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.

As the post title alludes to, on Friday the NZTA announced they’ve started the process consent the Warkworth to Wellsford boondoggle.

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.

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44 comments

  1. I would expect that some of the benefits that they claim in the business case would include the improved safety over the dangerous Dome Valley, yet those benefits will need to be reassessed once the government’s relatively inexpensive safety improvements to the area have been completed as these are likely to very significantly improve safety in the Dome.
    It also doesn’t seem reasonable to build a fully grade sep flyover for the Warkworth end, simply because there will already be a road there, as if it’s an interchange between two massive motorways. Much less land hungry would be to stub that end of the Puhoi-Warkworth road and provide a simple diamond interchange.

    1. Yes for years they have had no incentive to fix the Dome Valeey section as that would have taken away benefits from the big scheme they really wanted to do.

  2. A long time ago in a land far away — Belgium — they were planning a motorway to somewhere, and as a first step they built a similar huge motorway interchange on the orbital motorway around Brussels. However then the oil crisis hit and the motorway was cancelled. Now we have this big oversized interchange there to get on a few local roads.

    Seems NZTA saw that, and thought, we can do it better.

    1. Meanwhile in the UK, even the AA is more progressive than our NZTA highway builders: “Strong hint from head of AA that UK road building programme should be scrapped” https://twitter.com/doug_parr/status/1245974992657027072?s=09

      ““We will still need investment in our transport infrastructure no matter what,” says King, who has been president of the AA since 2008.
      “We still have potholes on our roads and there is still under investment by about £8 billion in terms of the infrastructure that is important to everyone, not just drivers, but people on two wheels, too.”

      But King recognizes that the government will have some “tough choices” to make about spending priorities going forward and that the roads budget—based on projected travel demand that may not exist in the future—might have to be pruned back radically.

      “A lot of extra money is going into the NHS to make it run more efficiently. There isn’t a bottomless pit,” he says.
      “The majority of people are not going to get rid of their cars, but if they use them less, and use them more sensibly, then that’s better for all of us,” he adds.

      Reducing car use is “something [the AA] has long advocated for,” says King.”

    2. Almost as good as the Zwentendorf nuclear power station in Austria. They built first then had a referendum that prevented it being started up. Tom Scott did a good video about it on Youtube.

    3. We have a similarly pointless interchange in the UK. The London to Crawley M23 motorway has an absolutely gigantic 3 layer stack interchange, following which it abruptly terminates about 2km up the road, meaning half of the interchange is all but useless.

      The Warkworth interchange is another M23 in the making.

  3. I’m glad the designation is in. It makes sense to set aside the land now, given that the Council have allowed significant residential growth in Warkworth and Wellsford. I wonder what the business case would look like on a two lane grade separated bypass just from the Wellsford interchange to north of Te Hana.

    1. I was thinking the same thing. There is probably quite a lot of benefit from taking the traffic out of the main street of Wellsford.

  4. I’m interested to know what people think about the Government’s proposal to seek “shovel-ready” building projects for NZ to adopt after the lock down. To my mind, putting money into roading would seem to be a poor choice, if they are concerned about actually getting people into work. Roading projects no longer use lots of people and shovels – the costs on these projects don’t go so much into wages, but into diesel for large heavy machinery. Most of the costs are for diggers, graders, trucking etc, and their fuel, but not so much for people.

    By contrast, getting people picking fruit has a very high labour cost, but very little machinery cost – the physical costs are in ladders, timber crates, canvas aprons, etc, and most of that equipment is already there – and a relatively low cost in trucking to the ports. Obviously fruit-picking is hugely seasonally related, but right now apple picking is screaming out for pickers, but they won’t be in June.

    We need more projects with a low-carbon aspect, like fruit picking, rather than roading. Can people think of other projects like that? Thanks in advance.

    1. The government should build homes and plant trees. Both are very labour intensive, both have massive positive social benefits, both would effectively be free for gevernment as they would make a profit. Planting trees is relatively low skilled so no lead in time to train the staff and private construction is likely to slump over the next year, so construction workers would otherwise be sat idle. Building homes keeps urban populations employed and planting trees keeps rural populations employed.

      1. Lots of restoration groups around New Zealand struggle to find people to undertake winter planting then looking after the plants over summer. This year the start of planting will be delayed. It would be relatively easy to get some people employed to help with this. And its not all that hard to expand nursery production for next years planting.

    2. Maintaining school buildings so they don’t have to be replaced later at higher cost (seen poor maintenance leading to scrapping buildings too many times). Converting school buildings so they have healthier environments (warmer in winter, cooler in summer) to reduce health costs and make sure our children are as healthy as possible. Maintaining parks without having to resort to blowers and sprays. Making things that can be used to stop traffic on local roads so we can cycle safely (saving health budget). Planting trees along all the streets and actually looking after them (LOTS have died this summer.) Picking up rubbish. Cleaning up waterways. Mass planting along waterways. More carers for old people. More teacher aides. More counsellors.

      1. I’d much rather tax money be spent on this. Spend some money now, keep people in work maintaining vital buildings and save a fortune in the long run, while drastically improving the school environment kids spend over a decade of their lives in.

    3. In the last depression it made sense to build roads as they were using shovels and wheelbarrows. My grandfather worked on a Government road gang where they worked every second day so more men could work. He told me he met a man in the camp who would lick gelignite to get a buzz. It works as a powerful heart stimulant.

      1. Miffy
        You are absolutely right. Back in the depression road construction soaked up huge pools of labour. (My grandfather travelled from the West Coast to work around the Waikaremoana power stations, the only work available.) Nowadays road building takes very little labour.

