In ATAP (the Auckland Transport Alignment Project) one of the ideas that was investigated was the reincarnation of the Eastern Motorway, this time called the Eastern Strategic Corridor. It came about as a result of a push by the NZCID (now just called Infrastructure New Zealand) in their report titled “Transport Solutions for a Growing City“. We covered it back in May last year and it had some useful things about the need for better public transport, smarter road pricing, and alignment of transport & land use etc.

Most interestingly the NZCID commented on the AWHC in its report, remarking that as it stands provides low value for money, and that it needs an Eastern Alignment connecting to an Eastern Corridor to fully leverage the advantage it could provide.

“The proposed Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing performs the worst economically, delivering a BCR of 0.4.” – Page 31

“A unique advantage of the Eastern Corridor transport solution is the ability to leverage the potential of the largest ever infrastructure project in New Zealand: a $5 billion Waitemata Harbour tunnel. The proposed Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing is throttled at both its northern and southern termination points, constraining its potential. It cannot connect new businesses and communities and it cannot lift the opportunities for the region, as its predecessor, the Auckland Harbour Bridge has done. Consequently, it cannot deliver economic and social benefits consistent with its high cost and these limitations are highlighted by conventional cost benefit analysis which shows a return of 40 cents for every dollar invested.” – Page 63

In response the ATAP team commissioned a report by AECOM called the Eastern Strategic Corridor Assessment and the report says some very interesting things. They looked at two different options – also shown on the map below:

  1. a motorway option connecting to an Eastern Alignment AWHC that ends at the intersection of Mill/Murphys Roads, and
  2. an expressway option connecting an Eastern Alignment AWHC that ends at Allen’s Road.

ATAP Eastern Highway Corridor Proposals

Whilst the motorway options performed better than the expressway option due to reaching further south adding to the catchment, the report found that the corridor did very little to reduce congestion across the network.

“Congestion across the network exhibits only minor changes as illustrated by Figure 16 and Figure 17 below. Apart from the Motorway option in the AM peak, which shows a decrease of 1.3%; there is less than a one percent decrease in hours spent in severe congestion which is defined as LOS E or worse for all other scenarios.” – Page 11

The real kicker though, comes when they estimated the cost for each option and the AWHC. The expressway option came in at a whopping $10.89b with the Motorway option higher again at $11.26b. The (BCR) Benefit Cost Ratio for the expressway option was just 0.2, and the motorway not much better at 0.4. I am not a fan of making conclusions solely on the BCR due to limitations in the way we model it, however the seriously low BCR is concerning.

What’s worse is that elements in the BCR such as travel time savings are likely overstated

“As can be seen from table 6 above, preliminary BCR’s both options as modeled present poor value for money coming in well below 1.0, meaning that the NPV benefits do not outweigh the investment costs. The Motorway option has substantially higher benefits than the expressway, particularly as would be expected in travel time savings. However it must be noted that the tunnel components for the Motorway option has been modeled as a 100kph posted speed limit. To date, road tunnels in New Zealand have only been posted at 80kph generally as a compromise between safety requirements and cost. As such a modeled posted speed limit of 100kph may not be achievable in practice and the travel time savings, and attraction of the route may be overstated in this test.” – Page 16

They also suggest that further investigation is likely to reduce the BCR on balance rather than increase it

“The motorway would require the acquisition of land to construct 15.5 km of road and 8 intersections/interchanges. Given the above it is unlikely that further more detailed development of the eastern corridor and refinement of costings would improve the BCR. On balance if seems more likely that if would result in a lower value.” – Page 18

Whilst they found the route provided resilience for the transport network, it does very little to address congestion and the high capital costs outweighs any benefit. Still, they advised keeping the existing eastern corridor designation until Smarter Pricing and the western alignment for AWHC is agreed.

“However we also recommend that corridor protection for the eastern alignment should be maintained until such time as the ATAP Government agencies commit to both the additional western alignment of AWHC and the use of the smarter road charging approach being developed within ATAP.” – Page 18

So, the NZCID is saying the western alignment of AWHC provides very low value for money and the AECOM report shows that leveraging any advantage of a new eastern corridor also results in low value for money, as the BCR is 0.2-0.4. The eastern corridor didn’t make it through in to ATAP but some serious questions need be raised regarding the viability of AWHC given even the infrastructure lobby don’t think it’s a good idea.

