This is Part 3 of our series wrapping up the year and in this post I’m looking at Roads. You can also see:

Here’s my summary


The Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) has been a huge feature of the year and while not strictly road related, I’ll include it in this summary. Importantly, despite I think asking many of the wrong questions and focusing too much on the modelling, it largely came out with the right answers. For example, it highlights

  • We can’t build out of way of congestion
  • A major expansion of the “strategic public transport network” is required
  • Auckland’s motorway network is basically now finished (and also that scope for further widening seems quite limited)
  • The Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing really isn’t needed for a long time
  • We need to move to a comprehensive, better pricing system – which ATAP calls “smarter transport pricing”. It suggests it could take a decade to work though the details before it became a reality.

Below is the proposed strategic road network for the next 30 years. As you can see most of this is already in place now.

Waterview/Western Ring Route

Near the end of 2015 the tunnelling was completed at Waterview over the course of 2016 the work has focused on fitting those tunnels out and completing all of the other aspects of the project, including the ventilation buildings and mitigation projects.

In September we revealed the NZTA had some new traffic modelling predicting the opening of the new connection to create havoc and that they were planning to emergency widen a number of surrounding motorways and local roads in a desperate bid to stop the shiny new centrepiece of their system from getting congested.

The tunnels are due to open in April, which is later than I thought it would be but I also wonder if that’s related to getting the emergency widening completed first.

In May the NZTA officially opened rebuilt Lincoln Rd and Te Atatu Rd interchanges as part of the wider Western Ring Route (WRR) project. Both were over budget and Lincoln Rd was three years later than originally stated (and that was even after moving one leg of the interchange to another project). In October the NZTA also celebrated the completion of the St Lukes interchange, with the Pohutukawa still intact.

In July work started on the next stage of the WRR, to widen the motorway between Lincoln Rd and Westgate. A section of motorway that might need to be rebuilt again in just a few years to add a north-western busway – something the government agreed (through ATAP) that was needed within a decade. We have heard rumours though that the NZTA engineers are changing their designs for the Royal Rd and Huhuhuru Rd bridges to accommodate a busway after they were told they might be responsible for delivering it.

Northern Corridor

Related to the WRR, just a few weeks ago the NZTA applied for consent for the Northern Corridor which will turn the section of SH18 east of Albany Hwy into a full motorway and provide a direct connection to SH1 (northbound). Importantly it also includes the extension of the Northern Busway. That process will be concluded in 2017 and previous indications from the NZTA suggested construction would start in 2018.

East-West Link

The East-West Link loomed larger in 2016 as the project marched on, culminating in the NZTA applying for consent a few weeks ago, at the same time as the Northern Corridor. The NZTA is almost certainly going to face a much bigger fight to get this project over the line though as it also faces significant community opposition, especially to plans to effectively cut off the port area with a motorway and swallow large packets of land for various roads

In June we revealed documents from the NZTA showing the cost had ballooned from $600 million to potentially over $1.8 billion, more expensive than the Waterview Tunnels ($1.4b). Yet from what we can tell the economic assessment is still based on earlier cost estimates. The documents also revealed some of main risks identified for the consenting of the project, with designs at the time putting the roads completely on newly reclaimed land.

Some of those risks have been mitigated a bit over the year as the latest plans place the road mostly back on current land with most of the reclamation planned to be for more extensive mitigation.

Puhoi to Warkworth

While on the topic of big State Highway Projects, the NZTA announced in November they had awarded the contract for the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway. Presumably construction will start in 2017 and is expected to be completed in 2022.

Auckland Transport consents for Mega Projects

Auckland Transport got consent for two of it’s mega road projects, both expected to cost north of $300 million.

Mill Rd


They’ve also applied for consent for the Lincoln Rd upgrade which could cost more than $100 million.

Surprisingly little has been heard about AMETI this year. AT were meant to be applying for consent for the Busway between Panmure and Pakuranga but nothing has been made public yet.

Speed limits

In November the government announced a new speed limit guide which when in place would allow for some specific roads to have a 110km/h speed limit but also make it easier for local authorities to have lower speed limits in urban areas which would be welcome.

Road Toll

And despite the talk of safety, the road toll continues to defy the trends of the last few decades, increasing again over the last few years, as the graph below shows (to the end of October)

Are there any key changes I’ve missed?

Tomorrow’s wrap up will focus mainly on non transport stuff.

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  1. How do we stop such a huge amount of money being wasted on the East West Link? I assume only through a change of government next year?

