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?

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  1. So much taxpayer money, so mid 20th Century. Won’t Fletchers, Fulton Hogan and other beneficiaries and their well connected nameless shareholders be pleased!

  2. I wonder what the cost savings (in terms of lives saved, rehab for the injured, etc) would be compared to the cost of physically lane separating with a median barrier all state highways? Surely, that would be at least as cost effective as building new motorways and stimulate the economy as well?

  3. Eight programmes, and five of them have benefit-cost ratios that are probably below one. That’s a really bad look – it shows that the tradition of project selection on political merits rather than economic efficiency is alive and well.

      1. No, <1 means getting back in economic effects less than $1 for each $1 spent. Even near 1 but positive is considered poor, as the gains are projected, possible, and not financial, but economic. And all cost-benefit depend significantly on methodology; what is counted as a benefit, and degree of accuracy, e.g. whether the project costs are certain, they may increase substantially.

        The BCR for the east west boondoggle in Onehunga for example was calculated on a $600m project cost but is now thought to cost $1.85b, but govt. and NZTA are still quoting the early BCR calculated from the low cost figure. And are refusing/failing to do an updated analysis.

        1. Thanks for the clarification. So its Benefit-Cost ratio? maybe my brain just doesn’t work well.

        2. It is Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) – Cost-benefit ratio (the inverse) is sloppy wording on NZTA’s part, which no-one on its Board seems to have noticed.

  4. NZTA is most at home planing, funding, and building rural highways. Would that they could develop a similar expertise on the urgent task of planning, funding, and building appropriate urban transport systems. And no this does not simply mean ramming these same rural highways through cities, as is current policy.

    Most critically this means reforming the funding systems and definitions, as Matt mentions above, because as it is currently set up, NZTA is not a transport agency looking to make transport solutions but a road builder looking for where it can put the next State Highway, with relatively little regard for the appropriateness or value of that outcome.

  5. $400 – 500 Mil would go a long way to getting rail to the port and back to Auckland.. Also the Kapati expressway should have been a toll road just like the new one in the Bay of Plenty..

  6. It seems the basic vision is to turn all of state highway 1 into a four lane highway from Whangarei to Wellington plus a branch (SH 29) to Tauranga. While letting our urban centres become increasingly gridlocked through lack of adequate public transport.

  7. Simon Bridges should drive south from Whangarei a few times. He would realise that the trucks don’t hold traffic up that much (there are passing lanes). It would be good to use the money on the North Auckland Line and extension to Marsden Point port area.

    1. Yes the govt. and NZTA have seemingly little understanding of or no interest in the value of the urban economy and how to support it. Its infrastructure needs. Their only conception of the economy is apparently a rural and extractive one: Heavy stuff to ports. On trucks. One size fits all, and of course the private car as the best and permanent passenger transport mode. Basically the entire policy programme can be summed up in three words: Cows and cars.

      1. I’m quite sure if the line was upgraded there would be more customers than at present. Kiwi rail seems to be going out of it’s way to kill off business on the NAL. Witness last year where they refused to renew a logging company contract sighting lack of rolling stock as the reason forcing them to use road transport..

      2. A train each way every weekday, plus a shunt to the Kauri dairy factory. A port line would justify services to Otiria.

  8. Needs to be balanced with an improvement in rail.
    Rail to Marsden,
    improvements the the NAL.
    Electrification of the NIMT between Hamilton and Papakura and between Hamilton and Tauranga.
    Better roads in rural areas is good but it shouldn’t be just to please the truck lobby – half the goods that travel by truck in this country could just as easily be transported by rail and if they were then the costs would likely be less than by truck (rail just needs that critical mass to be cost effective/not having to pay for rail maintenance itself just as how trucks don’t pay for the damage they cause to the roads).

  9. Motorways are terrible value for money but it’s incredibly difficult to explain that to the public. Just looking at all the saluting comments regarding the recent opening of the Kapiti Expressway (Mackays to Peka Peka section) suggests voters care more about convenience than money. If that were true, why isn’t the National party more pressing when it comes to public transport in Auckland? Something that has not only better BCRs but actually moves people around better?

    The latest announcement about four laning Whangarei to SH 15 (Marsden Point turnoff) is more of what National do best of, pork-barrel politics.

    1. I agree that the Kapiti Expressway was terrible value for money. $35 million dollars per km for a grand total of $635 million dollars? What a bloody rip off! Especially since there were other alternatives that were more cost effective, less disruptive, and provided similar benefits such as the Western Link Road.

      However, I don’t think that it is that hard to explain value to people. It just needs to be put into terms that they can understand. For example, when most people get a two story house built, they have a need, or shall I say requirement to go between each level of the house. Does that mean that they build an elevator? Of course not! If you ask someone why they wouldn’t build an elevator, the answer is obvious. Cost! Instead we build stairs because it satisfies our need to go between levels, is more cost effective than an elevator, and therefore better value for money!

