The herald this week ran a large piece on the projects under construction as part of the Western Ring Route (WRR) including aerial photos of the progress. The projects covered were:

  • The Waterview Connection breaking it down by:
    • The Southern end
    • The Northern end
    • The Waterview interchange
  • The raising and widening of the Northwestern Motorway Causeway
  • The Te Atatu Interchange
  • The St Lukes Interchange
  • The Lincoln Rd Interchange

But the thing that got me about the article was this part

The 4.8km link between the Southwestern and Northwestern Motorways will fill the last-but-one gap in the 48km Western Ring Route. It will bypass the city to the west and link Manukau, Auckland, Waitakere and North Shore.

All that will be left to complete, by about 2019, will be a $500 million-plus motorway-to-motorway interchange at the northern end of the route.

It’s made to sound like it’s some sort of minor completion task but in reality at $500 million it would be the second most expensive road project in Auckland after the Waterview tunnels. What’s more it’s all just to satisfy some transport planners desire to make a map look prettier.

SH18-SH1 map gap

The project is more than twice the cost of a similar junction at Manukau built just a few years ago. It’s even almost enough to get a fully offline busway all the way to Silverdale – not that it’s needed that far yet (but NEX services to Silverdale are). It will be eclipsed in price any time soon by $800 million Puhoi to Warkworth motorway (if it goes ahead). 

Further it’s also technically incorrect to say that’s the final project for the Western Ring Route as there is still an estimated $100 million upgrade of the Royal Rd interchange (and associated widening either side of it) that will be left to do. Also needing to be included are the costs of widening the Northern and Southern motorways either side of the western ring route which the NZTA say are needed to handle the traffic from the WRR.

All up over the span of the roughly 13 years that we will have actually been building it, the Western Ring Route will costing us almost $4 billion. That’s on top of other major motorway projects that have been/are going on like the Victoria Park Tunnel, Newmarket Viaduct replacement and the myriad of projects the government announced last year they would fast track. Here’s a breakdown of the costs of the various WRR Projects

WRR Costs

It’s the ability to really break some of these mega projects down into small chunks that I think has been instrumental in Auckland forging ahead with so many motorway projects ahead of other transport investments. Projects like the CRL have suffered because they require the entire thing to built before they become usable and the price tag then looks scary. However spreading out the cost of the CRL over the years it will take to build shows that annually it’s about the same as what we’ve been pouring into these motorway projects. (note: cost of CRL in today’s dollars is ~$1.8 billion other costs often quoted include extra trains for an inefficient operating pattern and future inflation).

All of this makes me wonder how different the public would have perceived these projects if upfront they had been told it would have cost almost $4 billion to build. Would public sentiment about what transport projects we should build be different if we could have had a more realistic discussion about how much things cost.

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  1. Why does this short section of about 2km cost $500m, and what justification has been given for it?

    When they say “all that will be left to complete”, they mean merely all that will be left to complete on this mega roading project. They will very quickly find other large roading projects and find ways to justify them. It’s what NZTA and the roading contractors do. If it meant a stop or even a pause on expensive and unnecessary roads, it would be a bargain at $500m. As it stands it is merely the latest fix for the road-junkies.

    1. It involves building a four level interchange like the waterview one in a location that is already built out on three of the four sides… and because they motorway would replace the expressway they need to reconstruct the road network to maintain the access the expressway currently affords. It’s quite a job to turn the intersection of an expressway and a motorway into a motorway interchange.

      1. There is no access from the expressway. Sll that they actually need to do is bridge from carribean drive to Paul Matthews Dr and build the north facing ramps to SH1 across the sewage plant.

        There should not be an interchange in the middle of the section at all and the current interchange can remain as is

        1. Caribbean Dr and Paul Matthews Rd is what I meant by maintaining access, and no they are not planning an interchange in the middle. They are planning to connect Constellation Dr to Carribbean, or rather the interchange ramps would start at Paul Matthews.

    2. What’s particularly depressing (apart from the doubling down on auto mania pointed out by Patrick and others) is that this particular $500m will achieve very little apart from changing the colour of the line on the map.

