In Auckland Transport’s letter to the NZTA about the disarray the latter is in, one of the projects mentioned is one I haven’t been paying much attention to, Huapai Road Improvements. As a reminder, ATs letter stated:
Huapai Road Upgrade; this project was included as a priority project in the RLTP at a cost of circa $36 million. Additional design requirements from NZTA escalated the cost to circa $70 million. AT has undertaken a value engineering exercise to reduce the projected cost to within the original cost estimate however this has resulted in an additional nine months to the project design time.
So I thought I should check out what was proposed.
Huapai-Kumeu is one of Auckland’s fastest growing areas with a number of significant housing developments currently underway. The image below helps highlight the scale of this which is between just 2013 and 2017 (unfortunately the cloud gets in the way a bit).
As the area becomes more urban the nature of the town is bound to change and Auckland Transport and the NZTA have a responsibility to ensure that the projects they undertake to support this growth actually does make a material improvement to the area. They can’t just treat it as a rural town anymore and design projects accordingly but it doesn’t appear the designers got the memo.
AT show two projects that comprise this overall piece of work and both involve upgrading intersections to improve access to a 1,200 dwelling development on the south side of the town centre that was one of the first Special Housing Areas announced in 2013. AT say the primary purpose of the upgrades is to cater for:
- Increased volumes of traffic on SH16.
- Improved safety and better management of traffic between SH16 and the three side roads (Station, Tapu and Access Roads).
- Improved walking and cycling facilities and safety.
The first and biggest of these projects has been dubbed The Gyratory by AT. This would be at the western edge of Huapai and connects together a couple of local roads that have T-intersections with State Highway 16. Here’s what AT say about it.
The gyratory (large traffic roundabout) to connect Station Road, Tapu Road and SH16 is at concept stage and has been agreed in principle by Auckland Transport, New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA), KiwiRail and Auckland Council.
The state highway will be retained in its existing position and will be used for east-bound traffic only. Tapu Road will continue to connect this section of the state highway. A new two-lane road will be built on a new alignment to take westbound traffic. The new west bound lanes will curve away from the eastbound lanes just before the Tapu Road connection and cross a new bridge over the railway then curve back to join the eastbound lanes where Station Road currently intersects with State Highway 16. Station Road will connect to the new westbound lanes midway between the two ends of the deviation.
This layout allows SH16 traffic to flow between east and west and for traffic to flow between Station Road and Tapu Road. New off-road walking and cycling facilities will be built around the new structure.
The gyratory has signalised intersections at its entrances and exits and also where Station Road and Tapu Road connect. These signals will better manage the flow of SH16 traffic between east and west and the flow of traffic joining or leaving the state highway from Station Road and Tapu Road. They will also provide controlled crossing points for pedestrians and cyclists.
Here’s what is planned:
Here are a few quick thoughts on it
- The design doesn’t appear to contribute much to any of the stated goals. It doesn’t really seem to add all that much capacity, especially given how much bigger it all is. As for safety and especially improving walking and cycling, can you imagine any parent letting their child walk or cycling to school anywhere near this monstrosity – there is a primary school on Station Rd just to the southwest of the image. Would anyone even bother trying to walk around the footpath in the middle of the whole thing?
- This seems an incredibly excessive and land hungry design that is completely inappropriate to what will eventually be a medium density residential suburb. Have the engineers not even thought about the opportunity cost of all the land this consumes – you could easily fit 10 (or more) dwellings on the land this design swallows up.
- If they’re going to the extent of building a new bridge across the rail line and given this will become an urban area, why not just create a single normal signalised intersection. In other words, have Tapu Rd (in the north) link directly to Station Rd (to the south). This would actually have fewer signals as if you look closely at the image above, every movement appears to have at least two signals people could potentially stop at. This is shown, at a high level, in the image below with Station Rd/Tapu Rd in yellow and the state highway in blue. The red areas are land potentially saved that could be put to other uses. One is just over 7,000m² and the other 1,200m².
- One potential argument I could see being made against this is the gyratory provides more lanes across the tracks for east-west movement, even though currently some of those lanes are for turning movements. I’ll address the wider issue about this later in the post.
- Given what we’ve seen recently with the huge interchange planned at Warkworth, is this another example of a lazy design culture that has formed from previous transport policy pouring huge amounts of money into roads?
The second project is the intersection of SH16 and Access Rd at the eastern end of Kumeu and would see the state highway enlarged to add left turning lanes on to Access Rd. There would also be slip lane added for those coming out of Access Rd. It would also add a shared walking and cycling path on the southern side of the road – there is currently nothing here for those not in a vehicle.
But here’s what AT say about the state highway part.
The space for widening SH16 was obtained by reducing the width of the walking/cycle facilities on the southern side of SH16 and by shifting the roadway northwards to occupy the planted median on the northern side of SH16, which forms the boundary between SH16 and a service road to its immediate north. This has been achieved without reducing parking in the service road but by rearranging parking and traffic flows.
So walking and cycling are being compromised simply because AT/NZTA are trying to maintain a median through a what should be a lower speed town centre – the speed limit is still 60km/h through here. You’ll notice there’s a missing pedestrian leg from the traffic lights, most likely a victim of “The Model”
In both cases it would be interesting to here what the NZTA were being nit-picky about. If it was about how bad these designs were then perhaps they were doing a good thing.
One aspect that also needs to be considered in this debate is that of the future plans. In particular how much this design needs to cater for traffic growth on the state highway. The future plans would see Kumeu-Huapai bypassed completely – although this is not in the current decade’s programme. This would remove a lot of state highway traffic from the town and that’s particularly important for the Gyratory proposal
In our view, Auckland Transport need to rethink these deigns and do so quickly. They’re simply not appropriate in an urbanising area.