This is a guest post by architect and our occassional Wellington correspondent Guy Marriage

The first section of the Kapiti Expressway opened on 24 February, at 4am, with little fanfare. As an immediate response to this implicit request, that induced me to make some more traffic by driving up and down the new road, just to see what it is like.
While the section opened up so far is long, from McKays Crossing just north of Paekakariki, stretching north over 20 km nearly to Otaki, it is also completely finished and the verges are well planted. Overall, of course, the Expressway has more to be done, both north (to bypass Otaki) and south (to connect into the Transmission Gully project, itself still many years away). But what has been built so far is well done, and no wonder: it was vastly expensive. It does not, of course, move traffic any faster overall, as it still has obstructions both north and south of it, but it does at least give the impression that one day it will free up traffic to drive smoothly up the coast. Certainly Ken Shirley and his mate Steven Joyce should be well happy.

There are two lanes, each way, with a wide shoulder each side and a continuous center barrier. It should see the accident rate come down : it appears to be well designed in terms of camber and curve, and as the main heavy traffic route into and out of the capital, the truckers will love it. The route has long, lazy, winding curves, rather than being straight as an arrow, and feels enjoyable to drive, rather than the previous bumpy, constricted, one lane road it was before.

What is interesting is that the places that used to cause the constriction before, like Paraparaumu and Waikanae, have completely disappeared. The road was designed to bypass them, and so it has: no trace of them remain. There is a sign pointing to an offramp of course, but due to the winding route and the roadside barriers there was no actual sign, at least not from the seat of my low-slung sedan. Truckers, obviously, will be able to see out over the top of the barriers, but I was surprised – there were moments when I was sure that we were probably going through a Kapiti Coast town, but due to the roadside barriers, I could see nothing.

In terms of urban design, I find the barriers pretty awful. No doubt they are highly functional, but as a series of disjointed concrete panels with minimal decoration (some lines running vertically) and varying heights, they do look a little like a children’s drawing. Perhaps that is the intention. Perhaps they actually were. Nonetheless, they work. I don’t see the town and the town doesn’t see me.

Building on this part of the coast is difficult as the land is sandy and marshy. Perfect for ancient Maori tribes to sit and catch and cook (the land of many many earth ovens), but less suited for building roads on. Millions and millions of tonnes of rock and shingle were moved and compacted to build this smooth raised highway, which meant deep digging down into the subsoil to remove the marshy, sandy topping. No doubt, technologically it is a marvel, and the roading industry will give itself rewards for their cleverness, but ecologically it has been rather savage, and will have destroyed the natural drainage patterns in the area. The good thing is that the roading designers have recognized this and have built up an elaborate series of waterways surrounding the road, with marshy ponds and overflow channels well supplied on either side. The marshes are extremely well planted – there are several million new bits of flora installed and growing happily in the elaborate landscaping. The local wildlife is also loving it – evident by, sadly, the bodies of at least 6 dead Pukeko on the road in one small area and this just from the first day. It’s not easy to train a Pukeko to keep off the road, but at this rate, the obviously healthy local population of moor hens will be considerably smaller before long.

A continuous cycle trail is present, visible through the landscaping, and already utilized by the local school kids coming home a new way home from school. A cycle / pedestrian bridge oversails the road at one point, long, thin, black, and somewhat sophisticated, but mostly the bridges are just simple, straightforward and modern, with none of the elaborate patterning seen on Auckland motorway cuttings lately. I’m glad for that – simple is better – and as yet there is no graffiti. There is really only one decorated feature on the trip – a prow of a small hillock, which the road snakes around, almost cutting it off but not quite – its concrete panels carved with tribal patterns, no doubt referring back to days gone by when it would have had a more significant local role as a landmark. The decoration makes a pleasant change from the greenery, but it is the only feature of any significance on this road of supposed National Significance.

Overall then, the road is fine. The trip is pleasant. The time taken is shorter but it won’t really be evident for many years yet till the works at the southern end are completed. The cost is enormous, the value, as yet, unknown.

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  1. Thanks for the lovely post Guy. I enjoyed reading your thoughtful prose while changing planes in Singapore, and you made the experience that much more pleasant. I hope this road delivers value in addition to cost, but I fear it won’t.

    1. Thanks Stu for your kind comment. Actually, I have driven on it again since I wrote this piece, and despite me saying that “I don’t see the town and the town doesn’t see me” I can report that the towns are visible in some parts. But mostly very well hidden behind either rolling hillock/sand-dunes, or (presumably) behind the concrete barrier walls. However some people have already complained about the increased noise – and in a way it is not surprising, as if you look at the aerial maps of the projects, it is passing very close to existing residential areas.

