I recently received back an OIA request from the NZTA on a few projects. One part of that was related to the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing and the other which I’ll cover in this post was about the East West Link Connections. Among other things the documents highlight a project that is rapidly increasing in cost to a level around three times initial suggestions. Like I did with the AWHC post, I’ll highlight what I found interesting from each of the nine documents in chronological order.

East-West Preferred Option
The preferred East-West option
September 2014

A briefing to the former Minister of Transport Gerry Brownlee giving an update on the project and informing that they would soon start public consultation on the various options they had come up with. They also offered to walk him through the options and “get any input you wish to make on the next phase of the project”. A later document hints at some of that feedback.

December 2014

A paper to the NZTA board with the recommended approach following the public consultation. This first highlights the initial expected cost at well less than $1 billion.

The East West Link (as it was previously known) was considered by the Board in February 2014 (14/02/112) and was reported to the Minister as part of the Auckland Accelerated Package. The basis for the recommendations at that stage was a scope that is roughly equivalent to the current Option C, with a cost range of $550 million to $660 million.

For reference this was Option C was an upgrade of part of Neilson St and then a route in a little from the foreshore but the costs mentioned don’t quite add up with the ones also listed in the document as shown below

East-West - OIA - Dec14 - Option Costs

The NZTA ended up choosing option F but also bringing in some of the elements of other options too. In their listing of the reasons for choosing it they praise it for being a new route and one without driveways like Neilson St has. That highlights one of the odd things about this whole project, it’s supposedly about improving freight connections but it’s being pushed mainly for through traffic so all of the local freight traffic will still be trudging through all of the local routes.

They also like Option F as they’d identified four distinct phases. These are shown below along with some of the information about each stage. Stage 2 looks to be over a bridge over 1.2km in length. The section on risks also acknowledges it creates issues for rail to the Airport.

East-West - OIA - Dec14 - Option staging

East-West - OIA - Dec14 - Option staging info 1

East-West - OIA - Dec14 - Option staging info 2

As mentioned earlier there was some mention of the Ministers response with the NZTA saying this.

The expectation was that the Transport Agency would report back to the Minister and Treasury on the preferred option to inform funding decisions as part of Budget 2015. Included in this, the previous Minister of Transport asked the Transport Agency to investigate an option for providing a complete link between State Highway 1 and State Highway 20.

The paper says this in relation to rail. This seems to suggest that rail improvements are a justification for more roads. But why then is the third main not included as part of the East-West project, the cost of doing it would be tiny in comparison the cost of the overall project and would go some way to addressing the MOAR ROADZ feeling of it all.

East-West - OIA - Dec14 - Kiwirail

February 2015

A memo for the CEO’s board report. It suggests that the board didn’t confirm the preferred option listed above at that time and that more work was being done for approval in April. It notes that if approved to move towards consenting, which is currently happening, that part of the process is expected to cost $20-25 million over a two-year period.

May 2015

A paper to the board seeking approval of the preferred approach to the project. The first thing I note is they’ve reduced the project to three stages and suggests progressing stages 1 and 2 in the short the medium term with stage 3 not being needed till later, possibly around 2035.

East-West - OIA - May15 - Option Staging

The cost for the project is also confirmed and that it’s not possible to fund it based on normal funding sources.

  • The expected scheme cost of a complete staged link is in the range of $1,050 million (at the 50th percentile) to $1,400 (at the 95th percentile) with a benefit cost ratio range of 1.4 to 1.9.
  • The financial case being progressed indicates that delivery of the full staged project within a ten year timeframe is not affordable with funding from the NLTF alone. This view is based on the current mix of the forward capital works programme. A change in the forward capital works programme mix or additional sources of funding may change this view.
June 2015

Following the above, a briefing note was sent to the Simon Bridges as Minister of Transport. There isn’t a lot of new information that wasn’t in the document above but it does note that property costs alone are expected to exceed $100 million. It also says Iwi are supportive of the planned reclamation.

July 2015

Another briefing was sent to Simon Bridges on the feedback from the Auckland Business Forum ahead of a meeting between Bridges and Michael Barnett. It responds to some of the talking points you occasionally hear in the media such as why not widen the bridge at Mt Wellington. It also suggests that the new E-W road is being designed to expressway standards rather than motorway standards. This is what the NZTA say about the difference between the two.

