Today the government are announcing what projects they’re going to spend their $12 billion infrastructure fund on. They’ve already said that as part of that they’ll spend “$6.8 billion on new transport projects, with a significant portion for roads and rail“. It is a massive sum of additional money to spend on transport at a time when spending is already at its highest level.
While I agree with the general idea of borrowing a lot of rates are low to invest in infrastructure, one thing I worry about is some of the rhetoric that has been surrounding the idea. Particularly that we should build a bunch of (low value) projects just to keep highway building industrial complex happy. As I said after the infrastructure spend up was announced, if we’re going to spend this money it should be used towards a transition fund to build infrastructure that will help work towards a more a climate-resilient, sustainable, and low-emissions economy.
Unfortunately, much of the indications and speculation suggests this isn’t going to happen and the lion’s share of funding will go towards a bunch of big road projects that were being pushed by the previous government. It’s bewildering that they’ve spent so much political capital on forging a more rational evidence-based programme just to throw it all away and contradict the goals set out in their own Government Policy Statement.
With all that in mind, I thought I’d speculate on some projects I think will and won’t be included in the announcement. This isn’t in order of likelihood but just working roughly north to south through the country.
Whangarei to Marsden Point 4-laning
This project was originally announced in 2017 and I think is quite likely to be announced today. During the election National then promised to extend it all the way to Auckland as part of their RoNS 2.0 boondoggle. While four-laning all the way to Auckland is unlikely, I think the section mentioned is. One of the reasons for that is that the road does have safety issues and traffic volumes been increasing quite fast in recent years, growing by about 25% to about 19k per day over the five years till 2018. After Marsden Point volumes quickly drop off again and stay low till getting to Warkworth and is one of the reasons I don’t think that part will be announced.
At the time it was proposed, the NZTA considered four options for upgrading with most largely following the same alignment as the road does now. It is could cost $400-500 million although that may have increased.
Marsden Point Rail Spur
I think it’s less likely this will be announced but is always a possibility, especially if to please Labour’s coalition partner NZ First. There’s already a designation in place for the route although I understand a lot of design work is still needed – although some elements, such as $2.2 million of geotech work has already been undertaken with funding from the Regional Growth Fund.
It’s worth noting that there’s already $90 million being spent on upgrading the line between Swanson and Whangarei which could help support this spur if it is built.
Warkworth to Te Hana
I think it’s unlikely we’ll see this project as even old estimates put the cost at over $1 billion which would eat up a significant chunk of the fund. As mentioned above, it also has fairly low traffic volumes.
Penlink has been rumoured to be a strong candidate for inclusion given it is already designed and consented. If it is included, a couple of big questions include
- Will it be two or four lanes.
- Will it be tolled (as originally intended)
- Will it be supported by other development north of Albany
These questions are all interrelated. The intention has always been that it would be tolled and if that happens, current modelling even 30 years out suggests two lanes is more than sufficient to handle the predicted volumes. But of course locals, business lobbies groups want a bigger four lane project which is estimated at about $400 million
Whether it’s tolled or not, one question is what happens on SH1 south of where it joins in or is it just helping peninsula dwellers get to the back of the motorway queue faster. Perhaps most notably, ATAP specifically mentions:
The project should be complemented by public transport improvements (for example the planned bus shoulder lanes between Albany and Orewa) to encourage mode shift in the area and avoid adding more vehicles to congested parts of the Northern Motorway.
We’ll be looking to see if those supporting PT improvements are included. On a related note, AT’s public transport plans suggests that with Penlink they would extend the NX2 to a new Whangaparoa station.
Skypath and Seapath
Both Skypath and Seapath are two big budget walking and cycling projects and are rumoured to be included. Both are expected to be relatively expensive with the new Skypath design now expected to be well over the $100m mark, possibly even double it and Seapath in the $60-70m range thanks to potentially including a bridge spanning the entire Onewa Interchange.
Among other things funding these two big projects them through this process might help do is free up funding from normal processes for a lot of other cycleway infrastructure.
NW Rapid Transit
Recently we highlighted the proposed staging for rapid transit to the Northwest and the first stage included $20-40 million of bus improvements. I suspect we could see this funded.
It has already been confirmed that no money from this infrastructure spend up will go on light rail.
