This is a guest post by readers Paul Callister and Robert McLachlan. For more of Robert McLachlan’s writing on climate planning, we recommend his Planetary Ecology blog.

The challenges of decarbonising Auckland’s transport are significant. But are other regions also playing their part? The Kāpiti Coast and Horowhenua region illustrates the challenges when declarations of climate emergencies do not lead to real action, and a silo mentality to transport and urban planning takes us down the wrong path.

Kapiti Coast and Horowhenua. Credit: Google Maps

Anyone travelling from Wellington to Ōtaki in the last couple of years would be struck by the massive amount of road construction taking place. At a time when we know we need to dramatically reduce transport emissions, motorways have absorbed much of the region’s transport spend.

The largest project is Transmission Gully which is expected to cost $1.25 billion directly and $3 billion during its run of private operation. In Kāpiti, this connects to the Mackays to Peka Peka expressway ($630 million). Still being constructed is the Peka Peka to Ōtaki expressway ($405 million).

These projects were set in place before the government declared a climate emergency. Yet, despite this declaration both National and Labour support the Ōtaki to Levin motorway extension. The estimated cost was originally $817 million which gave a very low benefit-cost ratio (BCR) of 0.22-0.37. Already there is talk of a cost blowout to $1.5 billion. On this basis, the Ministry of Transport and Treasury advised against the project, but were overruled by cabinet.

BCR is the ratio of the present value of the benefits of a project to its costs. Prior to July 2009, it was the main method for determining which projects went ahead. Then it became just one component of several, with the project’s ‘strategic fit’ allowing projects with low BCR to be built. Average BCRs of new roads fell from 4 to 2 by 2010, and are now routinely less than 1. That is, they trigger an immediate net loss to the economy. Michael Pickford, in a 2013 review of the change, pointed out that the true loss is even greater as projects with higher benefits are foregone. He concluded that there were serious doubts about the rationality of the decision-making process. In a climate emergency, sticking to previous irrational decisions simply demonstrates an incoherent lack of resilience in processes.

In contrast, spending on rail has been small. The main project, completed in 2011, was double tracking and electrification from Paraparaumu to Waikanae at a cost of $14 million.

Traffic increases in direct proportion to highway construction, a finding so well established it has been known as the “Fundamental Law of Highway Congestion” for sixty years and verified all over the world. There is no reason to think the Wellington region will be any different.


The 18 km Kāpiti Expressway stands out clearly in this view of Kāpiti and Horowhenua from space. Transmission Gully connects just to the right out of frame. The 45 km stretch from Levin to Paraparaumu has prime potential for linear sprawl.

The Horowhenua and Kāpiti communities

Kāpiti is a series of coastal villages with a mix of high- and low-income areas. Waikanae in particular has been seen as an area for retirement and consequently has an older population. Like all areas of New Zealand there are housing shortages.

Horowhenua, whose main centre is Levin, begins north of Ōtaki. It has the second-lowest median income of New Zealand’s 66 territorial authorities. Now it has a housing affordability crisis as well, as median house prices have risen from $195,000 in 2016 to $530,000 today.

All the towns along the Kāpiti Coast and Horowhenua were historically developed around railway stations on the main trunk line. This means almost all of the existing urban development is within easy cycling distance of these stations. Using Google Maps, examples are Paraparaumu Beach to the station is estimated to take 15 minutes by bike. Waikanae Beach to that station is a little longer at 19 minutes. Otaki Beach to the station is 16 minutes. And most areas of the current Levin township are 10 to 15 minutes cycling to that station.


Car dependency

Like most of New Zealand, both Kāpiti and the Horowhenua are very car dependent. This shows up in greenhouse gas emissions and in transport surveys.

Levin Mall Carpark

Given the lack of public transport, people living in Horowhenua are especially reliant on cars. Some of these commuters will be working locally but Palmerston North also provides employment. A small but growing group will go as far as Wellington. Despite Levin being flat, compact and with relatively wide streets, rates of cycling to work are very low.