      The junction will doubtless have ramp signals like the SH1-SH20 junction, and at peak times the signals will go on to prevent congestion on SH1 at the cost of congestion on the other motorway. Net result from the $500m? Not much

  2. I guess this is why NZTA Auckland/Northland have a spin, oops, sorry, media department of at least four persons, nicely cocooned at 1 Queen Street, fibbing their way into the future. Not really needed though given the supine stance of the New Zealand media when it comes to reporting transport projects; a media ‘overawed by the wants of vested interests’.

    1. It is worth considering whether the NZ media and the NZ Herald are merely passively or in fact actively complicit in this spin.

      We have been told for several years that Waterview will complete the WRR, and yet, now ‘just a little more ‘ is required to complete it. But this new development is not reported as news, because that could lead to consideration and criticism. Instead, it is slipped in as a supporting ‘fact’, as a statement of truth to reinforce a larger description. Most people will not pick up on this technique, and remain unaware as the new statement of ‘fact’ is repeated until accepted.

      Such techniques are deceptive, dangerous, and not worthy of any media organisation with the self-image that the NZ Herald has.

      Needless to say, it is a classic Fox News technique to introduce misrepresentations in ways most likely to be uncritically accepted, to create new realities (as Donald Rumsfeld would have it). We do not need such duplicity by the NZ media, and I hope they are called on it.

  3. Will do nothing to ‘fix’ congestion. Will in fact more efficiently deliver waves of traffic to both parts of m’way system like the CMJ that are full, and flood surrounding local roads. This is a massive double-down on auto dependency; more ‘locked-in’ drivers = more cars = more congestion more often in more places. Yay Auckland.

    1. Why Patrick? The reason that this interchange is required is to funnel traffic away from sh1 and the CMJ and down towards waterview. This should greatly assist with reducing through traffic.

  4. If we remove the Constellation – Albany section from the Silverdale busway, the price for that would be substantially lower – surely. What is effectively a 2 lane road along an existing motorway alignment.

    1. Build the cheap bit first and then await the inevitable grumbling that the part from Albany to Constellation isn’t built and then build that. Just like how motorways get built. Can do the same with a Kumeu busway – the cheap bit is Kumeu to Westgate. Build that first.

      1. Most trucks that I see go E-W through there are heading for Constellation Drive or the Albany industrial area. Mostly just single occupant cars. A better link to from Upper Harbour (EB) to SH1 (NB) is really all that is required (and is being done as part of the 3 laning I believe).

      2. If it was a real ring route there would be no east facing connections back into town at Waterview. Is not primarily a bypass for freight but a huge re-addiction for Aucklanders to the private vehicle as their only means of movement and particularly intra-city movement. And so late in the motoring era. Part of a scheme that in itself is mistaken though primarily because of its scale and monomania. Roads are good and necessary, but not only roads and not the wrong roads.

          1. It was the right road for SH1 as was orinally conceived and should always have been built instead of SH 1 through the city (an ongoing disaster). Now; it’s just a double-down.

          2. Patrick, The book “Auckland – Expending to Greatness” (published in 1960 and possibly a companion to the NFU film on the civic building post) and the National Roads Board booklet “Auckland Motorways” from the early 1970s provide a history of the Auckland motorways. The original plan, commenced in 1949, was for SH1 to be the Southern and Northwestern pair, with a maximum capacity of six lanes. This was chosen becasue in 1949 it was expected that the Port of Auckland would be relocated to Avondale and Te Atatu peninsulas before the Harbour Bridge would be given the go ahead and that the Wiri/Otara developments would occur in the Te Atatu, Henderson, Massey triangle. That would have provided the region with balanced growth at top and bottom of the isthmus hourglass. With no need for intercity commutes three lanes would have been more than adequate, and the upper harbour motorway would have been the logical way to open up the North Shore . Of course, the passage of the Harbour Bridge Act with it’s negative impact on other local body lending in Auckland, and the Henderson Mayors successful objection to bulldozing orchards and vineyards, meant work on the Northwestern motorway was essentially suspended for a quarter of century so the northern motorway could be connected to the southern. In fact, the schemes for the Civic Centre show that in 1949/50 planners thought the Harbour Bridge could be connected the the new southern outlet with an extension of Cook St to Symonds St. It says a lot that the transport planners referred to the the northwestern and southern motorways and the northern and southern ‘outlets’ – they were thinking inter-regional traffic not commuter traffic. A complete contrast from the grand All American motorway plan that were advocated and adopted a mere five years later.

