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.

The northern part of Mill Rd was designed and consented by Auckland Transport a few years ago

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.

Some of these new homes will need to go or face a high-traffic, high-noise highway

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.

Potential rapid transit on Te Irirangi Dr
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  1. Imagine what $1.354 billion of cycling infrastructure could buy you. Maybe we could get the Kingsland bottleneck sorted out and then have school kids feeling safe to walk to school again?

  2. Firstly why were homes allowed to be built along a road designation? Mill Rd upgrade has been on the cards for what a decade?

      1. The middle section still isn’t designated. The two designations through that area are the airspace restriction and the gas pipeline.

      2. And Princess Margaret became the Countess of Snowden in 1960. But none of that is relevant if there is no designation on either Dominion Road or through Twin Parks in the Auckland Unitary Plan. Because the AUP has the status of regulation and what happened in 1960 doesn’t.

  3. When I was working in East Tamaki some of my fellow workers who lived in Papakura or Manurewa would use Mill Road to avoid the Southern Motorway. I would suggest a bus route that avoids Manukau City would be useful. So Papakura or Dury to Botany bypassing Manukau. Also Mill Road is mostly closer to the railway than the motorway. Feeder buses to Papakura Takanini and Manurewa stations would be good some services are already operating. Bus 33 is very slow between Papakura and Manukau. With appropriate bus lanes Mill Road Redoubt Road may be a faster route.

    1. And yes to the Southern railway link into Manukau City. Buss 33 is slow as will any bus that needs to negotiate Redoubt road to get to Manukau.

  4. New Zealand granny media at its finest. If this was a 1.5b train line or light rail that had jumped to the front of the queue this would be all over the news. Opinion pieces left right and centre.

    The world is right that they are starting to laugh at our handling of a so called Climate Emergency.

  5. My instinct with all these major road projects is to go back to first principles from a PT perspective and ask the following questions:

    1. What is the actual origin and destination profile of the traffic that’s congesting the current stretch of Mill Road?

    2. Are there ways that existing PT services can be tweaked and/or new routes added to cater for a significant portion of that traffic?

    3. What minor works could be undertaken to give these PT services the kind of priority that would make them attractive to existing road users?

    4. Could some additional PT construction be undertaken that would allow a new “proto-RTN” line to operate (say, in this instance) between Papakura and Manukau or Manurewa and Botany?

    5. How would this fit into the overall RTN network? Would it make “sense” as a worthy and useful addition?

    6. How do we then persuade people out of their cars onto this new proto-RTN line?

    Likewise, the same questions need to be asked about cycling and cycling infrastructure.

    If we can come up with sustainable solutions that avoid the immense ecological damage that the construction of the already-consented northern section would cause, why would we not go there?

    Like so many of these projects, the opportunity to shift people onto sustainable modes at a lower cost to the ratepayer and taxpayer does not seem to have figured large in the analysis. At a time of “climate emergency “ it should be mandatory to re-examine ALL current roading plans and view the problem through the PT/cycling lens first and foremost, and that construction of ANY new arterial road should be the last option to be considered.

  6. The reality is that while it is cheaper, quicker and easier to drive, the majority will. If we want a city with decent PT it is pretty much a requirement to have bad road congestion, we need to stop trying to ‘fix’ that and we need to stop spending money on it. We need to choose whether we want to be more European or American, we can’t really be both. And that is a very easy choice; no one goes to LA and says wow those congested 10 lane motorways were really nice.
    I’d like to see AT have $0 new road budget for the next 10 years. Developers can pay for any new roads needed for sprawl.

    1. Agree 100%. We know from experience that new roads themselves will eventually clog up, rendering the huge investment ineffective. Time for radical change – not least to address the climate emergency.

    2. So you’re suggesting that we make traffic so bad that people accept this awful PT that is offered in Auckland? I’d assume that the logical path would be make PT so good that people wouldn’t have a reason to use their cars.
      And if you want to be European, you have to implode Auckland and start it again. Probably concentrate the population in 1/3 of the land currently used.

      1. Nope, that’s not what he said at all.

        He said long term traffic will be this bad no matter what.(barring an orders of magnitude bigger budget) We might as well spend the limited budget we have on making a rapid transport network for the dozen or so benefits to the city. Including being able to transport significantly more people.

      2. If it is awful, spend the money fixing it so it isn’t awful. It’s awful because until Britomart opened, all the money was spent on roads for 50 years.

      3. I don’t see that we need to start Auckland again, just need to concentrate the population growth that is expected more towards the city centre.
        Auckland already has a huge amount of road space compared to many cities. The bit we are missing is decent PT. We don’t need to spend a single cent more building roads IMO: been there, done that.

        1. Problem is you assume everybody works in the city centre. There are lots of business parks or big business with no good PT. Just to mention two examples: Highbrook and the new one in Mangere near the airport. People spread, business spread, and not enough infrastructure investment (roads and PT). Lots of dreaming idealists here but lack of concrete good ideas that can be effective and implemented in a suitable timeframe.

        2. @Luis
          Protected bike infrastructure.
          Cheaper than roads or pt to implement. Much faster and less disruptive to build. Opens up any part of the city – especially business parks that are close to where employees live. Massive pent up demand (ie. people don’t currently ride because it’s not safe).
          Not even vaguely idealistic – super practical and proven to work.

        3. Problem is you’ve assumed every trip in a car is too or from work, there are many other trips as well, often over short distances.

