Proponents of the Puhoi-Wellsford “holiday highway” have regularly tried to portray the project as being of critical importance to the future prosperity of Northland. I have even heard that before the last election at a “Backbenchers” special TV show in Auckland, Nikki Kaye even went so far as suggesting that the road would be a critical way of solving child poverty in Auckland. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a motorway project.

We’ve always been sceptical about these claims for quite a few reasons:

  1. The project is not even in Northland, it’s in Auckland
  2. The project only saves a few minutes of time – despite what Gerry has claimed
  3. Spending the same amount of money on good transport or economic development initiatives within Northland would almost certainly have a bigger impact
  4. NZTA’s own analysis of the project from before it was plucked out of the air by the government suggests that the benefits will be minor:

In recent times the argument that the project will benefit Northland has become even more stretched – because it seems as though the Warkworth-Wellsford section is encountering huge problems with geotechnical stability. This is what was stated in a local paper recently in relation to this section:

Meanwhile, investigation of the Warkworth to Wellsford leg has been postponed indefinitely, due to tests that have shown land in the area is so unstable, it would be uneconomic to build a motorway on top of it.  It is the poorest possible soil seen in New Zealand.

While the project’s northern half (the closest half to Northland and the section with the most significant existing safety problems) sounds like it’s being chopped forever, it appears as though other elements are being added to the project to enable holiday makers to get to their beach houses quicker. This from the same article as the earlier quote:

However, they have confirmed the motorway would almost certainly join up with a new link road to Matakana, via a large roundabout, which is highly likely to push development to the north of Warkworth, and towards the coast. It is understood Auckland Council planners are already redrawing the rural urban boundary proposed for Warkworth, to reflect the same changes.

Confirmed route

It seems that perhaps Northlanders are waking up to the fact that the project which was supposed to have a transformational effect on their economy is slowly but surely evolving into what its critics have called it all along – little more than a “holiday highway”. Here’s a recent article from the Rodney Times:

The Far North District Council says the money could be put to better use on Northland’s roads.

In July the council accepted and agreed to promote a report by traffic engineer Dean Scanlen which calls the motorway “an expensive gift you don’t want”.

Mr Scanlen suggests the benefits of bypasses at Warkworth and Kawakawa, and a tunnel at the Brynderwyn Hills would far outweigh the benefits of a four-lane road between Puhoi and Wellsford as planned.

New political party Focus New Zealand also believes the money could be better spent on Northland roads.

President and Okaihau farmer Ken Rintoul says Northland has bigger transport problems such as the 12 single-lane state highway bridges and poor route security which cuts Northland off in extreme weather.

Mr Rintoul says the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway will create a dangerous bottleneck at Dome Valley which will not be bypassed for a further 10 years.

We have long said that the focus should be on bypassing the towns along the route and then spending money to improve safety by straightening out curves and adding improved passing facilities. All of which could be done sooner and each bit as individual projects. Further the benefits could be felt as soon as each small section is finished rather than having to wait for the completely offline motorway to be completed. I do think a tunnel under the Brynderwnyn’s sounds a bit fanciful and very costly though.

Some still support the project, but seemingly only on the basis that it’s extended much further north in the future:

But Northland Regional Transport Committee chairman John Bain says the road will make a huge difference, improving access to Northland’s main market.

More than 30 per cent of everything Northland produces travels south on the road to Auckland and beyond, he says.

“It used to take three hours to get to Auckland, now it takes two hours. The next step makes it even quicker and opens up the North for all the benefits.”

Mr Bain says it will make the trip easier not only for freight but tourists too.

Mr Bain says the motorway will eventually reach Wellsford, then Whangarei and further north. He wants the Whangarei District Council to consider designating a corridor for a future bypass of the Brynderwyn Hills. Designating the land now means the land corridor will not be too exorbitant to buy and gives everyone certainty.

Given the problems faced by the Warkworth-Wellsford section alone, it seems like it would be a very very long time before extending the motorway north of Wellsford is even considered. And sure I can see how going from three hours to two hours between Whangarei and Auckland could have had a major effect, but this proposed road really only cuts about 10 minutes off travel times at most. That’s hardly earth-shattering and with the exceptions of the Brynderwyn’s there isn’t much to really hold vehicles up for the rest of the route.

I wonder whether it’s only a matter of time until the Warkworth-Wellsford section is quietly dropped from being part of the road of national significance – much like Otaki to Levin was. That section appears to be the only of the RoNS not to have at least an indicative completion date as per the table below which I received as part of my OIA request from the Ministry of Transport. The paper it came from was dated Feb 2013.