    1. I see today that AT or NZTA (I assume) have torn down the Neilson Street railway overbridge. Talk about RETROGRADE. As stated in this blog “We can’t build out of way of congestion” but a railway corridor that could have fairly easily, with some expense fed through to Mangere Bridge township and beyond in time. That is no longer viable. Any extension to the rail commuter network is gold but all these idiots in local and central government can think of is roads. Sure there is the PR sop to bikes with a bit of bike lane here and there, sure they chuck in some more Double Deckers but really roads are king, alternatives they could not give a shit about!

      We need a major shift in thinking in this country to stop roads at all costs over any other spending to solve our bloody awful commuting problems!

      1. I agree it seems backwards, which makes me wonder about their commitment to actually completing any rail plans in the East-West link. That said, the existing platform is T-ed of the line. Some sort of realignment would have to be considered. Maybe the only option is some sort of tunnel.

        On another note. I look at the Waterview junction overhead shot and think this is very much how the East-West junction will look. Dominating the landscape. Cutting one side from the other.

  2. Could not agree more. They don’t make sense even in their own, financial terms, and will cause huge, ugly destruction. I am guessing that this is a form of religious war on the rest of us?

  3. The road toll will continue to increase (ot not decrease) provided NZTA and Police continue with their myopic focus on speed being the route of all evil.
    They really need to focus more on actual things that lead to drivers having accidents (drunk/drugged, tired, unlicensed, and frustrated drivers). Again this Xmas holiday period they have brought in their lowered speed tolerance and propaganda about slowing down.
    All that happens from this is that people spend more time looking at their speed than they do on the road. When they get to a passing lane now only a couple of cars get past since invariably the slow driver speeds up to 100km/h+ at the passing lane. With only a 4km/h tolerance it means it becomes very hard to pass someone (and then go back to 70km/h). These drivers then become frustrated and try risky overtaking manoeuvres on smaller straights (again the slow driver speeds up on the straight meaning the time exposed to danger -TED is dramatically increased to half a minute rather than making a quick overtaking manoeuvre at 120km/h that takes mere seconds). End result? Head on collision which are usually fatal.
    Now on urban roads it probably does make sense to reduce the tolerance since this is typically where pedestrians and cyclists are or kids running into the road etc. If the police made a point of targeting speeding in urban areas (and not so much on the open road/motorways) coupled with targeting inconsiderate driving (not keeping left etc) and actual dangerous driving then I am certain we would see a rapid reduction in the annual road toll.

    1. As I get older I am more and more inclined to believe the road toll is at such a low n that variance is almost certain; it’s only with large n events like overall 1Vs that you can have a major effect. Just like policing doesn’t really alter the murder rate (too few incidents, too few clear precedents) but can drive down burglary/TXC and so forth.

    2. Agreed, obsession with speed whilst idiots drive poorly, not keep left etc, the toll with stay the same. Shame though that this blog does not see roads as essential means of transport. A ‘transport’ blog should not have such bias surely?

      1. I have long said I would like our police enforcing failure to indicate as a sure sign the driver is not paying attention to the interests of other road users.

        A blog choosing to focus mainly on under-served modes of transport does not mean people here are against the one you have pledged your professional troth to.

        Just because I drive a car most days does not mean I am oblivious to the better city form that would be possible from proper separated public transit and cycleway networks, and attention to the role of streets as places to be rather than just pass through.

    3. As a driver I disagree – it isn’t any really any harder to stay under the 104 ‘limit’ than the 109. You have to remember people weren’t going 109 because they were aiming for 100 in the first place…

      The reason the Police target highways is because that is where the massive increase in holiday traffic occurs rather than urban areas. It sounds like you want more on the highways to catch these idiots who can’t overtake safely.

      1. The idiots are the drivers that either won’t keep left/pull over to let the queue of cars behind them pass, or those that drive slowly then speed up at passing lanes or on straights where it would otherwise be possible for others to pass.
        There would be little to no need for risky overtaking if those things were respected/enforced.

        As for 109 vs 104 of course it is easier to stay below 109! You have a 9% rather than 4% margin effectively double the margin.
        Passing someone doing 99km/h at 104km/h takes around 28 seconds (time exposed to danger). Passing that same person but doing 109km/h cuts the TED down to around 16 seconds. During this 28s @99km/h you cover a distance of 770m. A lot can happen in that time (not too mention most straights in NZ are nowhere near that long!).

        1. 104 and 109 are just two sppeds there is no more difficulty in staying below one than the other. If you cant stay below 104 by targetting 100, perhaps target 95.

          Why would you overtake someone doing 99?

          1. Well, assuming people don’t speed up at straights or at passing lanes is a bit naive.

            Most of the “speed up” you observe at passing lanes is the queue speeding up as it goes past the slow vehicle. But you regularly see people driving 60 or 70 all the time, except at passing lanes where they speed up to 100. Overtaking these people is hard, and due to the large distances involved, staying behind them will cost you a significant amount of time — a distance which takes 1 hour at 100 km/h will take 1.5 hours at 66 km/h.

