From time to time I like to check on the written questions asked by MPs to ministers, these questions are important as the ministers are required to answer them and the results are stored on record so they can be a great way of finding out information. One of the things that the online tool allows you to do is filter the questions by portfolio so is fairly easy to find all the questions asked to the transport minister. It is probably worth pointing out to anyone who wants to use it themselves that for some reason the thing is incredibly slow in searching and changing pages so don’t be surprised if it takes a little while. Anyway going through some of the recent questions I came across a series from Green transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter about the time savings on a number of the Roads of National Significance projects and the answers highlight just how shonky some of the numbers for them are.

First up Puhoi to Wellsford where we get some absolutely astounding figures, here is the current situation:

7287 (2012). Julie Anne Genter to the Minister of Transport (06 Sep 2012): What is the approximate distance in kilometres of the current route that will be replaced by the Puhoi to Wellsford Road of National Significance?
Hon Gerry Brownlee (Minister of Transport) replied: I am advised that approximately 42 kilometres of the current route will be replaced by the Puhoi to Wellsford Road of National Significance.

7288 (2012). Julie Anne Genter to the Minister of Transport (06 Sep 2012): What is the current travel time estimated by NZTA for the route that will be replaced by the Puhoi to Wellsford Road of National Significance?
Hon Gerry Brownlee (Minister of Transport) replied: I am advised that between Johnson Hill Tunnels and South of Te Hana the current travel time is approximately 35 minutes during the southbound afternoon peak and 34 minutes during the northbound afternoon peak.

So this seems to be roughly about right, it means that the average speed along the entire route is just over 70kph and the time given by Google for the same distance in normal conditions is listed as 32 minutes. But here is where things start getting odd:

7286 (2012). Julie Anne Genter to the Minister of Transport (06 Sep 2012): What will be the approximate distance in kilometres of the completed Puhoi to Wellsford Road of National Significance?
Hon Gerry Brownlee (Minister of Transport) replied: I am advised that the completed Puhoi to Wellsford Road of National Significance will be approximately 38 kilometres.

After 3-4 years of investigating the project, the NZTA have yet to be able to announce a route from Warkworth to Wellsford due to the extremely difficult geography and geology of the area. Without knowing where the new road will go, how can we know how long it is going to be? Even putting that aside, here is were the real craziness begins:

7289 (2012). Julie Anne Genter to the Minister of Transport (06 Sep 2012): What will be the average time saved per trip by the proposed Puhoi to Wellsford Road of National Significance?
Hon Gerry Brownlee (Minister of Transport) replied: I am advised that travel times between Johnson Hill Tunnels and south of Te Hana will be reduced by 26 minutes during the southbound afternoon peak and 15 minutes northbound during the afternoon peak.

Those time savings are just ridiculous, are they really suggesting that you will be able to drive the 38 kilometres southbound in just 9 minutes, perhaps the plan is to buy everyone a supercar and remove the speed limits as it works out to an average speed of over 250kph. The northbound route is a little better but still would see average speeds well above our current limits vehicles would have to average 120kph to get 15 minutes of savings, even on the shorter route. In fact my calculation is that even with the shorter route and an average speed of 100kph, the time savings all the way from Wellsford to Puhoi would only be about 12 minutes. I would go further and suggest that half of the 12 minutes of savings that would likely just come from bypassing Warkworth and perhaps some work to the area south of the Pohoehoe viaduct.

Travel time savings often make up quite a large chunk of the economic benefits associated with transport projects, if they are so blatantly wrong as in this case then it really makes you question what is going on. Even at 12 minutes, is that kind of time saving really going to make a difference to the Northland economy, I don’t think so.

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29 comments

  1. The arguments made in favour of the extension of SH20 are similarly implausible: “CBD to the airport…cutting travel time between the two points by over 15 minutes”. Outside of a couple of hours for the evening rush hours, I allow 25 mins to get from the CBD to the airport. SOmehow they’ll reduce that to under 10 mins by building a route that is less direct. (this is not necessarily an argument against the project, but makes me question their modeling).

