Disappointingly, but unsurprisingly, the NZTA board has given their OK to the Waterview Connection to be constructed as a partial surface/tunnel, rather than as either a full tunnel option or choosing not to proceed with it at all. The NZ Herald reports:

The controversial Waterview Connection will go ahead in Auckland as planned, it was announced today.

The 4.5km motorway extension between Waterview and Mt Roskill will result in the demolition of 365 houses and cost $1.4 billion.

The New Zealand Transport Agency Board (NZTA) Board confirmed today the combined surface/tunnel alignment that will complete the Western Ring Route around Auckland.

130509-Option-3The route is shown in the map to the left, although one likely change is that the small bit of surface motorway between the two tunnels will be ‘capped’, effectively creating one big long tunnel. Anyway, there are a few things that annoy me greatly about this decision, and I really do think that in 10 years time we will look back at this as a mistake.

The obvious one is simply spending so much money on a motorway, when the long-term future with regards to peak oil and climate change is so unknown. That $1.4 billion is almost exactly the amount of money needed to build Auckland’s CBD Rail Tunnel, so it is frustrating that we never even had the opportunity to compare the benefits of the two projects to work out which one is more deserving of the $1.4 billion. The answer might well have been the Waterview Connection, but we will never know because our current funding rules illogically don’t allow us to compare state highway projects with rail projects.

The second aspect about this decision which annoys me is how the local community has been treated throughout this whole process. NZTA spent about six years analysing route options, consulting very closely with the local community and carefully costing a wide variety of options before deciding a couple of years ago that a full tunnel option was best. Now I realise that option was extremely expensive, and I would probably oppose the full tunnel option quite strongly too (largely as an enormous amount of money to spend on a roading project when we should be focusing on reducing auto-dependency), however it was presented as a workable solution to putting a motorway through a part of the city that had never protected a future route for it. The way in which that process was overturned certainly comes across to me as rather unacceptable, and I have a lot of sympathy for the residents affected by the new option. If they can’t fight the proposal as a whole they should make damn well sure to get the best mitigation in the world to make up for being treated so poorly.

However, perhaps the aspect of the Waterview Connection which annoys me most is the decidedly dodgy workings done to justify the project – in terms of its cost-benefit analysis. These issues are extremely well covered in a factsheet put together by the “Tunnel or Nothing” group, but effectively boil down to the reliance on time-savings benefits to justify the $1.4 billion road. As stated in that fact-sheet, over 95% of the benefits of the Waterview Connection are ‘time-savings benefits’, that – as I have argued before – are decidedly debatable in terms of their worth. Apparently the road will save around 15 minutes from each person’s trip who uses it, and this is worth the cost, which works out to be around $2,500 per household in the Auckland Region. Hmmmm… you could buy two dishwashers for that price and save more time! Furthermore, the predicted traffic patterns are based on an old version of NZTA’s traffic model (known as ART 2), which uses 2001 data. As I am sure everyone here is well aware, petrol prices in 2001 were a lot less than they are now.

But it’s not just the reliance on time-savings benefits that makes me highly suspicious of the analysis done into the ‘value’ of the Waterview Connection, it’s also how many of the costs of the project have been ignored. What about the cost to people living in the area who have gone from having a park over their back fence to having a motorway over their back fence in the future? They’re no eligible for compensation via the Public Works Act, but might have had $100,000 wiped off the value of their property. What about the cost to the local community of losing hectares of public open space in Alan Wood Reserve? What about the costs of higher CO2 emissions caused by induced demand, which is totally ignored by the traffic planners? By my very crude calculations that’s around $125 million of cost that has just been ignored.

This is New Zealand’s most expensive transportation project ever. We certainly deserve a better analysis of whether it’s worth it, not just now but 5 or 10 years into the future when it is likely that oil will be much more expensive today. I accept that the Waterview Connection is a critical strategic link, but then there are a lot of projects around which could be called critical. That doesn’t absolve it from being subject to a rigorous analysis.