Rons Completion 1

Rons Completion 2

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    1. You’ve been speaking to Gerry about travel times, I see.
      Might at 1:30 from Warkworth, but it’s sure as hell not 1:30 from the Auckland CBD or, more importantly, the airport. Drove from Wiri to the northern edge of the Whangarei CBD a few months back, early on a Saturday morning and then back late afternoon on the Sunday, and it was about 2:15 each way given there was no traffic to speak of. This was in a ute, too, so in a truck (it’s supposed to be a project about moving heavy vehicles,after all) it’s still three hours or more.

  1. Off-topic, but why has the Western Rng Route a 2022 date for “completion” between Lincoln and Hobsonville? There IS a motorway there. The last section to Hobsonville was just opened 2 years ago!

    1. The royal road section has been in the pipeline for some time now.

      You will notice that if you look at the city side of hobsonville road it’s all setup for 3 lanes each way just like what Lincoln road will be when it’s done. That will leave a 2 lane bottleneck at royal road.

      1. Yeah, with the rest of the works, that part will be needed. Even now, on the eastbound lanes from Westgate, the 3 lanes into 2 just before Royal Rd is causing major issues even in light traffic.

      2. Yep the standard operating procedure for the roading industry. Widen/build a road in a couple of locations but leave the bit in-between unfinished allowing them to go back later and call for the removal of the bottleneck or completion of the missing link.

        1. So what your saying Matt is that you want to mobilise the biggest construction force known to man and spend $500 billion over the next 3 year’s so that we won’t need to do any more work on our roads for the next 50 year’s?

          Sounds just every so slightly impractical to me.

        2. I just want to know what he wants. It seems he thinks there is something wrong with building our roads based on demand.

          He obviously has an issue in which case he must be under the impression he knows or believes in a better way.

        3. “$500 billion”.

          Even for SFLauren, who likes to pluck figures from the air and attach them to real and imagined projects, this is rather large! That’s the entire GDP of NZ for several years, or all Government spending for most of a decade.

        4. I was trying to get a cost that would cover all the roads New Zealand would need for the next 50 year’s covering both State Highways and local roads so that you wouldn’t have to worry about us sneaky engineers building pinch points on the network that need to be upgraded as demand grows.

        5. So are you saying there was demand to build the section around Hobsonville as three lanes each way but not the demand for building the royal road section to that level. Now I know you will try and claim future proofing for Hobsonville and that is fine but then that is building to future demand not current demand. It also encourages use of that section while at the same time creating the bottleneck both of which improve the justification for that future piece of work.

          We have seen this tactic time and time again from road builders.

        6. While the Royal Rd section needs 3 lanes, there is no way that the Hobsonville section does. Especially not for cars. Apart from PT, the only lanes we should be looking at building anywhere, are freight lanes (whether mixed with PT or not. Depends on the location etc).

        7. Bryce, why the heck would Royal Road section need 3 lanes???? It needs a busway and a cycleway.

        8. The SH18 and the country part of SH16 have no plans to be made 3 lanes each way. Also all these sections have 4m wide bus shoulders already just waiting for a service to use them.

        9. Royal road also has plans for a cycle way as well as to extend the bus lanes through to the new bus interchange near northside drive.

        10. I’m not saying that it needs to be 3 lanes from a traffic carrying point of view but from a safety point of view now that each end of this section has been made 3 lanes wide. Its too late to go back so this small piece ideally needs to be 3 lane. Ideally, the whole Waterview to Wesgate motorway is flawed. If it had been designed to move freight and people (not cars) it wouldn’t look like it now does. If the WRR and the link from the port to Waterview had been designed with this in mind, the AHB wouldn’t be facing the limitations placed on freight movements. After all, most freight over the bridge would, I’m guessing, be headed for Glenfield or Albany anyway so going the WRR route would be efficient for them.

        11. Or draw a line between two unconnected interchanges on the map, and declare it a missing link!

  2. Well as you know Matt the royal road section was built back in the 60s and so only needed to be 2 lanes each way at the time.

    The hobsonville section created a new motorway link to the northshore which will act as part of the western ring route once the SH20 tunnel is open.

    Now the hobsonville section being a big interchange between two 4-lane motorways needed to be 3 lanes for the simple provision of weaving and it was actually cut short of desirable criteria as royal road was already planned to be upgraded.