      The project has an interesting (and complex) gestation. Talked about for years, it was only when the community had decided on the Western Link Road solution, that Mr Joyce stepped in and said “No, we’ll do an expressway instead”. Others may know more about the politics of this – I never could quite understand the details on this. It was a minefield – and now? Seems to be accepted?

      1. Otaki bypass expressway (called PP2O) starts mid 2017 and will cut inland of Otaki township behind the Racecourse somewhere. Meanwhile Transmission Gully is what will most speed things up and is still under construction by Leightons. Tragically whilst there are scores of skilled workers laid off from the Kapiti Expressway the Government allowed TG to import 50 Filipino laborers in to take jobs off Kiwis

        (-after M2PP Kapiti Expressway staff were laid off)

        Don’t worry Steve Joyce. The elections in September are not far away and Kiwis remember.

        1. And you have evidence the Filipinos took work off Kiwis or are you making stuff up?
          Judging by the number of Kiwis on the dole, there are a lot who don’t want to work. Hence the need to import foreign workers.

  2. It is definitely going to make it much quicker and easier for residents of Waikanae Beach to pick up their takeaways from Paraparaumu. Can you really put a price on being able to get back home with your Hell Pizza still warm?

    1. Hell yeah; hot takeaways are the sort of high value manufacturing we need to keep the economy ticking along ;).

  3. Walking along it, the landscaping is still a bit messy, and weed strewn and I guess bedding in. In a few years it will be better. As a pedestrian it was remarkably quieter than I expected with only motorcycles causing annoyance as they always do. The bike path connectivity to the street network could be improved in places. As a motorist it is quick (and the rushhour zip merge at Paekak must get blocked up pretty easily). The benefits to the old route are obvious with the let up of the traffic. No longer taking 25 minutes to get from Waikanae to Coastlands on a Saturday morning for instance.
    I think the overtaking lane southbound on the old SH1 north of Waikanae that cost $4,000,000 five years ago has proven to be pissed away money. What’s the point of it now? So on the whole it’s been reasonably well done, but wasteful in places and we don’t really need billboards with the local member and a National Party logo at either end telling us it was him responsible with his own personal cash. The real failures of this approach will only become apparent when Transmission Gully is delivering awful gridlock in Welly in 2020. And the 3 billion cost for a 900 million road for Transmission Gully drags on the public accounts.

    Anyone want to sit in the queue behind the Otaki roundabout on the evening before Good Friday and ponder why they live in Wellington?

  4. Have heard very positive things about this piece of roading from my friends in Wellington

    The writer mentions the cost was enormous. What was the cost for this road?

    1. $630 million, which means for briefest of periods it gets to occupy pole position as the countries most expensive competed transport project.

        1. Interesting…. Much crowing about delivering it months early. Nothing said publicly about the Government getting a refund.
          I’m not sure, but I think that Fletchers do not have the contract for Transmission Gully, that has gone to someone else.

          Interesting snippet about Transmission Gully (so-called because of the high voltage wires north through here): once the new highway is in, they have to move the transmission wires out. Not sure who pays for the zillions to do that work. Also: it’s a gully because it is a earthquake fault-line. So, massive amounts of anti-landslide work to be done.

        2. So in the future it will be called Motorway Gully and there will be years of discussion about putting powerlines through there.

        3. The transmission lines are already gone – that was one of the first bits to be done. That line is now underground from Paraparaumu to Pauatahanui substations. The stream that comes out of Transmission Gully is called the Wainui Stream, so perhaps it could be called the Wainui Gully Motorway instead? Though there will be lots of Transmission lines still visible along the route even with the namesake line removed.

        4. @Bruno: They didn’t underground any lines; they removed them completely. Transpower converted Paraparaumu substation to 220kV and connected it by two short (~1km) transmission lines east to the nearby Bunnythorpe-Haywards 220kV lines instead.

        5. Wainui Str runs in a separate gully to Transmission. The stream only seems named at the Porirua end -Horokiri

    2. Yes, it means it costs about $35 million per km, which is considerably more than normal (I’m guessing, due to the swamp they had to remove first to get the road through). An interesting side effect so far seems to be: worse traffic jams in the morning at the south end of it. Basically, people are now able to start their traffic jam earlier. Traffic jams 10km long (at least) twice this week from Paekakariki through to Porirua.

