In June the government announced changes to their NZ Upgrade Progamme (NZUP) which saw the cost blow out on many projects. Second to the media’s huge double standard focus on the Northern Pathway has been their coverage of the decision to cut back Mill Rd. This was highlighted again on the weekend with a full page article dedicated to complaining about it.
A brief history
The name Mill Rd actually represents a 21km corridor runs parallel to SH1 from Manukau to south of Drury and is actually made up of a number of new and existing roads. It has been on plans for a long time, originating under the former Manukau City Council which liked planning lots of big roads. The project continued on under Auckland Transport and around 2016 they obtained consent for the northernmost section, running from SH1 along Redoubt Rd and then Mill Rd through to about Alfriston Rd. It also included the southernmost section of Murphys Rd.
There are significant safety issues with this section with the map below showing the crashes that occurred over the 4 years to 2013, clearly something that needs to be addressed but the big problem with the proposal is it was a large pseudo-highway designed for speed and not a modern urban arterial.
The 2018 update to the Auckland Transport Alignment project, suggested the following as the course ahead.
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.
This suggestion was reasonable, address the most urgent issues during the first decade of that plan and look at the rest of the corridor in future decades as needed.
Then in early 2020, the government surprisingly announced they would fund the entire 21km corridor for $1.35 billion and that Waka Kotahi would build it.
No one knows why the government decided to bring forward parts of the project so far forward given:
- there are so many other and more pressing areas that money could be spent – ATAP even included a list of the next priorities.
- the increased emissions outcome it would have given everything that’s known these days about the impact of building large roads.
- they’re also busy widening the existing SH1 corridor at the same time.
Then in June the government announced it would scale back the project after the project blew out to a massive $3.5 billion, or around $166 million per km – making it more expensive than even our most expensive motorways. Perhaps one reason for this is my understand the plans were to not upgrade the existing roads but build a massive new corridor right next to it that likely would have ended up something a bit like Wairere Dr in Hamilton.
While the full project has been scaled back, there will still be some changes.
Mill Road will become a smaller scale project, with a focus on addressing safety issues. It is expected to involve an upgrade of two lanes instead of four between Flat Bush and Alfriston tying in the existing urban Redoubt Road dynamic lanes. There will also be targeted safety improvements between Alfriston and Papakura.
The Argument for Mill Rd
Other than safety, the main argument for Mill Rd is about enabling more housing and supporting the housing that has already gone in near the corridor – though Deputy Mayor Bill Cashmore also tells anyone who will listen it’s also needed for trucks accessing the four quarries in the area.
There is certainly a lot of housing planned for the area in the future but part of the issue with Mill Rd is will further lock in auto-dependency as it does nothing to improve public transport in the area.
Part of the issue with Mill Rd is that while most people agree we need to address climate change, the corridor is already congested at times and that has impacts on people living in the area. As for why they’re driving, below a couple of comments in the Herald article from the weekend.
If public transport is inadequate, which it is, the solution isn’t to build a massive new highway, it’s to build better public transport.
Furthermore, as Jenny Cooper, QC of Lawyers for Climate Change and All Aboard Aotearoa said, “the reality is you cannot negotiate with climate change”. She also said “the challenge now is to decarbonise Mill Rd and make far greater use of rapid buses and upgraded rail services”.
Options for biking isn’t much better and where bike lanes exist they’re just paint for the brave, not suitable for families or those less confident with lots of cars and trucks around.
An alternative option
A big part of the solution then needs to be about how we make those buses and bike options better so the residents of the existing and future homes have valid alternatives.
The two key drivers to getting people to use public transport is frequency and reliability and on that count public transport in the area fails on both counts. With the exception of the 33 along Gt South Rd, buses in this part of South Auckland are infrequent and there’s little often priority meaning those buses are stuck in traffic.
Panmure and stations on the Northern Busway have shown that Aucklanders aren’t allergic to transferring between services where it’s made easy. So a critical part of a solution is to do just that and to get people transferring more between trains and buses. For that to work we need both bus and train services to be more frequent and reliable.
Perhaps we could also look to straighten some of those routes out a bit. One thing that also strikes me about the area in and around Takanini is the grid that already exists with many ‘east-west’ streets that exist and which pass train stations, streets such as Browns Rd, Weymouth Rd, Mahia Rd and Airfield Rd. Interestingly the most notable one that is missing/broken is Mahia Rd to the other side of the motorway. However that has been proposed as part of the Supporting Growth work.
The bigger challenge is how to provide priority for all of this. If we follow the idea of using the east-west streets, some road reallocation and possibly even some limited and localised road widening might be needed. This would also need to provide for so much safer facilities for walking and cycling.
Those are some of the kinds of solutions the planners and engineers should be focused on instead of another parallel corridor.