It’s been a crazy few weeks, and the last week especially since the launch of our Regional Rapid Rail, which has been quickly adopted by both Labour and the Greens. I think it’s fair to say that we’ve been blown away by the level of support out in the general public for the idea. We knew it would be popular but it seems this has been another level entirely.

But with opposition parties quickly jumping on to support the idea it has meant the government has quickly shifted on to the defensive. This includes deliberately misrepresenting what is proposed and claiming it will kill rail freight. This came after being less hostile to the idea initially when he said

However, Mr Bridges said he was supportive of exploring the options.

“What it requires is a business case process that works through the numbers and the details.

This is a shame as we would have no objection to them also using the idea, or even just promising to investigate it properly.

The comment about needing a business case that stacks up is quite relevant given the new batch of Roads of National Significance announced the other day. One of those happens to be an extension of the Puhoi-Wellsford road all the way up to Whangarei. A summary of the project is provided in the “fact sheet” that accompanied the announcement:

There’s no doubt this is a really massive project. It’s around 83 km from Wellsford to Whangarei, over double the length of the 38 km Puhoi to Wellsford RoNS that has a cost that probably will probably exceed $2 billion once fully completed.

Just a two weeks ago the NZTA started discussing this very corridor as it ties in with the plans announced a while ago to four lane SH1 from Warkworth to the Marsden Point turnoff. When I first heard about that project I went looking on the NZTA website for information and found the business case they did recently on the whole corridor between Whangarei and Auckland.

There is a summary of the business case, which outlines the options analysis process that was undertaken:

All the options, other than 2 and 6, are really expensive and all the options appear to struggle to deliver value for money with a BCR above 1. The recommended programme, with a Benefit Cost Ratio that barely scrapes over 1, is a mix of upgrades – some online, some offline, some section of four-laning but other areas of more minor upgrades:

The struggle to deliver value for money, even from this targeted option, isn’t that surprising when you see that only 6 minutes is saved along the whole corridor. Compare this against the 40 minute time savings delivered by the Waikato Expressway (along a much busier corridor too!).

Yet, it seems like National’s RoNS announcement is a larger investment than the recommended programme in the business case. Probably more like the “ONRC option”. So a cost of $2.1-3.2 billion and a BCR barely reaching a 50c return for every dollar spent.

I then thought I’d dig into the business case for a bit more detail. It’s linked from the project’s main page, is the first response in a google search and was available just last week:

Mysteriously though, the document is gone. Given recent history on transparency issues, it’s hard not to see a little bit of a conspiracy on the issue, but fortunately Google cache has saved the business case (albeit without the images) so we can take a look at some of its key findings. Especially in relation to the higher investment options:

So at the early phase of options analysis it was already clear the larger scale options were struggling to provide value for money. Various levels of further refinement were undertaken, before the preferred programme was developed. Crucially, this analysis highlighted that four-lane expressway simply could not be justified within the next 30 years:

Yep, that’s NZTA’s analysis saying a four-lane expressway is not warranted within the next 30 years and cannot deliver value for money. I’m sure this conclusion has nothing to do with the business case being pulled off the NZTA website in the past week. I wonder if any of the other new RoNS are in the same position?

Given his own agency have said that what he’s proposed is not viable, I’m sure we’ll be hearing from Bridges soon to wind back the promise of four lanes to Whangarei.

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  1. The National Party can be expected to try to make itself look good at election time, but NZTA has no excuse for playing election politics games. They are supposed to be independent.

    This is dirty politics, and disgusting. It’s not what NZers expect. I hope with the media’s attention on GA at present, that this will be picked up by mainstream media and exposed to the country for what it is.

  2. Did I see also a proposal to bypass the Brynderwyn pass, considering hundreds of millions are already been thrown into improving the existing highway?

    1. You did, and if you believe the rumours around here it was all done to service a large gated development at the top of the hills. Meanwhile the proposed route simply destroys another beautiful valley adjacent to the existing road.

      1. Now that they’ve invested so heavily on the northern side, fixing the southern side seems more logical than a bypass. And the view as you get over the crest is hard to beat.

  3. This is shocking. Destroying information to cover for politically-driven spending decisions is a very bad thing.

    1. After hearing about the Dunedin hospital upgrade being a PPP, I wonder if the proposed $10b roads are going to be more PPP and tolls?
      Does anyone know if there is any mention of tolls on any of the RONS named?

  4. Six minute travel time improvement? Let’s not forget that this is illusory, too, because NZTA do not accept that the road will create any new trips – they ignore swathes of international research on induced traffic. If National push ahead with this road, they will be both wasting our money and causing all the negative social and environmental consequences of the road without any positive flip side to justify them.

    1. Extra trips will happen but not much more than you’d expect through normal growth. There may be a slight increase in ‘long distance’ commuting but this would be minimal.

