Yesterday the Board of Inquiry announced their draft decision for the Puhoi – Warkworth motorway. Disappointingly they approved the Notices of Requirements and other related consents. This of course was in sharp contrast to the decision of another Board of Enquiry to reject the Basin Reserve flyover, which was announced earlier in the week.

Many serious concerns were raised about the proposal during the hearings stage. Cameron Pitches from the Campaign for Better Transport raised a number of concerns about the traffic modelling, alternatives and economic analysis of the projects. These were covered in series of posts back in April and May

Generation Zero (who I submitted for) also raised similar concerns about economics and alternatives.

Unfortunately all these serious concerns were dismissed by the Board of Inquiry. These are excerpts from the draft decision which can be found on the EPA website here.

379. The application documents filed by NZTA are comprehensive. Consultation with interested and affected groups has been extensive, spanning in some cases several years. Section 7 “alternatives” in the AEE sets out in detail the process whereby NZTA considered the various options and alternatives open to it. The Board is satisfied that the consideration of alternatives to the proposed route and designations by NZTA was conscientious and comprehensive. Many evaluation criteria were deployed, including a “value for money” criterion. Seven broad corridor options were evaluated. Inside the various sectors of the proposed motorway short-listed route options were considered and assessed.

385. The ‘do nothing’ option and alternatives proposed by some submitters of upgrading the current SH1 also merits a brief comment. The benefits (assuming appropriate mitigation) of the proposed motorway over the current SH1 route are compelling in terms of road safety, travel times and more efficient fuel consumption. Schedewys Hill features large. The effect of slow heavy vehicles travelling north up this hill on speed, travel time and fuel consumption of other traffic is considerable. The cost of converting the current SH1 alignment on the hill to three or four lanes would be significant, requiring cantilevering over the edge of the hill feature, quite apart from considerations of gradient.

Both of these comments are frustrating.  On the first point, the NZTA provided no rationale for the four lane RoNS standard.  No reason was stated for the requirement that the road should be tollable, thus ruling out an upgrade of the existing alignment.

On the second point, the Board claims the benefits of the toll road are compelling, however NZTA never quantified the benefits of the toll road in the form of a Cost Benefit Analysis that complies with their own economic evaluation manual.  Similarly a Cost Benefit Analysis was not performed on any alternative.

Another part of decision is interesting in that it highlights the need for submitters to bring along experts to ensure their points can be accessed. This of course usually requires substantial sums of money to be raised by these groups, which can be very difficult unless there are wealthy local residents who are locally affected. This was the case with the Kapiti Expressway and Basin Reserve, but not the case with the Puhoi – Warkworth highway. It is also extremely difficult to find an expert willing to go up against the NZTA.

One of the difficulties with which these submissions posed the Board is that no expert evidence was called to challenge the economic and cost- benefit assumptions on which NZTA’s applications were based.

The Board does have the power to appoint their own experts, however they chose not to.  The proposed highway would also have substantial negative environmental effects from earthworks, sedimentation of streams and harbours. These effects were said to be covered by the conditions, most of which were written by NZTA and presented to the board. However some stricter conditions on sedimentation and monitoring were put in place.

Especially contentious during the hearing was the removal of several stands of native bush, including a 0.44ha grove of kauri trees. However the BOI found they were unable to require the designation to be shifted away from the kauri trees!

362. As discussed in Chapter 8.3, the Board considered whether it had the power to shift the designation further east to avoid the kauri stand, in response to submissions received and their own concerns. The Board considered that it did not have the power to modify the designation boundary to an extent sufficient to achieve that outcome.

The news to grant the decision was obviously welcomed by the Government and NZTA, who both are determined to push on with the highway. However the consent of course does not mean that the highway has to go ahead. The claimed $760 million cost (nowhere in the application documents is the cost stated, this is the most recent figure from 2012)  is totally out of proportion to the benefits that result, and the Campaign for Better Transport alternative would ensure that the safety blackspots are fixed. The NZTA release noted that the highway won’t be finished until 2019 at the earliest. That means that no progress would have been made of fixing existing safety issues for over a decade. A focus on safety could have eliminated these blackspots already.

Of course there is sure to be excitement from Northland leaders who have been seduced by the highway. However this highway will cost about twice as much as the NZTA have spent on both existing and new state highways in Northland over the last decade! Northland leaders should really think again about the link between Roads of National Significance and the cuts to regional and rural roading budgets.

Few seem to realise that the new toll road will be just 700m shorter than the existing route, shaving just three minutes from current travel times outside of the holiday period. Reaction from Warkworth locals suggests that they have no idea that they won’t actually benefit from the toll road.  Because the northern junction lies two km north of Hill Street, any Warkworth resident using the toll road will travel about four km further for trips south than if they just use SH1.

Here is a simple proposal highlighting what could be done for the same amount of money.

  • $240 million – Operation Lifesaver including Warkworth bypass and safety upgrades
  • $350 million – One third of the government contribution to the City Rail Link
  • $160 million – Special boost for funding of Northland transport infrastructure. Could cover safety upgrades needed on the Brynderwyns (which has been closed for the last week) and other key routes, as well as major upgrades to the rail network which could carry substantially more freight. This would double the amount of funding spent in Norhtland over the next decade.

Splitting the the funding along these lines would deliver much greater benefits to Aucklanders, Northland and users of the existing road. The funding of the road will be the next step of the project. Given the current stress of the transport budget, and the hundreds of millions in loans required for Auckland projects hard to see how the National Land Transport Fund can cover this. Their have been rumors of a Public-Private Partnership approach for this, but of course that would mean this would be an even bigger drain on the budget, just spread out over several decades instead.

