There has been quite a lot of discussion in the last week or so about what the priority of the “Penlink” road is. This connection would provide much quicker access between the Whangaparaoa Peninsula and the Auckland urban area, by cutting off a relatively huge detour vehicles must make at the moment. It would also provide the transport network with greater resiliency as there would be more than one way in and out of the peninsula.

A map showing the project is included below:
When it comes to ‘taking a position’ on transport projects I try to start off in a fairly neutral position and ask some key questions:

  1. Does the project ‘stack up’ in terms of its benefits outweighing its costs?
  2. Is it possible to achieve the project’s benefits (or a great big chunk of them) through a lower cost alternative?
  3. Will the project have significant adverse environmental effects and can they be avoided, remedied or mitigated?
  4. How does the project fit within our general transport strategy?
  5. Will the project foster more or less auto-dependency?

To answer the first of these questions, it’s always useful to get hold of the project’s business case – and I have done that for the Penlink project. In October last year, merely days before they got rolled into Auckland Transport, ARTA had completed for them a review of Penlink. That is the document linked to above, which provides a very up to date analysis of where the project is at.

The review sought to answer two main questions:

  • Whether the PENLINK business case is robust and therefore justifies funding ahead of other projects in the programme;
  • Whether the revised scheme satisfies the original designation requirements and is sufficiently robust to meet its objectives and future needs.

It seems like over the last few years there have been a few amendments to the design of the Penlink route, to provide the same level of functionality at a lower capital cost, and this review was to test whether the project makes economic sense (remember that NZTA seemed to put a big question mark around this matter in their NLTP). These revisions are outlined in more detail below:
So less widening at the Whangaparaoa end and the inclusion of electronic tolling gates.

If we look at our first question outlined earlier in the post, the business case document suggests that the project does ‘stack up’, with a fairly decent cost-benefit ratio:
The review document doesn’t provide much detail on how these numbers have been calculated (business cases rarely do for some reason, we’re just supposed to take the results as gospel), but it would seem as though – at a very basic level – this project wouldn’t be a money loser like the holiday highway.

In terms of our second question, about whether we could achieve the benefits of the project by way of a cheaper alternative, the review comments on this matter:
In short, the widening of Whangaparaoa Road between the Hibiscus Coast Highway and Red Beach road would alleviate many of the congestion problems likely to be suffered along Whangaparaoa Road if Penlink doesn’t proceed. This could be done at a much lower cost than Penlink and therefore has a much higher cost-benefit ratio. However, this would not achieve all the benefits of Penlink, such as a more resilient and robust transport network and the removal of conflict between commuting traffic and local traffic.

The concerns I have about the project probably fit within the last three questions I laid out at the start of this blog post. What would the environmental effects of the project be? Is this project a strategic priority compared with other things going on around the region (for example the project’s cost would be a significant contribution to the CBD rail tunnel or could provide light-rail along Dominion Road)? Does the project contribute to growing auto-dependency by encouraging further development in a fairly far-flung corner of the city and not offering dedicated bus lanes and perhaps not even a dedicated cycleway along its whole length?

I think overall I probably find myself coming to the conclusion that Penlink is a worthwhile project, but the real question is “when?” While it might have been the number one priority for Rodney District Council, when that was a separate council, I wonder how it stacks up against other necessary transport upgrades throughout Auckland. Furthermore, if many of the congestion relief benefits can be achieved by widening Whangaparaoa Road – at a fraction of the cost – then maybe it could be better to embark on that project first.

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  1. I lived in Red Beach for a while (When they were widening the northern end of Whangaparaoa Rd which was a nightmare) and thought about moving further down the peninsular. The downside was the 14km road at 50km/hr and no practical alternative in the form of bus services, so decided against it. Most of the residents of the peninsular live there through choice ie. they’re retired or don’t mind an extended journey into Albany/Auckland. There are small groups who would like the road for commuting purposes or who want to kick start the Gulf Harbour development again and for their purposes it suits them to have a shorter, quicker route. Of course the old Rodney Council did everything they could to appease the business community, so it’s not hard to see why it was their No. 1 priority. There is a huge development in progress at Silverdale and none of that traffic will touch Penlink. The grandly titled Hibiscus Coast Busway Station will service some of the commuter traffic from there and from the northern end of the peninsular (but the bus station car park will be far too small- don’t they ever learn?) but I can’t see that the case for this road stacks up at all.

  2. This road would allow for some very efficient bus services. An interchange/park n ride station at the end of it like Constellation would be ideally placed to service the peninsula. The whole area is long and think with development constrained along one linear corridor. Run buses along that corridor and you can service the whole peninsula cheaply and efficiently. With only 14km to Albany station along a motorway, central Whangaparoa becomes only 10 minutes by bus from the start of the busway. So we’re talking about 35 minutes by bus from the coast to downtown, thats better than most of the routes in the East Coast Bays!