    The plans to widen and upgrade SH16 past Te Atatu have actually been in the works since before hobsonville even started construction and based on traffic modeling and forecasting the royal road section was not really needed till 2020 or there abouts.

    So the idea of purposely creating bottle necks to ensure future works us a load of craps. The reason it is done is either.

    A) that section of road doesn’t need to be upgraded as soon as the other sections.

    B) the bottle neck is created to reduce congestion down stream.

    1. Of course the bottle necks will now be the local arterials like Te Atatu Rd / Lincoln Rd / Royal Rd so (and it’s already happening in Te Atatu’s case) expect more big dollar projects to be announced (along with St Lukes) for Lincoln Rd and Royal Rd.

      1. And Te Atatu Rd doesn’t include bus priority even thought the AT drawings nicely show a bus (probably just stopped like the rest of the single passenger cars).

        1. Yes so the local roads may be congested meaning that the motorway can operate more freely.

          Also I don’t know what AT’s plans for Te Atatu road are but the interchange has all sorts of bus, pedestrian and cycle provisions.

  3. this project is turning into a farce. And a huge misallocation of scarce capital from a Government that is supposedly keen on being “fiscally responsible” and improving “economic productivity.”

    Not only has the Warkworth-Wellsford section been dropped (which greatly reduces the safety benefits), but the currently proposed plan bypasses Warkworth and re-connects some way north of the town. It’s a real stretch to call the first stage Puhoi-Warkworth. If you were actually wanting to drive from Puhoi to Warkworth, then the extra distance involved with using the proposed alignment would mean you’d probably be better off staying on the current road. Hilarious!

    As a casual observer it seems as if this entire project is in disarray and it should be quietly dropped. I have to say that it serves National right for making transport policy up on the fly, as Steven Joyce did with the RoNS. This highway is a poisoned chalice entirely of their own making. The irony is that it was completely avoidable – if only National had been prepared to take professional/informed advice (I’m sure many people advised them this project was unlikely to turn out well).

    1. I’m pretty sure Jarbury posted a few years back that the best route actually goes no where near Warkworth. Thats where therailway was built. If they are going to build a motorway it should go no where near the environmentally sensitive dome valley

  4. People just don’t see the importance of John and other VIP’s being able to get to their baches in Omaha without congestion 😉

    (Yeah, I know, 2010, and he now has a bach a bit further north in Hawaii)

    One of those classic newbie politician mistakes is to propose making SH1 (or ‘Sheezh-one’ as my GPS calls it), four lanes over ‘the entire length of the country’, before saner minds point out that experts already have carefully examined the cost-benefits. Generally the best/cost-effective solutions including passing bays, road-straightening, and by-passes, balancing demand over the entire roading network before deciding that a new 4 or 5 lane motorway is required.

    Seems to me that RoNS seem to be excluding from every normal rational analysis, and instead are replaced with ‘because we want it so’.

    Wonder what would arise if all that RoNS motorway money was simply dumped into the bucket for experts, (not politicians) to decide on how to make transport safer and more efficient…

  5. I’m not convinced (I hope I’m right) that this project will ever go ahead, but by the time they announce that it will or won’t, they could have been a fair way down the track of implementing (and enjoying the benefits of) some parts of the Operation Lifesaver proposal. Not to mention the costs spent on consultants, geo-technical experts, etc.

  6. The money should be spent on a bypass of Warkworth as previously outlined in this blog, upgrades to the Dome Valley section of road, upgrades to the North Auckland Line, and the construction of the Marsden Pt. branch line.

  7. If P2W saves 8 or 10 minutes, a Bryndrwyn tunnel would save double that. If they really were concerned for Northland surely eliminating that hair raising section of SH1 would be a better way to spend money than duplicating one of the less hilly parts of the road.

  8. “More than 30 per cent of everything Northland produces travels south on the road to Auckland and beyond, he says.”

    Now, about that other 70%..

  9. Did the change from Whangarei to Auckland being three hours to two hours include the time the speed limit changed from 80 to 100km/hr?
    One of the greatest time changes was about 1994 when Waiu was by passed. The new py[ass is dead flat, dead staraigt and needed basically no road aligning. Be interesting to know how much that ost and how much Northland economy jumped at the same time

  10. For the route north and south with the existing toll road section why not just put a peak rate on it? On the Friday afternoons etc. Wouldn’t this spread the demand out? And I agree with Bob above about better places for the money.

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