        1. That sounds sensible. Never said current monstrosity was the right answer, just rejecting characterisation as purely for cars.

  5. Yep – especially (although not noted in Matt’s post) the piece from State Highway 20/1 Junction at Manukau to Papakura (and further south).
    Just of note last I checked with our electorate MP in Papakura (Judith Collins) the Takanini Interchange upgrade and subsequent widening is meant to be starting on the 2015/16 cycle

  6. I live not that far from the proposed interchange and I can’t see it being needed any time soon and would much rather the money was applied to the City Rail Link where the prospective gains for a more liveable “grown-up” city are much greater.

  7. Personally, I think the WRR will be a game-changer, and I do stand to be corrected in 10 years if I’m wrong…

    The WRR will provide a real alternative to the CMJ and SH1. For me, who uses the NW, it’s probably going to make my commute worse; SH1 southbound from Hobson is always horrific at all hours of the day whereas the NW is free-flowing even at 4:30pm.

    But for Auckland as a whole, I think it’s going to revolutionise traffic.It’s going to allow airport traffic new routes. It’s going to move freight outside the CMJ.

    If you live in New Lynn, you’ve:
    1) Just had a new rail station
    2) Got new bus services next year
    3) Just had Wolverton Tiverton upgraded, reducing congestion already
    4) Have Waterview completing in 17
    5) Have the CRL completing in 20

    By 20, you have bus, train, and car alternatives for everything! Work in town? CRL. Need to pop up to Mad Butchers Stoddard Road? Easy blat on Wolverton Tiverton. Need to grab something from the Albany tree nursery? Onto the mwy at Maioro, take Waterview extension… if it’s a weekday, go via 16, if it’s a weekend head over the bridge. If the railway is down, an easy bus into the CBD as well – assisted by Wolverton/Tiverton (though bus lanes would be nice)

    1. Personally I don’t see it as a game changer, just yet more of the same. People were saying that the Vic Park tunnel was a game changer and it would free up all this and that, all that has done is make the afternoon traffic over the bridge all the more worse.

      People are deluded if they think there is going to be any less traffic on the southern motorway or the CMJ because of this new link. All we’ll see is more traffic on SH16. No game changer there, just same old congestion. Off peak, well I might be able to drive through to the airport slightly faster a couple of times a year, but I never have any problem with that these days (not driving at peak times that is).

    2. I agree with Nick,
      The WRR is 40 years too late – should have built back in the 60’s or 70’s then the original benefits would have been there.
      Now, its just more lanes of induced traffic and little else.

      Can’t see the supposed big winner of freight using it either – the trucks using it have to fight their way up the grades from Onehunga (At sea level) to some height mid way near Dominion Road, then back down to sea level (more or less) to go either west via SH18 or back into the city on SH16, might look faster on paper but I’m sure the economics of hauling heavy loads up those hills will dictate otherwise.
      I think trucks will stick to the SH1 over the bridge route thank you very much.

      As for CRL being done by 2020, right now, National is only promising “a start” after 2020 and having it done by the end of the 2020’s – so your’e 10 years ahead of yourself there.
      Only way we get CRL by 20 is if the current Government “wins Lotto” and decides to buy Aucklanders votes big time to stay in power, or a new Government voted in does the same and CRL is started next year.

      1. Freight start and end points are along the route, and certainly not all heading north or long distance by any means. Which is not to say this was the best way of connecting them.