          The dreaming idealists are those that believe if we build more roads driving will be easier, there is a massive body of evidence built up around the world over the last 60 years which shows this isn’t the case.

        4. Scott bike infrastructure only sorts out some people, it doesn’t solve the transport of goods to those business parks. It also doesn’t help if you live in Takapuna and work at Auckland International Airport.

        5. Henrik – that’s the point. Bike infrastructure sorts out those undertaking short trips, which make up a significant chunk of vehicle movements.

          It leaves the roads for those undertaking the trips you have described, saving billions in infrastructure costs.

    3. What is more European? Europe is a continent of vastly different approaches to city development. There are cities in Europe with well developed motorway networks, there are cities with crappy motorway networks and decent public transport, then there are cities with excellent roads and public transport. Take you pick.

  7. How will the consenting process play out for this and other large projects? Under the RMA – which now allows greenhouse gas emissions to be taken into account – all effects of an activity, across space and time and also including the cumulative effect of related activities – should be considered. Climate change is the ultimate cumulative effect. There is also the impact of the new fast-track provisions. It strikes me that there are going to be some major battles of this and other similar projects that tend to increase emissions, and some difficult courtroom decisions.

    1. Wouldn’t that depend on how far into the future we look? Its quite feasible that by the time the road was built the percentage of ICE vehicles would have dropped considerably. And in 20 years time they will hopefully be the minority.

      1. You’re having a laugh, BEV’s the majority in 20 years? In dirt poor NZ where people drive cars until they have to be forced off the road after failing a WOF; I have serious doubts about a swift transition to BEV’s unless the govt is going to step in with much larger subsidies than the ones previously announced.

        1. Henrik – 20 years is a long time from now – who knows what the price of petrol / diesel will be.
          5 years ago I would struggle to see to an EV on the road, now it’s at least a daily occurrence. Cars that are now currently 20-30 grand will be already off the road, or very close to it.

    2. Carbon emissions from transport are already captured by the ETS which has been amended to adopt a sinking lid approach to emissions. So in theory, there is no potential increase in carbon emissions at a national level from this type of project. Increasing emissions from transport associated with greater vehicle use will, in theory, reduce the amount of emissions other sectors can generate.

  8. The NZUP project is about building some parts of this corridor that have a current need plus designating the rest of the route to be able to build it if there is any point to it eventually.
    Once you get into proving the specific need for property purchase or blighting for future purchase, you become invested in making a theoretical design work. There’s a lot of site investigation and discussion of options to prove “necessity”, so it is easy to forget that the proposed road might not be wanted, or might be very different when needed.
    Former designations lapsing through deferral or dropping from Plans mean that land once protected is free to develop. So protecting land for “perhaps” comes in, tied up with property rights, proof of “need” and business cases for early parts.
    The difficulty of finding any route through the Papakura section shows what happens even when only one route makes sense and has been known for decades. Building a road on that line will affect houses built even though they were known to be on the route.
    It would be interesting to compare the benefits of this SH1 bypass with Freight/ HOV lanes on the widened motorway. There is, after all, a railway as well.

  9. I think the legal action against NZTA,in Nelson,has a very good chance of success,given that it is based on 2018 aspirations,and 2021 aspirations are even more stringent,this will force NZTA to take climate change seriously, and crap like this will not be approved . Unless they can prove new road building ,reduces transport emissions, have seen that argument put forward,by a politician,i think

  10. Why do NZTA punish themselves? This was an AT-led project to serve predicted Council land use – those clowns should be funding and building it.

  11. Roscommon/Weymouth channel, over to Karaka seems like a much more sensible option, with less disruption as there is a wide corridor that I suspect was deliberately for this purpose. If we try to avoid building bridges in a city surrounded by water, then we will alway be playing “catch up”.

  12. This is a housing policy failure leading to a transport policy failure. The need for new transport links would have been obvious when major subdivision south of Pakapura was approved.

    Perhaps they could name it the Greta Thunberg Motorway to regain public support?

  13. Thank you Matt, I think that there is one item that is missing from the comment and that is the quarry lobby.
    There is a lot of aggregate taken from the hills on the south side of the Clevedon valley. The road Transport lobby has had a lot of input in the various proposals. The affect of the trucks of increasing load size has had a drastic detrimental affect on all these roads and their maintenance over the peat in this valley. This is going to be a fairly major factor in the increased cost of the project, both building and maintenance.
    The favoured route cuts much of the new housing areas off from their schools and Kindergartens and is not what I consider to be the optimal way forward. This route was in the planning stages when the last Nat government was looking for the new housing areas and they were well aware of the problems.
    Routes A & B are the flattest and favoured by the trucking lobby. Both the other routes have varying degrees of gradients in them but do less to sever the housing from the City of Papakura and the schools etc. This is almost motorway like and will no doubt become one. It seems that the severance of this residential area from it’s commercial infrastructure is not the way to go.
    Stall it till we don’t need it.

  14. The Mill Rd upgrade would benefit the large volume that is currently a problem, This traffic is coming from Papakura, Takanini and Manurewa most of this traffic is heading to Flat bush, East Tamaki and Botany also a quick route to Howick. And now with the housing development through Murphy’s Rd
    So why can’t the upgrade be from Mill Rd Papakura end to Murphy’s Rd and including Murphy’s Rd..that Road needs major work patching up that road isn’t working.

  15. Economically any serious delays in or out of Auckland on the Southern Motorway costs Auckland commerce dearly. Both from product movement and worker access. This alternative route is long overdue. No other Road in or out of the city is as essential to its wellbeing.

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