Alongside adopting the Congestion Free Network as a cornerstone for their Auckland transport policy, Labour’s recent announcement was encouraging because they vowed to fundamentally reconsider the East West Link project:
Some lower-value projects would be also delayed and the cost of the East-West Link would be reduced by adopting an option with a better benefit-to-cost ratio, saving $1.2bn.
But what’s perhaps been most frustrating about the project from the start is that there are a series of really obvious, much smaller, improvements that could make a world of difference to the transport issues faced in this part of Auckland at a fraction of the cost and a fraction of the impact. This was well highlighted in earlier phases of the project’s business case and its options analysis. Cam took a good look at this back in December 2015.
In summary there were a bunch of different options compared in this phase:
The most viable options that were looked at in more detail were B and F. Option B was a major upgrade of Neilson Street, the Onehunga interchange and the addition of south-facing ramps to the southern motorway around the Southeastern Arterial motorway interchange:
Option F, by way of comparison, was largely based on a new route between SH20 and SH1 along the foreshore:
Option F formed the basis of NZTA’s further work in developing the project – even though it cost substantially more than Option B and generated less benefit. This is highly unusual and, as Cam’s post pointed out, completely goes against NZTA guidance on what are known as “incremental BCRs” (the value of further investment over and above a smaller project). Even crazier, as time has gone on the cost of Option F has increased as the challenges of building this route have become clear. This further pushes down the value for money offering of this oversize solution.
So what might an alternative option look like? Obviously “Option B” would be the clear place to start, focusing on improving Neilson Street (a pretty easy task given how wide this street is) and the motorway interchanges at each end. Smaller improvements like extending Galway Street seem like they would usefully take pressure off the Neilson Street/Onehunga Mall intersection – the key bottleneck in the area:
At the other end of the project, where it connects into State Highway 1, there is a clear need to provide south-facing motorway ramps between the Neilson Street/SE Highway and the Southern Motorway. The current project achieves this through huge ramps just south of the Mt Wellington Highway interchange:
An obvious alternative to this is to run some extra lanes alongside the Southern Motorway, as hinted at in this very early design option:
Up close some careful design and engineering would obviously be required, but it certainly seems feasible that a lane or two each way could be squeezed in along here, potentially even making better use of some of the more under-utilised parts of the Southeastern Highway.
You can tell by looking at some of the earlier work on the East West project that there was a genuine desire from NZTA to investigate in detail some of the smaller scale options. Yet for some reason over time that seemed to be overtaken by a push for the biggest, most expensive option that creates the greatest level of environmental impact. Depending on the outcome of the upcoming election, we may well yet see these ideas re-emerge.