Just when we thought that the Waterview Connection was going to be the ‘final link’ in Auckland’s motorway system, we now see that NZTA are proposing to spend $860 million on widening Auckland’s northwest motorway. Frustratingly, even at this enormous cost, the project doesn’t really do anything more for public transport than adding ‘bus shoulders’, which while better than nothing, aren’t really THAT much better than nothing. The map below shows the route: Road1 copy

The need to spend such a huge amount of money on widening the northwest motorway is another classic example of how roading projects do tend to ‘shift the problem’ rather than fixing the problem. Once the Waterview Connection got the go-ahead, it was always known that some sort of upgrade to the northwest motorway was going to happen – as even if the Waterview Connection is ‘only’ built as a four-lane wide motorway, the traffic it will feed into SH16 will be too much for that motorway to handle at its current width. If it was ever widened to 6 lanes, then even more lanes would need to be added to SH16, and the process would continue further. I wonder if we’ll ever actually take such a step, or whether there will finally be a realization that it might actually be necessary to take steps to discourage car travel (either through pricing it more, or through offering better alternatives).

Whilst I did know about this project, and the $240 million to widen between St Lukes and Te Atatu has actually been included in the $1.4 billion funding envelope of the Waterview Connection, this latest figure of $860 million does come as a bit of a shock. While cheaper than the Waterview Connection, to put it in perspective this is still twice the price of the Victoria Park Tunnel – which (when it gets started in a few months time) is New Zealand’s most expensive roading project to date. Twice the price just to widen 11km of motorway – wow things are certainly quite expensive these days! The image below shows what the project will do:lanes

So yeah, $860 million to just widen the motorway by a few lanes. And to raise up the causeway so that it doesn’t get flooded by rising sea-levels (anyone else see the irony in spending money on a motorway to help mitigate the effects of climate change?).

As I said above, what is most depressing is that we’re going to be spending such a huge amount of money without really improving public transport out in that part of Auckland. The northwest motorway in Auckland has the strongest ‘tidal’ flows of any motorway in the city – by that I mean that the huge majority of vehicles generally travel in one direction in the morning and the other direction in the evening. Compared to much of State Highway 1, both as the Northern and Southern motorways, SH16 also seems to have relatively low off-peak flows. So effectively the only problems are in one direction and are at peak hour – which seems the perfect formula for a public transport solution. Furthermore, the public transport solution is actually incredibly obvious – the Northwest Busway.

I am quite amazed that NZTA has not considered the idea of the Northwest Busway in more detail. They know that the Northern Busway has been a huge success, the location of stations on the northwest busway would actually be fairly straightforward (see link to previous post) and they seem pretty keen on the idea of ‘getting into doing busways’, judging by the proposals to extend the Northern Busway to Albany and even Orewa. The only explanation I can really imagine is that NZTA simply haven’t considered the idea of a busway along SH16.

I actually think that a busway could quite possibly take enough pressure off SH16 to make the road widening proposed unnecessary. And as the Northern Busway had a cost of $400 million (stations included), doing a busway instead of the motorway widening could actually theoretically work out cheaper than this $860 million project. It’s at least worth consideration.

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  1. “I actually think that a busway could quite possibly take enough pressure off SH16 to make the road widening proposed unnecessary”

    If the bulk of those living out west, worked in the CBD..I would agree.However this is not the case.Demographics identify most work further a field including East Tamaki and the Airport.The need to plan 2 to 3 bus journeys and then a possible 200 -600 meter walk in an industrial area .Add in a miserable mid winters day.The need to be dictated by a time table ..and the inability to stop at the warehouse/supermarket or the local school to pick up the kids on the way home.People will chose to drive and will continue to do so.Life style choice.
    No matter how much one may try to scare monger people with climate change and rising fuel cost.The fact is, the car is the preffered means of transport for the average Aucklander.
    It will take a profound and catastrphic disaster that has a direct impact on Aucklanders and can be directly atributed to climate change.Before your average Joe ..would sit up and take notice.
    The other issue to take note is the western motorway extension will open up greenfield areas for housing and lifestyle development as far out as Kumeu.This will possibly add another 100,000 people over the next 20 years.
    Once again unless the bulk of these new 21st century “Westies” actualy work close to where they live.They also will be next users of the enlarged motorway network.
    My only suggestion is a better feeder network of bus’s to the exsisting but enhanced and eventually electrified rail network.
    To help mitigate the amount of private car use

  2. Yes sure many people who live out west work in places like East Tamaki and the airport, but if those who do work in the city are catching the bus then there will be space freed up for others on the motorway. I don’t think Auckland will sprawl much more to the northwest. Unless someone really dumb gets rid of the MUL.