  8. If motorways succeed because “they can be broken into small bits” then this is how CRL should be proposed. The “all or nothing” approach causes all sorts of problems for Wellington politicians who think in 3 year cycles, and who want something to be underway (or better, completed) before the next election.

    1. Precisely, they need to push for the core tunnel to be built for about $1.8b… then spend the extra billion over ten or fifteen years for new trains, extra tracks, grade separations, enhanced stations etc as and when they are needed (or even a few years after they are needed, nothing like thousands of screaming commuters to get the job rolling).

      1. Which is the same way I’d do the Airport Rail. Build it to the boundary. Imagine the pressure from passengers and workers?

        1. Sure, build the extension to Mangere Bridge first, then to Mangere Town Centre, then double track the Onehunga Branch and up the frequencies, then maybe to Walmsley Rd, then perhaps ten or twelve years later the airport connection would be a fait accompli.

        2. Yep.. and for the same reason, kick it off early by keeping the single track from Penrose to Onehunga and building a low cost single track Manukau Harbour crossing.

          Add the second track when it’s needed. Could be 10 years later.

          1. Need to do careful costing of how much money you are saving, vs how much you are going to waste a few years later if you go about building single track harbour crossings. Would rather see double track Onehunga line done first. This will allow 10 min freq (post CRL) which will enhance access to Mangere and Airport through frequent connecting buses. Also if Onehunga line upgrade done later will have to close the line for substantial periods, thus negating benefits from building line south to Mangere.

          2. I think there is very little to be gained with a single track crossing if you are building the whole thing from scratch. The way things like that are you’d probably spend 90% of the price of a double track crossing, only to have to come back and spend twice as much to fit the second track afterwards.

            I’ve been thinking about this and I’m not convinced on double tracking Onehunga first actually. The way I see it the constraint isn’t so much the single track section, but the fact the terminus is single track. A train only takes about 6 minutes to run the length of the branch, but make that a two way trip, add in some layover time at the end and an allowance for waiting at the Penrose junction and you’re looking at more than twenty minutes to enter the branch and get clear again, so half hourly is the best you can reliably timetable, one train anywhere on the branch at a time.

            My suggestion is rebuild Onehunga station as a two track station in the location and configuration you’d want it in for the full and final airport line.

            Include a short two track section as far as Victoria St (assumes Galway St is simply closed), and maybe added a simple passing loop between Maurice Rd and O’Rouke Rd. Again these are two bits you’d want doubled in the long run anyway, but they are simple and cheap to do within the existing corridor without any trenches or overbridges or whatever.

            Then you can send one train into the branch while the previous one is still on the line, because you can have two stopped at the terminus station at the same time. Or in other words the constraint is just the five minutes or so it takes to go one way on the single track section, not the full 20+ minutes to go in and out again. That means fifteen minute headways should be perfectly possible to timetable reliably, without tens or hundreds of millions of expenditure on a full double tracking/grade separating project.

            So I say basically leave the branch as it is for now, instead spend the money on rebuilding Onehunga station and a two-track extension to a new terminus at Mangere Bridge. It gets you across the harbour, adds a new station and doubles the possible frequency on the branch. Spending the same money of duplicating the branch only gets you the latter.

          3. Agree with Nick’s idea here – and I’d add Wheel experience shows there is no such thing as a “low-cost” harbour crossing for rail.
            As has been discussed here previously the so called “future proofing” for rail with the new Mangere bridge is basically non existent and single-lane at best.

            So for now, build a two track station at Onehunga to allow 15 minute frequencies on the line then link that well with the Airport buses to get a kind of “NEX” for the Airport.
            Over time then you can increase capacity at Onehunga by doubling up the EMUs to 6 car sets if the popularity for Onehunga is there (but we won’t have EMUs for that to spare for 2 years).

            Then build a double track crossing after that. Of course rout protection and the like for the Mangere side of the bridge must happen in parallel as well.

          4. I think what this blog does best is ask questions, sometimes by articulating alternative courses of action to the received wisdom. The Waikato rail post is a prime example.

