The NZTA not building a Northwest Busway alongside the upgrades to State Highway 16 is already shaping up as one of the biggest in Auckland’s long and notable history of transport mistakes. While investigations have been underway since at least 2011, NZTA have continued to ignore the pressing need for this project in their work to progress this part of the Western Ring Route. This is even the case on the parts under construction right now, for which the NZTA appear to deliberately designed to make a busway harder to build later.

Last year with the publication of ATAP – which placed the busway firmly into the first decade as one of the highest priority projects – I was hopeful that NZTA had been dragged into line.


This was further confirmed in the update to ATAP that was released in August, which noted the following about the Busway:

We also know that an indicative business case is being progressed for this corridor. In June last year NZTA approved funding for the business case, with the following reasons behind their decision:

So just to recap, there is extremely clear direction from ATAP about the project’s inclusion in the first decade, there’s a clear direction from the update to ATAP that major investigation was a priority for the next three years and past decisions by the NZTA board that supported progressing the project’s business case. In addition, during the recent election both major parties supported a major public transport upgrade of this corridor, with only the preferred mode differing (national supporting a busway while Labour supported light-rail). I think we can call that a pretty clear consensus from both a political and technical level of the need for this crucial project.

Given all this, it would be an absolute no-brainer to see the Northwest Busway included in NZTA’s recently published draft 2018-21 State Highway programme for Auckland right? Well, hmmm….

The most they’ll say about the project is that they might add it to the list above list following more discussions and funding and delivery of the project, even though I understand they’ve formally taken the project over from AT.

It is almost as if the NZTA are once again deliberately trying to sabotage this project by trying to ignore it. They’ve been given a crystal clear direction from all the major strategic transport plans that this is a crucial project. Perhaps it’s that they’re so embarrassed by their past decisions to not construct the busway at the same time the motorway was upgraded that they are just hoping everyone will forget and the project will go away. After all, it’s likely that much of what they’ve only built and are building right now, especially the extensions of the NW cycleway, are going to have to be ripped up in a few years to make way for this project.

It’s worth noting that we have heard that the NZTA and AT were just about to go out to consultation on the project but then put it on hold due to the election. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard that they’re just about to consult so it’s become a case of “we’ll believe it when we see it”.

Come on NZTA, just get on with it.

What section gets built first?

While on the topic of the busway, looking again at the update to ATAP that was released in August, I noticed an interesting comment about the timing of the busway in a footnote.

ATAP had the Westgate to Te Atatu section of the Northwestern Busway in the first decade, and the Pt Chevalier to Newton section in the second decade. Subsequent business case work suggests focusing on the Newton to Pt Chevalier and Te Atatu to Lincoln Rd sections first to maximise value for money.

Building the city end part of the busway upfront makes a lot of sense as it could benefit not just buses to the Northwest but also PT on the inner west too, although we’ll still need a lot of capacity on Gt North Rd, especially with all the development going on along that route.

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  1. Thank you for doing the work – I have never studied the strength of the arguments for NZTA new investments but living on the North Shore and taking only occasional excursions south of the bridge it does seem screamingly obvious that a North West busway ought to have been built years ago and this discussion ought to be about extending it and inter-connections to it. However the case for a decent high speed rail going west has been avoided for 150 years so I’m not optimistic.

    If politicians and planners have a few moments to think, maybe while immobile on an overloaded motorway, they can look at the number of vehicles on the motorway that are carrying passengers who would be happier travelling to the CBD in comfort reading rather than hypnotized by the brake lights ahead. They might consider where is Auckland population growing and will continue to grow.

    The North Shore busway has been both a success and an example of what works and what doesn’t work. A busway will be expensive (grumbling North Shore taxpayer) but should easily pay for itself by reducing travel times and general reduction of congestion.