The Eastern Motorway: killed socially/politically in 2004 and academically in 2016.

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39 comments

  1. The highway industry and our transport bureaucrats really need to accept that the great urban motorway building age in Auckland is at its very end. Waterview opens in a few months; it’s done. They need to pivot their attention to the missing complementary networks of Rapid and Active Transit our only city of scale. Especially if they want the motorway system to do anything other than choke under its own singularity. I look forward to them using the exact same phrase we have heard for the last 60 years for this work: ‘complete the Network!’

    We hear a lot about the adaptability of business to new times and opportunities; and I’m sure NZCID’s members are just as happy building the CRL as the Waterview tunnels. But can NZTA and MoT also come to understand a broader transport role beyond largely planning and building State Highways? Do they now need profound structural and or conceptual reform? Can we rely on them to advocate this new reality strongly to their political masters?

    1. That’s an interesting point. After Waterview, the outlook for new or even widened state highways in Auckland is fairly bleak. Given the costs are approaching a billion dollars a kilometre and building any new motorway requires demolishing homes and fighting communities, just to create more temporary disruption and permanent traffic… is NZTA Auckland going to soon find itself doing nothing but planning grand but futile schemes and never getting anything off the drawing board?

      Take the above for example, the BCR is actually irrelevant, it could be the most cost effective project in the world but it would never get anywhere because of the superlative cost ($12b FFS!) and the fact it involves busting a motorway through a dozen resistant communities, rich and poor alike. I don’t know what would be harder, fighting though the QC’s of Orakei, or the organised (with a capital O) communities of Glen Innes and Tamaki?

      1. A lot of the cost is because the NZTA basically wants most of it in a tunnel e.g. see a 4km tunnel under Hobson Bay and a 5.5km tunnel under the Tamaki River to Highbrook

        1. That’s because they know that a surface route would be doomed to get resistance from any nearby rich areas. Out of sight and paid by (the nebulous others called) taxpayers, and it stands a much lower chance to be opposed fanatically.

          If Waterview had been a surface route, it wouldn’t have been built.

    1. Yes, that worries me too – economic benefits having specifically been downgraded in National’s shoehorning-in of a new “Roads of National Government” process, in favour of more assessment on the basis of “Do we want it? Tick yes or no.”, I think the fact that the well-heeled burghers of Eastern bays will still hate it is a better protection against this thing happening than something so spurious as actual calculation.

      Sorry, I am getting cynical – and thanks for a good blog, Harriet!

      1. It costs $12bn because they don’t want to build it. If they decide they want to build it the cost will come right down. That is how these things really work.

  2. Remember all of the benefits above, as is the case for all road projects, rely on the pretence that project induced traffic doesn’t exist. How this works is that if a new road is built and exactly the same amount of traffic uses the whole system as before the new road then, hooray!, that must mean mathematically there will be less traffic per metre of road, as there’s more road to carry the fixed ‘demand’, as they say ->Decongestion Benefits, Travel time savings, all the good things…

    However, as we know is the case, and as these transport consultants and expert public servants also all know is the case, new roads, especially mega new roads, ‘induce’ new traffic, precisely because they offer the prize of a quicker or more direct trip. Which, ironically, often leads to that prize evaporating in front of their eyes, as drivers flock to use it. Furthermore, that new traffic induced by the new motorway also goes on to use the rest of the city’s whole road system, the local roads, carparks, etc, creating new more severe congestion everywhere. They know this too, which is why NZTA pressure AT to supersize local roads arounds motorways [e.g. St Lukes etc now]. It is pretty disingenuous to pretend that induced traffic won’t happen, because if it doesn’t that either means the project is rubbish and won’t attract users, and/or that the city is declining and surely can’t justify this kind of spending anyway.

    What’s worse is that the induced traffic usually comes from current PT users, or people that choose to not drive at the peaks, to avoid congestion. Also these multibillion dollar road projects squeeze out the chance of funding high quality alternatives, completion of the missing Rapid Transit Network, that would actually offer decongestion benefits, by inducing their own increase in ‘traffic’; increase in train, bus, ferry, and bike, users. As we’ve seen is also the case. Build for what we want to see more of.