      1. What do you base this on, Bryce? I’d imagine you’d do some pretty good analysis, and I’d like to see it. As I understand it, every extension to the motorway system has encouraged more long distance commuting, long distance shopping, and holiday house living. In rural low vpd situations, the induced traffic takes longer to occur, but it still occurs. This road may be an exception to the laws of road congestion; there are many other factors involved. But we don’t know based on NZTA’s analysis, do we? When comparing the scenarios with and without the road, NZTA do not allow a change in land use or in person-trips. The change in these things is set as null, by definition. That does not allow for a proper analysis.

        1. One of the main benefits is supposed to be growth.
          Does NZTA expect the region to grow without an increase in vehicle numbers from increased fright, business trips, commuters, tourists, holidaymakers, locals etc.??
          Or is the growth going to be very very minimal such that we don’t need the highway at all?
          Or are we magically going to get the benefit of all this growth without the consequences of increased traffic?
          You can’t have it both ways!

        2. in that there is a 30 year time frame in the assessment, I wonder what is going to happen with our carbon reductions ti the road transport numbers. There does not seem to be any thought or calculations on this factor. Certainly the government does not seem to be talking about it.

  5. I’m outraged that NZTA should appear to be colluding with one political party in removing “embarrassing ” material from its website. Shame on you NZTA. We deserve, nay require, better.

    1. Stu, sarcasm is very difficult to portray via text, can you please expand on this comment? Do you mean to be sarcastic, or are you suggesting there is a legitimate reason for this business case being removed? Genuine question. Thanks

  6. I’d love to see how the National Party speaker defends this mess at the CBT debate tonight.

    I can’t imagine a single credible line of defence.

    1. Thanks Harriet. I know it’s not easy, but please push for an urgent OIA response. This mess needs to be clarified before the election.

      Transparency and good governance in our key public institutions is too important to be subject to the whims of the political needs of the day.

  7. “Gosh,” said Julian. “I wonder where Old Man English hid the secret plans for the new expressway,”
    Dick was silent as he rummaged around the old oak desk. Dust floated up in the air. Suddenly he exclaimed loudly and held up some musty old papers.
    “Look, Julian!” said Dick. “The Wellsford Whangarei Business Case.”
    They put the papers down on the desk and leafed through them quickly.
    At length, Julian spoke.
    “That rascal! Look at this benefit cost ratio. Less than one.”
    “I know,” agreed Dick. “We must stop him.”

    excerpted from Blyton, E. “The Mystery of the Wellsford Whangarei Business Case”

    1. “Gosh” exclaimed Stuart, while polishng off his morning coffee.
      “I look forward to the next instalment.”

  8. Where does all of this proposed traffic inducing road building leave NZs commitments under the Paris Accord….. Can’t see us delivering the required cuts in emissions by 2030. Sustainability seems to be a dirty word!

    1. I asked my local National MP, Melissa Lee, what progress towards the Paris commitments the NZ government has made, saying I was interested specifically in the numbers; the records of measurements made. That was in March. She didn’t even deign to register receipt of my email.

      The Power Thesaurus gives 85 synonyms for “lip service”.

      1. Keep trying Heidi! Go and meet her personally, you’re entitled to. The government spends $12m annually on climate change measurement and advice. That must be at least 60 people in MfE collecting data, analysing it, and providing climate change policy advice. But where is that advice, and what happened to it? Just three new reviews (the interminably ongoing ETS review, the new request for advice on domestic emissions reductions, and the Productivity Commission review).

        1. OK, I’ve just sent her a follow up email, and will find an opportunity to report back in a relevant post sometime, if there’s anything to say.

    2. Melissa Lee has replied today. She hadn’t received my first email, probably due to problems with forwarding between email addresses. I believe her: these MPs usually have good communications systems. Her reply mentioned:

      1/ $200 million in international aid for climate-related support, most of which will benefit Pacific island countries.

      2/ the Energy Innovation (Electric Vehicles and Other Matters) Amendment Bill … [to] help encourage the uptake of electric vehicle usage … [and] promote new ways of encouraging energy innovation and reducing emissions in our country

      3/ a strong commitment towards one in three cars in the Government fleet being electric vehicles by 2021

      4/ the development of innovative urban cycleways in our towns and cities.

      She will try to find details about how the government is measuring progress towards meeting its Paris commitments, and how they are tracking. It may take a while to get this information, so I”ll try to choose a relevant post to fill you in with further information if she does supply me with some.

      1. Good work Heidi. If you do get sufficient details I would be keen to read a blog post about the measures and how we’re tracking against them.

      2. Melissa has now given me the link to New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1990–2015:

        A fair bit to read there. There is also a summary available:

        I doubt I’ll have time to write a post before the election, so if any of you would like to critique it, go for it! But let me know and I’ll knock it off my lengthy “posts to write” list…

  9. This location would seem a classic example of where the Swedish style 3 lane (2+1) road with wire rope safety barrier would give an excellent safety outcome at modest cost. At say $10 million/km that would come in at around $800 million.