If you oppose the project all is not lost quite yet. Some time next year it will need to go through a consenting process, which will involve public submissions. That is the place to focus efforts to either point out the effects of the proposal are completely unacceptable, or point out ways in which a higher standard of mitigation is required.

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  1. I’d wait till SH20 Manukau, Manukau Harbour Crossing and SH18 Hobsonville are completed before proceeding with it. Most of all, I’d respect the private property rights of owners of land along the route. Meanwhile, buy properties if they become available, let it be an option.

    I’d be interested to know any observations about the impact of the Mt Roskill extension on roads at its end, but also Mt Albert Rd. That was a major improvement in access from west Auckland to south Auckland.

  2. I worked in Bollard Ave around the time the Mt Roskill extension opened, so drove the streets around there (Blockhouse Bay, Mt Albert Road, Maioro Street etc.) quite a bit. To be honest I didn’t notice that much of an increase in traffic. Perhaps a bit along Richardson Road westbound in the evenings, but hardly the kind of gridlock I was anticipating before the extension opened.

  3. Over the last couple of months (at the moment I walk from New North Road to New Lynn pretty much daily) I’ve noticed a significant growth in traffic around Blockhouse Bay Road and Wolverton Street/Clark Street in the afternoons, ie from around 3:00pm. I presume this is induced traffic growth from the SH20 via Maioro Street/Tiverton Road. It’s exacerbated by works on the New Lynn trench which, in effect, close off Clark Street for significant periods of time, particularly since this is when 15 minute frequencies start on the Western line. At times the tailback stretches from the trench right back to Blockhouse Bay Road. I wouldn’t call it an improvement by any way or means; on the basis of anecdotal evidence it looks like it mainly consists of vehicles owned by shift workers living in west Auckland but working in Tamaki/Botany. There’s no improvement in vehicle speed, to the contrary; and emission levels are noxious, at least for pedestrians and infants playing at Olympic Park. Of course, if we had integrated ticketing, higher rail frequencies and better south-west links via an Avondale to Southdown rail link much of this traffic growth would not have occurred.

  4. I know they’re used for different things, but would it be possible to put rail (light or otherwise) into that tunnel? How wide and high is it?

    These tunnels tend to be pretty small, so might have to get the cars and trucks out, but that’s no imposition 😉

    Seriously though, what kind of person decides to spend 1400 million dollars without first evaluating whether it’s the best place to be spending that money? The problem is not in technical issues or laws, the problem is New Zealand’s poisoned political culture, which means politicians don’t have the inclination or the will to consider all the alternatives. We need fresh thinkers, who will consider EVERYTHING, without preconceptions.

  5. Who spend 1,400 millions dollars without evaluating whether it is worth it..? Well the same man who thinks it’s a good idea to spend 2,100 million dollars on a road as busy as an isthmus arterial without any evaluation…

  6. I have to admit this is the one big roading project I agree to. It’s the main step to allow people traveling north to bypass auckland cbd motor-way system which is critical. To me it’s a project that at sometime must go ahead, and to have an economic option (compared to the tunnels) on a route which is motor-way designated land is fantastic. Also this option does have the option of expanding, not necessarily adding more motor-way lanes, but adding train tracks to follow the exact same route or a dedicated bus-way. I do believe the CBD tunnels are more important however.

  7. Cullem, as I’ve said, I want fresh thinking, and that means considering EVERYTHING. But of course, considering things on their merits. I’ll run a comprehensive cost/benefit analysis and get back to you on your suggestion.