  2. I think this just proves, once more how totally clueless Brownlee is. Even the NZTA website only claims a 14 minute time saving on Puhoi to Wellsford. As I pointed out in a Herald article in April 2011, to acheive a time saving of 14mins on this route, the average speed would need to be 142km/h – not only illegal, but highly dangerous and unlikely to do very much for safety.

    1. To reply to my own comment, I note that those time savings refer to “peak” times. Presumably that means the holiday periods.

      But I thought this wasn’t meant to be a holiday highway?

      1. The answers for both the before and after scenarios clearly refer to the afternoon peak which is one of the reasons I posted these. We are talking about normal everyday usage here.

      2. Well I’m just really confused then. Perhaps it’s based on modelling assumptions that traffic will grow at rates it hasn’t grown at for many years now and everyone will continue to want to drive at the same time.

        Oh, and of course ignoring the benefits that you could get from bypassing Warkworth as a standalone project.

  3. Had great interest in these time savings. Lived in Whangarei 1979-88.The studied Auckland Uni89-96 then lived in Auckland since 99 but family in Whangarei so a pretty well-travelled road for me.
    The times of 34 and 35 minutes would seem pretty bang on to me. Out of interest I have been timing out of tunnels to Wellsford Caltex/McDonalds (Which is where SH 16 joins from Helensville as well). 30-32 minutes is my times . This is driving with family or my 1.3 L Toyota corolla. I have been stopped twice on open roads for driving too slow so probably not too many who would go slower.
    Yes the cut downs in time are a bit overstated and will require driving fast than safe (and fuel economic even on a good road.
    The thing about driving Auckland -Whangarei since 1979 I have seen the road changes. In 1979 the motorway ended at Tristam ave – you would then go Wairau road, Glenfield road, Albany Highway, thru Albany, Dairy flat highway thru Silverdale, Orewa. Also had to go thru Waipu. Therefore there have been large changes progressively and Northland has not boomed form these. The Orewa to Puhoi highway probably saves 8-10 minutes so any talk of changes to Northlands economy should be based of changes form this. Unfortunately for people wanted the highway if the Orewa Puhoi section was 6 ½ minute s you are not going to be able to times in by 4times for the Puhoi to Wellsford.
    Other side point does the 1 billion a year stated for benefits of Roads of National significance include the benefits of the the Victoria market tunnel and if so how much of the one billion is from Victoria market tunnel?

    1. Good point, reducing travel time between Auckland and Northland in the past hasn’t done much to stimulate growth in the North. Why should we expect a saving of a few minutes to be revolutionary?

    2. If one looks at the various reports of towns all but closing down in Northland as various primary industries shut down, it looks like Stu’s comment below about bringing Auckland closer being worse for Northland is pretty bang on. I realise the actual reasons for these are nowhere near as neat, but it would be interesting to look at Northland’s contribution to GDP and track it against the extension of the motorway northwards.

  4. Reality check: The regional economic impacts of transport improvements generally tend to improve the “urban core” at the expense of the “rural periphery”. So in the case of P2W it’s actually more likely to damage Northland’s economy to the benefit of Auckland. Why you may ask? Well it’s all to do with economies of scale.

    The better the transport linkages between Auckland and Northland, the easier it becomes for the former to serve the latter. It’s like globalisation, but on a regional scale. To provide an example, let’s say there’s a consulting company that has a large office in Auckland and a small office in Northland. If the transport linkages improve between the two cities then the ease with which the Northland market can be served from Auckland increases, so you’re more likely to consolidate your investment around Auckland.

    That might not be something as dramatic as shutting the Northland office down, but it may be choosing to not hire someone there because you may as well have them in the “engine room” in Auckland where there’s lot of other things going on.