What’s the difference between a motorway and an expressway?

Motorways are access-controlled, high-speed roads that normally have ‘grade-separated intersections’ – which means they have overbridges (or underpasses) so road users don’t have to stop at traffic lights.

Expressways are also high-speed roads, but they may include well-spaced ‘at-grade intersections’ – which means they often have accesses and driveways on to them and sometimes traffic signals or roundabouts.

October 2015

Next we have an internal memo in to the CEO giving an update about the project. It mentions that the detailed business case was close to being finalised confirming the route all along the foreshore and also highlighting that the costs had increased further.

  1. The Detailed Business Case is currently being finalised and will be considered for approval by the NZ Transport Agency and Auckland Transport Boards in December. The business case recommends a new full link between SH1 and SH20 along the northern foreshore of the Mangere Inlet as the preferred long term response to the issues in the Onehunga-Penrose area (refer Attachment 1). It is proposed that the new link is a new state highway, to be planned, delivered, operated, and maintained by the NZ Transport Agency.
  2. The cost of the project is estimated to be in the range of $1.25 billion to $1.85 billion (escalated costs) with a BCR range of 1.4 to 1.9.

So the project has potentially increased in cost more than threefold. It’s interesting how there are politicians who decry spending on the CRL just in case costs increase but stay eerily silent on this project. Further how is it the costs increase but the BCR manages to stay the same?

The memo notes that the earliest they could possibly start the project was in 2018 after going through a Board of Inquiry process. It seems this memo could have been in response to press release from the Auckland Business Forum complaining that the project was going too slow. That press release is at the end of the document.

December 2015

Another paper to the NZTA board, it seeks approval to move towards the consent process following the completion of the Detailed Business Case. It notes that they now want stage 3 started immediately after stage two and the entire project completed by 2028 because they say Neilson St will be too congested “because of additional traffic attracted to Neilson St through the improved access from SH1”. A classic more roads beget more roads scenario. I wonder if they’ve addressed some of the issues with the indicative business case that Cam highlighted very well in December.

As part of the “key outcomes” of the project they talk about travel time savings and reduced congestion but they also claim it will deliver “At least 5.5km of new dedicated cycle paths”. Given that about 4km of cycle paths already exist along the foreshore is this being double counted?

They think they will be able to fund this out of the National Land Transport Fund as a result of the Basin Reserve decision delaying spending in Wellington by what they estimate to be 5 years. If the Wellington planning work is finalised sooner than expected they will either need to re-prioritise work or potentially get a short term interest free loan from the government. On the costs they sought or noted the following amounts:

  • $30 million for the NZTA to progress the project for consents etc.
  • $135 million to start property acquisition along the route.
  • $15 million for the NZTA’s early works projects.
  • $32 million for Auckland Transport’s early works projects (which would be subject to NZTA funding assistance).

The early works are a series of projects mainly in and around Onehunga such as widening the motorway, widening parts of Neilson St and removing the bridge on Neilson St over the rail corridor, presumably to supersize the intersection. This work with the exception of the Galway St link was recently put out to tender.

East-West - OIA - Dec15 - Early Works

I’m not sure if there is enough space under the bridge for two tracks but regardless, removing the bridge is surely just one more nail in the coffin for rail to the airport (light or heavy) which would now likely have to be built on bridge over the road/intersection. The East-West project has already made getting across the harbour difficult as shown in the video a few months ago from AT.

East-West - impact on Airport Rail

February 2016

The final paper and is a briefing to Simon Bridges summarising some of the information from the paper above.

This project is looking to be a classic example of how differently we treat projects. The cost of it is already ballooned to $1.8 billion, seemingly without a single drop of concern and at the current rate it is quite possible it will end up costing taxpayers over $2 billion. Yet despite this and unlike the CRL it hasn’t been subject to detailed cross examination by other government agencies, it hasn’t had usage or job growth targets imposed on it. It was even pulled out of the ATAP process even though that is meant to include projects not yet committed to – which at that stage East-West wasn’t.

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43 comments

    1. Pffft. Typical of you to miss the point Ricardo. Under your logic both will blow out? Fine. The argument of Matt was that this one isn’t getting anything like the same scrutiny. Even if your claim was true after construction starts, that’s applying double standards in pre-construction.

