As the Council puts together its 10 year budget over the coming months there will be some really big questions that need to be addressed in the area of transport. When to start City Rail Link? How fast to build AMETI? How much to spend on cycling? Which “legacy” arterial roading projects to delay or cancel? Over the past couple of days Luke has outlined how challenging this task will be if the Council wants a lower level of rates increase than had previously been anticipated.

Our long-running criticism of the current transport plans is that they haven’t made any tough calls – the push for improving public transport is simply on top of all the grandiose roading projects earlier “legacy” Councils had come up with over the years. In an ideal world where money wasn’t an issue, then maybe this would be an OK approach – but that’s simply not the reality and the time is coming in the near future when Council and Auckland Transport will need to face up to this issue and properly confront it.

One project that came up a lot in yesterday’s discussion and certainly deserves significant scrutiny through the upcoming budgeting process is Penlink. The map below shows the proposed route of this connection – which was pushed hard by the previous Rodney District Council:

The Auckland Transport website describes the project’s benefits as being:

  • 7km of new road, including a new bridge across Weiti River
  • Four lane toll road (two in each direction)
  • Provisions for pedestrians and cyclists
  • 100km/hr speed limit
  • Five minute saving for commuters using old route
  • 12-18 minutes savings for commuters using toll road
  • 5.8km shorter route

Essentially it’s a short-cut between the Whangaparaoa Peninsula and the rest of Auckland – with the main benefits being faster trips for those who use the new road as well as less congestion through Silverdale for those who continue to use the existing road. I’ve highlighted my concerns with the project in the past – particularly because the Whangaparaoa Peninsula that it largely benefits is not expected to grow much in the future – so the transport system may not get much worse than it is now, especially if a number of other smaller-scale improvements proceed.

While there are clearly benefits from Penlink, especially for freeing up the Silverdale area and hopefully down-scaling the horrible semi-motorway that cuts right through the heart of Silverdale. Penlink is potentially a hugely expensive project – the ITP has its cost at just over $200 million but for a 7km four lane motorway with a long bridge that seems extremely conservative. As a comparison recently completed new motorway projects have cost between $25m and $50m per kilometre not including any bridges, meaning the actual cost of Penlink could be as high as $350 million or more. Because of this, we need to look at it very strategically from a regional perspective and ask it a few key questions:

  • Is the project in an area that’s a regional priority for major growth?
  • Is the project of critical significance in enabling a shift to better public transport?
  • Will the project benefit a significant proportion of Aucklanders?
  • Does the project clearly provide value for money and are there no cheaper alternatives?

In terms of the first question, the answer is a bit mixed. There’s not much growth on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula enabled in the Unitary Plan, but there is quite a lot of growth happening at Millwater and Silverdale at the moment. Part of the Millwater area was denoted a Special Housing Area, but is still only zoned Single Housing so will only allow pretty low density development. None of the “strategic” SHAs are located anywhere near Silverdale and certainly when compared to growth pressures in the South and the Northwest, Penlink doesn’t seem to be as critical for enabling growth as other key projects (like the Northwest Busway or Pukekohe electrification). Reinforcing this position is the ability to undertake a variety of alternative projects to “unlock” Silverdale.

On the second question, while it’s likely some buses will use Penlink, the major focus for the public transport service in this part of Auckland is feeding into Silverdale and eventually connecting to an extended Northern Busway right up the motorway to where the current Silverdale park and ride is located. Penlink is unlikely to significantly undermine public transport providing some buses use it, but generally is fairly unrelated to Auckland’s key effort of making a step change to public transport quality and use.

On the third question, obviously not every project can and should benefit all parts of the region, but for a major project that requires a very high level of investment it does seem that Penlink is particularly limited in the area it directly benefits – being mainly the eastern half of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula which all up is about 24,000 people which is less than 0.2% of the regional population

Penlink Population Location

There are indirect benefits for other areas – like Silverdale, assuming a significant proportion of traffic is willing to pay a toll and divert away – but we’re still talking a pretty small part of the region well away from where the vast majority of Aucklanders live and work.