  3. Nick is right, if there is a bus station at its head, and if there are bus lanes [toll free] and when the Northern Busway is extended it would certainly help people live at this seaside exurb yet still work and play with the rest of the city without adding to the car trauma….. Also of course there would have to be a full range of services and somewhere for additional busses to alight and stable at the city end.

    Ideally the busway’s conversion to rail would mean a couple of stations that could then be linked to a local Peninsular feeder service which, properly organised, could be even quicker and offer the fantastic amenity of connection to the rest of AK then covered by rail…… what a dream. First we’ll have to re-build Chch though….

  4. This project has long been a bit of a dog, because its catchment is limited. In my view if it can’t stack up as a toll road plus revenue from shadow tolls (fuel tax/RUC of the users), and a quantification of “benefit” to remaining users of the existing route, it shouldn’t proceed. Oh and developer contributions might help, since part of the benefit comes from improved property values (which is why the toll is essential to capture as much user benefit as is viable).

    Tolls can price congestion off the route, so there is no need for a dedicated public transport corridor as buses can flow freely if it is well managed. Bus lanes are only needed as a second-best when there isn’t efficient road pricing.

  5. I agree with Libertyscott that the project as proposed is pretty expensive for the current catchment population.

    However maybe if some of the peninsula was zoned for higher density it could be more workable and would lend itself to improved PT servicing, particularly if there busway eventually gets extended up to the proposed interchange.

    If Penlink does proceed a very important consideration is the road classification and access to the road corridor. If not protected from the outset we will almost certainly see ribbon development along the road corridor, probably with poorly designed cul-de sacs coming straight off Penlink and private driveways. This will, over time, reduce the LOS of the road, both for private vehicles and PT, until all it becomes is a more direct 50km/h Whangaparaoa Rd route. Future widening/upgrading, such as adding dedicated PT (or even RT in the long term) and cycle lanes gets a less consentable and a lot more expensive if this happens.

    To avoid this Penlink from the outset should be designated a full limited access State Highway, possibly even an 2 lane expressway, with no future extra accesses from adjoining land possible.

  6. Last Wednesday a presentation was given to the Local Hibiscus and Bays Board Widening of Whangaparaoa Road versus Penlink the conclusion is that both are needed. Widening wgp rd 2013 Penlink 2018 BUT a multi National company are investigating building Penlink, funding the whole project as a toll road. If it is a goer Penlink will proceed sooner.The area on Whangaparaoa Road first is in need of widening is not the piece they are proposing but west of the Plaza from Ladies Mile to Arklow Lane.

    1. If the road is funded fully from tolls then I have no problem with it proceeding. My objection is that I don’t think it’s one of Auckland’s top priorities and that cheaper solutions can be found.

  7. Of course, Whangaparaoa road widening is a component part of the overall solution. This is understood. However the success in sorting out transport issues for this area (one of the fastest growing in the region and nation) is dependant on PENLINK, Whangaparaoa rd widening and another motorway on/off ramp from the northern motorway into Millwater (between the Silverdale & Orewa on/off ramps). If the holistic approach isn’t taken, then the area will continue to suffer growing congestion. RDC, ARC, and NZTA understood this (it was commonly spoken). NZTA signed off the Millwater development consent (3000 homes) because PENLINK had consent. Why was this an issue for NZTA? because they had very real concerns about the Silverdale on/off ramp reaching max capacity; it is at about 95% or greater already as I understand it.
    Over an above this, the PENLINK development factors in the cost of widening Whangaparaoa road (such is the dynamic of the greater solution), if PENLINK is not allowed to proceed, the ratepayers will have to wear the whole cost of the Whangaparaoa widening, which will be a much larger & costly undertaking without PENLINK. e.g. with PENLINK the required work along Whangaparoa peninsula (rd) is considerably less, and as mentioned the money will not come from the ratepayer.
    The road is also regionally significant if you take a longer term view. The North Shore has run out of commercial/industrial land, therefore industry is being leaked to other areas or regions within NZ (Bay of Plenty for example). PENLINK unlocks considerable commercial/industrial land, this ensures jobs & economic growth; meaning the area North of the Harbour bridge can continue to contribute to growth in the Auckland regional Economy. Further, it allows the growing population the opportunity to work closer to home. This has a positive impact socially as communities that enable their people to work within the community have a much higher rate of volunteer’s workers (because people have more time to invest in not commuting). Environmentally, it will almost halve the ‘carbon footprint’ of those forced to burn fossil fuel travelling into Silverdale then back out to Auckland/Northshore from Whangaparaoa and back twice a day. This lessens the load on the Northern Motorway as well, meaning cost on maintenance. Of course there are those who oppose PENLINK; maybe they are flat earth thinkers, do not understand the larger picture with regards benefit, or a politically motivated so as to have a platform (self before community). It remains though that the project has been understood to be a requirement for the past 35 to 40 years – I remember it as a kid. It is this inability of Kiwi’s to forward project or strive for mediocrity that is most disturbing, then one day find themselves in a position where the infrastructure required was never delivered and must be done so at an inflated rate beyond their ability to do so….think Auckland inner-city rail; lost opportunity and lost economy.
    Remember, PENLINK is the key component of a number of components making up a future proofing infrastructure solution. It is already understood as such, but for the reality that the community and project keep getting politically hijacked.