            In this instance Matt’s contrast between the piece-wise nature of motorway expansion projects (and their corresponding business cases) and the one-off CRL exposes interesting questions about how it or the Airport rail project could be similarly “broken into small bits” as Neil puts it.

            As far as the decision analysis for Airport rail line is concerned, I’m happy to see a range of incremental (even contradictory) options tabled because a decision analysis based solely on a double track end-to-end construction project in one feel swoop (or else do nothing) is a high risk approach. At least in the present political environment.

            From what I recall when this topic was aired last year, the single biggest cost (and uncertainty) around the project is the Manukau crossing, for which I understand there is space for a single track rail under the existing motorway bridge, but not double track. That suggests to me a massive cost difference.. for just a few 100 m of the track. Well worth exploring how that might work, rather than closing the door prematurely because “double track is better”, I would suggest.

          5. ” I understand there is space for a single track rail under the existing motorway bridge, but not double track… Well worth exploring how that might work, rather than closing the door prematurely because “double track is better”

            Maybe, except the space is just that – a “notional” space for a “notional” single track, with an alignment which is not particularly great and would still require a lot money be spent sorting it all out before it was usable as a single track crossing.

            And while it may seem to be “a goer” mostly due to it already being “reserved” – NZTA doesn’t (and isn’t by law, allowed to) spend anything at all for rail, so on that basis, is some notional paper railway crossing really that much better than a proper crossing, able to handle two tracks when they’re needed i.e. “a proper job”?

            As for reinvestigation/relitigating it, this was done to death in the last year in an earlier post about exactly this crossing. Don’t think it needs another go round yet. But maybe you differ.

            (see this link for Matt’s take on the Future proof-ness (or rather not) of the new Mangere bridge crossing).

            Lets be clear, this crossing is the equivalent now of what the Auckland Harbour bridge was in its day. And we all know penny pinching on that one played out – we’re still waiting for the PT access on that bridge which was chopped from the plans 60 years ago. So we owe everyone the more considered approach of getting the design and designation right the first time.

            However, we can’t take 60 years to get this link sorted, heck even 16 years (by 2030) for this link being in place is possibly too little late.
            But if we take the single track option for this crossing now, it will saddle the rail links south of the Manukau Harbour with poor frequency and services for many decades to come.

          6. The key question to me is what is the price difference between building a single track across using existing, ah-hem, ‘future proofing’ or a brand new double tracked structure. With ETCS and, with the line being passenger only (until KR ultimately decide it could be good for freight once it’s open of course), does a section of single tracked line pose a big deal? 15 minute frequencies?

          7. The post last year didn’t have an answer on the costs (none could be found for the actual railway building part using the bridge).

            But given that the “future proofed” bridge piers will still need to have intermediate piers driven into the seabed to support the track, and will also need track/linking at each end, you have to wonder how much money you really will save by using the existing bridge piers given the constrained outcome it gives you. It really is one gift horse you want to fully inspect before taking delivery.

            As for KR wanting to use it after its built – the gradients may preclude that (hard to know without a final design), certainly the EMUs could manage it since they’re designed for CRL tunnel gradients.
            But if the choice came of steeper grades for less $ and lesser gradients for more cost to allow future freight, then KR need to stump up that extra cost as they benefit and no one else.

            To sum it up really the conclusion was that option B3 (using the existing bridge piers) was probably not a starter and that option C – separate 2 track bridge will be needed.

            Of course if this was a motorway project, there would be no doubt as to which option was to be taken – the super duper 4 lane option A of course.

            As for frequency, right now 15 minutes is the best you can get, doesn’t mean it will always be that way on the Onehunga track.

            With passing loops (and there is one there right now just next to Te Papapa) you could easily manage 5 minute frequencies on each of the 2 sub-sections between Penrose and Onehunga stations.
            so you could have much less than 15 minute frequencies even now if you wanted.

            So why saddle a future rail solution with the current design limitation just because we *might* save a few dollars on a single track crossing and have it a few months sooner.

            And yes, it could be that there is either one track or no track across the harbour – but I am sure a change of Government will be in place before any of this bridge track is ever built, so we need to lobby now for the 2 track solution so its ready to go when the Government changes.