Finally, in terms of whether Penlink is value for money this obviously connects to the earlier three questions (in terms of defining ‘value’) and what the project actually ends up costing. As noted above, we’re a bit sceptical whether such a long four lane semi-motorway with a huge bridge can be built for $200m – a much higher total would certainly raise additional questions about its value for money. Also as mentioned earlier, a key point in value for money is making sure a cheaper alternative couldn’t adequately do the job, and there remain a number of very real questions about whether that’s true for Penlink.

Perhaps a bit of a wildcard for Penlink is its potential to be tolled and therefore “pay for itself” to a reasonable extent. Some careful analysis of projected use and different levels of tolling could mean tolls contributing to a fairly large part of construction cost – perhaps one of the reasons why the project has been considered as a PPP possibility. Of course tolling doesn’t come without its own challenges and the we’ve seen many toll roads overseas as well as Route K in Tauranga continually fail to perform to the levels originally expected.

Overall, I remain unconvinced that Penlink is a major regional priority to fund in the immediate future – it just doesn’t contribute strongly enough to the main objectives for Auckland at the moment. I’m also very unconvinced of the need for the project to be four lanes – I thought it was just a two-lane road due to the toll suppressing demand to some extent. The potential for the road to be tolled and pay its way is a relevant consideration though, therefore as a two lane road perhaps this is something worth starting on towards the end of the next budgeting period.

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  1. Politics trumps rational analysis every time. Len supports Penlink in return for Penny’s support of CRL. A perfect outcome would be if AT drops this costly and unnecessary project and Penny supports them.

  2. As a Whangaparaoa resident for 24 yrs, I experience the existing road 7 days a week. There is a burst of congestion from 7.30am until 8.30am toward Silverdale, which not surprising, is not as bad during the school holidays.Likewise outbound on the Peninsula between 4.30 and 6.00 in the afternoon.
    Neither time periods have significant congestion and certainly not enough to warrant the cost. As you point out the growth on the Hibiscus Coast is to occur at Silverdale and Millwater, neither of which will really benefit from Penlink.
    The extension of the Busway to Silverdale and some improvements to the local area network will suffice.

    1. The are some improvements that could be made on Whangaparoa Rd and also at the Whangaparoa Rd / Hibiscus Coast Hwy intersection. The cluster of lights and intersections at the mall create a bottleneck and HCH towards Orewa does not need to be 4 lanes. Change the intersection to favour Whangaparoa.

  3. John Watson and Wayne Walker (councillors for Albany) also strongly support Penlink. Their election powerbase is definitely more Hibiscus than Bays. The problem for me as a voter in their ward is that they’re also really strong on preserving bush areas in the region and also improving stormwater runoff into the gulf. Politics, eh? It’s hard to pick a winner.

  4. Premise 1: Whangaparoa is not expected to grow very much.
    Premise 2: Auckland’s transport budget is highly constrained.
    Premise 3: PenLink does not align with AC’s strategic direction.

    Conclusion: PenLink is not a priority and should not be included in AC’s 10-year plan. If ever there was a test of Len’s mettle then this is it.

    1. Is this where BCR are supposed to help with the prioritisation of projects?

      With the catchment being relatively small, won’t the wider economic benefits be comparatively smaller than other projects of a similar cost?

      1. What is the BCR of this project? For $200-350m, we should have a comprehensive business case. Most organisations are required to accumulate strong evidence before going ahead with project one thousandth of the cost.

        If this project was to become more useful, could it gain an onramp and offramp on the Stillwater side? This would probably require a speed reduction to 80km/h, but that would not affect times significantly.

      2. Yes, wider economic benefits will be very small. Pen link is basically a glorified and oversized driveway. Not a priority IMO.

  5. Wow crunching those numbers a bit – at least $200 million, 24,000 residents, that’s at least $8,333 per head. My rates bill was about $2100 – if they pay the same, for a family of four that’s $33k or 15.9 years’ worth of rates if they were 100% spent on that road and nothing else. For just one road. Minimum. With little if any growth potential. Wow.

    1. Good analysis – and raises the question of why not use a targeted rate applied to those properties that benefit, rather than general rates. Many cbd improvements funded from targeted ratio on cbd properties. Good for goose is good for gander.

