A few days ago the Herald published an op-ed from Michael Barnett, the CEO of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce. I found it an odd article as it was never quite clear about what Barnett’s key point was, seemingly jumping between two of them with liberal amounts of anecdata, logic leaps and outright incorrect data sprinkled in. So I thought I’d take a look at some of these.
After kicking things off with a “some people say their traffic is getting worse” statement, he dived headfirst into his first false fact and what first had me groaning internally at how bad the rest of the article might be.
the 400,000-plus North Shore residents are not getting back a fair share of the rates and taxes they pay towards fixing Auckland’s big transport issues.
Population figures are often able to be easily gerrymandered but even with some creative massaging it’s hard to see how he gets this figure. A look at Statistics NZ latest population estimates suggests that even including the Hibiscus Coast and the eastern half of Rodney all the way up past Wellsford only yields 336k people, well short of the 400k+ claimed.
As for the share of transport spending, we have a system with multiple parties involved. Auckland’s transport challenges are such that some areas need high levels of council spending (e.g. AMETI) while other areas the majority of funding will be from the NZTA due to projects more centred on upgrades to state highways. Even so, Auckland Transport have just completed a $40 million upgrade to the northern end of Albany Highway and looking forward, within the next few years the NZTA will be starting a $500 million-plus upgrade of SH18 and SH1 which also includes the extension of the Northern Busway to Albany.
All this is before even considering that if the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing is ever built, it would be the largest single transport project in NZ history by a significant margin. Speaking of harbour crossings, he says:
About 200,000 vehicles cross the Harbour Bridge each day, and the commute for many is up to two hours – well above the city average of 30 minutes.
I’m not sure if Barnett is aware of how averages work but by their very nature mean some results will be higher and others lower than what most people experience. Generally if you live a long way from where you work or study you’ll have a longer commute and if driving, have a greater chance of being a part of congestion.
As for the 200k vehicles across the bridge, I’ll let that one slide. The NZTA’s published information suggests about 168k per day but daily data they once provided us shows that on weekdays that can be around 200k. Of course as users of the bridge will know, despite being one of the busiest stretches of road in the country, it’s not the bridge that’s the bottleneck.
He then finally kicks in with I think may have been his main point, that he wants Penlink built. It is also where he makes the first part of his biggest leap of logic. Traffic he says, is backed up down the peninsula every morning and so Penlink will free up give an easier journey to the motorway freeing up local roads. That is followed by this statement.
The only excuse officials seem to have is that building Penlink would shift the congestion from Silverdale and the Peninsula on to State Highway 1. That’s unacceptable.
Unless he’s claiming that the northern motorway is free flowing at peak times, it’s not going to matter if they use Penlink or go through Silverdale, they’re still going to be sitting in traffic on their trip down the North Shore. There may be some net gain from using Penlink, but not likely a lot.
But it’s the next part of the piece, and the part that’s referenced in the headline, that helps to confuse the article and complete that large leap of logic.
Imagine the uproar then, and implications for the state highway north of the Harbour Bridge, if any serious effort was made to relocate the Ports of Auckland vehicle import trade to NorthPort near Whangarei.
Currently Auckland imports around 21,000 vehicles every month, or 252,000 a year. Eighty percent of the imported vehicles are for customers in South Auckland.
The car-carrying trucks on average take about eight vehicles. The industry advises that over a 24-hour cycle there would be a heavy truck on the road to and from Auckland-Northport every 2-3 minutes.
The pressure on the bridge and state highway between Northland and South Auckland wouldn’t cope. The freight sector is already under notice that trucks will be restricted to centre lanes of the Harbour Bridge from around 2020 due to stress on the clip-on lanes.
Having a state highway clogged with freight trucks would be untenable for Northland tourism, those who live along the State Highway and other traffic through Spaghetti Junction or the Waterview Tunnels.
First let’s just do a little bit of basic maths. There are 252,000 vehicles delivered a year (the ports themselves say 244k but close enough) and 80% of them are going to South Auckland, although I’ll ignore that part for now. That’s 690 vehicles arriving per day and if a car carrying truck can carry an average of 8 vehicles, that’s 86 return trips that are needed. With operations 24 hours a day it equates to 1,440 minutes. Dividing 1,440 minutes by 86 trips tells us there’d be a vehicle carrying truck in each direction every 17 minutes. That’s a lot but nowhere near the truck every 2-3 minutes.
Next, the trucks are heading to South Auckland so if they’re coming from the north they’d be bypassing the city centre. Isn’t that kind of trip exactly the reason we’ve been spending billions on building the Western Ring Route? And if the motorway can’t cope with this traffic, how is dealing with the traffic from Penlink?
Let’s not forget, one of the core reasons the government has pushed their RoNS projects like Puhoi to Wellsford is that they call them ‘lead infrastructure’, because they think building a bigger road will magically create economic growth. In short, the government want more trucks on the road to Northland.
Other options for moving vehicles, such as by rail, which based on his figures would only require 11 return trips per day, are claimed not to work because first a gold plated, $1.5 billion solution would be needed. I don’t disagree that upgrades are probably needed but whether they’re needed to that extent and before any changes is debatable. I also imagine the amount of land freed up from not needing so much space for parking would probably exceed that figure.
Of course all of that assumes imported cars would go to Northland, although according to Barnett, apparently the same issues apply to Tauranga. Yet the rail line to Tauranga is already the busiest rail freight route in New Zealand. Its capacity was recently doubled to four trains an hour (two each direction) by spending only around $15 million on additional passing loops. The cost of more of more of them to further increase capacity and the completion of the third main in Auckland would cost less than the average motorway interchange and have other benefits, especially in Auckland.
The Chamber’s suggestion to all of this is to build a large multi-storey carpark on the waterfront to store the cars but knowing such a building wouldn’t be possible, suggest putting a ‘green space’ on the roof will somehow hide it.
And with one last jarring lurch the piece ends on this:
Meanwhile, let’s get real. Fixing the acute “here and now” roading issues on the North Shore should be our shared priority. The Penlink Project is “ready to go”. There are no excuses or credible reasons for the new Council not giving the project the green light immediately.
With the project expected to exceed $350 million, I can think of quite a few reasons why it shouldn’t get an immediate green light. For many years, business groups like the Chamber and local politicians have claimed there are private investors lined up and ready to go with funding this project. If the Chamber wants it to happen now, perhaps it’s time they convinced these investors to start opening their wallets and get building.
Until that happens, it’s probably best we focus our limited transport investment in the areas that will have the most overall impact, which was the exact purpose of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project that suggested Penlink wasn’t needed any time soon.