The impact of Sunday’s earthquake and its aftershocks have been astonishing to see, especially the damage caused by slips along State Highway 1 and the rail line around Kaikoura. They are numerous and many are absolutely massive. I suspect the impacts of this quake will be felt for some time, and not just to the areas physically impacted. Here are a few thoughts that have been rolling around in my head in response to the event.
Firstly, the size and scale of damage suggests it is going to take many months, maybe even more than a year, and likely hundreds of millions of dollars to repair. As a comparison, the huge Manawatu George slip in 2011 took 13 months and over $20 million to fix (yesterday Simon Bridges suggested it was actually around $35 million). Some of these slips look just as big, if not bigger and of course there are a lot of them. On top of that there are about seven of road and rail bridges that need repairing.
Transport Minister Simon Bridges has already said that both the road and rail lines will be repaired simultaneously which is a good sign. I had wondered if there was a real chance the government might have just cut that rail line but I guess given the rail line is right next to the road, they’ll be having to dig it out anyway. I do like the fact that the NZTA and Kiwirail will be working closer together and hope it’s something we see more of in the future. Below is a video of Bridges talking about the various issues yesterday.
— Felix Marwick (@felixmarwick) November 14, 2016
One of the interesting comments he makes is that the agencies plan to not just put the road back as it was but where possible improve it too. I presume that could mean there’ll be some localised realignments but I also wonder if it means structures like rock slides – as seen in Arthurs Pass. It certainly doesn’t seem like a cheap option given how much might be needed.
The biggest barrier to substantial changes to the road is likely to be the sheer cost of it all. To put things in perspective, in the year to the end of June, the NZTA spent just $2.1 billion on new or improved state highways and on road maintenance ($1.67b on new & improved and $461m on maintenance). Assuming a similar level of spend this year, fixing this road is likely to take up a decent chunk of that spending and the big question is where that money comes from.
Bridges said that up to around $500 million might able to be found within existing budgets and a decent chunk of that comes from emergency works budgets. For example the National Land Transport Programme has a budget of $154 million over the 2015-2018 period for emergency works on State Highways. Unfortunately, the snapshot data is a bit old but indications are that a lot of that funding might still be untouched. There are also local road emergency works buckets too. But even combined these budget buckets don’t seem like they’ll be enough and so it appears inevitable that the improvement and maintenance buckets will need to be looked at too. This raises the obvious question of what projects get delayed as a result, although I can think of a few I’d like to see delayed *cough*East-West Link*cough*.
Former Auckland Mayor Len Brown has also said that he felt Christchurch earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 were a factor in government taking so long to support the City Rail Link, although there’s more to it than just that. While the scale of the damage to infrastructure doesn’t seem as extreme as Christchurch following its large quakes, could dealing with this quake have flow on effects in getting the government to fund their share of ATAP. Similarly, what does it do to the chances of light rail down Dominion Rd moved up the priority order.
One thing we can be thankful for with these slips is that at least it appears no one has been caught in them. I guess that’s a function of it being at midnight and the fact the road only carries very low volumes of traffic with fewer than 3,000 vehicles per day traversing the road, of which about 20% of them being heavy vehicles.