  3. It is good points you raise Deno but people in Te Atatu, Westgate and Rosebank already have limited PT options a busway would give them one, this kind of PT development would encourage more CBD based jobs, urban planning follows transport planning as much as the other way around…

    Us PT supporters are getting really sick of the same old tired argument of Aucklanders love cars, when SH use has been stagnating for the last few years despite high and low gas prices and our very poor PT network is seeing historic growth… We need to capitalise on this growth not continue down the same moronic car-centric development…

    My answer to this question..? Ensure six lanes between Westgate and the CBD, a busway the entire length and moveable barrier arm such as the bridge from Waterview to Westgate…

  4. True , with regards to space being freed up…in the short 5 to 10 year term .But Auckland will eventually sprawl westwards.as it will both North and South.
    In the early eighties, when New Zealands population growth was 10,000 – 15,000 per year .Urban planners and Govt believed Auckland would struggle to reach 1 million people within 30 years. 30 years latter we sit at 1.5 million, in another 30 years
    our population will be 2.5 million plus.Thats an extra million people.Half that growth will be natural – the other half ..migrants. The natural population will more or less move close to where they were bought up…or in an environment that reflects ..how they grew up.In the vast part of Aucklands case…that is your own home with a lawn.The migrants on the other hand have chosen to move to Auckland for lifestyle..they definatly will want house and land.
    Regardless if one likes it or not.There will eventually be another 100,000 plus people living out west within 20 – 30 years.These are personal assumptions based on current demographics without quantitive research

  5. “Unless someone really dumb gets rid of the MUL.” hehe Jarbury, that would the property developers, then?

    Good call to demand NZTA look at a SH16 busway as one option, but another would be to simply have proper SH16 bus lanes, instead of the laughable ‘shoulder’ bus lanes NZTA favour – bus lane markings painted on the emergency shoulder of the motorway. These ‘shoulder bus lanes’ are unsuitable for a variety of reasons:
    1) they have a loose rough chip, so there is a drop in tyre grip
    2) there is normally a significant transition ridge dropping from the smooth motorway seal to the shoulder, which creates a dangerous tramline effect; this can cause buses to swerve a little into the slow lane.
    3) motorway shoulders are 2.5m wide, a metre less than the 3.5m wide motorway & local road lanes, which means there is very little leeway for a bus that wanders within it’s ‘shoulder bus lane’ before they are hitting cars in the slow lane or running into drainage ditches.
    4) There are regular parts of every motorway – usually at overbridges – that don’t have shoulders, forcing the bus to try squeeze back into the slow lane (and motorists are often not helpful with this).
    All these factors mean buses rarely go faster than 50km/hr in such ‘shoulder bus lanes’, as it is just too dangerous to go faster. Better than crawling in stop-start traffic, but not as good as it could be.

    Far cheaper to simply make the motorway slow lanes in each direction into bus lanes, and build the bus ‘stations’ at each on-offramp, with suitable wide pedestrian overbridge between bus stations on each side of the motorway. Faster to implement and cheaper even than a busway; only issue is political resistance to ‘taking’ the slow lane of SH16 for buses. A halfway house would be to widen between Waitemata inlets, cutting out the cost of more bridges, but requiring buses to squeeze back into traffic to cross the existing SH16 bridges.

