Yesterday’s announcement by NZTA that they are scaling back the Otaki to Levin section of the Wellington Northern Corridor Road of National Significance, from a four-lane highway to an upgrade of the existing road, has some really interesting implications – as Matt commented on in his post last night. Perhaps the assumption that RoNS = new four lane highway has finally been broken and we can start to approach the transport area in a slightly more rational way.
Of course there are plenty of other bits of the RoNS programme which ought to be considered in a much more sensible way, as NZTA has managed with Otaki to Levin. Matt’s post discussed the infamous Puhoi-Wellsford road as a clear candidate – with the Warkworth to Wellsford section being a complete no brainer. Furthermore, a comment from “Watcher” on an earlier post suggests that NZTA may even be looking at staging the Puhoi-Warkworth section of the road – and doing the Warkworth bypass section first. Just as proposed in Operation Lifesaver, thought up by our former admin Josh. Here are the relevant bits of Watcher’s comment:
I have heard that NZTA are looking at splitting Puhoi-Warkworth into at least 3 sections with the first section to be built being Warkworth to somewhere around Perry Rd. This would effectively act as a Warkworth bypass (non-tolled) until, at some later stage, they can link up with Puhoi. Given that this first stage has few cuts, fills and viaducts it would possibly be one of the cheaper to build – but one of the more expensive when it comes to the cost of property purchase – something which I believe is giving NZTA a bit of headache because NZTA don’t have the budget for property purchases – certainly not the numbers who wish to paid out sooner rather than later.
We certainly await with interest to see if this is true. Perhaps with Gerry Brownlee not micro-managing NZTA to the same extent as Steven Joyce did, they are able to actually do their job much more now and be a bit more sensible around the staging of projects.
Looking a bit further south though, I wonder whether there are other projects which may benefit from a more sensible approach to the RoNS programme. While there are some sensible bits to the Waikato Expressway project, there are also some incredibly expensive bits to it as well – which just seem a bit unjustifiable if you look at their details. Let’s take a look at the Hamilton bypass section for example – which is shown in the map below:
This section of the Waikato Expressway is 21.8 km long and comes at the eye-watering price tag of $890 million. Now I hate driving through Hamilton as much as the next person, but some fairly decent bypass routes already exist (SH39 to the west, SH1B or SH27 to the east). Is it really worth the money?
Looking in a bit more detail at the plans for this route, it becomes clear that – once again – bits of the proposed route make sense, but other parts seem to not require anything like a super-expensive motorway standard road. Let’s take a look at the daily traffic volumes for 2021, which is a couple of years after the route is proposed to open:
You’ll see that I’ve circled a bit of the proposed highway that has what I think are pretty low traffic volumes for what’s proposed to be a four-lane motorway. By way of comparison, in 2010 the Kopu Bridge had just under 10,000 vehicles a day across it – when it was still a single lane bridge controlled by traffic lights at each end! You would think it might be far more sensible to extend the semi-bypass that’s being built in the west part of Hamilton rather than duplicate this with a super gold plated road to the east which isn’t even going to see much traffic.
To hammer this point home a little further, the traffic projections for 2041 still show pretty low volumes for the section of road mentioned above (and remember NZTA are likely to be extremely optimistic in their projecting of future volumes): The 2041 volumes reinforce that bits of the project are necessary, but suggest that there are likely to be far more cost-effective options available than a full motorway – considering the vehicular volumes are still pretty low on some sections. It does appear as though most traffic is travelling to Hamilton – either from the north or from the south – rather than completely bypassing it. I imagine this is because of other existing bypass routes further to the east and west. Google maps suggests, for example, that the best routes from Auckland to Wellington or Auckland to Taupo go nowhere near Hamilton.
Perhaps it was with good reason that the SAHA assessment of the RoNS package gave the Waikato Expressway such a poor cost-benefit ratio:
I suspect that similar observations could be made about many more of the RoNS projects.
Edit: This is the blog’s 2000th published post. Woohoo!