  2. As a 20yr plus veteran of the NW motorway this just f…s me off. Im sure NZTA & their contracting buddies see the NWM as the gift that keeps giving. I can well remember the widening of the causeway from 2 to 3 lanes in the early ’90s. Paritiki Rd overbridge in the early ’00s. The extension to Brigham Creek late in the ’00s. And since 2012 the Waterview to Lincoln Rd works. And it’s still going on with Royal Rd. And through all that work, all those Billions of dollars barely a cent for PT. It’s criminal. But don’t dispair the contractors will be back with their hand out to retrofit what should have been done in the 1st place. Heads should roll. But they won’t because holding people to account is not the kiwi way.

    1. Who’s heads? The ones making the decisions are elected by the people. Its our choice to make them roll every time an election comes around.

    2. Someone at NZTA needs to grow some balls and stand up to the ridiculous road obsessed, motorway driven political agenda and say no motorways are not the answer for Auckland – PT has been proven to be the solution in AKL. They are an embarrassment to themselves.

  3. Both NZTA and AT seem to feel a sense of entitlement and that they shouldn’t really have to answer to their political overseers.

    I reckon you’ve nailed it with this “Perhaps it’s that they’re so embarrassed by their past decisions to not construct the busway at the same time the motorway was upgraded that they are just hoping everyone will forget and the project will go away”. Except I can’t believe they are so stupid that they want it to do away completely. More likely ensure there’s a significant gap after current construction finishes so as to deflect the public outcry that would result if the broader population realized how wasteful they have been.

    I was talking to the PM for the Northern Corridor Project a few months ago and was told that this was being brought forward not pushed back.

    How can they programme 2nd decade ATAP priorities and ignore the #1 for the first decade?

  4. It is still miles ahead of where the Northern Busway was in its timeline. I think the Northern Busway was in the CTS Update in 1988. (it might have been in earlier documents too.) They finally opened it in 2008. 181/2 years of stuffing around and 18 months building.

  5. If I recall correctly the first mention of rapid transit along the northwestern was in the 96 land transport plan, so we’re a touch tardy even with that schedule as the benchmark.

      1. Kinda, I think that ran up the side of the Rosebank peninsula to the proposed pollen island port.

        But at one point there was a concept scheme for a regional light rail network (just pre-Britomart I think) that included a line along the Northwestern, as well as converting all the heavy rail lines to light rail and over to the shore, etc.

        Funnily enough the corridors that need rapid transit haven’t changed in the last 20 odd years, still having the same discussions.

        1. I can just about remember some of the buzz around that 1990s light rail scheme, before it all vanished without trace. It even rated a mention on Shortland Street at the time – sometime between the Toroa sinking and the truck that got driven through the front of the clinic, for anyone keeping track of great transport moments in New Zealand television drama.

  6. Maybe they have secret plans to do LR instead and want to surprise us all.

    Maybe the decision about which business case to fund should be taken out of NZTA’s hands.

    1. Yes and why not. perhaps not as pretty but centre run it probably elevated all they way down the motorway with stations accessible via walk/cycle over bridges, maybe where appropriate some small P&R’s where space next to the motorway lanes. This would require less land grab, maybe just slight narrowing or removal of some general traffic lanes. Perhaps the veteran commuters like Mr Plod above (car or otherwise) will actually be in favor of lane removal as they can see how adding them doesn’t really work long term anyway. Start on this work when the Northern Airport line is started so we have the Queen St etc end done to join to by then.

      1. I wouldn’t like to see park and ride on the NW busway. I don’t imagine we’re talking just a few dozen people at each station who’d get out of their cars for quality PT. The demand would be very high; there are so many disillusioned drivers who’ve witnessed all the “improvements” Mr Plod mentioned. The precious land near each station would need to be used for good bus and cycle infrastructure.

        Are you thinking elevated above traffic or just elevated slightly? I think elevated about 1.5m could look really good, and would give passengers a better view over the cars. Plus better connection to bridges.

        1. …I’m really behind in my GA emails… yes you are probably right, not really sure if P&R at all on the NW anywhere would be a good idea, certainly should be paid parking anyway. More like kiss’n ride nearby perhaps, but yes priority should be on walking, cycling & bus links or we will just create too much local traffic.