      People do cost benefit analysis all the time. They just don’t realize it!

      1. Very good analogy. Insisting on elevators in ordinary 2-storey residences succinctly sums up the overkill of insisting on 4-lane motorways in sparsely-populated New Zealand (sparse population being the argument usually trotted-out against more investment in rail!)

      2. i wonder if those same people will complain when their rates go up to pay for the maintenance of the old road which i assume will now become the councils responsibility.

  10. I really strongly feel that major upgrades of all of these roads are required. I also really strongly feel, for almost all of them, that a four lane expressway is not.

    1. I agree. Many of these roads are dangerous and inadequate during weekend and holiday periods. Not only that, get worse with the increased freight pressure outside of these times – which people here need to admit is only going to grow. Yep, lets move all the apples between Auckland-Napier to rail…not going to happen.

      1. Thats not such a bad idea, apples can actually sit in cool store for 3 to 6 months at a stretch, so they aren’t time sensitive.

  11. If New Zealand was a sane country we would be upgrading roads everywhere – but we would be building to 2 + 1 standard.

    These are a large part of the reason that Sweden, a long and empty country with terrible weather, has the world’s lowest rate of road deaths. They also reduce congestion and speed vehicle movement. Instead New Zealand has chosen to maintain a system in which roads are only made safer when they reach a given number of vehicles per day. The influence of this thinking on manuals and design standards is pervasive.

    Choosing to build RONS instead of safer roads is a decision, and it is a decision that can be directly attributed to hundreds of deaths over the next decade. I have no problem with placing the responsibility for these deaths on the Minister, and his senior NZTA managers.

    1. If safety was the number 1 factor, then my understanding is that there are cheaper options than four lane expressways that are quicker to build, consent for etc. and being cheaper we could implement more of them. Things like realigning dangerous corners, median barriers, additional passing lanes
      If money was spent on the rail network enabling more freight to be sent by rail and thus fewer trucks on the road, then this should also lead to fewer accidents and lives lost.

      1. Ours is disproportionately low because we allow cyclists on roads that Europeans would never dream of. That 171km doesn’t include any of the Waikato Expressway, or the TEL, or any of the new northern corridor in Wellington, or the new motorways in Christchurch, or Puhoi-Warkworth either. That adds 120km, 21km, 50 km, 32km, and 19km respectively; over 400 extra km in total.

      2. Doesn’t Sweden also use it roads as emergency runways for its Air Force? I think the Cold War has something to do with why is it a lot of has so many motorways. Someone told me as part of the motorway design on ramps have to allow JA39 to taxi on them

      3. That’s 1740km of Expressways not motorways. Most of them are “2+1” roads with a wire rope central barrier, just like the existing Longswamp – Rangiriri section of the Waikato Expressway.

      4. Sweden has most of its 10 mill population concentrated in southern area from around Stockholm and including the Gotaland peninsula, so you have 8 mill inside an area the same as the South Island.

  12. Taking the opposing tack here (from some of the commenters) just for a minute or two – it’s news to me that the Gov has plans for SH2 from Ngauranga to Te Marua (i.e. the Hutt Motorway up to the bottom of the Rimutaka Hill), or from Te Marua to Masterton (which includes the road right over the Rimutaka Hill and the long flat no-passing straights on the other side). But, arguably, that is fantastic news.

    Rimutaka (or Remutaka) is a beast of a road, fabulously popular with weekend boy racers and bikers for the wild windy winding corners, but also it is a really dangerous road – that’s what makes it exciting – but it has a massive amount of traffic and people crash on it / fly off it / die at the edges of it all the time. It is a pain in the arse when you get stuck behind a logging truck hauling up the hill with no decent passing lanes for miles, and nothing but a double yellow centre line and a steep ravine into oblivion on the other side.

    While it would make it dull to be tidied up, for safety reasons, I’d have to say that it would be thoroughly well deserved.

    1. And there’s a railway through the hill, with capacity that has been steadily reduced over the years while demand has increased…

      1. Come on Mike, trucks can’t use a railway tunnel now can they, and if we’re not undermining our rail network then surely it fails basic govt policy

        1. Crossing loops removed/rationalised; signalling system replaced by track-warrant control; through-route north of Masterton down-graded to lower-speed status.

        2. Ahh, right so it’s reduced capacity on the line, I misread it as the tunnel actually had reduced capacity (although of course it does indirectly when the surrounding track is reduced). Just out of interest is the increased demand passengers or freight (or both)?

          Is this one of the reasons they are struggling to keep Wairarapa commuter trains running to schedule?