          2. Sorry, but this depends on a lot of things, the gearing of your car being one of them. Many cars are far happier at 60 than 50 simply as a result of being geared with a different speed limit in mind.

          3. I’m sorry Matthew but that is a complete load of bollocks!
            How can it physically be just as easy to stay within 4km/h of the speed limit as it is to stay within 9km/h of it? Literally all it takes is a slight down slope and you can easy pick up that 4km/h in moments. This is the entire reason why they have a 9km/h tolerance to provide a reasonable margin. They then cut it to 4km/h or zero because of some misplaced belief that it will lower the road toll on the open road when all it is doing in reality is making the open road a more dangerous place.

          4. AKLDude the clue is in the name it is a limit not a target. If you cant drive within a narrow speed range you can widen the range st the lower end.

          5. Buttwizard if you cant keep a car under a speed limit because of tbe gearbox that really should learn to drive better. That is a ridiculous excuse.

          6. If they speed up to 99 its a PITA but desnt mean its then ok to speed. The argumrnt is totally arbitrary anyway, what if they spoed up to 104 on the straight?

          7. Matthew the point is that the police should be vigorously enforcing failing to keep left or failing to allow others to pass by pulling over where safe to do so as is the law. If they did this then a whole lot of driver frustration would disappear overnight (and subsequently improved safety with the added benefit of improved traffic flows on our highways). Ideally NZTA should also be doing their part with an education campaign and many more keep left unless passing signs.

  4. Lincoln Rd bridge, a huge/obscene spend up and one that did practically nothing to alleviate the traffic problems it was supposed to. Sure its wider under the bridge, but Lincoln Rd was always supposed to benefit from this. The queue for the off ramp city bound now extends back on to the motorway (dangerous) during the peak hours because the light phasing is so slow and it has to be to allow Lincoln Rd city bound traffic to enter the motorway through a series of conflicting intersections and traffic lights, all of which existed before and in fact one more set of lights was added to make it even worse. Then Lincoln Rd city bound traffic is held up to relieve the Lincoln Rd bound traffic which exacerbates hold ups. When tax payer money pours into these pet projects with so little benefit why are those in NZTA and its Minister not held to account?

    So when they have another spend up on Lincoln Rd, one I assume will mimic the glacial pace of Te Atatu Rd will they get it right, will it make a difference? I very much doubt it!

  5. Road pricing within a decade has to be the most significant transport development of the year. It will obviously have a profound impact when brought in, but it should start affecting things immediately, as all future transport projects will now have to be assessed under the assumption of road pricing. This will have a significsnt imlact on the outcomes of these assessments.

    1. Given how the current govt and their agencies have twisted and ignored BCRs to suit other agendas, I wouldn’t be so confident. We need principled people in charge.

  6. “Road pricing within a decade has to be the most significant transport development of the year”. Perhaps, but perhaps not. My recollection for central London is that a fairly hefty toll only caused traffic volume to decrease by 11%.

    1. You may only need to reduce volumes by that much to alleviate congestion. The key is, there is s “congestion clearing” price that such a system would target. For Auckland also the plan is for network wide pricing not just a central cordon.

      1. In London traffic only had a tiny modeshare to begin with, they vast majority of people have always caught trains and buses into London. People have a huge range of alternatives there.

        The problem with following suit in auckland is that the alternatives simply aren’t there yet for a lot of people, so if you go guns blazing you might find you have a very high ‘market clearing’ price. You might have to literally price it so high that people make a call on not going to work/study/whatever at all.

        Should we not start with the alternatives first, rather than just price people off traveling?

        1. Not everyone has to be able to find alternatives, only the marginal 10% of peak travellers. I agree there needs to be alternatives, but for the majority they already exist which is enough to make it work. There was a study around 2008 that showed quite high elasticity to a harbour crossing toll for example (albeit stated preference only).

          Road pricing will however greatly improve the bus network at peak. Planning to enable a ramp up in bus services post implementation would be of value but in terms of large capex projects I think we should largely hold off as toad pricing is going to provide a wealth of information that will then inform what capex is required.

          1. Stated preferences are pretty useless.

            And the majority has alternatives, yes, but for many these alternatives are often much slower than driving, despite all the congestion in peak hours. It may be possible to convince people to save money by spending 3 hours per day commuting by bus, rather than 1.5 hours per day commuting by car. Not sure how desirable it is.