    2. Building on that.
      – there are approx 9,900 dwellings in that area of which ~800 are unoccupied.
      – $10k dwellings means the project costs $20k -$35k per dwelling.
      – even if govt paid half like other local projects it would still mean a cost to locals of $10k-$17.5k per household

        1. Matt’s figures show an 8% vacancy rate while Auckland is in a housing crisis, I doubt house prices will rise much if at all from this. Additionally the council does not build infrastructure for the purpose of raising the cost of housing, it used primarily to support population growth and often to stimulate economic growth as well.

          1. Sure, but if a house is suddenly a 25 min drive from the CBD rather than a 35 min drive, it becomes worth more all else held constant. So the claim that the residents would reject this plan based on economic factors is probably wrong.

          2. This situation is a classic example of where a targeted rate would work, because the benefits would be to such a clearly limited area (i.e. not system-wide like the CRL.
            It would be interesting if the residents were asked if they would pay a targeted rate a la LA’s ballot initiatives for public transport. Would they poney up? I somehow doubt it…

  6. Step 1 – Choose to live somewhere where geography dictates that commuting by PV will be impractical.
    Step 2 – Complain about commute, lobby for expensive new road.

    Seems the normal modus operandi for many Aucklanders!

    1. Missing a step,

      Step 3 – current council blames the previous council/administration for lack of forethought in ensuring growth expectations and residents demands are matched

  7. Good luck, to all negative commentators. Penlink could be built overnight, by many building consortiums paid for by overseas interests. The surveys have indicated that 70 percent that completed the surveys are happy to pay a toll. Good luck to the future of businesses in Whangaparaoa, and good luck to anyone suffering a heart attack, stroke or major car accident on Whangaparaoa road at any time. The population on the peninsula is now 30,0000 and increasing, no one will ever be able to reach the motorway in 2 year’s time. Any forward thinking person can see that the future for the Whangaparaoa Peninsula is Penlink.

    1. Perhaps more accurate to conclude that choosing to live on a giant cul-de-sac limits your access to just about every service that urban dwellers expect. Any forward thinking person can see there are better choices for where to live, or where to spend Council money.

    2. I made the choice some years ago not to live there because of access issues. However, building Penlink would make sense, but ONLY on a “user pays” basis. ie any further development done on the peninsular should have a surcharge applied to pay for the infrastructure and the road should be constructed and run on a PPP basis.

    3. Did the poll ask the level of acceptable toll? To pay back $200m at 5% over 30 years would cost around $12m a year. If by some miracle 10,000 trips were made on the road each day that is a toll of $3.29 just to cover repayments on the loan. You’d need to add in toll admin costs and road maintenance.

  8. 1. Its not as easy to simply ‘choose’ to live somewhere else. If it were, everyone in Christchurch would have left. There are a myriad of factors that determine where someone lives (financial, family obligations, social frameworks, employment etc). To suggest people should just ‘up and move’ is not a strong argument.
    2. There are a myriad of examples where public spending is used to benefit only those in a local geography or a select number of people. It isn’t just about the cost vs the number of people impacted, it’s also the level of severity of that impact. Should society stop spending considerable resources rescuing a stranded boatie?
    3. There is not much future growth potential in the area. A) A significant proportion of Auckland’s building consents continue to be in the Rodney area – it is a growth area. There continues to be development in Gulf Harbour, Arkles Bay, Red Beach and Millwater. However B) regardless of this, the question is less about handling future growth, it is more about releasing the pressure of the growth that’s already happened., The Whangaparaoa/Silverdale area has seen exponential growth over the last 20-30 years all of which has had to be absorbed using inadequate infrastructure. The roading along Whangaparaoa was designed to handle sleepy village traffic and some weekend holiday traffic, not to support what has become the size of a city in it’s own right. To suggest that there is not much future growth potential and therefore requires no additional investment would be like suggesting the fire isn’t going to get much hotter so there is no need to put it out. The councils over the years have allowed immense development under the promise that if residents were to handle the significant strain this development has placed on the area in the short term, that there would be investment made to relieve it. There is a moral obligation to provide that relief.
    4. Lastly, clearly there still needs to be a sound financial business case. As someone has already said, we are not a big country and we do not have a limitless pool of money. Is there economic benefit in this roading project? The answer is yes. The business case has already shown this time and time again. Additionally, under a PPP the size of the outlay and therefore risk is significantly less than other projects of this size. Surveys have already indicated the local support around tolling. Would more people move out to Whangaparaoa if the commute was shorter? Yes. Would filling vacant houses relieve some pressure around Auckland’s housing shortage? Yes. Is there lost productivity to Auckland’s wider economy because of lost man-hours due to an area of Auckland being grid-locked? Yes. It is a fact that more and more professionals from the North Shore are moving out to Whangaparaoa and Silverdale. The numbers of commuters is increasing rapidly and it is undeniable that this is a very real economic risk.
    I’d be interested to understand where the majority of the contributors to this thread live. Could put an interesting light on things.