          Not sure about elevated height & couldn’t really see any examples overseas in a quick Google search that would match what we want. Do you know if elevating it would help with making breathing clean air easier too, I would think so?

          Was wondering if the GA CFN2 is ultimate thinking is more motorway alignment or on the Great North Rd etc where appropriate, report doesn’t mention that detail I think.

        2. I’ve been wondering about those two options too. The motorway is so low between Arch Hill and Pt Chevalier. Access to LR at that elevation is far more tricky. LR along GNR is a far better proposition for users (New North Rd should get it too.) But it would be more difficult politically, I’d imagine. Must keep the cars flowing!

        3. With plans for housing to go into the Unitec area & golf course IIRC & to give better catchment to both sides of the motorway, seems running down there is a good idea. Though down GNR would give nicer access/visual to Western Springs & MOTAT & the shopping areas. It would perhaps get in the way of buses that would still need to run down here also I guess. The speed & resilience of motorway running would sure be stronger. Not sure which would be easier politically as potentially loosing some motorway lanes would be a hard sell also.

        4. Which city road should NW Light Rail run down? The CFN 2.0 has it running down Queen Street, a Auckland Council map had it running down Albert Street.

          Furthermore, if it runs down the middle of the NW Motorway, how do you get it to Queens Street?

  7. The ‘collateral damage’ about not doing much to accelerate the provision of public transport in Auckland is the ever increasing road toll, about which the Government to their shame, seem not to be even mildly serious. The possibility of doing something to reduce the road toll by both better design and appropriate policy changes, does not seem to even be contemplated, at the governing level.

    There is an excellent article entitled ” We need to talk about car culture” by a Dr Rhys Jones in this morning’s Herald. While not covering new ground among regular Greater Auckland readers it is definitely worth a read.
    And I hope those politicians who are responsible for giving us what we are unfortunately getting, read it also.

    1. Good article – thanks. I note (after yesterday’s comments about academic involvement) that Dr Rhys Jones is an academic engaging in the important discussions.

      1. Warren S
        Have a look at the details of road deaths. The majority are due to those under the influence of alcohol or non wearing of seat belts. Forget about road design. Yes it will save a few, but at what cost? And there are better ways to use that money to save people. For example, what about a mass project to staple physiologically challenged (for those who object to the word fat, for whatever bizarre reason. The sooner we as a country recognise that obesity is a problem then the sooner we start to talk and act to fix it) peoples stomachs. A project such as this will give and give and far outway the benefit of some road realignments as the low hanging fruit has already been picked.

        1. Taka-ite, while I agree that looking at cost-effective measures is important, I’d suggest that medical intervention is not the best solution to obesity. Measures to reduce sugar consumption, improve diet and connection with real food, and to increase activity – particularly walking – are cheapest in the long term because they address lifestyle habits. This follows through to later stages in life and to the next generations.

          Good road and urban design most certainly contribute to walking rates, and increasing walking has also been shown to improve eating habits.

          Also, I don’t think the pedestrians and cyclists killed on our roads can be blamed for not wearing seatbelts. 🙂

  8. Predatory delay. Rail to the airport has all but been killed by Transit/NZTA ‘future-proofing’. In fact there seems to be little that’s more terminal for a non-highway project than to have Highway Engineers say they are future-proofing for it. It really means they are shifting all cost and practical difficulty onto other potential projects to such a degree that it renders them unfundable.

    1. I grew up in the shadow of engineers in private practice and my brother is one. I have always seen them as decent, honest hardworking, thinking, open minded and ethical people. Is the public service engineer another breed entirely? What has gone wrong with their profession that sees these charges of obfuscation being leveled and widely supported? Who is standing up in their defense? Is there a defense?

      1. I think that it’s a matter of good engineers kowtowing to their managers, who in turn know which way the wind blows (with respect to political drive). The heads at NZTA are probably either scared of the current gov, or are keen to line their pockets as much as they could, ingratiate themselves in the current “old boys” network as much as they can.

