On Friday Transport Minister Simon Bridges officially opened the Te Atatu and Lincoln Rd sections of the Western Ring Route.

Simon Bridges officially opening the two projects
Simon Bridges officially opening the two projects

The NZ Transport Agency says the official opening today of two upgrades to Auckland’s Northwestern Motorway kicks off a significant year in the city’s transport history.

The Lincoln Interchange and Te Atatu Interchange projects were officially opened by Transport Minister Simon Bridges at a ribbon cutting ceremony this morning.

They are the first of several improvement projects to be opened this year as part of the Government’s $2.4b Western Ring Route – designed to keep Auckland moving.

Both of these projects are crucial building blocks in the Western Ring Route, providing an additional route to State Highway 1 and the Harbour Bridge and changing the way people move around Auckland.

NZ Transport Agency Highways Manager Brett Gliddon says the improvements at Lincoln and Te Atatu are part of a series of projects being completed during the next year to ensure the Northwestern motorway is able to handle the growing demands from everyone who uses it – drivers, people using public transport and those who walk and cycle.

“Increasing the motorway from two to three lanes in each direction on this stretch of the motorway will help traffic to flow better leading to greater travel time reliability, and an efficient alternative route to use instead of State Highway 1,” says Mr Gliddon.

I was apparently invited to the opening but the NZTA sent the email to the wrong address – not that I would’ve been able to attend due to work commitments.

Regardless of what mode you use, for many out west the completion would be a welcome change as works and the disruption that came with it have been an ongoing challenge. But I wonder just how successful the project has been, especially the Lincoln Rd section. Here’s are some of the quick facts from the NZTA’s press release.

The $145million upgrade of the Lincoln Interchange has widened and realigned the onramps and motorway exits to improve safety and traffic flow. There are new dedicated, purpose built bus lanes providing a greater level of service than before. The Northwestern Cycleway has also been extended and improved.

The $65million Te Atatu Interchange project has added an extra lane in each direction between Te Atatu and Lincoln Roads, new motorway on and off-ramps as well as raising and widening the Te Atatu overbridge.


Work will begin later this year on the Lincoln to Westgate project to tie into this just completed work at the Lincoln Road Interchange. It will include widening the Northwestern motorway to three lanes, improved on and off ramps, creating bus lanes and extending the Northwestern Cycleway.

So let’s take a quick look back to when these two projects each began.

Lincoln Rd Interchange

The project started all the way back at the end of October 2010 and has seen the interchange vastly supersized, for example the bridge over the motorway was widened from two lanes to seven. At the start of the project the NZTA laid out these basic facts. The important ones for this post being that it would cost $100 million, be completed in 2013, include all four ramps and extend the cycleway as far as Huruhuru Road.

Lincoln Rd Key Features

Immediately you can see a few glaring issues, these being that the project is $45 million over budget and three years late. To be fair, I understand the timeframe was deliberately delayed so that funding could be diverted to help deal with the immediate aftermath of the Canterbury earthquakes, three years late? I can also accept the idea that they slowed construction so it could better be tied into the progress of the rest of the Western Ring Route. Not much point adding lanes and capacity only for it to hid the queue not far down the road. As infomercials love to say “but wait, there’s more”.

As I mentioned the works were to include all four ramps and extending the cycleway to Huruhuru Rd – via a torturous four leg crossing of Lincoln Rd, no underpass here. Here’s a map of the interchange design. I’ve rotated it to better compare with the following image.

Lincoln Rd Interchange details

Here’s what it looks like as of the beginning of April.

Lincoln Rd Interchange - April 2016 2

You can see very clearly that the westbound onramp and the extension of the cycleway past Lincoln Rd are completely missing. That’s because they’ve been moved in with the project widening the section of motorway from here to Westgate – another ~$100 million project.

So all up it appears we’ve got a project that is $45 million over budget, three years late and they still haven’t even completed some of the work they said they would do.

Te Atatu Interchange

Thankfully the Te Atatu interchange doesn’t appear to have the delays that the Lincoln interchange suffered, but it does appear to have had its own cost blowout. This is from the press release when the project got under way.

Key features of the $50m project include widening the Northwestern motorway between the Te Atatu Road and Patiki Road interchanges, widening all five ramps on the interchange, enhancing existing facilities for walkers and cyclists and widening and raising the Te Atatu Road overbridge.


Work will start on the improvements at Te Atatu in the new year and is set to be completed in 2016.

Here’s the Te Atatu interchange from April

Te Atatu Interchange - April 2016 2

So the project was completed in 2016 like they said it would be but was $15 million over budget.

Te Atatu Rd Underpass
The Te Atatu project includes the fantastic cycleway underpass

So all up we’ve got projects over budget, late and missing components. Perhaps not quite the NZTAs finest hour. Imagine what kind of amazing local cycling network that extra $60 million could have delivered if spent within the area.

It’s quite likely that within the next decade we’ll be seeing the heavy machinery out in these sections once again, this time adding the piece of the puzzle that was absurdly left out of this project, the Northwest Busway.

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  1. And irritatingly, Te Atatu has even less bus priority than before. There used to be a short and admittedly pretty useless bus lane running through a traffic island on the Westbound offramp, allowing buses to sneak through the lights, but that’s gone now.