Airport to Botany Busway
I don’t think we’ll see anything further on progressing this busway
Third Main (aka Wiri to Quay Park)
It appears almost certain we’ll finally see this funded and will include three key pieces of work
- upgrades to improve the approach to the Ports of Auckland
- an upgrade of the Westfield junction
- completing the third main from Westfield to Wiri
What is unknown is if we’ll see the government go further and announce funding for a 4th main at the same time, or extending that third main further south towards Papakura. This is likely to be at least $150m but could be much more if the 4th is included.
This is another project that seems extremely likely and I imagine the intention will be to get it, and the third main complete prior to the opening of the City Rail Link. This is likely to be $200-250m. One of the things to look for is if it ties in with …..
Southern Motorway widening
The NZTA are just wrapping up the long running and highly disruptive project to widen the southern motorway from Manukau to Papakura and they now want to extend that to Bombay. Their initial priority though is getting it to Drury and they’ve been busy working on it the design for it. The reason this potentially ties in with electrification is that one of the motorway bridges over the rail line at Drury is too low to enable wires to get under it. If this isn’t included then Kiwirail will need to find another way to get the wires through.
If approved this will be at least a few hundred million.
Like Penlink, the first stage of the Mill Rd upgrade is another project strongly rumoured to be included and is likely to cost about $500 million. Also like Penlink this has already been designed and consented.
Cambridge to Piarere
With the final section of the Waikato expressway only about a year away from completion there’s been a lot of focus from National MPs (and others) on extending it from Cambridge to Piarere. Like the Whangarei to Marsden project, this was originally announced prior to the 2017 election as a stand alone project but then included in a larger, lower value RoNS project (including potentially all the way to Taupo). Also like that Northland project the traffic volumes on this section have also been increasing a lot but then drop off a lot after the SH29 intersection.
However, the last update I saw prior to the change in scope brought about by the incoming government still had a lot of design and consenting work to do on the project. This is likely to be another project in the $400-500 million range.
Bay of Plenty
Tauranga Northern Link
Yet another of the previous government’s motorway projects that is likely to be funded as part of this announcement. It would see a new offline motorway built to bypass the existing SH2 through Te Puna and Bethlehem. And again like in the cases above, this section isn’t terrible based on the volumes and was initially a separate project but then National incorporated it into a crazy wider RoNS 2.0 scheme, in this case extending it all the way past Katikati 30km north.
Under the current government the plan was re-evaluated and still proposed to go ahead but as a two lane road with traffic volumes split across both the existing and new roads, as opposed to creating six lanes of capacity, which seems sensible, but again it’s now likely the government will go with the 4-lane version. I believe the project was consented back in 2017 and is likely to cost at least $300 million
Manawatu Gorge replacement
I think this project is being funded through normal processes and is currently going through consenting processes.
Otaki to North of Levin
This project was originally part of the Wellington Northern Corridor in the RoNS 1.0 but eventually scaled back a bit but is likely we’ll see included even though it has much lower traffic volumes than many of the roads mentioned above. This combined with the cost give the project a very low economic return. The preferred route is shown below and the business case from just over a year ago puts a two-lane version at $600m for a BCR of 0.37 while a four-lane version is costed at $750 and a BCR of about 0.25. Both of these should rule the project out but I suspect we’ll see the four-lane version announced.
One of the most likely projects in Wellington will see the SH2 intersection at Meiling replaced with a grade separated motorway interchange. The project is also tied to work to improve the stopbanks alongside the Hutt River and will require the train station to be moved. The project was given funding in September to start working through the consenting process.
Petone to Grenada
I don’t think we’ll see this announced.
Lets Get Welly Moving
I suspect we could see some projects to support LGWM
One possible project that may see funding is a bypass of Woodend north of Kaiapoi. National want to see this as an extension of the Christchurch Northern Motorway and it is probably in a similar bucket in terms of volumes and cost to most of the motorway scale projects mentioned above (with the exception of bypassing Levin). This is in part due to changing land use patterns following the earthquakes.
Four-laning to Ashburton
Again in their RoNS 2.0 promises National wanted to extend the new Christchurch Southern Motorway from Rolleston to Ashburton. I doubt we’ll see this given the likely costs and low traffic volumes on this section.
I’m sure we’ll see a bunch of other projects announced, including a lot of small one s and probably a bunch of local projects too. What do you think we’ll see?