        3. The increased demand on the Wairarapa Line is both freight (logs) and passenger, with the latter demand being suprressed by such things as the difficulty of squeezing in extra peak trains, the very limited options offered for day trips from the Wellington end during the week, and the impossibility of visiting Greytown and Martinborough (the tourist hot spots) for the weekend by public transport since GWRC withdrew all Sunday bus services in the Wairarapa a few years back.

    2. Rimutaka Hill desperately needs safety treatments.

      The first and most easily implemented should be a reduction of speed limits to approximately 60km/h from Featherston to Te Marua, with fixed cameras.

      More difficult and expensive treatments should follow.

      1. Well at the moment, if you try and go at 60 or less, you just about get run off the road by the locals. They’re used to taking the commute to work at nearer 80-100kmph, so they can be back home in Featherstone asap.

        Myself, speed limits aside, a better barrier than the piece of string (OK, probably wire) that is present in some places would be good. On some (most? not all?) of the corners there is a single line of Armco rail that would not stop a truck at full tilt….

        And yet, somehow, the work done to straighten out Muldoon’s corner a few years ago, has taken all the fun and skill out of driving that section.

        1. Haven’t driven it in the last year, but I make full use of the slow sections to pull over and let locals past.

          Wire ropes reduce deflections, which is important in some circumstances. They’re also more easily replaced after an impact. And an added bonus is that they spook motorcyclists because of the “cheesecutter” myth, which slows them down.

  13. Whilst happy to see infrastructure spending I’m not 100% convinced this spending is going to maximum bang for buck.

    I wouldn’t have thought the roads listed above are the most urgent or most beneficial for an upgrade. For instance the Napier/Taupo highway is a third world piece of roading and though upgrades to sections would be massively expensive by comparison per km the benefits would also be greater by virtue of numbers using the road and decreasing loss of life.

    I wonder how these projects get selected to be the top of the pile?

    1. One does wonder, how many kms of upgraded, four laned highway with median we can buy for Avery km of brand new, 120km/h design speed super motorway? Wouldn’t be surprised if it is ten to one or more.

        1. Hmm not sure if that is the best comparison, you are comparing one of the easiest bits of motorway to one of the trickier bits of duplication. Any idea what the Huntly bypass is per km, that would be a better comparison.

          Given Matts post above, the difficult Warkworth to Wellsford motorway is now $1.9b for 19km, so $100m a km. Five times more per km than the Longswamp duplication.

          If four laning is $20m/km, you could almost do Walkworth to Whangarei (100km) for the price of a Walkworth to Wellsford (19km) motorway.

          I wasn’t really suggesting 4 laning without grade separating side road access, there is only about half a dozen main roads between Warkworth and southern outskirts of Whangarei anyway and you can do it with one bridge if you have enough land.

          Although there are ways you can do it, for example in Victoria most highways are four lane and have turn lanes in a broad median.


          Huntly; $458m for 15km, $30m/km.

          If you think Hamilton is simple you should talk with the engineers who designed it; Huntly has topographical constraints, Hamilton has built infra.

          If you think Longswamp is technically difficult then you should talk to the engineers who designed it. All of the old cuts and alignment were built for four lanes and 110 km/h, it’s about as easy as roads get.

          Warkworth to Wellsford is absolute worst case scenario, the topography there is horrendously bad for road building and, if you calculate using the actual numbers of $1.65b and 27 km, you get $60m/km, so the hardest possible new road is three times more expensive than the cheapest possible four laning.

          Victoria *did* build roads like that, like we did from Pokeno to Hampton Downs, we don’t do that anymore because if you have any impact at those speeds then you die, and it’s pretty much impossible to get the 30m+ wide corridor that you need to build it. It’s usually as cheap to grade separate.

          Either do 1+1 or 2+1 with roundabouts at major intersections where you can’t build a grade separation, or build a proper motorway/expressway.

        3. Ok sure, I don’t know anything particular about those projects and had assumed the flat bit was easy, the mountain one hard, and the swamp one hard…

          I’m not sure where you are getting 27km from, the existing road is 19km, is the proposed alignment really 50% longer than the current highway? If so, wouldn’t that erode any time savings from a faster road?

          Having seen the insane level of cut, fill and structure required for Puhoi to Warkworth, and looking at the terrain from Warkworth to Wellsford, I remain skeptical that there difference would be so slight. Do bear in mind I’m talking of more like an 80km/h design speed here, just grade separated, four laned and with a median… not to the same 120km/h standard they design the motorways too.

        4. I got 27km fromthe same place you got $1.4-$1.9b, here:

          The current route Warkworth to Te Hana is 23.7 km.

          Please let me know how you would four lane the existing road through Dome Valley, and let me know how you would raise it to 80km/h design standard.

          To be clear; I don’t want this section built. I’d send $100m on major safety works, $100m on a 2+1 Wellsford bypass and $100m on a 2+1 Te Hana bypass.

