An interesting development was announcement today by the NZTA. For the Wellington Road of National Significance they have decided on what they will do between Otaki and Levin. Here’s the press release:
The NZ Transport Agency has today announced its plans for the next stage of the Otaki to Levin section of the State Highway 1 Wellington Northern Corridor Road of National Significance, proposing a staged upgrade of the existing highway, starting with a series of safety improvements between Otaki and SH57.
NZTA Wellington state highway manager Rod James confirmed that following consultation with the local community, a plan to progressively upgrade the existing SH1 and SH57 has been identified as the preferred approach. Other options considered have included new road alignments to the east and west of the existing highway, with progressive staging scenarios for two and four lane sections over time.
‘We’ve looked at various options on different routes, and we’ve decided that progressively upgrading the existing SH1 and SH57 routes is the best approach for this section of highway. This will provide for early improvements to address current problems, while also providing for the staged development of a higher standard highway as demand increases over time’.
Mr James says that a detailed package of improvements would now be developed, ahead of further consultation with the community later in the year.
‘There will be a strong safety focus to these proposals, aimed at making journeys safer for everyone. In particular, the improvements will be addressing problem areas that will be well known to regular drivers of this route, such as the Forest lakes section, rail and river bridges at Manakau and Ohau, as well as some problem intersections and providing additional passing lanes and barriers’.
Mr James says that this package will be the first stage of a long term programme of improvements, and will be followed in future by further upgrades of SH1, and SH57, progressively increasing the extent of passing lanes and barriers, and upgrades to key intersections.
Mr James says the extension of the safety improvements to the southern section of SH57 recognised the importance of the highway connection between Wellington, Levin and Palmerston North.
‘Palmerston North is a key economic hub, and by extending these improvements this will help to ensure we’ve got a safer, more robust transport and freight route where SH1 and SH57 connect.’
Mr James says studies of future traffic demand at the top section of the Wellington Northern Corridor have been a key factor in the development of this strategy. Moving north from Wellington, these projects provide improved capacity and safety for traffic on this nationally significant route, linking the central North Island with Wellington, its port, ferries and airport. Work on all of the projects between Ngauranga and Otaki has confirmed the need for a four-lane expressway for these projects. However, north of Otaki the need for a four lane expressway in the medium term future reduces, and progressively moves back to a safely designed high quality highway.
Investigations of the Otaki to Levin section have shown that the section from Otaki to SH57 is the most appropriate area for this transition to occur, and that the divergence of traffic between SH57 in the direction of Palmerston North, and SH1 north, will be a further transition point for the staging of improvements over time.
‘SH1 between Otaki and Levin is a strategically vital section of highway with high freight volumes, and it acts as a crucial connection for the Capital, both between Palmerston North and SH1 further north. However, our investigations have shown us that in terms of future growth, the projected demands on SH1 between Otaki and Levin are significantly different to SH1 south of Otaki.
‘Traffic modelling has shown it doesn’t suffer as much from the dramatic peak traffic spikes that plague drivers between Otaki and Wellington. Traffic flow is more evenly spread out throughout the day, which means there is less pressure on capacity.
‘The section of SH1 south of Otaki is also more directly affected by the booming population in Kapiti, whereas the local population north of Otaki isn’t growing at the same rate.’
Mr James says leaflets have been sent to residents living in the area, and the NZTA will release more detailed proposals for public feedback in late 2012/13.
The Otaki to Levin project is a section of the Wellington Northern Corridor Road of National Significance. The Wellington Northern Corridor (Levin to Wellington Airport) is one of seven roads of national significance that the Government has identified as essential state highways which require upgrading to reduce traffic congestion, improve safety and support economic growth in New Zealand.
What’s perhaps most interesting about this press release is that the road largely remain as a single carriageway highway but with safety improvements. Apparently by doing this the NZTA will save about $300 million and I imagine that will definitely help to ease the funding pressures they have. It also means they can start with improving on safety issues sooner rather than have to wait for more money to be available. What it also does is opens up a whole new range of questions about the RoNS, the first one that comes up is what are the RoNS standards? This time last year the former transport minister Steven Joyce was talking about the Puhoi to Wellsford road and the expectations the government had and he said this:
But Transport Minister Steven Joyce insisted later that nothing short of a four-lane road would do.
“I don’t have a strong view as to whether the road between Warkworth and Wellsford is built on the current route or a new alignment,” he said.
“But it is crucial for it to be built to roads of national significance standard – a four-lane divided expressway – and that remains the Government’s expectation.”
It seems that the RoNS standards have changed and that opens up the projects to a whole heap of possible changes, especially for the previously mentioned Puhoi to Wellsford project. So how does that project compare to the Otaki to Levin section? The NZTA publish data on traffic volumes on state highways so we can get quite a bit of information from there and then make some assumptions.
I deliberately tried to pick sites that had a lot of days usage recorded and all three sites have readings from pretty much the entire year which is great. If the NZTA don’t think they can justify the building the Otaki to Levin section as an expressway, it is impossible to see how they could justify the Warkworth to Wellsford section considering it will cost at least $1 billion yet 1/3 less traffic. With the Puhoi to Warkworth section being built as a motorway it also seems like the magical traffic volume number for this to happen is somewhere between 15,000 and 17,000 vehicles per day.