    Interesting side point – the expansion of SH16 proposed is – as you note – due to merging 2 motorway routes (SH20 & SH16) for a length (between Pt Chev and Westgate). This is the same problem we were debating on your earlier post for rail. The key issue is whether the cost of duplicating a route (in this case SH16 between Pt Chev & Westgate) is less than the cost of building an alternate route (extending SH20 via the main isthmus through New Lynn & Henderson & Massey to Westgate). I think we all know instinctively that the latter would be impossibly expensive, so NZTA just duplicate. Of course, that ignores PT alternatives 🙂

    It also shows the stupidity of the New Lynn rail trench project -without this pointless waste of $120m (what does it achieve again compared to surface doubling?), the double tracking would be mostly finished, and higher frequency West trains would be undermining NZTA’s demand for SH16 expansion. Oh well…

  6. Jezza – I like your moveable SH16 median barriers idea! It may work between the Gt North Rd and Te Atatu interchanges, if Rosebank/Patiki Rd interchanges have flyovers without central bridge support columns (I know Te Atatu and Pt Chev have these columns, so they are a barrier). Bridge support columns are the problem, as if you shift the median on a 3 lanes each way stretch of SH16 to give 4 lanes one way and 2 lanes the other way, the bridge supports are now between 2 lanes on the one directional flow of SH16, instead of being between the two directions.

    Deno, most population growth is due to immigration. ARC assume 2/3 of growth is due to ‘natural growth’ (more locals giving birth than dying) but this is based on very dodgy & crude & wrong assumptions (critically, and just like NZTA, they ignore induced demand – the babies born to recent migrants, which are not really ‘natural growth’).

    Given NZ locals have birth rate barely at replacement levels (2.1 children born to each couple), we see most growth is from migrants to NZ and internal migration (urban drift). But most urban drift occurred 1950-early 1990s; there are very few rural folk left to drift into our cities now! So the growth depends on govt migration policies (how wide they open the tap) – both Labour & National have favoured using population growth to stimulate economic growth (Helen Clark openly admitted this), but it does cause transport problems for the regional and local councils!!!

    All this highlights the desperate need (that Jarbury raised in his recent post) for better integration of govt immigration & transport policies with council land-use and transport policies.

    1. Im sorry but your views are deeply ignorant. Most of the population growth is due to natural increase. A NZ born child is a NZ born child, and is just that, regardless of their race. The babies born recently cause natural increase, births minus deaths. If we stop including the non euroean/ non maori kids then we get a very inaccrate picture.

  7. Firstly Deno, if the MUL holds firm then Auckland won’t sprawl – that’s the point of the MUL. It is not inevitable at all that a focus on low density development will conitnue forever as with peak oil I think low density development will become totally uneconomic.

    Secondly, bob, the rail line through new lynn had to be trenched otherwise the whole town centre would have been ruined. The project will have fantastic results for that part of the city, the plans for new lynn’s development are something the rest of Auckland can learn a lot from.

  8. mmmmmmmmmm look I personally agree with some of your assumptions.However It will take a quatitive mindset and policy shift to move from low density to high density development in both the public and govt domain.The dynamics to mitigate this mindest change ..are just not there .Even if this does take place in say 20 -30 years.You still have to contend with exactly what I have outlinned.I believe the MUL will not hold as it stands in a Super City lead region. The pressure.. be it from land developers etc will challange a Macro managed region – with no ARC

  9. One thing to note about raising the causeway is not future sea level rises, but the fact that sections of it actually flood at peak tides already, especially large sections of the cycleway.

    1. Somebody is lying to you somewhere.

      As a regular user of the cycleway I can guarantee that it almost never gets overrun by seawater (I’ve personally never see it and I’ve ridden it during some pretty nasty storms). You often see large puddles of fresh water after heavy rain, but never ever do you see sea water over the cycleway.

  10. Who ARE these people?

    Who gives them the right to make such huge decisions about our future? Who gives them the right to ignore other modes of transport in their evaluation? Who gives them the confidence to spend a billion dollars on what essentially amounts to an extra lane of motorway?

  11. Will the 9 lane section between Rosebank and Waterview be the widest motorway in New Zealand (i n terms of numbers of lanes)? It is begining to look like a supermotorway compared to anything Wellington has (the widest in Wellington is 6 lanes between the Terrece and Ngauranga).

    The other stagering feature is the price. It brings the total cost of Waterview to a massive $2bn, enough for electrification, the CBD tunnel, airport connection combined, plus maybe a few bus lanes and intergrated ticketing thrown in. $860m is $110m per kilometre, a massive price tag.

    One thing we have to ask ourselves is why new roads are so expensive. For a good comparison look at the M7 40km motorway in Sydney http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westlink_M7 which cost A$1.5bn to build. Adjusting for the currency (at a $1NZ=A80c rate means $1.8bn plus $2oom for the fact is was $2003 equals $2bn.

