Of all the potential new rural motorway projects that get thrown around, including ones recently announced, there’s always one I’m surprised we never hear called for more. Surprised because the two-lane road it would replace carries about twice (or more) as many vehicles every day as any of the other motorway projects that been getting media and political attention. The road is even busier than most of the recently completed or under construction projects such as the Waikato Expressway and Puhoi to Warkworth.
As you may have guessed from the title image, the road is the proposed bypass of Huapai/Kumeu. As a quick comparison, the section of road between the end of SH16 at Brigham Creek and the Coatesville Riverhead Highway carries almost 37k vehicles a day, dropping to just under 29k per day north between there and Kumeu. The Waikato Expressway between the SH2 turnoff and Hamilton generally carries about 20-25k per day, so do does the road north of Wellington being bypassed by the massive Transmission Gully. Most of the new projects announced in January or promoted in the media by political parties tend to carry 12-20k per day.
Quite why this project in the Northwest so often gets left out of the discussion is unclear. Is it just because it’s in Auckland?
Although it’s not completely ignored. The current road is getting a safety upgrade from Waka Kotahi NZTA and the bypass is included in the current ‘Supporting Growth‘ work which is looking to protect the routes in the greenfield areas. Below is the indicative network for the North west with the bypass shown as number 4. I’m also not sure why it doesn’t also bypass Waimauku. Perhaps they’re leaving that for a separate project.
What I have been thinking about recently is not so much if the motorway extension happens but if it does, should we also take the opportunity to divert the rail line with it. Here’s my high-level thinking about it.
Currently the rail line runs north from Waitakere and as it reaches Kumeu it turns west and runs alongside SH16 through the township along to Waimauku.
Huapai/Kumeu is currently undergoing significant (sub)urban expansion with acres of new sprawl popping up. That has seen the population in the town and some of the surrounding area go from about 1,500 in 2013 to 4,000 in 2019 – Riverhead has also grown, from over 1,400 to 3,100. As you can also see from the map above, a lot more growth is allowed for too. That growth is also on both sides of the existing state highway and rail line.
Even without the idea of moving the port, over time we’re like to see an increase in rail traffic due to the current upgrades that are underway. Currently this is often just two trains a day. While we currently have freight trains rumbling through a swathe of our urban area, it is was something to avoid if we possibly can.
In most places, both in Auckland and other parts of the country, it would simply too cost prohibitive these days to move the rail corridor. But the difference here would be if we were already building that motorway scale road, tacking on a bit extra to include a new rail corridor shouldn’t cost all that much.
What’s more this is something that we may need anyway if the suggestions of moving the port ever came to fruition. That’s because there have been suggestions of building an inland hub somewhere around Huapai. That’s probably not the kind of thing we want alongside the main street which should become more focused on people rather than industry. To put things in perspective, I’ve overlaid the size of the current Metroport footprint in Onehunga just to get a feel for how much space is needed and even more would be needed if it was also handling cars and other goods.
Of course, if you did do this it does leave the question of what to do with the existing corridor through the town. It would still be incredibly useful, particularly for the future Northwest Rapid Transit line, whether that is ultimately some form of rail or bus and with 2-3 stations (depending on mode etc). the town would be well served.
I can already imagine some readers yelling out about using the existing corridor for extended rail services but long term it’s simple not a viable option. Most people from the Northwest aren’t travelling to destinations along the western line but going to the city-centre, the North Shore and even areas around Westgate and therefore would be far more likely to use a more direct service along a route similar to what is above than tiki touring via Swanson. For the shorter to medium term we do need out various transport agencies looking to see what quicker wins can be had for buses in the Northwest so they can avoid sitting with those 36k other vehicles each day.
I should point out, all of this is prefaced on not moving the rail line until such time as the motorway project happens, if it ever happens – it’s not in the current 10-year plans. But with route protection already being worked on, it seems the ideal time to make sure we get this right and include a diverted rail line in that.