            When was the last time NZTA built a single lane road recently that you know of?
            No they’d argue for a 2 lane road minimum – with tolls if needed – not a single lane goat track.

  9. “To be fair, it is also a major freight route (just like our rail network”

    You are taking the urine, right? Largely as a country we don’t produce anything and we are deluding ourselves if we build roads for trucks – we build them for cars. But I am willing to be convinced. Put some figures up showing the percentage of traffic on roads that are trucks.

    And for goodness sake we are closing railways down because they can’t get enough freight. Gisborne -Napier is a relatively recent example. Yes there is a move to re-open it, but the only product causing a re think is the high volume log trade.

    As other cities have found the introduction of good rail systems are transformative. We are starting to see that here with the cluster of apartments happening around the Newmarket train station and what is beginning in New Lynn, although we are just starting to move from third world rail. I had my first rail trip recently and swear that I could have walked faster from Britomart than the train.

  10. Good call Nick. Or even get more incremental and do the Onehunga works you outline then cost the bridge and line at least to Mangere Town Centre, two stations. Be very good to be getting on with this line without having to argue with the Airport or every idiot in suit who assumes he is the only person that needs to go through Mangere and of course only as a Very Important Traveller. Work the line forward to help fix poor severed Mangere as much as possible then the last leap to the airport will become so self evident it will all but take care of itself.

    1. +1 on that. Good call Nick. I like your scheme to get the frequency improved on the Onehunga line at minimum cost and without unnecessary goldplating at this stage of the game. This is because of the potential to set aside the money saved to be used instead as a down payment on that bridge crossing.

      It would again be very useful to see what a single track under the current motorway bridge is worth relative to a double track crossing. I am sceptical as to any usefulness of NZTA’s supposed future-proofing (greenwash?) of the crossing until there are good quality rail corridors designated at each end of the crossing. At the airport side, I’d like to see stations located between Mahunga Drive overbridge/Miro Rd to serve Mangere Bridge (a great little township), just to the south of the Walmsley Road overbridge, and in the meantime, a terminus to serve Mangere town centre either immediately east or west of the Bader Drive overbridge.

      Mangere town centre could really gain from becoming a key rail station. The raw ingredients are still there to build a wonderful town centre despite all the damage done by those roads.

      Between these three stations, rail needs to somehow find a double track corridor. Even just 6 or 7 years ago a lot easier than now. The other challenge will be negotiating the swampland and off-ramps immediately north of the Walmsley Road overbridge. Also easier before the motorway was widened just a few years ago. Biggest priority now has to be to secure a credible rail/rapid transit corridor to prevent further incursions by NZTA……a real battle as I suspect they and their bosses literally won’t want to give any ground (beyond a basic shoulder buslane). Good luck and go well!

      FYI – CBT have some great archive presentation material on this corridor.

      1. If I’m not mistaken the campaigning of the CBT ensured there was a viable corridor retained to the west of the motorway.

  11. John Key is far to busy trying to make himself look pretty and pose, like he did when the royal family came to visit, Katie and William with their new baby. Trying to grab votes and also spend tax payers money on private lavish dinners. Disgusting if you ask me. Just shows how much disregard this current government has for us.

  12. Doubly frustrating for me when you think $500m is exactly the price tag that has been bandied about for a comprehensive Dutch standard cycle network in Auckland.

    Think what a massive difference that could make for Auckland both in traffic and potential health benefits. If we could get 10% of current motor traffic on those cycle paths that would duplicate the school holiday drop in traffic.

    1. Yes it’s the opportunity cost that’s really frustrating, every other mode is struggling for the crumbs whereas vast sums are spent on roading projects that really will have no effect on anyone’s daily life. Considering ~10 million is spent by AT in Auckland each year on cycling that’s approximately the next 50 years budget. Furthermore, imagine what could happen to Auckland’s innercity if the Council were given $500 million to roll out shared spaces and linear parks, it would be transformative, something that an enlarged intersection certainly won’t achieve.

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