Source: Statistics New Zealand

Kāpiti also has a high proportion of people using cars to travel to work. However, the train link to Wellington substantially lifts the proportion travelling by train. There is also a commuter bus service operating in the district but use is relatively low. Most rail commuters drive to the large car parks provided at the main stations. Cycling rates are low.

Source: Statistics New Zealand

Transport accounts for 57% of Kāpiti’s gross greenhouse gas emissions. The largest segment, road transport, increased by 48% since 2001, while air travel is also important, at 9% of emissions and up 41% since 2001.


Public transport planning

Unlike Auckland, local authorities do not control public transport decisions. In Kāpiti, this is the role of Greater Wellington Regional Council. In Horowhenua it is Horizons. Further complicating this, the once-daily weekday Capital Connection train is outside the Metlink public transport system. Waiting at Paraparaumu station, no information comes up on the Metlink electronic board. Ticketing systems are also not integrated across the region.

In addition, the InterCity buses are outside this system. Gold cards allow free travel on one system but not the other. Waikanae retirees, wealthy or not, can travel all the way to Wellington for free, but the poor of Horowhenua get no similar benefits.

The Kāpiti Council does have control over local roads and could now be working hard to support cycling in the district. Through the motorway building, and the pro-active lobbying of the Kāpiti Council, there is a good spine of cycleways linking the towns. But where these intersect with local roads, cars have priority. On key points, cyclists and walkers take their chances crossing roads. When lobbied to make these areas safe for adults and children cycling to school, council traffic engineers provide all sorts of reasons why they cannot do anything except put up signs.

Unsafe crossing on cycleway linking to local schools

In 2019 the Kāpiti Council declared a climate emergency. Since then the council has completed what they call a Sustainable Transport Strategy and a Long Term Plan. The former has no targets, no timelines and no strategy for decarbonising transport. It was adopted just days before the draft Climate Change Commission report was issued. The Long Term Plan has a continued and unquestioned emphasis on roading including building a new link road.


Spatial planning

At a time when we know that urban sprawl increases emissions and that we should also be protecting prime horticultural and agricultural land, the Wellington Regional Growth Framework favours greenfield. It suggests 15,500 new houses in greenfield developments and 10,400 new houses for existing urban areas within Horowhenua/Kāpiti in the next 30 years.

A prime example of this sprawl mentality can be seen in Levin. A 2,500-house development is planned which would be divided from the existing city by the as-yet unconsented Ōtaki-to-North-Levin expressway. Intentionally dividing a new community by a non-existent expressway would surely be something new in the annals of planning. Many of the new residents will be wanting to commute 94 km to Wellington or 50 km to Palmerston North.

What are the government and local authorities doing to reduce emissions?

The evidence to date is, very little. We await the reaction of the government to the final Climate Change Commission report. While many of us argue that the report is not ambitious enough, even their modest recommendations on transport put them at odds with the developments in the region.

Like other transport plans around the country, Wellington’s Regional Land Transport Plan is good on fine words and graphics but still directs the vast bulk of funding towards roads. It has a headline target of a 35% reduction in transport emissions by 2030, to be achieved by reducing driving per person by 15-25% and an increase in active and public transport mode share from 28% to 39% of all trips. But the specific actions (“Ensure carbon emission reduction is a key objective underpinning regional transport planning and investment policies”, “advocate for legislative changes”) are toothless and unmeasurable and are likely to be helpless in the face of concerted efforts to increase emissions in Kāpiti and Horowhenua.

Making a difference

Making a difference in this region will require visionary leadership and a total rethink and rewrite of most transport and urban planning documents.
The government was bold in abandoning the Mill Road project in Auckland. The Ōtaki-to-North-Levin expressway project should also be stopped or greatly curtailed. Any new motorways should be heavily tolled.

All housing projects that involve sprawl would also be abandoned and instead there would be a focus on intensification, especially around transport hubs. This could include using the large park-and-ride areas to build apartments.

Kāpiti airport would be closed and high density housing built on the site. There is room for at least 3,000 dwellings on this site. The commute by bike along existing cycle tracks to a large public swimming pool, the main library, a primary school, Coastlands shopping centre and the station from the airport site would be about 10 minutes.