    1. The vast majority of local consents are from Millwater. An area that has zero need for PENLINK. Stop using spurious data to try an make a case for something.

      1. Bryce P, do you have any evidence to back up your claim, I doubt it as you are wrong? The staging of millwater is heavily dependent on the capacity and operation of the local network particularly hbc highway. Penlink would have a large impact on that. I also think the upgrading of the local network is a requirement of millwater.

  9. Who is this Stu Donovan? obviously a Stillwater resident with a bias opinion. Basically national govt. and ack transport are a pack of wimps. Penlink has been talked about for 25 years, it’s needed, its wanted and its going to happen!!! Just little bridge and NZ can,t even get it done, Nz is an embarrassment to the rest of the world!!

    1. Just a little $300M bridge. Land prices on Whangaparoa were less than Orewa for a reason. The peninsula is that reason. None of the business cases to date have even given a financial model on proposed tolls, length of repayment etc. If this is demanded of a $30M skypath project that is merely underwritten by Council then a $300M bridge and road should surely go through the same scrutiny.

    2. Yes was thought a good idea in the past. It isn’t thought of as a good idea now. Not much point wasting $300m+ on it for so few residents when there are cheaper and just as effective alternatives available (upgrading Whangaparaoa Rd)

  10. For a start the peninsula is a lot more beautiful than orewa. If you want to live in an ugly 2 bedroom brick and tile house with no sea views then live in orewa. The future is the peninsula, for tourism and lifestyle. What should every decision in people’s lives be down to a stupid business case? Not for any other reason ? how sad I feel for your narrow way of thinking obviously you’ve been brain washed by national govt. way of thinking.

    1. hahaha the last thing the National government base decisions on is a business case which is why so many RoNS are being built and why many national MPs support Penlink. The reason we need a business case is that it’s over $300 million in public money that would be spent to build it. That’s about $12,500 for every person that might benefit from the project.

    1. Have you bothered to ask anyone what the toll would be? Based on the price to build the Northern Gateway toll road (only a bit more than PENLINK) I would peg the toll at $2 to $2.50 each way. That doesn’t include extra rates pressure.

      1. I know locals love to gripe about traffic and everyone thinks their neighborhood has some special transport crisis, but this bridge just wouldn’t serve enough people. And if you charge $5 a day then hardly anyone uses it, so it will fail as a PPP. A road that doesn’t stack up alone won’t suddenly make sense if you throw a toll on it.

  11. No Dom it does not stack up as a PPP either. This little short cut is worth $300 million (not $3m; not $30m). The cost of capital alone is unsustainable: a minimum of $15m every year. This can’t be justified in any way. Unless, of course, the peninsula is hugely up-zoned for high density housing, but the locals don’t appear keen.

  12. Penlink is needed if for no other reason than transport security. Today (and as we have seen on many other days) 1 accident on Whangaparaoa Road blocked the entire peninsular off for about 3 hours!
    Penlink will help with public transport also as it is a shorter route (people tend to use buses less the further they have to travel – especially if the bus is having to stop at multiple intersections/traffic jams etc). The Plaza to Albany bus station will be 16.7km with Penlink and will take 12 minutes compared to 24 minutes – no traffic (about 45 minutes with traffic). This is a huge time saving and could allow people working in the city a journey of less than 30 mins by bus compared to over an hour at present!
    Part of the reason why the peninsular is zoned with such low density is because of traffic congestion etc. Put Penlink in and it will be able to handy a much higher density – something this blog is trying to encourage.

    1. By the same token we need to duplicate Lake Road in Belmont, the harbour bridge and Newmarket viaduct. If you choose to live in a place with a single access you will need to put up with that access being closed from time to time and not expect your fellow ratepayers to pick up a massive bill for additional roading you feel is required. Unless of course you are fine with new roading being paid for entirely by suitable toll.

