On Friday there were two important and quite contrasting announcements from the NZTA, one really good and one not so much. For this post I’ll be covering the “not so good” announcement and tomorrow we’ll cover the “really good” one.
Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency has completed the work necessary for a designation of land to be put in place for a future transport corridor between Warkworth and Wellsford.
Auckland Council has formally accepted the Notice of Requirement and resource consents application for the Warkworth to Wellsford project, officially starting a consenting process that is expected to take 12-24 months to complete.
Waka Kotahi Senior Manager System Design, Robyn Elston, says it’s a major project milestone for the Transport Agency.
“It’s the culmination of three years of project development which has included preliminary engineering design, site investigations, transport planning, technical assessments and engagement with partners, stakeholders and local communities.”
“The Warkworth to Wellsford transport corridor will be a significant piece of transport infrastructure and, once constructed, will provide a safe and resilient link connecting Northland communities and economy to the rest of New Zealand.”
The Warkworth to Wellsford project is the second stage of Ara Tūhono Pūhoi to Wellsford. Stage one, between Pūhoi and Warkworth, is currently under construction.
The project provides for a new 26km transport corridor from the northern extent of the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway. It will be west of and completely separate from the existing state highway, connecting back to SH1 north of Te Hana. The proposed route will travel west of the Dome Valley before crossing eastwards over SH1 near Wayby Valley Road and bypassing both Wellsford and Te Hana townships. The indicative alignment proposes three interchanges and an 850-metre-long tunnel below Kraack Road.
It’s a bit disingenuous for the agency to say they’ve only been working on this for three years. They’ve been working on this in some form since the former government announced it as a Road of National Significance in 2009.
Securing a designation doesn’t mean a project will actually happen, just look at the cancelled Eastern Motorway, and are useful for protecting routes from other development but there are a few key reasons I’m concerned about this:
What about the GPS
The government have made a start, in shifting our transport policy away from building mega-motorway projects, although not completely. It’s hard to see how this project would comply with both the current and especially the draft 2021 Government Policy Statement. This is particularly the case on measures such as value for money and given this, I can’t help but wonder why the agency have continued to pursue it. It has all the hallmarks of the highway engineers ignoring policy and continuing on with business as usual regardless.
How many more smaller safety projects could the NZTA have pursued if they had tied up a lot of resource pushing this project through? Also, how many other projects are the NZTA secretly pushing ahead with waiting for a government with less balanced priorities.
Value for Money
Speaking of value for money, the business case released just last month, and discussed in this post, shows this project will cost $1.7 to 2.1 billion. That makes it one of the most expensive roading projects we’ve ever had, even accounting for it’s length, and all on a road only sees 12-15k vehicles per day. Yet over the entire 26km length it is only likely to save about 3 minutes – their reports suggest it takes about 37 minutes currently but google suggests it only takes 21 minutes.
As such, even over a 40 year period, the official business case says it will provide only 70c of benefits for ever $1 it costs to build.
Interestingly the business case also says one of the triggers for the project is if the current route is predicted to exceed 25k vehicles per day – the business case assumes some heroic growth assumptions to suggest this will happen.
Beware of the ready shovel
Just because we can build something doesn’t mean we should build it. The agency say “Currently construction remains at least 10 years away and, if delivered in a single stage, will take five to seven years to complete“. What concerns me is over the last decade we’ve increasingly seen, across multiple administrations, governments develop a habit of turning up to the agency looking for “shovel ready” projects to provide stimulus. Therefore having this massive project designed and consented increases the chance it will be included in a package when the government is looking for something to do. The problem with that is it would suck a huge amount of funding away from a large number of more valuable projects that could be built instead.
The Warkworth Interchange
The Warkworth interchange that will be formed by this project is possibly of the most land hungry piece of roading infrastructure we have. It is so big you can almost fit the entire town of Warkworth inside of it.
That land within the interchange is expected to be a site of significant planting to help mitigate the impacts of the project. Here’s an earlier artist impression of it.
You can see all of the consent documents here and they say they expect the council to publicly notify the application and call for submissions within the next three months.