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.
The 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.