      This blog certainly encourages increasing density, but in places well served by rapid public transport.

      1. Lake Road does not have a single point where you can’t bypass it on another road. Ditto with the Harbour Bridge and Newmarket Viaduct.
        Even if the “choke-point” on Whangaparaoa Road was somehow resolved the entire road is still heavily congested for a large portion of the day and vulnerable to accidents and the need for road works etc. There isn’t space for the likes of buslanes either. Penlink is to be a tolled road, provides security and as I have written above it would improve PT significantly.
        Also @ Bryce – The reason why locals rejected it was because…wait for it… they are fed up with the congestion!
        Penlink is not an example of road lobby/build for the sake of building roads etc. It is a vital link that will be used by cars and PT alike not to mention it will become quite a nice bike route for cyclists!

    2. Was wondering how many minutes it would take today for this old trope to be raised for Penlink.

      As Conan said – its a peninsula by nature and by planning. People know the limitation when they move there so can’t expect the rest of the Auckland ratepayers to stump up to avoid them a few hours inconvenience once in a very blue moon.

      Penlink doesn’t exist now as its not cheap to build, if it was cheap, it would have been built by now.
      And, its only considered worth doing it by the likes of AT and NZTA if the Penlink road is tolled and even then the economics don’t stack up.

      To all those peninsula living folks I say this – “you collectively made this one way in and out bed, so now lie in it”.

    3. Locals had a chance to request extra density under the UP plan submissions. They railed against it. As it stands, it does not make any sense to up the density on Whangaparoa Peninsula. The area for additional density in this region is Millwater and Orewa North. It just makes economic sense.

      If you move to a Peninsula and decide you don’t like travel times, move.

  13. This crash occurred in the one spot on the whole road where there was no option for diversions. That could be ameliorated by buying a half-dozen properties and bowling a small handful of houses, and then building a road link between Glenelg and Marellen. There is no other part of Whangaparaoa Rd where a crash can completely isolate the whole Peninsula, and a $300m+ motorway bridge to avoid a 500m suburban-road choke-point sure sounds like using a nuke to kill a mosquito.

    1. Of note is that it is a 4 lane road plus a 3m flush median at this point. This is a random, unfortunate event, and should not be used to justify a $300M + engineering solution. Perhaps we instead need to be focussing on why this accident happened on such a good piece of, 60 km/h, road?

      1. When this discussion came up previously I observed that it would take one heck of a crash to close the whole road in this spot. Murphy was obviously paying attention to my musings.
        People do stupid things. It is impossible (within the fiscal envelope of not having the entire planet’s money supply to use) to engineer away all the possible ways in which those stupid things can kill others. Sometimes it’s necessary to accept that these things will happen and look for ways their impact can be mitigated. The suggestion I made should come in at under $10m, and that’s pretty cheap for ensuring a complete network of secondary roads right the length of the Peninsula.

      2. This event happens several times a year (along with other things like it being closed with a roof from a house being blown onto it in a storm). Roadworks etc also impact on the road and it is a long journey for PT to use.

        As an interim measure the choke-point area should have a concrete barrier installed between Glenelg and Marellen (on the South side of the median strip with an area set aside on the South side of the road for a turning bay for vehicles to do a safe U-turn).
        This would prevent any head-on type accident (which are where you get fatalities usually) meaning no need to close the road for long periods of time. I still however think that Penlink must be built as more and more people are living on the Peninsula. From an environmental point of view it would reduce emissions significantly also by reducing the trip distance significantly along with creating a smooth trip rather than stop-start motoring.

        1. Not many more people can be added to the peninsula, and it is no different to Devonport or Te Atatu in have one access Rd; so by this reasoning we need a bridge from Devonport to say Parnell too, in case a roof blows onto Lake Rd, care to fund that first….?

          Additionally building more driving infrastructure does not lower net emissions as it reinforces auto-dependency that encourages more driving over all, no matter what small efficiencies the straightening of a route achieves. To lower emissions we need to invest strongly in good alternatives to everyone driving at all times for every journey. That argument, much loved of the highway and road transport complex, is like saying ‘pay me to hit you in the face a little softer; you’ll feel better’, as opposed to investing in not being hit at all.

