Today I helped present to the ARC’s Transport and Urban Development Committee an alternative to the Puhoi-Wellsford “holiday highway” that I have been working on, in conjunction with the Campaign for Better Transport. As regular readers of this blog would well know, I do not think that the current proposal – a 38 kilometre “off-line” motorway between Puhoi and Wellsford is a good use of $1.7 billion that it is likely to cost. A number of people have quite rightly asked “but the current road isn’t up to scratch, surely we must do something!” and basically the presentation that we made to the ARC today address those valid questions and provides what I think are far superior solutions. Furthermore, they are solutions that could be implemented much quicker and therefore save lives – hence the “Operation Lifesaver” tag-line.
The whole report by the Campaign for Better Transport to the ARC can be read here.
Essentially, what the “Operation Lifesaver” report does is analyse the problems faced by State Highway 1 between Puhoi and Wellsford. It then makes a critical analysis of NZTA’s current proposal – with particular emphasis on how poor value-for-money the full off-line motorway would be (I must admit I’m still confused about whether the business case analysis done suggests that cost-benefit ratio should be 0.31 rather than 0.8) and also on how long the current proposal would take to implement. Two alternatives are then suggested: one with a price tag of approximately $160 million (just under 10% of the cost of the full proposal) and one with a price of around $320 million.
We put together a powerpoint presentation, so perhaps the easiest way to present a brief overview of the document (although I do suggest reading the whole thing) is to post the slides, with some comment.
As I noted above, the existing road does suffer from some serious deficiencies at the moment. The biggest problem is its safety record, with a horrific 41 fatalities along SH1 between Puhoi and Wellsford from 2000 to 2009. There is also a severe congestion problem around Warkworth, mainly during holiday periods and at weekends, but certainly not only at those times.
The next slide talks more about the current NZTA proposal, which is the 38 kilometre motorway/expressway from Puhoi to Wellsford. The high cost of the project, its low cost-benefit ratio and the very long timeframes for actually implementing and constructing the project are key problems with it in my opinion. In particular, as I have noted previously, the fact that the Puhoi-Warkworth section won’t be finished until 2019 and the Warkworth-Wellsford section until 2022 means that, on current safety records, potentially another 50 people would die on the road before the upgrade was finally completed. So what would be a better solution for this problem than what NZTA have come up with? Well there seem to be two key problems that need resolving: the safety problems first and foremost, and then the congestion problems.
As I noted above, we came up with two possible alternatives: for around 10% and 20% of the cost of NZTA’s proposal. These are outlined in the two slides below: We also undertook a bit of an economic analysis of the two alternatives and compared them with the NZTA proposal. The amount of benefit each of the alternatives were given was based on what I think is a conservative comparison to the amount of benefit the 2009 Business Case estimated. For example, with time savings benefits it was estimated that Option 1 would generate 30% of the benefits of the NZTA proposal, with Option 2 providing 40% of the time savings benefits. For safety, Option 1 was considered to provide 70% of the benefits, and Option 2 90%.
The results of the comparison between costs and benefits of the two suggested alternatives and the NZTA proposal are outlined in the table below: An interesting matter which caught my eye is the question of “what actually is the cost-benefit ratio of the NZTA proposal?” In all the documentation they have released it is supposedly 0.8, but in the business case I could only find $530 million of total conventional benefits – which would mean a BCR of 0.31 if we take the construction cost to be $1.69 billion. Of course I might be confusing 2009 dollars with outturn costs, but perhaps that’s not the most important point here. What does seem to be the most important point is to note, on whatever measure, how much more cost effective either of the CBT’s suggested alternatives are compared to what NZTA is currently proposing.
The ARC was highly receptive of our presentation, which I think confirmed in the minds of the councillors the previous suspicions they’ve had about the Puhoi-Wellsford project. The council provided support for further investigating the alternatives and also to discussing the whole issue with both NZTA and the Minister of Transport. It will be interesting to see where things go to from here.