Given the topography and the series of small towns and villages, a visionary cycleway development program could tip the region into being a “Holland of the South”. Electric bikes are already becoming popular in Kāpiti, but given the low incomes in Horowhenua, incentives would be warranted. In addition, with the support of council planners the series of villages along the coast could easily be developed into low traffic 15 minute neighbourhoods.

As discussed in the post Levin to Wellington, one EMU at a time, in terms of trains, the government is developing a business case for electrification of the line to Levin. Double tracking to Ōtaki could begin quickly.

Metlink is developing a case to improve train services between Palmerston North and Wellington and Masterton and Wellington. They already know it would require government funding, $300 million for the trains alone. But that is significantly less than the motorway to Levin.

Current commuter trains from Waikanae would become more frequent. For example, the weekend evening services would increase from an hourly schedule after 7pm to every 20 minutes.

Evening timetable for Saturday and Sunday, Kāpiti line

Trains would be able to carry more than three bikes. Fares would be affordable for families so instead of packing the bikes onto the twin cab ute the train would be a better option.

An overnight train would be re-instated linking Kāpiti and Horowhenua with areas to the north, providing a network effect with other train services.

The long-distance buses running through the district would be better integrated into the whole transport network. On- and off-bus amenities would be greatly improved.

Non-rail public transport would be improved. This is likely to involve a whole rethink about how the current bus network operates.

Driving to Wellington from anywhere along the coast would be discouraged by road pricing and restricted parking in Wellington.


Final thoughts

An article by Dave Hansford in the September 2021 NZ Geographic, “How to fix: Transport emissions”, concludes:

If we’re to hit our Paris target, we need to slash transport emissions across every mode. With sufficient political courage, some of those cuts could be made quickly: we could axe the fringe benefits perk on double-cab utes tomorrow, for instance. We could impose congestion charges, eliminate free car parking, and prioritise unfettered right of way for buses and bicycles in commuter traffic. New road projects or housing developments could be consented conditional only upon the provision of walking, cycling and public transport facilities.

Unfortunately, bruised survivors of local transport battles know that that courage is often lacking. Dave’s earlier conclusion, that we will need to “crowbar New Zealanders out of their cars”, is closer to reality.

There are various lobby groups in Kāpiti concerned about climate change and working hard to present ideas to councils and the government on ways to decarbonise. These include Low Carbon Kāpiti, Kāpiti Climate Change Action Group, and Kāpiti Cycling. We are not short of ideas. We are short of politicians and planners with will, vision and courage to make the joined up decisions that will lead to liveable and sustainable communities.

All regions of Aotearoa need to abandon plans for sprawl and highway building. We need quality transport and land use planning that supports the urgent decarbonisation of the transport sector.

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94 comments

  1. ” Any new motorways should be heavily tolled.”

    You wonder if the authors know that will largely divert traffic onto longer, less safe roads? There is a requirement to have an untolled, feasible alternative route to any toll road in New Zealand

    1. This depends on the relative speed of alternative routes. Toll roads are heavily used in Europe, and are much faster than local roads.

      1. Tolls are used heavily in Europe to raise funds from out of state vehicles. If you are concerned about emissions taxing fuel (both diesel and petrol) is a better alternative to tolling.

        1. David, you need to produce some evidence if you make assertions like that. In Italy there are significant tolls on the autostrarda and petrol prices are also harder. The consequence is that people look for alternatives to driving. PaulC can tell you the very high rail travel percentage on some routes.
          The maths is compelling as to why tolls work better. The average toll is about $13 per 100km. You could never increase petrol prices enough to generate similar cost for the motorist.

    2. The evidence for this is weak. NZTA have not released their model for tolling on Puhoi-to-Warkworth so their evidence on which it was based cannot be assessed. The consultations on tolling and on the speed limit for the free route were conducted separately. But a bigger problem is the very restrictive criteria for assessing tolling. Perhaps this will all be swept away in a new approach to pricing driving.