        5. Well by cutting back the batter on the hill side by ten metres, and either reshaping the batter or retaining it. Either that or fill and compact the other side, well in all likelyhood both, cut back some bits and use it to build up others. And yes, do curve easements and remove reverse curves at the same time.

          The earthworks and structures required for that would be tiny in comparison to what they have planned. For example look at the plans for Puhoi to Warkworth, check out the long sections. They are cutting a swathe 40m wide and up to 50m deep through some mountains, and filling in whole valleys, while building eight viaducts. Widening an existing road by 10m and straightening the worst curves would be a fraction of the cost. For Warkworth to Wellsford, I’ve been told it’s even more dififcult to build the motorway.

          I think we’re talking about much the same thing here. I’m saying build a couple of town bypasses, add in wire medians along the length, straighten a little and eventually make it all 2+2.

        6. I’d encourage you to drive it (or preferably be a passenger) and inspect how much earthwork it would actually take to achieve what you are proposing, all next to live traffic lanes. I could see two or three short passing lanes but not much more ever being feasible.

        7. Oh I’ve driven it innumerable times, used to live in Whangarei while the family was in Auckland!

          I’m not saying its an small job, but the alternative motorway is an absolutely friggin massive mega job.

        8. Also I might note I was in Colombia last year where they have done something similar with the highway west out of Bogota, which crosses three branches of the Andes.

          It’s a similar situation, fifteen years ago the had a programme of building a freeway but got about one tunnel and one viaduct in before the money ran out. Over the last decade and a half they’ve been steadily widening, straightening and improving the highway. Sure it still has a hell of a lot of curves, but it’s four lanes with a median the whole way now.

        9. Well that would be the place to start, then more passing lanes, then get to two each way eventually.

    2. Real Matthew – Napier to Taupo “third world” ??! Come on – hardly! Its a bloody good well engineered highway. Used to be crap back in the 1940s, but neither of us are old enough to remember that! Much improved in the 80s and 90s for all the logging trucks. You want 3rd world? These are true 3rd world potholes:

  14. Words fail me other than to say good detective work Matt L.

    It is at this moment that one appreciates that Simon Bridges is a figurehead for monstrosity that is the MOT and NZTA. No doubt with Steven Joyce beavering away behind the scenes with his Minister for Infrastructure hat on. Steven Joyce’s role reflects the maneuvering during the recent cabinet reshuffle to get himself back behind the figurative steering wheel of transport. Really for the future of New Zealand, the government has to change.

    But more importantly now; the MOT/NZTA has to be taken apart to destroy the culture that currently resides there and the reach of the high level corporate vested interests that bypass political process. Devolution of roading to the regions perhaps to temper roading interests’ access to the money jar? And access into treasury and the banking sector. Re-direction of central government RUCs and excise tax money could be the sort of cash-flow fill-up that income-starved rural district councils really need to do real road maintenance, real road improvements and real road safety programmes.

  15. We know how adept this government is financially because they keep telling us this, but where is the investment in Auckland? The government is permitting about 70,000 immigrants each year and the majority settle in Auckland. And when I say Auckland its not Wellsford or Pokeno. And so the need for infrastructure is in Auckland. Where is the planning for the next piece of commuter rail post CRL?
    And what about support for probably the most important piece of infrastructure that we currently have? You guessed it- the point that most of these 70,000 people arrive through and more importantly the millions of visitors who pass through AIA. Where is the planning for the rapid transport link to a place that really matters?
    Sadly the country seems to be stumbling along buoyed predominantly by our immigration policy and the same old export philosophy that we have always had. Perhaps its little wonder that our transport policies have not advanced any.

    1. “Where is the planning for the next piece of commuter rail post CRL?”

      All in AT’s court of course. Government completely incapable of making fit for purpose infra for cities.

      1. Why should the government be doing any planning for local councils, it should be up to the council to decide what they want and if necessary apply for government funding. AT don’t seem capable of deciding what big project they want to do next so how do they expect funding from government.

  16. The Nats while supporting their mates in the trucking industry have created another monster with RoNs, that needs to be fed. They’ll never be able to say “Ok we seem to have made enough motorways and big roads now” once there’s a four lane highway from the cape to the bluff they’ll find a case for making it six lanes….. NZTA taking care of business hmmmmmmmmm

  17. It’s interesting and a shame that upgrading the Napier to Hastings expressway doesn’t feature. It’s been built with long sweeping curves as if it was a four lane road (future proofing), but currently is only two lanes. So minimal passing opportunities due to poor sight lines due to long sweeping curves. NZTA reports that it carried 23,859 vpd and 7% heavy in 2015, so would seem to be a bit more deserving of upgrading than some of these other roads. It’s significantly busier than the Whangarei route.

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