          2. What is desirable is having the vast bulk of existing vehicles (cars buses trucks) travelling on conhestion free roads. Almost every transport project has congestion relief as its main benefit. The economic benefits of road pricing would be greater than billions and billions of transport investment. Thats what ATAP showed – road pricing was the single best intervention by a country mile.

          3. Well there is your problem, you are talking about setting a price to dissuade people from driving on roads that apparently become congestion free, and for them to take unimproved no-capital expenditure buses instead. How is that supposed to work exactly, charging $100 a km might do it I suppose!

            We’re going to improve option A, leave option B the same, but rank up the price until people are forced to avoid option A.

            FYI My local bus is a heap of shit, even on a congestion free evening it still takes 50-60 minutes to get from work to home, about the same as in peak times (few key bus lanes take the worst off, assuming there isn’t some special delay). Having 10% less cars on the road won’t make it any faster or more attractive, in fact it will be slower and less attractive, relatively speaking.

        2. As I say the evidence we have (we dont really have revealed preference evidence) is that demand is fairly elastic. There is no way the market price would be $100/km. I think the study I referred to had abiut 25% reduction in traffic with a $4 toll on the harbour crossings.

          The point about road based PT is you have congestion free roads on which to run it. So you dont need new infrastructure. I agree there would be a need to improve on the bus network. My thoughts are this would need to be carefully planned and rolled out contemporaneously with tolling (and then improved once the effects are observed).

    2. 11% reduction against the past volumes? or 11% reduction vs the projected? If it’s the former, then it would seem to have the right effect, since you’d expect the existing road infrastructure to be able to handle the reduced volumes.

  7. It says the NZTA celebrated the completion of St Lukes interchange in October. It was actually December… when they finished replacing the temporary cones blocking off the new bridge lane they’d just added with more permanent looking markers. Is this ‘Lane to Nowhere’ bridge widening the biggest waste of taxpayer money of 2016?

    1. They will send two lanes rightwards onto the NW motorway towards the Waterview interchange only once it’s finished, to be fair. Then the currently-coned lane becomes the straight-ahead one towards St Lukes, as I understand the plans.

      1. The plan was the closed off lane would go straight through where they’ve now put the slip lane (back, where it started). It is going to need a sharp zig-zag ‘straight ahead’ if they do still intend to use that closed lane. Given they didn’t want slightly narrower lanes to keep the pohutakawas I doubt that would fly, maybe just double lane St Lukes Rd instead?

  8. A big help would be for AT to educate drivers on keeping left unless overtaking. It’s so frustrating on the motorway when all three lanes are blocked up by fools traveling 90. Half the time it’s easier and faster to travel down the outside (slow) lane. I’ve got into a habit of flashing and honking my horn if I’m on the inside lane trying to overtake and get stuck behind some person plodding along! Move aside.

    1. That closed lane at St Lukes/GNR was open for a short time until they realised the eliminated slip lane from the St Lukes Rd off ramp was causing a spectacular hold up back down the off ramp so they temporarily revived it with cones and now more permanantly. And that off ramp that had large sums of money thrown at it is too narrow and chokes up. An opportunity lost. I agree with Feijoa, a huge waste of money and who the hell plans these “upgrades” because they are idiots!

  9. Educate drivers, and introduce mandatory driving school. Parents teaching their kids to drive could work if the standard of driving is already good enough, but in NZ, no way.

    A while ago I was driving behind someone with L plates, and he was merging onto the motorway at 50 km/h. That was nerve-racking. Once I went past him, he changed to the middle lane, still driving that slowly. I noticed another car swerving wildly to the left lane to avoid a collision. There’s no way that guy will drive for more than a few months without causing an accident. Whoever is teaching him is not up to the job.

  10. I am surprised they use a water deluge system for fire control in the Waterview tunnel. Given that almost any fire will be fuel I would have thought that might make things worse rather than better.

    1. Probably because an oxygen starvation system would mean people stuck in a tunnel wouldn’t have anything to breathe. Also water would help keep the temperatures down. Fire in a tunnel is most likely to be engine/cargo not fuel. Even in a crash fuel generally isn’t an issue in the initial stages – by which time water deluge would have likely brought the fire under control.

      1. I’m calling bullshit!
        Or perhaps you prefer the Gotthard Road tunnel fire where one of the two trucks was carrying diesel. There are plenty of examples where fuel trucks have crashed and caught fire on motorways and plenty of cases where cars fuel tanks have ruptured. If you want to know what a deluge of water does to a fire try looking up the USS Forrestal fire. There are plenty of other ways to put a fire out that don’t involve displacing all the oxygen. Looks to me like the water is to tick the box that said ‘Fire System’ while they hope there are no fuel fires.

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