        Today on TV1 there was someone from Infrastructure NZ saying that with less cars on the road the roading industry should be resurfacing those roads. Why? Because they can? Surely there has to be some economic rationale for such a project? We don’t have any duty to enrich the road contracting industry.

        Most of all there should be a sense that in emerging from one crisis NZ shouldn’t undertake a scheme of work that is more likely to exacerbate the next crisis – the climate one. Why should NZ embark on a scheme of emission inducing projects that will be unhelpful for future generations? Can the adverse weather event currently bearing down on the Pacific really be out of sight as a sample of what is probable here?

        As a boomer I feel we owe our future generation to set a path towards carbon emission reduction. Maybe there is even an element of payback. Before the lockdown I was standing at a bus stop and a group of university students were discussing the Dunedin St Paddy’s Day party. One commented, “last year we marched and marched imploring older generations to help with reducing emissions. Help us to avoid a mass extinction of our generation. They did nothing and have done nothing. Now that older generation wants us to help and save a few older people from a virus. How is that our problem?” But they have stepped up with a selfless concern for others. From my perspective time to give back. Hell, the government has already indebted them for years to come.

        1. John you make a good point that NZ shouldn’t fix one problem ( unemployment precipitated by covid 19) by creating another -increased road use and consequent environment damage. I’m not against infrastructure as an economic booster but do we have to do big roads- the most obvious most old fashioned version of infrastructure? A lot of the traffic on this section of SH1 is freight. We should be getting that OFF the road. But oil and road building and road freight lobbies work very well together to make everyone think a big rod is the only solution to an unsafe road.
          In PEAT published 2019 by Otago Uni Press I explore this dynamic vis a vis the Kāpiti Expressway, another Road of National Significance.

    4. Why pick fruit when you can get lots of free money from taxpayers?

      That’s why we have so many foreign workers doing the job.

      1. I don’t think it is social welfare that puts people off picking fruit. First it is opportunity cost- most of us earn more doing something else. Second it is seasonal so you get work in the autumn and have to find something else to do for the rest of the year. Thirdly it is somewhere you don’t actually live so you have to move away from your family and rent temporary accommodation (in some cases from the employer who takes it from your pay leaving you with less than then minimum wage).
        Traditionally New Zealand orchards get around these issues by importing people from the third world and in some rare cases by employing contractors who treat staff as slaves.
        If am employer can only make a profit by employing people below the minimum wage then the have no right to be in business.

        1. Its also bloody hard physical work for little pay, but it is honest labour. I’ve done apple picking, peach picking, pear picking, etc – hard work, but good. Toughens you up, after breaking your back a little to start with. And, after you’ve got over that, its a beautiful chance to commune with nature. Not much diesel used. But overall, if we are faced with massive jump in unemployment, and there being no foreign gastarbeiter to work the fields, then it needs to be kiwis doing this job.

        2. “If am employer can only make a profit by employing people below the minimum wage then the have no right to be in business.”

          Exactly. But then there is the perennial interview with the head of the industry saying they cant get enough workers but “the wage rates aren’t the issue”.

      2. “That’s why we have so many foreign workers doing the job.”

        No. Its the below minimum wages which Kiwis quite rightly reject. If you take the dole over a job like this, you deserve a medal.

  5. I simply don’t understand why they have a huuuuuge northbound off ramp at Warkworth when the existing road will still be there??
    Simply build a flyover or underpass or the new motorway extension and link the off ramp into the existing Warkworth link (similar to the Waterview interchange). That alone will shave about $100m off the project cost and take up far less land.

    1. They’re taking the piss.

      The south facing one is pointless as well. You can maintain your speed while you’re on that huge curve. So what. You have to slow down and stop anyway where the current SH1 is.

    2. It seems crazy, you can leave the motorway at full speed, to approach a roundabout? Unless the longer term plan is a 1H heading east. Four lanes direct to the beach?

  6. There isn’t even fancy overpasses like this in busy areas around the airport 20 / 20A areas. (I know they’re looking into ‘fixing’ that though).
    Seems crazy, gotta have the huge sweeping (fast) corners. Can’t have people slowing down now can we.

  7. Fits in with NZ First aspirations to ‘deliver’ for Northland. There should be better projects in the pipeline to spend money on but because this govt hasn’t seen fit to designate any worthy projects (such as NW RTN), we’ll be left with these beauties (East-west, Penlink, Warkworth to Wellsford etc) to stimulate the economy again. The system interchange will never happen in Warkworth, it’ll just be a diamond interchange (someone was smoking too much when they came up with that!)

  8. Dominion Rd motorway flyover and columns in the CMJ and under K’Rd (demolished/repurposed as part of the CMJ works several years ago which connected west to north) plus the New North Rd interchange.
    However this was just for consenting and allowing space for the future. Certainly plenty of space. Much cheaper to have it allowed for now (like SH20 Manukau), than ending up with land being built out and having to demolish or tunnel (SH20 waterview)

  9. I would assume there are shovel ready projects all over the country and they are likely all roading projects.
    Anyone know of any shovel ready projects for rapid transit in Auckland?
    Or any designated routes for rapid transit or rail in Auckland?
    Is there land put aside for the busway between Albany and Silverdale for example.

    1. Dominion Road already has a road widening designation for passenger transport. Perhaps we can pay unemployed people to knock down all the shops on either side.

    2. Eastern Busway to botany is probably the best bet, but they will probably need to use an act of parliament to get resource consent.

  10. I don’t see why the interchange needs to be so big?! Why can’t they make it like the Wellsford one? Are the road engineers just fascinated with spending money we do not have, especially considering what has happened to the word economy.

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