    So I wish that people in Northland realised that roads work in two directions: P2W will benefit Auckland’s economy more than Northland’s and in fact the latter is more likely to be hollowed out from this road than benefit from it. In my honest to god economic opinion.

      1. The new motorway to Puhoi is already having this affect on Warkworth. A number of significant busineses and Govt departments have closed their Warkworth operation and consolidated with their Auckland operations. Warkwoth based employees are faced with the choice of commuting to Auckland each day (lucky we built that new motorway, sorry there’s no bus service) or redundancy.

      1. Yes, not only does it not stand up overall but the “strategic economic reasons” put forward in support of it are very tenuous if not downright incorrect.

      1. Highways in the countryside do not agglomerate. Joyce fraudulently added agglomeration benefits to a dispersive project. But I see what you are saying, that Stu is agreeing that there are ABs here, but to AK not Northland. If think it is probably more accurate to say that IF there is to be any agglomeration, or increased efficiency from this project that the benefits will accrue to Auckland.

        I have argued elsewhere that any advantages from this project will be more than negated by other issues, for example time savings lost in the city leg of any journey because of failure to invest in alternatives leading to further delays there, and further rises in fuel costs also wiping out any advantages. As well of course that all such savings cannot match the cost, especially when compared with targeted improvements on existing route.

        http://greaterakl.wpengine.com/2012/09/03/can-these-rons-make-a-right/

        1. Oh, I definitely agree that the actual project is a stupid waste at best, considering the costs. I just think that Stu’s scenario of “hollowing out” Northland’s economy by encouraging people to move to Auckland where they’ll be more productive would be a benefit overall, if it were real.

        2. I’m suggesting that P2W will not benefit Northland, that’s all. Yes it probably will benefit Auckland – but that’s not the point of the project.

        3. building it might benefit people’s trusts that own property along the route that will rise in value once a “good transport links to Auckland” line appears on the real estate adverts. If higher property values in Mahurangi/Wellsford are a “benefit to Northland”

  5. This road to is a link between the gaints of Wellsford and Puhoi.
    What I mean here is that from Northland the main centre is Whanagarei -whoose Southern industrail area is 75km from Te Hana.
    Puhoi is not a large business place. Neither really is Orewa ( for business – it does have poele) . For business you are proably looking at Alabny which is about 26km away.
    So there really is still a lot of travel to do from the ends. The 12 minutes Matt L calculates may help by 10% if a 120 minute trip (2 hours).
    Helpful a bit but worth spending a billion?

  6. The real question is what would a motorway from Wellsford to Auckland do, that the two state highways and the freight railway that already link Wellsford and Auckland can’t? Is a third state highway really going to unleash Northland, when the first two haven’t already?

  7. Interesting point Nick . A thin strip of land with 140,000 people is supplied by 2 highways, a railway, 3 airports, a port and you could even use Kaiparara harbour if needed and there are 2 detour roads if needed. In fact just South of Wellsford you basically have bush, occaisional farms and transport routes

  8. Standing at SH1 in Warkworth waiting to cross to our primary shool, I’m aghast at the massive trucks blasting through at 60+ km/h. I wonder about the viability of establishing an inland port/freight transfer node at Wellsford Railway Station, which is already a railhead for logging.

    Would welcome others thoughts on this, thanks…

    1. Well first up Warkworth does need a bypass, almost all of the benefits are achieved by just doing that, add some safety improvements and a few more passing opportunities and there its done. Sooner and way way cheaper.

      Yes and the NAL needs some much delayed upgrading to get it to function well, including connection to Marsden PT port

  9. Godd point Patrcik.
    I think it is important to remember that may people opposed to an additional Puhoi – Wellsford highway actually wantt positive changes. Theses include bypassing Warkworth and general raod improvements. The advantages of these will be happening 5 years before Puhoi to Wellsford opens and would not need a toll to be added.

  10. Good post Matt. The two areas you identify with the aerial photos are the worst stretches, and should be dealt with as priorities.

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