to be a victim for at least five years until this intersection is fixed.”

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