The latest meeting of the Auckland Council transport committee includes, for information purposes, the final version of the council’s submission on the Puhoi-Warkworth section of the Puhoi-Wellsford “holiday highway”. I previously blogged about the draft version of the submission, but as there was plenty of discussion on the matter at the last Transport Committee meeting, it’s worthwhile following up on the final form of the submission. For ease of reading, I’ve extracted the submission out of the agenda, and you can read it here. I’ve included below an overview of the submission: For a while, when I first read the submission, I wondered whether the Council had missed an opportunity to come out more strongly against the project. Transport committee chairman, Mike Lee, has been a long-standing opponent of the holiday highway, and in fact coined that phrase. Auckland Council Mayor Len Brown has been a bit more neutral about the project, but certainly I would imagine if he were given a choice between it and a number of the rail projects he wishes to advance (and I really do think we only have enough money for one or the other) Mayor Brown would go for the rail projects.

However, on reflection I started to think about it in more detail and I actually think Auckland Council is taking the right position – a relatively neutral position, but one that seeks to ask a lot of questions about the project. Questions like the following:

  • what are the project’s environmental effects and are they acceptable?
  • does the project represent a ‘cost effective solution’ to the problems faced along state highway one north of Auckland?
  • could we achieve many of the benefits of the project quicker and cheaper by advancing things like a Warkworth bypass and safety improvements?
  • how does the project fit within Auckland’s growth and transport projects?

These questions align reasonably closely with the questions I like to ask about a transport project – and in the case of the holiday highway the answers generally tend to point towards not undertaking the project. The environmental effects are particularly severe, the project’s cost-benefit ratio is very low – and dicey at that, we could achieve most of the benefits (reduced congestion and Warkworth and safety improvements) quicker and cheaper by undertaking something similar to Operation Lifesaver, and finally – the project works against our growth strategy by encouraging sprawl instead of intensification, and will take money away from project that are much higher on the region’s priority list.

One matter where the final form of the submission seems to have been elaborated on compared to the draft submission is in terms of the potential wider traffic effects of the project. The point that I am particularly glad has been mentioned are potential impacts of the project on traffic flows along the Northern Motorway and on the Harbour Bridge. One of the obvious effects of extending the motorway further north will be an increase in traffic using the existing motorway. In some places, like between Oteha Valley Road and Orewa, that’s fine – because there’s sufficient capacity remaining on the road. However, further towards the city the motorway is pretty close to capacity (or beyond it), so adding further vehicles to the motorway will negatively impact on North Shore residents trying to cross the harbour bridge to get to work every morning. This is the kind of issue that seems to get ignored usually, so I’m glad it has been brought up.

Hopefully NZTA undertakes an in-depth analysis to answer many of these questions. It will certainly be interesting to see their response to the feedback provided by the public over the past few months, and whether anything changes as a result of it.

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  1. With this road you do get the impression sometimes that the government didn’t really know how bad the economics of it were before calling it a RoNS however since they did that they want to save face so haven’t made the right call to scale it back. With them now needing to spend billions on rebuilding Christchurch it presents the perfect opportunity for the government to back out of their previous stance and instead support a scaled back version.

  2. Unfortunately Matt I see that argument being rolled out against the CBDRL too…. especially when you consider that this government sees it as an uneconomic luxury no matter what the evidence says….

  3. An article in the most recent Listener quotes an economist suggesting that projects like the Waterview Connection could even be delayed to free up funding for rebuilding Christchurch.

    1. And this article suggests that Auckland fund infrastructure out of asset sales. Which is pretty much what I suggested months ago.

      “Put frankly, Auckland can no longer be the priority for the national infrastructure spend. It has had lots of Government cash spent there for the Rugby World Cup. It’s now time for Len Brown to flick a few of the Auckland Council’s gold-plated assets to fund his pet infrastructure project instead of asking for tax funds.”

      1. I would make two points in response to that article:

        1) Auckland has enough transport money being spent on it, we just need to spend that money smarter. You can save a billion off the holiday highway and still achieve most of its benefits – put that money into the CBDRL and then let council pay for the rest – whether they do that via asset sales, targeted rates, capital ‘uplift’ levies or whatever, the council can sort that out.

        2) With Christchurch’s economy pretty stuffed for a long while yet, Auckland will need to ‘pick up the slack’ a bit. There might be a population jump as people leave Christchurch permanently, there might be a jump as employers relocate (even temporarily).

        Ultimately, the increased strain on the country’s finances means that we have to make sure, to an even greater extent than before, that all projects do make economic sense. P2W simply doesn’t.

        1. I think the writer was trying to make the point that there will be no central government money available for any Auckland projects for the near future. There will be no Puhoi to Wellsford and, because the money was never Auckland’s to spend then it’ll be allocated to Christchurch. It’ll then be up to Auckland Council to finance any projects it wants.

          The relocation issue is an interesting one. Companies with offices in many centers will likely find it easy to squeeze in a few Christchurch relocatees, but it isn’t as if we have tens of thousands of houses sitting around empty for people to move in to. Last time I was in the Gold Coast I read they were building ten houses a day (I think it was ten). Are we able to build houses that fast in Auckland? If so, we need to ramp up really quick or Christchurch people will be relocating to Queensland.

        2. That is, however, a short-sighted view. Paying off the tab for Christchurch will take years, with or without English reversing his last round of borrowed payments to the wealthy, and the only part of the national economy that’s in a strong position to contribute is Auckland. If we’re “an anchor” and “a handbrake” on the national economy, demanding that we make do on even less central government funding is a good way to ensure we don’t up our game and pay even more taxes. In fact, it’s a good way to make payment for the recovery take even longer.

    2. I’m betting that the entire RoNS programme will be put on hold or dramatically cut back now following the Christchurch earthquake.

      There is almost certainly going to be a large (many $$ billions) difference between what is covered by the EQC and re-insurance and what the quake costs the Government. This money will have to come from somewhere, and one of the most quickest and politically pain free places to re-allocate from is large future road projects.

      John Key has pretty much confirmed this yesterday, saying that: “The scale of the devastation would also probably mean repriortising other infrastructure projects around the country.”

      In fact, the only state highway and PT projects that are probably safe right now are ones already in the construction phase, and possibly some of the RoNS projects proposed for Chch. Also SH74 through the Chch eastern suburbs has apparently taken quite a hammering and large sections may need to be completely rebuilt.

  4. The increased strain on the country’s finances will probably result in Puhoi to Wellsford being put on hold, but that would be the worst possible situation for a number of reasons. The delay would mean that the URGENT safety work at Schedewys Hill and Dome Valley will not get done, resulting in more loss of life. The Warkworth and Wellsford by-passes won’t be done. The blight of the threat of future motorway construction will hang over the landowners whose properties are to be taken for even longer (and no purchases will be made). Finally, the government will have found a get-out clause, which probably means the government will survive the election and they wont turf Mr Joyce out on his ear.

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