I’ve talked before about how as part of The Auckland Plan, that councillors couldn’t help but lose their focus and instead of providing the high level strategy, goals and objectives went and created the biggest transport wish list the city had ever seen. The only debate was some jockeying for position around which projects should have the highest priority. As the debate about the plan reached the home straight, there was one project which seemingly came from nowhere to get a podium finish, the East-West Link.
The project is one that is being championed strongly by many in the business community which is probably why it managed to emerge from almost nowhere. It is also sometimes known as the middle rung on the state highway ladder although once Waterview is finished, the real middle rung is SH16 between Waterview and the CMJ. In another example of not being able to actually make a decision, the council ended up lumping the East-West link – on which no work had been done – in with AMETI which been through years of planning and was just about to start construction. The project is described in The Auckland Plan as:
The East-West Link is a proposed strategic transport corridor that will connect the Western Ring Route (SH20) at Onehunga and the Southern Motorway (SH1), providing improved access to the rail freight hub at Metroport and major employment areas, such as East Tāmaki. This link will address the high traffic and freight movements on congested local roads, provide efficient freight movements between SH20 and SH1, and between industrial areas and the port and airport. This link will also enable east-west improvements for public transport, walking and cycling. The total cost of both projects is estimated to be $2.6 billion.
Earlier investigations into the route by the NZTA came up with some very expensive and horrific looking options.
At the Councils Transport Committee meeting last week a presentation was given on the status of the project. One of the first slides shows just how massive an area the East-West link project area covers in comparison to AMETI which itself is very large. A key driver for the project is enabling easier freight movements between the large commercial area that covers from Onehunga in the West to East Tamaki in the East, areas which have some of the highest freight volumes in the country.
Because this region of town is also home to all of the key pinch points between the southern Auckland and the rest of the city, it just helps to add even more complexity in as this map of the various key movements shows.
The presentation then goes on to show the four options that are being considered by Auckland Transport, each has a different focus and set of projects associated with them however there are some common elements to all of them. I’ll cover them first before going into the options.
SH20 Onehunga Interchange – There appears to be a desire – most likely coming from the NZTA’s engineers -to turn the motorway interchange at Onehunga into a diamond. What is interesting about this is I’m pretty sure the NZTA’s predecessor tried to do this as part of the project to duplicate the harbour crossing but the consent for it was rejected due to the impact on what remained of the volcanic cone. Perhaps AT/NZTA think they will be able to get it done as provisions in the RMA are weakened.
South Facing ramps from Panama Rd – I think that there definitely needs to be better connections to the motorway in this area but seeing as most of this project is about making it easier to move freight, putting them in at Panama Rd which is a residential street seems like an odd choice. It’s certainly one way to help devalue the massive proposed residential development along there.
Extension of Gossimer Dr to Highbrook Dr – I’m not exactly sure what to say but it certainly doesn’t sound cheap.
As mentioned, each of four options then does something slightly different. Upgraded existing roads are shown in Red while new roads are shown in Black (The green lines are for the AMETI busway).
Option 1: Redistribute traffic away from SEART
This seems to have the least change of all of the plans and apart from what is mentioned above, includes a new road between the Highbrook interchange and Gt South Rd along with some upgrades to existing roads to the south of the harbour.
Option 2: Redistribute traffic away from SEART plus improved connections to Metro Port
An extension of the first option this also involves a new road from the Metroport to Panama Rd to access the south facing ramps.
Option 3: Focus on connecting industrial belt
This seems likely to be the most expensive of all the options and one that is extremely similar to one of the options earlier with a brand new road all the way from Onehunga to East Tamaki
Option 4: Decongest surrounding arterials and focus east-west in a high capacity corridor
An extension of SH20A from Mangere to Highbrook. If you look at maps you can actually see that this corridor was originally set aside but then obviously sold off for housing.
There are no costs listed for either of these options however the Integrated Transport Programme suggested that it could cost up to $600 million which is absolutely massive. Personally I think that the project needs to focus on upgrades to existing roads as much as possible rather than building expensive new ones.
Perhaps because it involves the prospect of new roads – which politicians and engineers always seem to find much more interesting that upgrades to existing ones – this whole project is getting fast tracked with AT hoping to start construction as early as 2015, a mere 3-4 years after the project was given priority. That seems like almost light speed compared to other large projects.