      Come the day that it is connected to Transmission Gully, those traffic jams will then transfer a little bit further down the line to the Linden/Tawa area.
      And, of course, eventually will transfer to Wellington itself if they ever do something as stupid as build a second Terrace Tunnel in Wellington.

      1. the old road is very quiet now. perhaps it can be traffiv calmed. assume the ratepayers will pick up the tab for maintaining the old road too?

        1. Actually, good point. Hadn’t thought of that. The old road now is massively too large for what the locals need for doing their shopping, but I don’t suppose the actual area of tarmac will be reduced?

          What is quite noticeable already is that the businesses in Paraparaumu and Waikanae are suffering (well, those near the old main road are). It’s to be expected I guess – Burger King in Paraparaumu has already closed down (a couple of months ago) as they could see the writing on the wall for their business. But the little small retailers will be suffering badly, and presumably many of them will go under. Like the old saying: you live by the offramp, you die by the offramp.

        2. One issue with NZTA’s new found enthusiasm for cycle amenity is to ask whether it would be better on the old route, visiting every town, rather than the new bypass?

          It is problematic that NZTA claims benefits to the old route (traffic reduction on local roads) without ever investing in banking those benefits, which is to say that they never fund traffic calming nor Transit or Active improvements to the old route, they simply hand over what is often an unsafe and always a mono-modal road to the local authority.

          I can’t see how they can bank such benefits without actually making them real. And this must come out of the budget of the new route.

      1. Nice post Guy – has saved me the need to come to Wellington to check it out – but some time I will come, not so much for the motorway itself as to assess for myself, what this intrusive engineering has done to Waikanae (the place) itself. I believe that not all the locals are happy especially if their properties were compromised.

        1. Certainly not worth coming here to check this out at this stage – although last weekend it seemed as if most of Wellington drove out to inspect it for themselves. Massive amounts of traffic going north, and then presumably, trying to find a place to do a U-turn before they hit Levin.

          Be warned: there is nowhere to do a U-turn before Levin.

        2. There are plenty of places to turn around before Levin,

          The most obvious id the round about at Otaki, simple to do a full U turn,

          You could also cross over to school road at Te Horo and then turn back south

        3. Some clue whether it is intrusive or not is from the alternate name, Sandhills Expressway. Cuts through former sand dunes mostly then north of Waikanae drops down into swamp land. In certain conditions just south of Peka Peka these wet areas cause radiation fog.

  5. Great post, thank you. There’s good reason for this project. I’ve driven out of Wellington on a long weekend and the traffic coming back in to Wellington was absolutely horrendous – much worse than anything I’ve seen in Auckland – the queue just kept going. Even outside of that time the roadway in is dangerous and woefully behind the times.

    1. Ben Paul – it’s not quite as simple as that as a justification for the road. My take on it is that there are two crucial pinch points on the current route – a one lane road from Paekakariki to Pukerua – that causes a clog on the route in – and the main road at Otaki – clogging things up on the route out of town. Those are the real reasons for the new road.

      1. Exactly, and those issues cause the traffic congestion that I described at those times…I’m not under a spell that that’s the only reason for it though…

  6. Is this government wanting to build a 4 lane highway between Whangarei and Wellington?
    If so what will be better?
    Highway between Whangarei and Wellington, that being the ability to move freight quicker, and have safer highways, I don’t see any other reason.
    Or the ability to move people within a city, especially to work and back?

    1. There’s already a highway between Whangerei and Wellington; it’s rather underutilised, almost entirely dedicated to freight, does not see much traffic, and could take hundreds of longdistance trucks off the road. It’s called the railway.

  7. I’d much rather see the money go towards bypassing and cutting the corners rather than anything else.

  8. I’m surprised that they haven’t publicly planned for bypasses of Levin, Foxton, and Sanson.

    Even with the NZTA’s piecemeal approach to very large and expensive projects, their absence seems strange.

    1. levin would be easy enough to bypass using sh57 and upgrading tavistock & koputaroa roads or hatherlea rd. no doubt they will find a more expensive option of a completely new bypass road instead.

        1. Likewise the thriving metropolis of Sanson could be bypassed using a widened/upgraded speedys and fagan roads but that won’t make as much money for Fulton hogan so a completely new road there too.

        2. Surely the Honourable Member wouldn’t say No to the convenience of a high speed Expressway on their doorstep? It would be Nationally Significant of course – must be ever so desirable!

    1. I certainly hope not. Transmission Gully will be bloody steep in parts, and it would be a killer on a bike. Much better path to take your bike would be to stay on the Kapiti Coast Rd – it’s flat, and the scenery is better, and there may even be less traffic. Maybe.