        I know an engineer in NZTA. This person has told me on more than one occasion that there is some disagreement internally as to what is the best way to proceed on many projects. That includes how a project is designed. As a professional, it frustrates them that they don’t always have the ability to act in the way they think most appropriate.

        Your description of engineers largely echos my own experience with engineers from all disciplines. The only other word that I’d add is pragmatic (the world of engineering is complicated and nuanced).

      2. The ‘engineers’ put their decisions forward according to the brief provided by the client. This brief is normally dictated by politicians or planners. Its probably a bit harsh to lump the blame on engineers ‘public or private’ as they are only really concerned with the details. Its the planners and the politicians that need to take the blame.

        A good example would be the Manukau Harbour Crossing project, the engineers would of loved to attach rail lines however the brief was to build the piles for enough capacity to take loads of attaching rail only. Hence the final result. Also the brief was to leave enough room on the southern alignment for rail. This has been done which is why the shoulder swale are so wide and the over-bridges span the distance they do.

        The government of the time is only guaranteed 3years of governance, and therefore the decisions made on level of future proofing are normally based on the immediate costs rather than the long term benefits which is a shame.

      3. I think the public service engineer has generally fitted the description you gave of (honest, ethical, etc). My experience of engineers has also been positive – once out of the silly student phase, they become – generally – pretty down-to-earth people. Indeed, as a woman engineer, I recommend the profession to other women, as a career you can enjoy and not be put off by sexism and arrogance.

        I would say something goes wrong with engineers in road design and construction. An environmental lawyer I know who organised resource consents for roads grizzled to me for years about the ‘bloody roading engineers’ – the words used were arrogant, short-sighted, stupid. This lawyer worked with all sorts of engineers – geotechnical, civil, environmental and mechanical engineers – and they were fine. Just the roading engineers. I don’t imagine they started out like this, so I think there could quite easily be a culture in the road construction industry that breeds or rewards arrogance.

        There is certainly an arrogance in allowing the four step model to be used in design of our roads when it has been so firmly trashed by research. Maybe that’s the cause of it all – their income stream is based on outdated science, so they know they don’t have a leg to stand on, and are truly just on the gravy train for as long as the politics allows them?

        1. Which is the ‘four step’ model you refer to Heidi? Is it ACRE? How has it been trashed?

        2. She probably means Generation, Mode split, Distribution, Assignment. It has been the workhorse for generations but it limits the ability to feedback travel times into the earlier stages. It can be and is done but the 4 stages make it easy not to. You often see the first 3 run a few times and assignment run a lot of times. Doing it that way suits the idea of fixed demand or fixed matrix assumptions. That used to be a prescribed way of assessing options here and in the UK. Not prescribed by engineers but by economists in the Treasury Dept.

        3. Get away! Struth! Is that why they continue to use it? Oh my. Or am I just missing your dry humour again?

        4. The Council land use models often undercook population growth too so the transport models don’t get off to a good start when that initial assumption is way off the mark…

        5. Sorry Heidi I didn’t see your response when I put that in. The separate 4-stage has weaknesses people have understood since at least the 70’s and probably the 60’s. People had developed plenty of better ways, first using shadow networks to deal with dare I use the term ‘suppressed demand’ then variable demand models. But despite those all being available for years Her Majesty’s Treasury insisted on fixed demand for road projects until the mid 90’s, I think their reasoning was to avoid analysts loading the appraisal in favour of bigger projects. In NZ the TR9 and then the EEM required the same for years, each option was tested against the same future demand. So if you are required to do that then all you build is a basic assignment model. But every modeller I have ever met has been an enthusiast of building far more complex and realistic models than that. So we didn’t persist with a four stage model because we were wedded to them. We built models that we were allowed to use to test projects under the rules we were given.