    3. What you should perhaps be wondering about is the thought processes of the people undertaking the business cases. A safe transport system is a bottom line. The kind of thinking that leaves a road in an unsafe condition and recommends spending hundreds of millions or billions of dollars building a new parallel route is no longer acceptable. It’s not Vision Zero nor climate appropriate.

      Where a new road is required, the old and new can be planned together, with safety measures, reduced speeds, cycle lanes, improved pedestrian amenity, road diets and limited vehicle access for the older road.

      Where a new road is simply going to add new capacity, it should not be built, and the money can be put into the old road instead. Our transport planning now requires planning to reduce capacity, in order to reduce driving. We need to follow the “decide and provide” approach, and stop using “predict and provide”.

      The safety benefits in the business cases are spurious in any case, again due to ignoring the induced traffic. The trips on the new motorway do not start and end on the motorway but on local roads, so the induced traffic increases conflicts throughout the network and this is not accounted for.

    4. Produce the evidence or sit down
      The Finance Minister should have never approved the Climate denying highway and it only shows that he
      1) Doesnt believe in Climate Change
      2) Bad as National approving bad projects with BCRs below 1 and even below 0.5.

      So evidence please.

    5. The old route based, on best practice speed limits in Europe, would be 80km/hr or 90km/hr.

      That would increase safety, decrease emissions, and of course incentive use of the faster safer toll road.

      1. 70 is Vision Zero’s top speed limit for an undivided highway.
        50 is Vision Zero’s top speed limit for a road with driveways, due to the possibility of 90 degree crashes.

        The government’s rural safety programme is a start but we have much, much more work to do. (And as you know, wasting money on new highways just strips us of the money needed to do that work.)

  2. Sad to read that some small towns in NZ are not into cycling, even if the whole town are within the cyclable distance and flat.

    1. To be fair, State Highway 1 goes right down the main street of Levin. The main street would be the top destination for most residents but at the moment it’s a chaotic mess of high speed traffic and angle parking. Not exactly a friendly place for someone on a bike. I think rerouting SH1 around the side of Levin would be great for the town.

      1. It’s a classic problem, and different solutions are needed in different places. Getting the freight, commuters and other regional trips onto rail, and to improve the walking and cycling for local trips, is the best approach in this location.

        Would it be sufficient to improve the town?

        Yes, with enough investment in rail and modeshift to undo the decades of biased investment in roads. But that requires reallocating the money from the highway building.

      2. There are a number of pretty heavy intervention projects that would be vastly cheaper than a full motorway alignment and have most of the desired outcomes in these areas.

        Yes a bypass of a lot of these small towns would be great.
        Median rope barriers to improve the safety for rural highways. All of these things would be cheaper than a full new motorway.

  3. Transport funding in NZ is broken at a number of levels.
    1. There are massive regional allocation inequities from the fuel tax and road user charges derived National Land Transport Fund.
    2. Land-use effects are not properly accounted for in the business cases and benefit to cost ratios – which therefore favours route factors like travel time reductions – which quickly dissapears
    3. Land value capture techniques used overseas aren’t used in NZ
    4. Advanced transport planning and corridor protection has been inadequate – meaning rapidly increasing infrastructure costs.
    5. Massive lobbying by wealthy status quo groups prevents reform. Large insider groups including Wellington’s public service whose incomes are based on ignoring the problems of the status quo.
    6. The economics of the status quo system is bad but it is politics which keeps it so.
    7. Cabinet Ministers from both sides of the house for generations have supported this broken status quo system. In recent decades – Roads of National Significance and Infrastructure Upgrade announcement being particular ignorant of their responsibility/ obligation for addressing the climate emergency and housing crisis.
    8. Basically transport, housing, and planning is where NZ is most FUBAR. A lot of people who could do better but aren’t should be ashamed of themselves.