    2. Of course, loss of traffic on the Coast Rd is assumed by NZTA, but by no means definite. As the new road will be so much steeper (but 2-3 lanes wide), I’m picking that all the cars will take the new road, but that the heavy laden trucks will stay on the old, narrow, flat Coast Road. Hills are hard on engines and gearboxes. Truckers will go the most simple route they can, but only as long as it doesn’t kill their truck.

      1. Looking at some contour maps shows the saddle on Transmission Gully to about 290m. Compared to max height of the Rimutaka Hill at 555m. A rough distance from the Paraparamu end – the steepest run- gives 3.75km to the saddle The gradient comes out to be 7.3% overall, if my numbers are OK. For a motorway 4% ( 1 in 25)is seen as max usable with 5% for short distances. To get it within 5% seems unobtainable without starting the climb up back before from Mckays crossing
        Of course its not merely an inland run to Porirua, there is a leg that continues around to the existing motorway near Tawa. That is what will attract the trucks a continuous 4 lane route all the way into Wellington.

        1. Duker – what we’ve been told so far is that the hill climb to the saddle will be as steep as Ngauranga Gorge, but three times as long. I’m guessing that may put a few people off.
          But traffic will of course even itself out. If there is more traffic on one route, people will just switch to the other route.

  9. And here’s the No1 problem with the Kapiti Expressway/Transmission Gully/RoNS road-fest: It does nothing to reduce traffic volumes and car-dependency overall. Surely reality has taught us by now that these are necessary goals. Planet-wide, the concept of universal car-usage for the majority of journeys is an absolute no-go. We in certain corners of the developed world have got away with it up to now, but as the above article on car-dependency points out, it is not a healthy option, socially, economically, or environmentally.
    The RoNS approach is worsening the problem. Further-entrenching over-dependency. It will worsen, not solve traffic issues in Wellington. Everyone knows this including the promoters, but no-one has an answer. With this wonderfully-engineered and efficiently delivered roading marvel, we are actually painting ourselves more-and-more into a corner, and closing-off the escape routes. This will be the legacy of the Hon Steven Joyce.

    1. Couldn’t have said it better myself. If the new road actually does work, it automatically spells doom for the excellent train system we have at present. In a way, the more congested the roads are, the better the PT options perform. Conversely the better the road becomes, the worse the PT will work (in terms of paying passengers). Joyce’s theory is that this is just market choice working.

      1. If it’s market forces working, there needs to be a hefty toll set on the new road to recoup the money spent, plus service the interest over the payback period. Otherwise it’s a market-distorting subsidy. Might as well make the trains free!
        Welcome to Planet Joyce.

        1. a small amount relative to the ron spend up would make a huge improvement to the train services. half a billion would probably get all double track and electrified to otaki.

        2. Otaki ?. Its double track to Waikane ( or just before), doubt of there is the passenger traffic from Otaki.

        3. It’s single track between Pukerua Bay and Paekakariki, and that’s where the bottleneck is. KiwiRail has spent a lot of money enlarging the tunnels for freight and increasing track speeds, but it’s still there, as Kapiti Line commuters know when they have to wait for a freight train slowly climbing the hill, or when one breaks down.

          But NZTA forecasts that the completion of Transmission Gully will reduce train patronage by 25% compared with what it would have been, so in their world the problem will solve itself… (except for where the extra traffic will go when it gets to Wellington).

        4. Checking google maps aerial photos shows a small section single tracked from Brendans beach north of Pukerua to the Kapukapuariki Rocks south of Paekakariki, some 3km. Its another 3.3km to Paekakariki Station.
          That narrow strip goes to show how vulnerable Wellington is to earthquake triggered coastal landslips as happened North and South of Kaikoura. Obviously the inland road route gives options there but maybe some sort of landslip shelters for those parts of the single track rail not in tunnels are required

        5. There is obvious landslip vulnerability, but the most pressing issue is one of capacity and reliability. If money is going to be spent on landslip shelters (noting that there haven’t been that many slip-related incidents in the 130 years since the line opened, on its current alignment except for one tunnel bypassed because of earth movements, and in a major quake I suspect that the line would be likely to collapse onto the road below), to my mind it would be better spent by including double tracking. Proposals in the past included tunnelling through the hill, but no landslip shelters (AFAIK).

        6. Duker and Mike – but as the single train track is much much narrower than even the narrow two-lane road, it is obviosly the road itself that is more susceptible to slips than the actual train track. As Mike notes above – the track does not get blocked by slips often, while the road gets blocked by slips more often – and blocked by crashes about once a week or more.

