There was some interesting news late last week with the Auckland Chamber of Commerce announcing it had achieved a “breakthrough” on a funding deal for Penlink
An unsolicited bid by an international group to establish a joint venture with a NZ construction company to undertake the Penlink Toll Road Project as a BOOT – Build, Own, Operate, Transfer – has been lodged with the NZ Transport Agency.
The offer is to provide the majority of the estimated $400 million capital needed to build a 4-lane tolled Penlink road – including bridge over the Weiti River, busway, cycleway and possibly park-and-ride – recovering all revenue on an extended concession and transferring back to Auckland Council for free at the end of the concession.
At the heart of the bid is establishing a pathway for the joint venture to carry the financial risk associated with the design, build, ownership and maintenance of the toll road that avoids impact on Auckland Council’s tight balance sheet.
It has potential to bring forward by some 10 years the completion of Penlink from the 2025-28 start set out in the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) schedule. “That will be hugely attractive to North Shore’s business and residential communities who are having to put up with traffic queues stretching up to 10km most mornings,” said Auckland Business Chamber head, Michael Barnett.
Below are some thoughts about this, in no particular order.
- At a high-level, the idea of Penlink has some value as it creates a new, faster way to access the Whangaparaoa Peninsula. The issue has always been that it:
- requires a long road with a large bridge it cross a sensitive ecological area, all of which makes it an expensive project
- creates a shortcut to the Northern Motorway and does nothing or even makes worse the motorway traffic south of where the road would join in.
- Auckland Transport are currently running their trial of dynamic lane marking and have been saying they’re seeing positive results. It would be useful to better understand the impacts of that before jumping into a $400 billion solution.
- It will be interesting to see how they make the predicted vehicle volumes stack up. In 2046 daily usage is expected to be just 16,800 vehicles per day, and even with a $3 toll, isn’t likely enough to support operational costs and loan repayments.
- I don’t have a problem If a private company wants to finance Penlink and pay for it with tolling. What I am concerned about is the comment from Barnett that the funding only covers the majority of the cost. That means there is still an expectation the council and/or government would fund some of the project, in which case I believe it still needs to go through our normal prioritisation processes. That’s because any money the council and/or government have to contribute for their share is money that can’t be used for other projects which may otherwise be more valuable.
- The same goes for actually building the project as any work will take up construction resources and capacity that might make other projects more difficult and costlier.
- This isn’t the first the I’ve heard about unsolicited bids for transport projects. There are a few others I’ve heard of this year already, both publicly announced ones like the NZ Super Fund bid for light rail but also some private bids too. None have currently been accepted. The point being that it’s no guarantee this one will be accepted either.
- If we’re going to build Penlink, part of the deal should also be about allowing more development in the area. Currently there is very little growth allowed.
While we’re on the topic, I want to call out a some very dodgy numbers being thrown around about the impact the project will have. The Chamber say
The 7km Penlink road is consented to run between the Northern motorway at Redvale and the heart of the Whangapararoa Peninsula, reducing by around 50,000 of the nearly 130,000v/day that travel through the nearby Silverdale business area to get to-from the motorway.
Below are a few reasons these numbers are bizarre.
- Even in 2046, the only way to get close to 50k vehicles per day is through the untolled version (46,300). With a toll that number is even lower at 33,600 per day.
- Auckland transport’s Traffic count numbers, the latest of which was from May this year, suggests that fewer than 50k vehicles use the road daily, even at the motorway end. This is backed up by …
- The NZTAs motorway data shows 38k vehicles use the ramps at Silverdale with most (about 32k) using the south facing ones.
And finally the chestnut of a 2 or 4 lane road.
“With the local board we have worked hard for this breakthrough.” The proposal to fund and build Penlink tabled with NZTA reverts to the original plan for a 4-lane road with provision for express busway, as opposed to ATAP’s 2-lane road, and so get in front of the ongoing business and residential growth happening on the Peninsula and nearby Silverdale.
“In our opinion, it could/should start tomorrow.”
The actual original plan was a 2-lane road, it was only expanded to 4-lanes in 2015. Earlier this year I looked at the question of a 2 or 4 lane road and found many 2-lane roads carrying far more vehicles per day than Penlink is ever expected to. There’s also likely to be a major issue where the two lanes of Penlink try and join the two lanes of the Northern Motorway.