    If we want more traffic and more traffic congestion; keep NZTA as a road builder, and keep pretending induced demand isn’t real. Or we could change to build a better city with more movement option with the same budget. Drivers will benefit the most from this. Driving is worse in mono-modal cities. Disproportionately investing in more traffic makes for poor traffic outcomes, clogging the the road freight system, and lower economic efficiency overall.

    1. Seriously if we get a change of Government one of the things that needs to be looked at is either Restructuring the NZTA so that it is truly a “Transport” agency or creating a completely new agency without the current bias towards roading.

      1. You’re right on the money. NZTA needs to become a complete ‘transport’ agency. Its needs to have multiple business units and I can eventually see strategic PT (and perhaps even Kiwirail operations) becoming one of these. Just imagine NZTA being able to look at a strategic road and PT network and holistically assess the best measures to shift ‘people’ and ‘freight’. I’m not particularly pro-PT but it does frustrate me that SH16 for example did not have a PT corridor included as part of the current works. What was the thinking at NZTA that prevented that occurring? Was PT not their responsibility, and why not?

        By the looks of the current projects, NZTA has cash to burn on low BC projects while we’re desperately in need of funding for strategic PT corridors i.e. SH16, Dominion Road, SH20A/B to get Auckland moving. So I guess I’d like to know the mechanisms that cause the intelligent people at NZTA to come up with some perverse transport outcomes. Is it simply too political there?

        1. Tbh I don’t think its so much the people on the ground at the NZTA, it’s more political interference & some older managers who are struggling to deal with the massive shifts that are happening in Transport Planning where the old models are not as axiomatic as they thought. I think the NZTA is about to have a shake up as the new CEO is much more open to different ideas.

          NZTA have cash to burn on these projects because the current modelling says they are good value for money, though as we know the modelling is based on some really faulty assumptions, and because they are being directed to by the Government.

          I think we have seen some massive changes since Bridges took over which shows the NZTA is more than just Highway Builders, however still a way to go.

    2. “new roads, especially mega new roads, ‘induce’ new traffic, precisely because they offer the prize of a quicker or more direct trip.”

      I totally agree. If there is a greater investment in roading then people will use it – since it’s the “only” choice. However, the nodes of any system have a limited capicity and if there is marginal or delayed investment in alternatives it will eventually lead to worse outcomes.

    1. Contrary to popular belief I don’t think lots of RONS projects have really low BCR’s, mainly because how we model them which has both a systematic (Politics) and historic (we didn’t have a lot of evidence until the last few years concretely that people would use PT) bias against PT & bias towards roading projects. I think EWL was around 1.4-1.9, Puhoi-Warkworth 1, Tauranga Eastern Link 1.4, Waikato Expressway depends on the section and is hard to find but some sections are over 1.

      That is why when a roading projects like the AWHC or the Eastern Motorway has a low BCR it is really bad.

      1. Puhoi to Warkworth costs likely to be underestimated so I can see the BCR slipping below 1. Be interesting to do some post-construction BCR’s on other projects (even if it is just whacking in the actual project cost) to see if they’re reasonable or not….It always seems to be that case that once a project is approved, benefits are overstated and costs understated. Hence why I think you need be aiming for a BCR of at least 2 otherwise projects are prone to ‘fiddling’.

    2. Indeed it is Sacha. First, halve the discount rate for some obscure reason and lo and behold we are suddenly at a BCR of 0.4 – 0.8. Then we factor in that Takapuna is going to be three times it current size (not particularly important that this may already be factored in) and presto the top end figure goes from 0.8 to 1.0 and that’s enough!!!
      AWHC is a senseless project and should never happen.

  3. Most of this riduclous “idea” runs parallel to the existing motorway, and not that far from it, so obviously the benefit is negligible. And where it bumps out is exactly where the train goes, so what is the point in building an inefficient mover of people when a very efficient mode already exists? Oops, I almost forgot, that is how capitalism functions, on shortsighted inefficiencies. Silly me

    1. Actually, in a (very much theoretical) pure capitalism this wouldn’t stack up at all. Its only when interest groups or political ideologies get behind a project that the state (us taxpayers) get dragged into funding it. Not very capitalistic at all.*

      *Though I don’t disagree with funding projects via tax money that don’t stack up under capitalist rules – a lot of good can be done that way. But for every such good projects, there’s three larger ones that *primarily* happen because one of the big side effects is shovelling tax money into private companies, I feel.