          1. Lake Road has several alternatives along it’s length and does not have a single choke-point unlike Whangaparaoa Road.
            For example Lake Road has alternatives in: Vauxhall Road, Old Lake Road, Regent Street, Hamama Street, Moana Ave, Eversleigh Rd, Northboro Rd, Clifton Rd, Eldon St. Not to mention that there are 3 separate ferry terminals (Devonport, Stanley, Bayswater) which can be used to get to the city. Also it is quite close for emergency services.

            I’m very pro-PT (having lived overseas and used it extensively) however comments like yours are the reason why the majority of the population don’t stop to listen to what you say. I have yet to see a bus run on grass and dirt… buses use roads.
            For me personally I’d love to see rail on the North Shore all the way up to Silverdale (eventually to Warkworth and linking up with the Northern Line in Kaipara along with a train from Constellation across to Westgate and linking up with the Western line there but hey that’s dreams) Just because for the majority of the time extra roads = extra traffic doesn’t necessarily mean that a particular road should not be built (where in this case it cuts a huge chunk of distance and time off the route, provides security of the route, reduces emissions, improves safety both on Whangaparaoa and also Stillwater and of course as mentioned it improves PT options with buses able to get from The Plaza to Albany in half the time they currently take! – Speaking of which slight OT but has anyone found out why bus fares are so extremely high to get to Silverdale? It is $9.50 from Albany to Silverdale!! That’s a 10 minute ride with no stops along the way – price gouging to the extreme – no wonder hardly anyone take the bus from the Coast!

  14. Lots of uninformed opinions here. Let’s let the business case do the talking. No growth on the peninsula? Has anyone actually driven up there? There will be 50,000 on the peninsula soon due to major subdivisions . Just have a look what is going on the hill and way out beyond through to the Weiti river as you head
    Into the Whangaparaoa township – there’s hundreds if not thousands of homes
    Going in now. Penlink doesn’t only satisfy Whangaparaoa’s desire to get to Akl 10 mins faster – that’s the least of the benefits. It opens up the whole Stillwater area for quality residential development , takes a huge load off Silverdale avoiding heavy infrastructure investment in there, removes cars northbound on SH1 exiting at Silverdale backing up down the motorway for 3 hours a day – a situation that has recently resulted in 2 major nose to tails, one fatality lately. Also avoids a major upgrade to Whangaparaoa rd. If it’s tolled as planned , the business case is further strengthened. To me, it’s part of the overall plan to open up development from long bay through to whangaparaoa as one continuous strip of quality residential and light commercial – something Auckland desperately needs to avert the housing “crisis”. I personally cannot see why it has to be 100km/hr – would have thought 70km/hr with plenty of opportunity to link in a Silverwater on ramp as that area is developed. It’s only [wealthy] retired folk on the peninsula and people who don’t see how this vital piece of infrastructure links into opening up the whole Long Bay to Whangaparaoa for quality residential and light commercial development and de-risks the Silverwater bottleneck who oppose. The case is strong, and this must go ahead.

    1. The entire peninsula, as of census night (and this includes Red Beach which properly connects to Hibiscus Coast Hwy via it’s own road), was 31,113. If we drop Red Beach out (which is a long way from the PENLINK access), that drops the population along the Peninsula to 24,678. That is a long way from 50,000 and the land available on Whangaparaoa Peninsula pretty much counts out the kind of increase you are mentioning aside from mass intensification, which the peninsula residents rejected during Unitary Plan submissions.

      The real growth in the area is centred around the Millwater/Orewa North area. The traffic from these areas does not rely on PENLINK.

      As an aside, you should really check out the OPUS report on PENLINK. It paints a very grim picture of travel times along the Nth Motorway even AFTER PENLINK is built. PENLINK is the wrong project. To properly connect the entire area requires rapid transit. That is the project that will protect travel times for commuters – not just those in motor vehicles. And I’m an Orewa resident.

      And if you want to know how flawed the draft business case is for PENLINK, here is a gem

      “7.2.1 Excluded from Scope Whilst facilitating and providing opportunities for improved public transport is part of the Project, the provision of public transport services and prioritised bus lanes on Whangaparaoa Road is not part of the Project”

  15. So many flaws in this ill-fated project. No mention of the environmental or ecological impact either. Weiti river will be devasted and the noise, air and water quality of residents in Stillwater will be ruined.

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