Shortly after taking office the government cancelled the horror show that was the East West Link project. Ahead of the election this was a major part of Labour’s transport platform, which promised a better value for money option that would also not have such significant environmental impacts.
Recently this approach was confirmed in ATAP, which says the following about the project:
The Government is reviewing East West Link. While the exact form of this investment is not yet known, it will generally focus on addressing the most significant congestion and freight access problems in the area in a way that better optimises existing infrastructure.
The ATAP Package has assumed approximately $800 million will be invested in this corridor, representing a reduction of around $950 million from the earlier proposal.
This lines up fairly well with what I thought might happen, as detailed in this post I wrote shortly after last year’s election. In particular the likelihood that a much greater focus would go on using Neilson Street (a very wide arterial road with lots of ability to be improved) rather than building a massive new road that duplicates Neilson Street. Something like one of the earlier options considered as part of the project’s development:
The option above not only cost much less than the previous East West Link proposal, its economic analysis suggested that using Neilson Street actually delivered more benefit. Therefore, such an approach seems like a no brainer. Nevertheless, a couple of things worry me about this project and are worth keeping an eye on going forward:
- The $800 million allocated in ATAP seems like an awful lot, which may suggest that pockets of NZTA are still hopeful of delivering parts of the previous horror show.
- Because the whole project got resource consent in November last year, NZTA may be pushing for something that’s essentially “phase one” of the original East West Link rather than a proper “revised” project.
Normally we wouldn’t have a problem with a “staged approach” to building a project. It often makes sense to “do the most important bits now and the rest later”. This appears to be what’s happening to Mill Road, with the focus going first on fixing up intersections and dangerous sections of the road, with the full project to come later when it’s actually needed. The difference for East West Link, as pointed out by Infrastructure New Zealand (who played a critical and under-appreciated role in killing off the project, as an aside), is that even in 30 years time it’s clear the project will be vast overkill:
If much of the roading network is congested, but not East West Link at all, it suggests you should have spent much of your money elsewhere. Especially when you consider that this modelling is without the impact any road pricing scheme may have.
Getting back to the issue at hand though, we will be keeping a very close eye on what happens next with East West Link. In particular, we want to make sure that NZTA are not being sneaky and pushing forward with something that’s obviously just a stage of their original proposal – probably in the hope of a change of Government. All the previous work on East West Link clearly shows there are some better value for money options out there that make the most of Neilson Street, mean that we don’t need to destroy more of the Manukau Harbour shoreline, and don’t cut Onehunga off from the sea even more than it is now.