Yesterday the Herald reported that the NZTA are looking at adding tolls to four roads currently under construction or in planning.
The New Zealand Transport Agency is eyeing up tolls on four uncompleted roads which it says could support their successful opening and smooth the way for user-pays road pricing, documents released under the Official Information Act show.
Transmission Gully, the Tauranga North Link, Puhoi to Warkworth, and Petone to Grenada meet the criteria for tolling, such as making sure the fee doesn’t deter motorists from using the road, that there’s an alternative route, and that it’s in line with the government’s objectives, a paper to NZTA’s investment and operations board committee in March shows.
Tolls on those roads could raise more than $28 million of extra land transport revenue a year, which would rise over time with increased road use and economic activity, and could be seen as a “step towards a modern road pricing system”, the paper says
I suspect many in the media and general public would claim that this is just revenue gathering. So, it’s worth pointing out that $28 million would only just scratch the surface of what these projects cost to build. Even on our most used toll road, Orewa to Puhoi, the toll only covers a small fraction of what it cost to build and was imposed to allow it to be built sooner. What is more concerning to me is what impact the tolling might have on traffic volumes and how we justify projects.
The report shows the Tauranga Northern Link has the best benefit-cost ratio at 3.1 untolled, dropping to 1.3 with a toll, followed by Transmission Gully at 1.6 untolled and 1.1 tolled.
The Petone to Grenada route, which has subsequently been sent back to review after falling short in the project evaluation, had an untolled ratio of 1.5 and Puhoi to Warkworth 1.03. The latter two roads did not have tolled ratios confirmed at the time of the report.
These outcomes really raise questions about how we evaluate transport. Travel time savings are usually the biggest contributor to the benefits used to justify these projects. If tolling is going to turn so many people away from using a project then perhaps we need to rethink just how valuable people actually consider their time is. Particularly in cases like Puhoi to Warkworth where the business case has been massaged as hard as possible just to get it to scrape over 1.
This is also likely an issue with having a requirement for a free alternative. Before spending potentially billions on some of these mega-projects, perhaps we should first consider tolling the existing routes they’re to duplicate to get a more accurate representation of what the level of demand actually is. Or perhaps, in the case of Transmission Gully at least, the rail line should be considered as the alternative.
Of course, travel time savings are used to justify many PT projects too. It would be interesting to see just how many projects (of all types) that would be built if those travel time savings were calculated differently. Perhaps this another indication that we need more wide ranging reform into how we assess projects. Especially this is intricately linked to often widely inaccurate modelling to begin with.
Also concerning are the comments that they’re only just considering tolling now.
Officials warned the board that because Transmission Gully and Puhoi to Warkworth, which are both public-private partnerships, were under construction, further work that had to be done put the opportunity to impose the charge at risk by push up against the completion dates.
Transmission Gully and Puhoi to Warkworth were named as priorities by the former National government nine years ago. A decision on whether to toll or not should have been made clear at least as far back as the consenting phase.
With coincidental timing, Stuff yesterday revealed that the Petone to Grenada (P2G) is even worse that initially suggested.
A withering appraisal of the proposed Petone-Grenada highway north of Wellington says it would have a significant environmental impact, could fail horribly in an earthquake, and its $270 million price tag could be closer to $1 billion.
An independent team of experts helped the New Zealand Transport Agency write a report that took a red pen to its work to date, which stretches back to 1995 and has already cost $18m in planning and property purchases.
But Emma Speight, the agency’s regional relationships director, said the report did the job requested – sending the project back to the drawing board with $18m already spent and before a single hillside had been carved up.
The Petone-Grenada highway was intended to be a four-lane expressway between the northern Wellington suburb of Grenada North, and Petone in Lower Hutt, carving through rugged terrain known as the Horokiwi Crest.
But the “Petone to Grenada Project Evaluation”, commissioned by the transport agency in mid-2017, effectively puts the favoured design on hold.
The concept of a road linking Petone and Grenada is still on the table, but the report suggests dialling back the “expressway standard” and having a speed limit closer to 60kmh so it can curve through the hills rather than cut into them.
This is because, if the eight-kilometre highway was built to NZTA’s proposed design, it would cost $125m a kilometre. That would give it a $1b construction cost, making it more than four times the relative price of the 27.5km Transmission Gully motorway, which is costing $28m a kilometre, the report said.
The Petone-Grenada highway would also have three massive cuts into the terrain. One would take out the face of an entire hillside above Petone to create a drop of up to 85m – the same size as a face at the nearby Horokiwi quarry.
These cuts into fault-fractured rock could fail in a significant earthquake, blocking the road with a landslide. It could be three to seven weeks before vehicles could access it again, which is only marginally better than what is expected of the existing State Highways 2 and 58 after a big quake.
Investigations into the Petone-Grenada highway discovered a previously unknown splinter faultline in the vicinity of the proposed Petone interchange.
This looks very much like building a massive project for the sake of building a massive project, the worst justification for building something. I wonder what the BCR is on the project now?