      And which project IS more likely to blow out? The one rigorously reviewed almost to death, or the one where cost increases just get waved through?

        1. I don’t think it is Ricardo, I think it’s a bot. The program appears to be:

          Something benefits people not driving but might have some negative impact on drivers => That’s terrible, think of the impact on flow. We need to keep traffic moving
          Something benefits people not driving with no negative impact on drivers => Not fair. When are we going to get some money spent on roads?
          Something benefits people driving => About time, it’s good to see some sensible decisions at last
          Something benefits people driving but goes horribly wrong due to cost overruns etc => The CRL will cost lots of money

    2. HI ricardo, the point you’re trying to make isn’t exactly clear. Are you saying that a blowout of the CRL justifies the blowout of the E-W MW, or are you saying that the blowout of the E-W MW justifies the blowout of the CRL?

    1. It wasn’t the RoNS that changed that, it was all that efficiency, effectiveness, regional fit crap that allowed people to bias the outcomes (Low, High, High anyone?) But I agree with your sentiment. Why dont we build transport facilities when the benefits out weigh the costs to a reasonable margin.

  1. This is horrible. Just as they complete the Onehunga bay foreshore project they are already widening the same section of motorway. It turns the Harbour road into a even more of a truck sewer just as Panuku is purchasing the port with the aim of redeveloping the waterfront area. Is there a cohesive plan at all? The whole waterfront will be completely severed ruining any future redevelopment opportunities.

      1. Well, if that is indeed the full story. But seeing that some Onehunga grandees also seem to like it, it does make you wonder what these people think sometimes. As if some added cycleways and tree plantings can mitigate the massive negative impacts…

        1. One possible reason for some local support could be on the basis of progressing the undergrounding the high voltage cables which are currently criss-crossing the area. From one community meeting I attended it was mentioned that it could be possible to incorporate into the East-West project ducting which would be available at some future point to house the HV cables. That said, Option B wouldn’t preclude this.

        1. You mean Gerry Brownlee?

          I thought he lived under the Lyttleton volcanic crater south of Christchurch, not Onehunga.

          But as the former Minister Taniwha of Transport I’m sure he keeps an eye on the area, as I’m sure he’d been told and believes that Onehunga too needs “fixing” the same way he fixed Christchurch.

  2. The Herald or public don’t seem to blink an eye at the costs. No one on the shore is saying it’s of no use to use either. Funny that.

        1. Don’t worry. Virtually everyone is a tax liability to govt over the course of a lifetime, so your taxes don’t even pay for yourself, let alone anything else!

  3. We need our public agencies to undertake a certain amount of forward planning. However, until the Waterview tunnels are finished and we get a view of how much traffic gets diverted from the Southern Motorway to the South Western stepping from planning into activation on this project is premature especially given it’s place ruining design. To create so much havoc at such cost requires the same high hurdles and in depth scrutiny as have been applied to the CRL.

  4. Can I ask why they are removing the Neilson Street railway bridge? Also haven’t heard anything about this until now, looks almost like a last minute descison. Also does any freight still use the Onehunga line to access the port or anything?

    Also I’ve been thinking that it could be good if the government was to go with option B instead (discussed here http://greaterakl.wpengine.com/2015/12/03/costs-benefits-and-east-west-connections/ as costing just $500m with the same economic benefits) and put the money instead into rail to the Airport. Asuming a $1.25bn cost of the East-West link that equals $750m for Airport rail. The key thing should be to try and get Labour to commit before the election to this.

    Lastly when will the descison be made on whether Airport Rail will be built as light rail or heavy rail? I’m really hoping for heavy rail

    1. Presumably it is to provide more lanes for single occupant cars and trucks at the Neilson / Onehunga Mall intersection. So now the so-called “future proofing” for rail across the Manukau is being un-future proofed by removing the Neilson St bridge.

      And widening the motorway from three to four lanes in each direction between Neilson and Queenstown St for more single occupant cars? It’s all so depressingly stupid.

      1. It was clear the Onehunga line was never going to follow the old route towards the port when the Onehunga station was build where it is.

  5. As a matter of principle, we should always build the rail component of a transport plan such as this, first, because of the need to get the best, the flatest and the straightest route for maximum rail efficiency. And airport rail should be the top priority in this planning – not afterthought stuff.
    Failure to do this is a real indictment of government policies, government planning and incompetent administration.

