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
- NZTA’s Traffic Assessment for Puhoi to Warkworth
- Modelling the Toll for Puhoi to Warkworth
- NZTA Predict No Growth For Matakana
- Low Traffic Forecast For Costly Warkworth Toll Road
- No Economic Rationale for $760m Warkworth Toll Road
- A Better Alternative for Puhoi to Warkworth (And How to Save Half a Billion Dollars)
- Puhoi Warkworth Hearing Finishes Today
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.