    This equates to $50m per km. AND about half of the motorway was through urban area. One thing that really needs to be looked at is why can’t we build motorways that cheap (at least transmission gully falls within the $50m per km).

    I’m not against Waterview or this project. I’m just against the cost of doing so.

    For me the main reason I’m pro-PT is economic concerns (roads are expensive to build, new roads don’t produce much benefits in reduced congestion, and traveling by car is uneconomic), rather than enviromental reasons.

  12. Another example of inexpensive road building is the new Eastlink in Melbourne http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EastLink,_Melbourne. This project is entirely urban, 42km long including a 1.5km tunnel and 6 lanned the entire length. It cost only $2,5bn, around NZ$3bn. This is $71m per km (made more expensive by the tunnels).

    Regarding the MULs, while good in theory, they fail to take into account population growth. While I do not advocate removing them completely, I belive they should be regularly adjusted to accomodate population growth. Aucklands population is set to double by 2031 http://tvnz.co.nz/content/2792463?cfb=3.

    It is lunacy to think we can acomodate them in the current urban area. And not to imagine the impact this migration has on house prices. A reasonable goal would be to accomodate half of these extra people in the existing urban area, and half through future sprawl. Regarding future sprawl, I regard five areas
    1) extending North Shore North to Orewa
    2) Northwest towards Kumeu and Riverhead
    3) Southeast from Howick out to Clevedon
    4) In a range of large satelite towns like Pukekohe linked to Auckland by high speed rail. This future sprawl should be considered in transport planning. The goal must be to manage sprawl, not stop it. For instance the Flat Bush and Danemoana developments should have been built with a rail link partly funded by developers.

    Also to be considered would the traffic impact of a comercial airport at Whenuapai.

  13. Yes Kris you are right.close to 50 years of use has caused significant subsidence.Suggest the planning Lords look into this whilst spending our billion dollers!
    Anyways great blog site .. a number of informed people

  14. The stretch of the southern motorway between Khyber Pass Rd and Gillies Ave is 10 lanes wide currently. However, that stretch of road handle nearly 200,000 vehicles a day – high by any international standard. Even off peak that bit of motorway is busy in both dorections. Unlike the NW motorway which is only congested at peak times in one direction. Widening to alleviate peak hour congestion never works for long as traffic gets induced (usually those who travelled in shoulder peak times to avoid the worst congestion). Unfortunately road engineers in NZ are totally ignorant of the concept of induced demand.

  15. I did suggest it, but then said that its operating costs means that it probably wouldn’t make sense.

    As far as I know, moveable barriers only make economic sense when the capital cost of widening a stretch of motorway is very high – like the Auckland Harbour Bridge; and also when there are strong tidal traffic flows. Now the northwest motorway has the tidal flows, even stronger than the Northern Motorway these days which is often more congested in the counter-peak direction than the peak direction (it’s my guess that in the future we might get rid of the moveable barriers if Albany’s growth as a jobs centre continues). However, the capital cost of building the extra lanes on the NW motorway is apparently cheaper in the long-run than operating a moveable barrier. However, I don’t know if that calculation has been done with the capital costs of the motorway widening being anywhere near $860 million. Perhaps if the comparison was updated, then the moveable barrier could become an option once again.

  16. What we have to remember about the causeway is that it’s sinking, that is infact why it’s been flooding. So raising the causeway is prob very justified. However if we toll the center lanes for quicker travel it could be very effective project. The main thing is we need a PT alternitive and this would be the perfect time to carry the project out, so why are we notthinking about it? I’m assuming most of the cost are associated with raising the causeway as we would need to fix the problem so the motorway doesn’t continue to sink.

  17. The problem is not lack of road capacity. Its the lack of employment opportunities in the West. The peak-off peak figures bear this out. WCC has been talking about this for years. MOT needs less engineers and better planners.

  18. Yeah the lack of emloyment opportunities is a real problem out west. But I think where that employment is concentrated is also important, Office parks in East Tamaki and Albany may provide employment opportunities but I hardly think that they have done much good for traffic congestion – if anything the opposite is true as they are so hard to serve well with public transport.