  8. People think cheaper options could be found before but all the studies say that Penlink is the most viable. If widening of Whangaparaoa Rd alone it would affect over 700 properties. Parts of whangaparaoa Road will need to be widened just like PT services are needed too but the affect is no where near as drastic if Penlink goes in. What it does is if people want to pay a toll and save fuel etc the peopel who don’t can take the free route thus splitting the traffic and is a win win both ways.

  9. Why not widen Whangaparaoa Rd first (which is undoubtedly the cheaper option) and then see what effect that has before deciding whether Penlink is necessary?

  10. $20-30 million for widening a piece which is only a short term fix not likely. It will cause more traffic congestion at Silverdale and the business’s are having enough problems there already and look at the expansion taking place. It will never cheaper to build Penlink or anything for that matter as today. Started at $60million and now they are talking $175million!!!

  11. The whole argument around Whangaparaoa rd vs. PENLINK was put to bed ages ago; it is only in the local papers and the political arena (are they the same?) that this is all misunderstood. It was very clear that the two, are component parts of a three tiered solution. All the experts understand this e.g. ‘widening Whangaparaoa road’ first and seeing what will happen, is not a viable exercise; all the growth modelling and expert opinion has been clear that it will do nothing positive on it’s own. As Janet said, it will create some massive problems, at a big cost to the community and have almost nil effect by completion (other than cost). The cost of just doing Whga rd, will be borne out by the community for little to no gain, and still PENLINK and the MILLWATER on/off ramps will need to be done; only at greater cost because of delay.
    The reason for the delay so far and the continued misunderstanding by general public is because of political agenda’s. Every time PENLINK gets close it is bumped so that someone can look good e.g. around election time or rate setting time (central govt). Or, it is a high profile for some to take a negative stance on around local body election because they have their interest at heart not the wider community. It is one of those terrible situations where the community does not realise the negative impact, environmentally, socially and economically by delaying critical infrastructure. It is easier to bicker and scrap, than move forward. The reality is it is a very positive project for the whole bottom line in terms of the ‘Wellbeings’, Enviro, Social, Economic – all things that people claim to say they set some importance against, but often act in a way that is contradictory.
    It is a bit like the Orewa district plan Variation 101 (Orewa’s future plan). This was to ensure good urban form, it was 10 years in consultation, was a good representation of the community desire (over the 10 years) and stopped wholesale High-rise, yet it got politically hijacked and you had these mental crys of “This is the Hibiscus Coast, Not the Gold Coast” and “we don’t want to be the Gold Coast”; the reality is something completely different, as Orewa is a 6 square Km precinct with circa 9K population, Gold Coast is Circa 40K strip, with close to 800,000 population. But people go for the emotive claptrap, don’t stop to grasp the reality. Those that fought Orewa V101 at their cost so far, forced a bad situation: as a result of the nah-saying they have achieved exactly what they didn’t want (what no-one wanted). As a result you can build 3 story boundary to boundry flat roofed development all over Orewa and go as high as you like in the centre, also boundry to boundry….what a disaster for the community that will be. And likewise with PENLINK, as part of the overall solution it is a brilliant project that future proofs the community Economically, Socially, and Environmentally, it pays for the widening of Whangaparaoa rd (not the ratepayer)…. It really is a class bit of infrastructure. It is a shot in the arm for the community and local economy…. the tri-solution is very good and people should really start taking some pride in seeing there community move forward. On an end note, if the HBC doesn’t move forward, it will find itself being further left behind in the new Auckland political construct.

    1. Zane, I’m not quite sure why widening the road would have no impact. My memory of Whangaparaoa Road is that it has four lanes between Red Beach Road and Vipond Road, but two lanes between Red Beach Road and SH17. As Penlink caters for traffic between the peninsula and the south, with the road widening also catering for an increase of the same traffic, it seems obvious that it would have some impact.

      Whether that’s enough of course remains to be seen. I wouldn’t trust the so called “experts” to predict future growth demands. They’re still in denial that traffic growth has “flat-lined” over the past five years.

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