    1. Yes wondered the same thing how buses get caught up in the traffic too. Thought it weird to remove the priority lane when there’s that big kerb there that’s pretty much another lane.

      The cycleway is done well.

      Also wonder

  2. I’m sure these will be headlines in the headline tomorrow “NZTA budget blow outs”. Oh hang on……….it s spent on roads and not the council’s doing.

  3. So they’re 45% and 30% over budget, respectively, though the Lincoln Rd project is actually even more over budget because it hasn’t been completed as originally specified. I wonder how much of that 45% for Lincoln Rd is purely down to construction cost inflation due to the delays in starting, particularly since I understand Christchurch caused quite a bit of general inflation in the sector across the country.

    1. By my maths, the Capital Goods Price Index for civil construction only rose by around 12.4% from 2010Q4 to 2015Q4. (Residential building costs inflated at a significantly faster rate, reflecting tighteness in that sector.)

      So costs on this project increased faster than civil construction costs in general.

  4. The usual reason for budget blow outs is that the cost estimates were simply too low. Most projects have reasonably good cost control once they are underway but estimating the costs before you start can be a bit wonky. The question then is, was it a genuine error in the estimates or did the estimates get a bit of a massage to make the B/C look better so they could justify the scheme?

    1. Lowering the cost estimate to make your BC look better – that old chestnut. Lincoln Road was always doing it tough with the BC as they removed the two unopposed ramps on the northern side to chuck in a diamond interchange where the two heaviest movements now oppose one another (which I agreed with to be fair just would have made the economics difficult as you have to add a truckload of lanes just to get the efficiency of the existing loops you just removed). So yeah, wouldn’t be surprised if the cost was massaged a bit. For purely selfish reasons, I agree with the general sentiment that a cycle underpass should have been provided.

      1. The most flagrant recent example of that is the East-West harbour-side destructor in Onehunga. The figure used in the BCR was $800m, and even then it delivered lower benefits than the not-sexy-enough for HNO option of improving existing routes for half the price. It has now blown out to $1.9Billion! Where are the usual outraged of tax and rate payer land types calling for heads? Or at the very least a big fat please explain?

  5. Does anyone know if the Waterview tunnels are currently on schedule and on budget and when they should open to traffic (I think 2017 sometime)

    1. Early 2017, big need for it to bed in for the election later in the year… Though we are hearing of no little amount of quiet panic going on behind the scenes as it has finally occurred to some that this is going to snarl up appallingly in the morning peak, as the supersized SH16 [WITH NO BUSWAY] not only tries to deal with all the traffic it induces but also has to absorb the same from SH20. Previously SH16 rationed clots of traffic along its length, soon any concentrations will be delivered unfiltered to the Waterview interchange. Where it will be met not only with the current quantity from Gt Nth Rd, but also all those trying out the new fab option of SH20. And why not; they’ll be saving so much time, won’t they….? There are still only four lanes to exit SH16 at the city; it is likely to back up to Pt Chev and beyond in ordinary congestion. Drivers will then start rat-running from there, Western Springs, and Newton Rd, oh joy… Urban motorways, in thriving cities without high quality parallel Rapid Transit systems to balance them, are destined to collapse under their own singularity. And that’s with everything working as it should; no crashes or breakdowns, or rain.

      1. The criminal lack of rapid PT alongside SH16 especially West of Waterview couldn’t have just been based on idiots making dumb decisions, it had to be ideological.

        1. Oh it’s entirely ideological; but was it entirely at the political level and just weakly pushed against or not at all by those who we pay so well to know better?

          My view is that bad policy from politicians should not be unexpected, but that it’s not as inexcusable as that from the technocrats, who should never be able to hide behind ignorance….

          And in this case there was the example of the Northern Busway to prove that the best value for money on any motorway corridor comes from thew parallel Rapid Transit route.

        2. I’d query that the initial push came from the political side. I’d say it actually came from the usual vested interests who engaged with friendly ears within the MOT and then collectively they have both “yes ministered” a succession of ministers. The issue in my opinion is with unaccountable senior bureaucrats who have been literally driving transport policy for some time.

      2. And speaking of congestion: will the ramps for northbound traffic coming off SH20 and feeding east and west onto SH16 be traffic light controlled?

  6. Lincoln Rd needs a bike tunnel.
    Can it get one as part of the Royal Rd work?
    I’d also like to see the cycle lane going under Royal Rd, rather than over the top.

    1. No the WRR makes the busway even harder to achieve than before and won’t even be fully complete along the proposed busway section until 2019. They will then have to redo a lot of the works that have just been done.

  7. Lincoln Rd interchange is one of those lost opportunities. They spent a fortune of borrowed money, as you said, “Supersizing” it but in most respects made it worse by adding conflicting intersections, (east bound exit), adding a return west bound intersection heading from the Selwood Road direction and traffic lighting every one of them. Lincoln Rd has to be THE worst road in NZ, the flow is abysmal most times of the day but especially heading toward the motorway. Obviously they had to modify it to take in the wider motorway but it was terrible value for money!

  8. $15million is pocket change in the bottomless pit that is the roads budget. Will barely get a mention.

    Yet, they’re scrimping and saving and cutting every corner possible to deliver a sub par Parnell station (and countless other PT projects)

    God help them if the CRL goes $15million over budget, it’ll be in the headlines for weeks

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