Last week the NZ Herald highlighted how Waka Kotahi NZTA were ramping up their works on the Mill Rd project and that hundreds of homes and businesses are in the way of this huge project. This includes a lot of new homes built just four years ago.
One of the biggest disappointments over this year has been the mass of major road projects that jumped to the front of the queue as part of the NZ Upgrade Programme (NZUP). Mill Rd is the biggest of these, both in terms of the disappointment factor and the cost, which was estimated at $1.354 billion.
Mill Road has been hanging about on various plans for some time and despite all sorts of claims about why it’s needed, the main reason for it seems to be that we should build a big expensive road so we can build a big expensive road.
That’s not to say we don’t need some improvements to the corridor and during the 2018 refresh of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) the council and government came up with a reasonable focus for the project, saying:
It is clear that some improvements need to be made along the Mill Road corridor over the next decade, to improve the resilience of Auckland’s transport system and to support growth areas along the route. While further work needs to be done to identify where these improvements should be targeted, key priority areas for investment include:
- Improve intersections to address the most severe congestion
- Improve parts of the northern end to address the most severe safety issues
- Construct sections that pass directly through former Special Housing Areas at the time these areas grow
- Construct the new Drury South interchange
- Undertake route protection and land purchase of the southern section.
Auckland Transport has advised that these improvements will cost around $500 million.
The intention was that the later phases might be included in future decades but clearly aren’t a priority for this decade. We certainly have plenty of other projects far more in need of funding than a four-lane highway, much of which will be through land that will remain undeveloped for decades. But also because at the same time we’re now going to be building this thing, we’re also spending over $400 million to widen the parallel SH1 route between Papakura and Drury, having just spent over $300 million widening the Manukau to Papakura section. Not to mention all of the investment in the rail network to improve capacity and to encourage more people out of their cars.
While Mill Rd is currently slated to cost $1.354 billion, given what’s been happening on other projects recently, it seems likely that this cost could go up significantly – and there are already some industry rumours floating round suggesting it has. However, even if the project is brought in for that figure, that’s not the only cost. As we’ve learnt from the issues at Drury, bringing forward Mill Rd also means that the council need to bring forward at least $600 million, likely more, in upgrades to local roads that will connect to Mill Rd.
As the map above shows, the Mill Rd corridor is largely parallel to the Southern Motorway with the exception of at each end where it connects to SH1. One seemingly unresolved issue with this is what happens when all the traffic gets to each end. This is particularly the case at the northern end (Redoubt Rd) where traffic is already busy but Mill Rd is intended to open up land for tens of thousands of new homes. Traffic from these homes is only likely to make congestion and emissions worse even if a good chunk of those new residents find a way to catch PT, walk or cycle to their destinations.
Imagine if instead we followed the current ATAP report and spent $500 million mainly focused on the northern end as well as safety improvements. That could free up at least $1.5 billion, but likely closer to $2 billion, that could then be put into other projects in the region. It could, for example, help to bring forward construction of some of our missing rapid transit routes like full Airport to Botany corridor, where combined with changes to the planning rules brought about by the National Policy Statement on Urban Development could see capacity opened up for tens of thousands of new homes in our existing urban area. Of course existing residents would also benefit from having more frequent and reliable public transport.