  8. @Josh it’s not a motorway designated route through the Hendon Area, it’s rail designated land…

    I would agree it is a bit stupid spending billions and billions on 42 kms of motorway and leaving a 4.8 kms gap in the middle… It would be a lot better if they just admitted that this part isn’t financially viable, it is a completion project…

    @George D, don’t feed the troll…

    1. Another thing that’s annoying about the Waterview Connection is that if it’s being designed to fix CMJ congestion problems, then how come we’re also spending $600 million on the Vic Park Tunnel + Newmarket Viaduct projects. I thought they were meant to fix the CMJ congestion – will this fix the fixed congestion? Or does NZTA know that VPT + Newmarket will fail.

  9. Victoria Park is the bottle-neck of the motorway system over the harbour bridge, this is what slows down and causes most congestion through this point. Even with the new link it’s not gona solve congestion, but ease it. With the Newmarket Viaduct, it is a replacement project. It is actualy cheaper to replace the bridge now than the ongoing mantainace to sustain the structural integrity would be. So this shouldn’t be taken into account as it is not a project undertaken to expand the roading network more than it is to save cost of a expiring structure. Most of the roading projects going ahead are indeed needed and I fully agree they should be carried out.

    The problem is the importance and priority they are giving these projects over PT projects which must be carried out to provide a balanced Transport System. The Waterview Connection is a Vital link in the Balanced System.

  10. The VPT is very poorly design and will be redundant as soon as the 2nd harbour crossing is completed… It is a waste of money…

    They are adding an extra lane Southbound and leaving room for a fourth Northbound on the newmarket viaduct, the new structure is also easily extendable for more extra lanes, so it is a replacement and widening project… I also don’t really have a problem with it, if the old one will fall down in an earthquake and kill 100s on and below it I guess the questions are; why hasn’t it happened earlier..? Or why wasn’t it done properly the first time..?

  11. I don’t have a problem with either of those two projects actually – VPT is needed to reduce a significant bottleneck that the rest of the CMJ projects created, while Newmarket is largely a structural replacement job. The reason the Newmarket viaduct wasn’t ‘done properly’ first time around is that it was one of the first structures of its type in the world built, and over time engineers have figured things out better.

    My point is that I’m sure NZTA are “double-counting” in terms of benefits caused by Waterview. If VPT and Newmarket make things significantly better, then the “gains” caused by Waterview won’t be nearly as significant.

    That is, unless they’ve finally decided to take induced demand into account. Which begs the question of why they haven’t done that for the time-savings benefits and CO2 emissions of the Waterview Connection.

  12. VPT is an expensive way to equalise capacity between CMJ and the Harbour Bridge, but it needs to be done and should have happened first. The major CMJ problem was that capacity was mismatched throughout that whole area, this has been fixed and Newmarket Viaduct will add a useful additional lane, but not in both directions (because Newmarket to Ellerslie-Panmure is constrained). Given the 2nd harbour crossing is easily over 10 years away, VPT wont be wasted as it has a BCR of around 4 or so. It was always the best performing project in Auckland.

    NZTA wouldn’t double count, as any BCR would have to reflect a base network which depends on what has been agreed before. Bear in mind Newmarket and VPT were approved in that order, Newmarket’s replacement BCR is partly based on ever increasing weight restrictions and maintenance costs, so it stands up easily. VPT is based on relieving the last bottleneck in the CMJ network, and has long stood up. Waterview has NOT got approved construction funding yet. All that is approved so far is investigation and property purchases, the application for construction funding has yet to be made. Decisions so far are purely on concept and route, detailed design funding has yet to be approved in itself. The BCR for that will be based on Auckland’s network with everything now committed completed. Waterview without Hobsonville, Manukau extension and Manukau Harbour Crossings isn’t viable, for example. However each one of those had to stand on their own without Waterview, which helps explain the order of construction, do the most useful parts first.

    By the way, Waterview will primarily relieve the SH16-SH1(S) connections in CMJ. It will do little for SH1(N) to SH16, as traffic that would go on the Western ring route will be attracted when the Hobsonville deviation is completed, finishing the Upper Harbour Motorway. VPT will do little for the SH1(S)-SH16 traffic other than ease any tailbacks that may extend to such traffic.

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