          Interestingly, the new Transmission Gully route (being down the line of an earthquake fault) is far more likely to be hit by landslides, which is why it is costing $850 million – they have to do a lot of landslide avoidance ie making hillsides safe by shaving them and retaining them.

    1. Ha ! That supposed 9 minute saving – has now turned into a severe headache. Morning trips now take twice as long…!

      “Commuters from as far north as Waikanae used to start driving into Wellington at 6am and take at least 20 minutes to get through Paraparaumu because they were being held up by traffic lights along the way, she said. That was no longer a problem, meaning traffic from all parts of the Kapiti Coast was now converging on SH1 south of Mackays Crossing a lot earlier, and at the same time, which was clogging up the highway into Wellington. The backlog alongside Queen Elizabeth Park, which used to be a minor inconvenience, now regularly stretched back a couple of kilometres.”

      Obviously, yes, that will happen until the Transmission Gully route opens up in several years time – because there is still a road blockage in place at Paekakariki and then again at Mana/Pauatahanui roundabout. As is fairly obvious, all it has done is move the blocking point to the next obstruction. People get to the jam quicker. So – in future, when the T Gully route IS open – will that solve the congestion?

      Well, no. The next jam point will be the Terrace Tunnel – there is a jam there each morning. So, is the answer to double the Terrace Tunnel – build a second tunnel? Again, no, all that will do is shift the blockage forward again – right into the city. Congestion is a battle you just can’t win by building more roads…

      1. You beat me to it!
        So another RoNS fail. Tauranga’s Eastern LInk doesn’t have congestion problems because it is empty while in complete contrast, Kapiti Expressway taking more normal commuter traffic has turned into a ClusterF__k of traffic congestion. As Guy M has rightly pointed out, Transmission Gully is going to shift the congestion to the south, look out bottom of the Ngauranga Gorge where Hutt Valley, Newlands/Tawa/Porirua and Kapiti Coast traffic converge. If you think MOT/NZTA/Moar Roads Inc are worried about the political fall-out from the congestion from when SH20 is completed to Waterview, you ain’t seen nothing yet compared to the mess that awaits Wellington.
        So, who is going to analyze these projects post completion? Who is going to take responsibility when the numbers are proven to not stack up? They will be very big numbers…..

        1. Yet the answer is still the same: give us more billions, cos the next road will fix it. yeah right. Seriously this has to be the most fraudulent discipline in the history of modern institutions… The more they fail, and at such huge cost, the more public money they demand, and get. And this is them failing on their on terms, which are so seriously limited, in no way accounts for the wider picture.

          Basically NZTA should have just handed out free rail passes to anyone who wants them and improved the service, would have saved everyone a fortune, cos of course there is no end to ‘the next one’; as their plan is only to flood urbane Wellington with shedloads of place ruining traffic, which will ‘require’ ever more appalling expensive and destructive work there too. Ad Infinitum.

  10. Hmm, the photos above appear to have been taken from a drivers seat on the highway, travelling at speed. I am guessing from a mobile phone. A great example of road safety. well done. On the matter of the southbound early morning congestion at Mckays Crossing that has plagued motorists ever since the expressway opened, it seems that NO ONE is actually considering doing something to alleviate it. In the press a few days ago some NZTA manager commented that the congestion had already been factored in and that nothing could be done till the transmission guly section as opened. That, if true is completely unacceptable. There are at the moment no gains at all for early morning southbound traffic. There is at least a 1 km queue at 6.25 am most mornings, where you could previously just about get through the bottle neck without much delay at that hour. Has no one even considered a temporary and very cost effective solution, that is used in other countries. Pacing traffic out with longer following distances much earlier by the use of chevrons painted on the road surface, drivers keep the nose to tail distance. the chevrons are staged to create the ‘merge like a zip’ positions At least a KM out from where the two lanes reduce to one. And simple signs, reducing the speed much further out., and requesting driver begin creating a gap. This reduces the concertina effect. While slower earlier on, it at least keeps drivers from racing up to the logjam, and jockeying for position right at the very end. It’s simple and common sense. Something that seems lost on everyone. A few gallons of paint and a couple of road signs. It’s not hard. Do it!

  11. The road does look good, but the sound engineering leaves a lot to be desired. No sound absorbing material was used and noise bounces off of the concrete walls and spreads throughout the district. In other places there are no noise barriers and people are having trouble sleeping. The noise standards for the expressway are much less stringent than usual residential standards, so not surprisingly people are disturbed.

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