    1. The existing foreshore is already heavily reclaimed and its not very high above seal level, its former Ports of Auckland spoil and building waste, so could well need further remediation and compaction ala NW Causeway.

      There is also a large (200mm) natural gas pipe line (feeds every thing north of the Auckland) running under the existing cycle way to work around for most of the length of the proposed highway route. The “New cycle way” is a replacement for the existing cycle way that will get buried. The current Onehunga line ends at the Onehunga station. The rails through to the port have been ripped up, but the easement is still in place.

      It looks like the existing railway easement is being eyed up as a path for the Galaway St extension to Onehunga Harbour Drive.

      1. Onehunga Harbour rd will connect with Galway st instead Onehunga Mall, so other than crossing the old Onehunga line (a corridor that is not wide enough to be double tracked) it will not interfere with a future link to the proposed Mt Albert or Airport lines.

    2. “There are two projects, both of which are positive. A third project, which is negative, makes one of the first two projects more negative, and doesn’t provide any funding or boost for the second.”

      How can you like that, even if it “benefits” your chosen option in relative terms? The money is still gone – on roads – and one of your two rail options is now harder.

  6. I get a feeling that the way this is heading it is to provide a link between the 2 North-South Routes to allow vehicles (be they SOV or trucks etc) to divert from a blocked road (a la what happens when trucks hit overpasses etc blocking the motorway or fatal accidents). I don’t have a problem with this as this is one of the weaknesses in Auckland is that the smallest incident has massive side effects (sure more people could and should use PT but if you are already driving somewhere you can’t exactly get off a blocked motorway and park anywhere near a train station for the rest of your journey normally). If they build the cycleway then even better.
    What I do have a problem with is how damn expensive this project is. Even if it was built to motorway standards it shouldn’t be costing more than $600m – it isn’t that long, there isn’t much land to acquire (reclaimation) and the reclaimation is on a stable shallow inlet so not that hard to do. It also isn’t that long so someone is padding or clipping the ticket on this seriously!
    I also don’t like the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any kind of oversight into this project and it certainly isn’t getting scrutiny by the media.
    I also don’t like what it is doing to airport rail possibilities. That said perhaps Patricks Otahuhu-Airport option would be more on the cards after this. If that is the case then they really need to be stating that up front and making sure that route is protected now.

  7. Because of the short-sightedness of this project people will clamour to have anything than nothing through Otahuhu-Mangere. Let’s not cut corners through Mangere. Make it a tunnel. We didn’t want a motorway bulldozed through our neighbourhood, and we won’t want a railway doing the same.

  8. Well I am just sad about the cycle way even if it didn’t go anywhere useful. It was a pleasant ride or walk next to the water or mudflats depending on the tide. Now if it survives we will have to put up with the traffic roar. But on the positive side I suppose it may be connected with Great South road like it used to be before somebody decided to close the Southdown station with its over bridge which could be used to cross the tracks.
    The other thing would be to run a railway along there and across the estaury to Mangere bridge from the Southern Line. Now that they are dismantling the Neilson street over bridge. It would leave the Onehunga line as a branch line though.

  9. I recommend that the Onehunga Line should be elevated or underground should they extend the line to Auckland Airport

    1. The shortest and cheapest route to the airport is via Puhinui. This route would be better and then looping into Otahuhu instead of having to cross the harbour to Onehunga until the Mt Albert line is build down the side of the SW motorway.

      1. depends on how you measure “short”.

        A Puhinui connection would require the least new track, that is true.

        On the other hand, an Otahuhu connection would provide the most direct connection and hence result in shorter travel-times.

        As for which is best, that’s a moot point. Personally I’d rather have a more direct connection via Otahuhu because it also opens up the potential for new catchments enroute, e.g. Mangere.

        1. My actual preference for the airport rail is a loop from Otahuhu to Puhinui like the reason for the CRL, loops work better for rail. The Manukau station should have never been built as a dead end it should be a through station via the eastern suburbs then back onto the NIMT around the Panmure area. Onehunga should become part of the loop to Mt Albert with a possible future harbour crossing to link to the airport loop.

          1. I like it. Unfortunately the powers-that-be think it is better to build motorways along these same corridors.

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