        6. mfwic, do tell. Read me the next chapter in the story. What happened next, in the 90’s? Did Treasury change its requirements or did it stop making demands? And what of the Models Refresh Project 2017? It seems to be attempting to improve PT modelling, but – from what I can see – still doesn’t allow that adding road capacity adds traffic. And – from what I can see – it aims for improved land-use inputs but not for dynamic land use modelling. What’s dictating these deficiencies – or am I missing something?

        7. Heidi that was when things got even worse. People would build a fixed demand matrix either from a larger model or from surveys and then they would ‘improve’ it with matrix estimation to make it match observed traffic counts. It meant they would report extremely high validation stats but it wasn’t model validation at all. Once the observed traffic counts go into the matrix as an input then there can be no check on its accuracy. Mathematically matrix estimation has millions of answers but it gives you one unique one by messing with the demand table with no true validation possible. These models were not even as good as the 4 step. Worst, as you only had one matrix that was used for all options regardless of whether or not that option would increase traffic. You can spot this type of model because they always proudly report very high RMS data or correlation coefficients near 1.0. All just BS in my view as they are comparing traffic counts with a model forced to output those same counts on a few links. The other links are nonsense.

        8. Thanks. Incredible. At presentations, this was always the first thing I’d ask masters students about their modelling. That and sensitivity analysis. It wasn’t in traffic modelling, but in a wide range of other civil engineering subjects. But they always had an answer because the point was to learn to model well. Wow.

          Had a frustrating career? 🙂

        9. mfwic – thanks for the summaries. If I wanted to do further reading on this do you have any links to good articles or books you’d recommend? cheers

      4. As an engineer I like to think we try to be ethical. But we all know that in any group of human beings, some may be prepared to take short cuts to reach the top. And when an organisation becomes badly politicised many ethical people may become cowed into silence for fear of losing their jobs.

        Among engineers I know I find that those who are the most politically conservative gravitate to construction. So delivering a big road project sounds great to them. They may not even have expertise in transport planning.

        I also think there is a generational problem with the engineers. The engineers who run NZTA and its major projects now probably did their degrees back in the 80s or 90s. Back then PT patronage was declining and roads seemed like the “right” thing to do. There was not even any rail engineering content in (my) 80s degree. Senior managers are busy people and may not have done any formal study for a decade, except management. So they could be faithfully making judgements about building roads based on what they were taught 20 years ago not knowing that the profession has moved on.

        In short, the problem could be ideology, ignorance or failure to keep up to date, not necessarily deliberate sabotage.

  9. Neither the government nor AT have authorised the project, so it stands to reason NZTA cannot commence any work on it in the absence of any funding, even for planning. We wouldn’t want to see them spending money on non-existent projects without authorisation to do so would we?

  10. Number 7 in the table is interesting.

    Papakura to Bombay – that will, in part, be designed to allow electrification to Pukekohe.

    The table says it is “under construction”.

    You what?????

    1. Isn’t it the motorway overbridge at Drury that needs rebuilding to allow OLE to Pukekohe?
      Nothing is happening there at that motorway junction concerning the bridge over rail so methinks item 7 is likely painting lines on tarmac or concrete…

  11. I am also concerned with the ongoing collateral damage delaying or not even building transit is doing here. Properties are being bought up for the motorwayification of Lincoln Rd and the damage has been done on Te Atatu Rd. How much more people friendly these roads could be if they were linking to a bus/LR on the NW.

  12. Thanks Matt. It’s abundantly clear that the NZTA have been active in sabotaging the NW Busway.

    I’d argue that they’ve sabotaged AMETI as well.

    We don’t judge agencies by what they say. We judge them by what they do. And NZTA’s actions are clear.

  13. We’ve experienced sabotage within Transit and NZTA wrt SkyPath. Various public servants and consultants will calmly mislead and even lie in order in ensure the political objectives are achieved.

    This NW Busway is a classic example per this Herald piece:
    “On the one hand, we have to fight to get active and public transport infrastructure that offers real solutions to our transport problems, while on the other hand we are required to actively oppose road building projects that threaten to exacerbate those problems.”

    “Cars are to us what guns are to Americans”

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