    1. It is embarrassing how badly central government is distributing transport funding. $billion on motorways in the northern Wellington region is of little value to the country.
      $billion spent on Christchurch’ public transport system. Bringing buses up to an acceptable level and starting on rapid transit would be fairer and have far more impact.
      Check this piece out.
      https://talkingtransport.com/2021/09/21/canterbury-public-transport-funding-or-lack-of/amp/?__twitter_impression=true

    2. I also find ownership a bit confusing. I work in a DHB so all actions are under the DHB CEO. Use a totally new hospital may get money from central government .
      In transport there is Waka Kotahi and the Ministry of Transport as well. SO things get blurred . I asked the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing team what the peak Northern Busway numbers were and they have had to refer me to Auckland Transport. How can you plan be planning for a new crossing when you have not got basic data on around 20-30% of your volumes?

        1. Is it laziness, or a deliberate strategy to leave out anything that would make their preferred outcome less justifiable?

  4. It’s just unbelievable that the government would light a pile of money on fire in order to encourage lighting tankers of fuel on fire.

    Sure we shouldn’t care so much about BCRs on some projects. Namely smaller ones, but a billion dollar plus project had better provide a long term economic return or be close to it. Under 0.2 is just not it.

    And where are the articles in the herald calling for it to be cancelled every week?

      1. I care, people seemed to get angry about it when the cycling bridge was 0.6.

        Now I know there is bias towards road projects, but a single article after the dozens about the cycle bridge BCR wouldn’t break the bank, and be more interesting to boot.

        “Lowest BCR of any transport project in the country set to go ahead”
        “Billion + 0.12BCR project given thumbs up
        “Huge Highway Inequity”
        “Alpaca book has better BCR than transport project”

        IDK I think they’d get some decent clicks on those.

  5. Your $14 million cost for Double tracking + electrification from Paraparaumu to Waikane is incorrect, it was well over $100 million.

    The project actually involved double tracking all the way from Mackay’s Crossing, considerable south of Paraparaumu Station,
    NZTA’s estimated cost was $87 million, ( with an upper bound of ~$100 million)
    https://www.nzta.govt.nz/planning-and-investment/funding-and-investing/investment-decisions/board-decisions/urban-rail/

    On top of this the regional council spent $15 million to build a new station at Waikane and upgrade and remodel Paraparaumu station for double track usage

    http://www.gwrc.govt.nz/assets/council-reports/Report_PDFs/2008_777_1_Report.pdf

  6. Great article.
    99.9.% of planners and policy makers in NZ haven’t properly reconciled the new 21st century realities.
    This is not only the new reality of climate change, but also the new demographic realities. Shrinking households, but most importantly the massive shrinking of the ‘Middle class’. This is being quite well documented in North America, but hardly discussed at all in Aotearoa New Zealand.
    What we will find very soon – in fact I think it’s well underway – is that most middle and low-middle income households won’t be able to afford to buy housing in either brownfield or greenfield locations. Land and construction costs are rising, and there’s only one way interest rates will go from here…
    This offers great opportunity as well as challenges. The opportunity lies with government putting it’s urban development programme on steroids – doubling or tripling it’s current home building programme, much more affordable / community housing as well as social housing, near centres and public transport hubs. Look to Ireland’s recent announcement of a major house and community building programme over the next 10 years.
    Move away from the market-led approach that has got us into all this strife. In fact, regardless of government action on lifting its commitment, lots of these greenfield projects will fall over. Good thing! (not for the developers though)
    But there’s also a big brownfield problem around affordability. It’s next to impossible for developers to deliver 2 bedroom townhouses or apartments for less than 730K now in Auckland, and that’s only getting worse. The government needs to step in and plug what will be a massive looming hole.

      1. Unlikely, but possible, especially if there’s a financial crisis.
        Almost all economists are predicting the OCR to rise at least 1% in the next year or so, which probably means retail rates will increase by nearly 1.5%.
        Regardless, even if they went negative, it’s nowhere near enough to turn the unaffordability issue around. In fact, it would probably exacerbate it by stimulating another round of property and land value surges.
        You see, it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Total market failure. Which is why the government needs to ramp up its programme big time.