    And the cost… At $3.2 billion that is almost $20K for every man, woman and child in the Northland. It will not stop their economy shrinking either, because there is no traffic congestion stopping exports. Only on weekends. Cheaper to give every household $50K, and much more effective. Or upgrade every school with more staff and buildings.

    1. For $3.2b you are probably better to just pay people to leave small towns in Northland and buy any failing farms to convert to plantation forestry.

  10. Every time I hear that NZTA is building a new road to save lives I think -“yeah right!” Recently deaths due to non use of car restraints has increased from about 57 per year to over 90. Alcohol remains a huge killer on the roads. It won’t Both of these problems can be fixed by the spending of way less than 10.2 billion dollars. I wonder what the economic return to the country would be?

    1. Ok, so for this project they are looking at spending 2 billion and will save 6 minutes + maybe around 6 lives a year.
      2 billion spent on targeted road safety improvements like realigning corners, improved intersections, median barriers, + road safety programs, education etc. could potentially save 50-60 lives a year? or more?
      So does this mean that a minute of travel time saved is worth about 10 lives?
      Has anyone in National done this math?!
      Are there people in the National party who would rather spend billions of dollars to shave a few minutes off journey times rather than spend that money saving potentially 100s of lives?

      1. Indeed, from:

        “the Government-funded Warm Up New Zealand programme. They found that the programme had a 6:1 benefit-to-cost ratio for children and older people, and a 4:1 ratio overall. In other words, every dollar spent on insulation provided $4-6 worth of benefits, mainly by way of reductions in health expenditure because of fewer hospital stays and lower pharmaceutical costs. The programme also saved lives: one for every 1000 insulated houses.”

        I met a family lawyer this winter whose clients hadn’t slept all the previous night because they were too cold. They couldn’t pay their electricity bill. A family, with teenagers. It makes me cry.

        National MPs can do the sums. But they are hand in glove with the road construction industry, and as we have seen, NZTA is part of the happy triangle too. The only way I can justify their actions is by realising their ideology is what blinds them to their callousness.

        1. What we need is a change in government and a shake up of NZTA.
          NZTA need to be given the funding, ability and directive to fund all modes of land transport be it walking, cycling, rail, hopping skipping and motorized vehicles.
          They need to be given clear objectives in reducing the number of deaths and emissions in the transport sector. It needs to be made clear that Safety takes precedent over efficiency, growth, economic returns etc.
          We should then see things like regional rapid rail rise to the top of the list of projects to pursue as it will take cars off the roads saving lives and reducing emissions. Things like the 3rd rail would have been funded and built already.

      1. Yes. Yet another way we’ve become blind to the negative effects of traffic. Thanks for that link. It will be useful in a design I’m involved with where one of the “persistent challenges” that have initiated the design process are air quality issues.

  11. I would use the road as my dads bach is just 50 metres out of the photo. The benefits sound great so I will use it more. Mind you thinking more probably not that much more if it only saves six minutes. At least there will be no toll as there is no way anyone will pay money to save six minutes. Be interesting to see how much farmland would be lost building the road as another down side.

  12. And voters are expected to believe Labour will build a rapid rail system cheaper than any other country in the world. Yeah right.
    Who’s going to use these services? If the Helensville service several years back is an example; very few will use it.

    1. It would appear that there is circa $10bn available which would buy you a fairly comprehensive system. Being a little more serious I think the real demand would be the Hamilton, Huntley, Pokeno, Auckland corridor. The congested SH1 motorway to the south of Auckland shows that there is a huge demand for additional transport solutions and one person, one car just isn’t it.

    2. “Who’s going to use these services?”

      My girlfriend and I, my mum, my boss, my boss’s boss, my boss’s boss’s boss. You know, the same people that use the regional trains all over the world?

    3. I don’t see how $400m stage one then another $1.5b stage 2 for rapid trains is cheaper than any country in the world?

      Melbourne’s Regional Fast Rail project cost $750m ten years ago, so $1.9b is hardly cheaper than that.

  13. Sadly, NZTA”s business case evaluations do not put a value to the environmental impact of new roads. A case in point is where both options presented for the Brynderwyns Bypass (estimated at $450m to $730m to save 1 minutes travel time) either go through DOC land or through DOC identified Protected Natural Areas. Some of these areas contain endangered species. DOC had not been made aware of this before NZTA went public even though there is a public MOU between NZTA & DOC to collaborate on projects.
    Even NZTA said there were other alternatives including a road tunnel or running a route further West by the existing rail line. However, NZTA state these fall out of NZTA’s acceptable parameters.
    However, it is ok to destroy pristine nature reserves which local & overseas tourists come to see. Ironically, tourism is NZ’s largest export industry.
    The people affected by this bypass were notified at a public meeting on 15 August and only have until 12 September to respond.
    Oh and the election is on 23 September….
    All seems very smelly to me and it’s a shame the media aren’t aware of this.

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