The government’s Roads of National Significance have dominated transport spending over the last eight years and within the next 4-5 years, almost all of the motorways originally proposed will have been completed. Yet despite this, current plans are for transport spending on state highways is set to continue to increase over the coming years – NZTA are currently forecast to spend $1.9 billion on state highways this financial year, based on MoT projections, by 2024-25 this it is likely to be close to $2.9 billion a year.
Although they’re not (yet) officially called it, signs are pointing to the government preparing for RoNS 2.0. Some of these signs have been public comments and commitments and others come from decisions reported from the NZTA. Here are a few of them.
Last Friday, Transport Minister Simon Bridges suddenly announced that the Government would spend $400-500 million to four lane 22km of State Highway 1 between Whangarei and the turnoff to Marsden Port (SH15A), starting in just a few years.
There are couple of thoughts I’ve had about this. Regardless of the merits for one, at least this upgrade is actually in Northland, unlike the Puhoi to Wellsford road the government are building but for which they claim massive benefits for Northland. I also wonder how much of this is about trying to win back the Northland seat off Winston Peters with a less obvious form of pork barrel politics.
NZTA figures show that on average, about 15,000 vehicles use the road per day with about 12% of those being heavy vehicles – a fairly high heavy percentage and notably, both figures are higher than SH1 between Warkworth and north of Wellsford, which the NZTA announced a route for recently and expected to cost more than $1 billion. Speaking of that road, it surely won’t be too long before people are calling for the ~45km gap between the two roads and over the Brynderwn’s to be done too to give a full motorway/expressway between Whangarei and south of Cambridge. It certainly seems to be on Bridges mind
“Ultimately we’re planning a significant upgrade of the highway all the way from Whangarei to Auckland which will include the completion of the Puhoi to Wellsford Road of National Significance which will make journeys along this entire corridor safer and more efficient,” Mr Bridges says
Interestingly both the number of vehicles and the percentage of heavy vehicles seems remarkably similar to the traffic counts on SH2 at Mangatawhiri which was upgrade some years back. It remains mostly a single lane road except for some passing lanes but has been designed so it could be relatively easy to expand in the future. I wonder if the same sort of approach could be done here instead.
A few weeks earlier, at the opening of the Kapiti Expressway, Bridges apparently mused about extending the expressway north of Otaki. Previously the NZTA had scaled back government plans for the section from Otaki to Levin to focus primarily on safety improvements but mid last year said they were re-investigating options which sounds ominously like they trying to justify an expressway again. This section happens to have about the same volumes as the Whangarei route above.
But what is emerging is that these aren’t one offs and they appear to be related to a wider package of work. Looking around the NZTA website recently I came across this Board Resolution titled “Portfolio of inter-regional business cases (North Island)“.
They say they are developing a 10-30 year strategic view of the land transport system and that one of the focuses on improving inter-regional routes. The key inter-regional areas they want to focus on first are basically the SH1 spine and links to Tauranga:
- completing key enhancements to key inter-regional journeys linking Tauranga, Hamilton, Auckland and Whangarei
- enhancing key inter-regional journeys linking Hamilton to Levin
- improving access to Wellington.
From those three focuses there are split into eight different programmes and the resolution above was to get approval to spend $18 million to develop early stage business cases on these programmes. They say all get a high rating for both of the NZTA’s relatively bogus Strategic Fit and Effectiveness measures (Strategic Fit = how well does it align with government policy, Effectiveness = how well the proposed solution achieves the strategic goals). The third leg of the NZTA’s assessment criteria is Efficiency which the business case that assesses the benefits and costs of projects – arguably they should get rid of effectiveness as that should be covered in the business case. The programmes, BCR’s and estimated costs are shown below.
That suggests about $4.5 to $7 billion could be spent on these routes and likely much more given they’re only rough estimates and much more detailed assessments are needed. That’s certainly enough to eat up significant chunks of funding and keep the road builders happy for some years after the completion of the RoNS.
Of the eight above, below are the four considered the most urgent. Most will have both indicative and detailed business cases developed
- SH1 Auckland to Whangarei – SH1 Northport to Te Hana and SH1 Whangarei to Northport
- SH29 Piarere to Tauriko – SH29 Piarere to Te Poi, SH29 Te Poi to Summit and SH29 – Summit to Tauriko
- Tauriko (Tauranga) network – SH29 Tauriko Network Plan
- Wellington’s port access programme business case.
So are we heading for RoNS 2.0, or perhaps they’ve just been smelling too much tarmac recently?