  19. “The stretch of the southern motorway between Khyber Pass Rd and Gillies Ave is 10 lanes wide currently”
    I’ve just spent the last half hour looking at Aucklands motorways using google street view, and amazed how big they are. I imagined most were 4 laned with a few 6 lane bits for the really busy parts for the CBD as in Wellington, but it seems (correct me if I’m wrong)

    Northern/Southern motorway: Puhoi-Constellation Drive 4 lanes
    Constellation Drive-Tristham ave 5 lanes (3 north, 2 south)
    Tristham Ave-Onewa Road 6 lanes
    Onewa Road-Fanshaw Street 8 lanes
    Fanshaw street-SH16 4 lanes (this is the narrow bit, but will be fixed by the Vic Park tunnel)
    SH16-Grafton Gully 6 lanes (only looking at the direct Northern motorway-Southern motorway part of Spagheti junction, I now see why it got that name)
    Garfton Gully-Khyber Pass Road 9 lanes (5 southbound, 4 northbound)
    Khyber Pass Road-Gillies Ave 10 lanes (amazing)
    Gillies Ave-Hill Road 6 lanes
    Hill Road-Pokeno 4 lanes

    The Southwest motorway looks 4 lanes its entire length. and I didn’t bother with the Northwest as it is shown above. I understand the Newmarket Viaduct replacement will add an extra southbound lane to the Gillies Ave-Greenlane section, and the Victoria park tunnel two extra lanes south and one extra lane north. And the new Mangere bridge will make the bridge 4 laned, and the Queenstown Rd-SH20A 6 laned.

    I almost feel like saying with roads like the ones you will have, who needs public transport.

    I’m actually getting to think that with all these supermotorways, Auckland MIGHT just be able to build its way out of congestion (at a huge cost).

  20. But Nicholas, you’ve just described in great detail how Auckland has tried hard, yet failed miserably, to build its way out of congestion. Why would things change in the future? Wider motorways just encourage more traffic to use them, so any gains are quickly eaten up. Hence the pointlessness of continuously widening motorways further and further.

    Actually, somewhat ironically I think that the narrower motorways around Auckland are generally the less congested while the wider motorways generally seem to be the most congested (Victoria Park viaduct excluded).

  21. And another problem that seems to get left out of these kinds of discussions, the motorways are just the highest order on the hierarchy of roads. This means if you widen the top order you must generally widen the lower orders, or in other terms it also puts more traffic onto interchanges, collector roads and local streets.

    Once the VPT is complete the motorway through St Marys Bay will be four traffic lanes and one bus lane southbound, five traffic lanes and a bus shoulder northbound, so basically 11 lanes wide.

  22. There’s a fairly good argument that Auckland’s real transport problems exist because we have poor arterial routes. Therefore, our motorways effectively form the function of the arterials and the long-distance strategic routes in one – therefore getting incredibly busy and congested.

    Generally I find these days the biggest traffic issues relate to getting on the motorway at peak times. Once you’re there, things are pretty sweet.

  23. I am a supporter of finishing a robust motorway and highway network by 2020 linking Northland /Auckland /Bay Of Plenty and Waikato supported by double tracked commercial rail that allows PAX without hinderance on key population corridors and ports.
    To have a quantum shift in congestion.I see the need in moving heavy transport from urban Auckland to the regions where hub and spoke movements from Marsden Port and Mt Maunganui ports to the industrial areas of south Auckland and North Shore frees up significant heavy transport in the central Auckland isimus.This does mean moving the containerisation and motor vehicle activities of Auckland Port to outside Auckland.Double tracking the upper north island rail system will allow unhindered within region and inter region commercial activity alongside PAX.Free flowing super arteries that will allow accelerated inter regional growth and mitigation of a significant amount of urban Aucklands traffic conjestion

  24. Deno, I guess the thing is that if the road between Puhoi and Wellsford only carries around 10,000-15,000 vehicles a day (the same as Sandringham Road), how can it be justifiable to spend $2.3 billion turning it into a motorway?

    Surely its benefits won’t justify the enormous cost. Surely the money would be better spent elsewhere? The same argument with building a motorway to Tauranga – would it really be justifiable? Wouldn’t it be cheaper to use the existing rail networks more efficiently somehow?

  25. Yes I dont see the justification of a full motorway north.It would be far more cost effective to up grade SHI to 4 lanes with a seperation barrier with deviations around Warkworth and Wellsford.
    Hence my suggestion of a robust highway network.

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