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:
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:
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.