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  1. Well, that is a shame. Thanks to you and to others for putting in such a mighty effort. If the government changes at the election the highway will get canned anyway.

    Is there any information about the stand of Kauri trees and where that is? I read that there was going to be a viaduct _over_ a stand of kauri trees near Perry road.

  2. Yuck. This road (and it’s northern extension to Wellsford) are the poster children for the wasted spending the transport opportunity cost of the RoNS programme. It’s ugly from an environmental and economic perspective.

  3. Why did the BoI reject the Basin Reserve Flyover and not the Holiday Highway? Was the opposition down in Wellington to the BRF stronger politically and socially?

  4. Surely people, it’s not all about the time saving and statistics that don’t add up. Look at how windey the road is at the moment, that can’t go on forever.

    1. So, we should bankrupt the country making all of our winding roads straighter? Even if there is no economic case and minimal time savings?

    2. The road will be tolled and will not actually save any time for residents going to (or through Warkworth to other points east or south of Warkworth) as the road will come up a few km north of Warkworth.

      So the expected time savings are illusions for most, and when you add in the toll factor, even with straighter roads on the 4 lane road a lot of people will use the old (free) route, even if it is more winding.

      So how will the country benefit overall by effectively wasting 70% of the money spent doing this?
      The benefits will at best be 30 cents for every dollar spent and that is using NZTAs own estimates, before tolling is added in

      Total waste of time and money, and doesn’t at the end of the day actually bring Northland 1 minute (or km) closer to the rest of the country – this is not even going on to be built in the Northland region.
      Its a Auckland project for Auckland holiday home owners in the north Auckland region.

      Agree the current road is a shocker in places, but that can be easily fixed for a lot less $.

  5. Some of the factors relevant to the win in Wellington.

    Several submitter groups co-operated and 1-2 key people per group read every bit of documentation produced and, through lawyers, demanded copies of background documents which were sometimes contrary to the NZTA evidence.

    Experts gave lots of time on all key issues and attended caucusing before the hearing to ensure the agreed statements for experts noted the problems with NZTA evidence.

    Transport expert witnesses were able to dig into the NZTA traffic models and show a claimed 7 minute saving for cars from the bridge was actually only 90 seconds. Experts for submitters had their own people running alternative traffic models.

    The project proposing to radically change a downtown area. A case of trying to put ‘lipstick on a pig’ which submitters were able to clearly expose.

    Hundreds of submitters in opposition. Many turned up and gave eloquent speeches.

    Some key parts of NZTA were a shambles and/or misleading – and that was exposed.

    NZTA economic evidence shown to be essentially circular – the road would be economically beneficial because the objectives for it said so. Their BCR analysis included benefits from projects already completed, and was otherwise obscure on how key numbers in support of the proposal were produced.

    Alternatives were presented by an Auckland consultant with full sets of drawings and analysis.

    The decision itself tells you lots more.

    1. That’s highly instructive, notwithstanding the undoubted efforts of the groups submitting on the HH. In particular it struck me when I read about the Basin Reserve BOI decision how much the opposers had adopted a professional / legal approach.. enquiring into / exposing background documents and developing / modelling alternatives.

      Of course it sucks that the playing field isn’t even remotely level, with NZTA’s efforts being fully funded, indeed there may well be employees with KPIs based on the “successful” BOI outcome. But I would suggest that the legal process increasingly trumps the democratic process as the most effective means to counter initiatives such as the HH, where the trade off is sharpest between vested interests and the common good. Just gotta try even harder next time.

    2. Yes Tom a clever approach. I have long thought that a concerted campaign of asking questions regarding the AWHC in terms of the OIA may turn up some gems, not to mention the considerable input required may cause NZTA to ponder the project. As many lawyers will say, it’s not the strength of the argument but the length (and cost) of the argument that often wins the day.

      And if the proponents of AWHC are proposing a ridiculous scheme (and with a return of just 0.3 it is) then it is legitimate to call it so and that may also invite ridicule of the proposers.

      Now where’s that first set of questions that I have ready to send?

  6. This line in paragraph 384 sums it up pretty well for me:

    “The matters raised by The Campaign for Better Transport are really high policy matters which pass into the political arena. NZTA’s statutory objectives and functions cannot properly be challenged in the context of the Hearing before the Board.”

  7. Thanks for your efforts. Short of forming a single issue political party it’s hard to imagine what more you could have done. Frustrating that the safety improvements have effectively been delayed as Operation Lifesaver could have been completed far more quickly.

    1. At a meeting with one of the geo-tech engineers last week he confirmed that the aim is to start construction immediately after the New Year break in Jan 2016.

  8. Makes you wonder if the second AWHC crossing “early announcement” was not a distraction ploy, ready to be pulled out in case the HH got canned too?
    That way the Gov’t could have pulled out the AWHC rabbit out of its hat to distract from two failed BOIs in the same week.

    As it stands, if HH means AWHC is delayed for 10 years, it may be money well spent fromthat perspective.

    Meantime the existing road stays as it is until the HH opens. So we have 4+ more years of the existing black spots staying put ahead of us.

    I don’t think the country (or NZTA) can afford AWHC and HH at the same time (or even decade)

    1. The “early announcement” was probably less of a National tactic as much as another Labour insider trying to preach to his own choir while alienating middle New Zealand. The way Labour selects its leader now hopefuls have to endear themselves to the left wing to such an extent that they probably become unelectable. It is a real shame if giving the party and trade unionists a say means Labour reverts to single term governments like Nash and Kirk and allows National to become 9 to 12 year governments.

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