  4. Do not panic people; thats not what our group is about, just take constant logical arguments to the people with the power… I must say the Waterview motorway project has improved the area in my thinking not made the area worse. I think Auckland does motorways pretty well in all consideration.

    But keep the faith people… Better land use, less regulations, less Nimbyisum. Auckland has improved so so so much in transport in last 10 years is amazing to see it take place.

    I think a good initiative is to get trains made in New Zealand, and make an industry around this. Similar to the boat building industry and innovation we could produce trains for our future generations.
    Once its started it will keep the whole system going (Much more sustainable than now)

    1. > I must say the Waterview motorway project has improved the area in my thinking not made the area worse.

      Uhmmm, are you aware that it isn’t open yet, and thus the key negative effects aren’t there yet either. Also, many of the latter will be creeping – increasing congestion on your local street (I laugh at the “will reduce traffic on local streets” stuff – why are we then already increasing the size of key streets around the interchanges?), increasing pollution, increasing noise, more climate change…. all this is bit by bit, like tar on our literal lungs. Smoking a single cigarette is not going to leave society (or an individual) with any serious lasting harm. Handing out smokes daily at the local school will.

  5. Notice the modelling doesn’t appear to consider the waterview tunnels being complete. Surely this would lower an eastern motorway BCR further, as an alternate route would already exist to provide resilience.

    1. Yes funny how they sign off the WRR as an alternative to the harbour bridge, but when its almost finished to then claim that we need an alternative to the harbour bridge other than the WRR. So most of the business case of the WRR would then be redundant and it shouldn’t have been built at all.

  6. I drove to the airport the other morning and noticed they were adding another lane between Mt Roskill and Hillsborough on SH20. Why didn’t they just build 3 lanes to begin with? This happens so often I’m wondering if it’s done on purpose so that motorway builders can guarantee themselves ongoing work.
    The ‘build 2 now, add a 3rd later’ is not cost effective long term. The Waterview tunnel has 3 lanes each way so it must have been obvious there should have been the same number of lanes required in the approach?

        1. > Yeah, I suspected that. It’s a rort IMO. Especially when you know darn well that secondary work will be required.

          Do we? Often the other project may be 10+ years away, if it even happens. Its a hell of a lot of moneny to throw down now instead of later, and that’s not even considering the interest the expense creates in the 10 years its oversized.

      1. Yes there have been a couple of interesting articles in the pay-walled NBR dealing exactly with some of the rorts in roading (last two issues before Christmas)……also known as corruption by those prepared to be as so bold. I think a number of us have heard a story or two through the grapevine but the challenge is locating the paper trail to make the claims stick.

        The good thing is we now see, motorway projects such as the one described by Harriet Gale, being subjected to better analysis then pre 2014. Great to see AECOM come in as the credible independent reviewer with a strong international track record. Even better that their findings were published with the conclusion that the project could not be justified. This is a clear example of the benefits of independent peer review as a balance against political interference. One hopes that other transport projects also get subjected to similar independent review with results announced in an open manner to taxpayers and ratepayers.

    1. Counter-argument: Following your suggested approach to the conclusion, all our motorways would be oversized, “just in case”. have a plan for a potential future motorway somewhere nearby in the pocket? Make THIS motorway project you are building right now larger than needed! ka-ching!

      If we build our roads for demand that might or might not come – or is pretty much certain to come only in 10-20 years – then our roading costs will be even higher, and our induced demand even stronger.

      Plus, the tendency of throwing more money after bad gets stronger as well “We can’t leave this to two lanes after just having built six lanes down the block from here, we’d look foolish!”

  7. Analysing this I think I have a better idea – a slightly more westerly-version of the Eastern Motorway, that runs roughly NW-SE. Instead of going along the coast, though, reducing access, I’ll go more inland.

    After thinking of various names – the “West-Eastern Motorway”, the “North West South East Motorway”, I thought I’d keep it simple and call it the “Southern Motorway”

  8. The eastern motorway was always doomed to not make it further than the drawing board, this is the first time I’ve seen plans with this specific route and amount of tunneling.

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