  7. Labour declares a climate emergency and then the construction of the Otaki to Levin motorway. This looks very inconsistent. Why does this road need to be a motorway when it carries much less traffic (14,000 daily) than 2 lane Redoubt/Mill Rd, Manukau? (18,830 daily = location 3236 between Murphys and Kinnard)

    Its also inconsistent in that Auckland has been rezoned to intensify, to go up rather than out, whereas the Wellington plan appears to be encouraging sprawl all the way to Levin. This is about 95km, like Auckland North to Kaiwaka. Its a long way.

    1. Just taking issue with your last statement – this is more the lower north island equivalent of the Huntly bypass than enabling more sprawl for Wellington. As much as local property developers say it, very few people will be commuting 100km on a daily basis – even if the capital connection route gets an upgrade…

      Wellington has been caught with its pants down over the last 5+ years, but it’s worth remembering that 10years ago all the signs were pointing to a stable/slow-growing population. This is absolutely not how things have panned out for all sorts of reasons, but we’re seeing mass rezonining proposals now for most of the cities in the Greater Welly area (particularly the Hutt Valley) that will enable large scale intensification. We’re a few years behind Auckland, but hopefully a lot of developers are starting to get their heads around what good medium density development looks like in NZ now and can seriously start to make a difference in Welly’s housing supply.

  8. I would imagine the towns bypassed by the Transmission Gully road will be much nicer places to live. It certainly seems that way with the Waikato expressway Huntly to Te Rapa seem almost sane now. One thing about the trains and 20 minute frequency replacing hourly. Would the increase in frequency be better if it was in the form of buses rather than trains. Still keep the hourly trains but in between buses could at least drop their passengers much closer to home. I am not suggesting running buses all the way from Wellington but run high frequency trains to some point then an hourly train supplemented with buses after that.

    1. In terms of places that the Transmission Gully route bypasses, there are only really 2 small villages (Pukerua Bay and Paekakariki) and one small town/city (Porirua). They will all gratefully receive the benefit of the TG route. Life will be hugely nicer once the non-stop traffic of SH1 goes away (they were magical over the level 4 lockdown!). Most people from those places take the train into work at present – hopefully they will continue to let the train take the commuting strain. It is sort of ironic that the Coastal route aka Centennial Highway only came about in 1940 (only started in 1938) and before then their only access was by train. If only there was some way to tax/toll the TG route – but as long as the Coastal route still exists, you would have to toll that too, or else people will avoid the new road – and we wouldn’t want that !

      1. Do you think people would take the old route if left untolled but detuned to serve local trips only, including with traffic circulation changes as necessary in the towns, and safe Vision Zero speed limits, including 30 km/hr wherever there are people on foot, bike and little wheels?

        1. All these new mega roads present a great opportunity to de car the existing routes as part of the revocation process. Hopefully tmg will allow the coastal road to be briefly closed to allow the muri to paekak tunnel daylighting & double tracking to occur.

        1. We’re all guessing till it opens, but I’m not completely clueless – it has been the major topic of conversation here for the last 40 years I gather… all I know is that NZTA did extensive polling years ago when they started the process, and the firm answer from everyone was “bugger off, I’m not paying a toll”. The problem is that the old Coast road is just so beautiful that many people will still prefer to use that – its quite nice when its not congested. As beautiful and scenic as the Kaikouras. So it is quite possible that the traffic will just split equally between the two routes. No one knows. Time will tell. The locals would love them (NZTA) to make it revert to a local road, but NZTA have instead said that it will retain State Highway status. SH59 to be precise, so still 80kmh and 50km through Pukerua itself.

      2. Porirua already has a motorway by-passing it (or rather, slicing through it). When TG opens it will have 2 motorways by-passing it. How many towns can boast that? By conventional twisted wisdom, it ought to be the most blessed and traffic-relieved city in the country.

  9. Traffic between Levin and Ōtaki is already abysmal, and the road is a death-trap, so something already needs to be done. The trouble is this road will not be completed until after 2030, in the meantime people will continue dying or getting seriously hurt on that stretch of SH1. Property owners will also continue face uncertainty over their future, something that has been ongoing for over a decade.

    Great article. This road has community support because the current situation is so bad, but a more ambitious rail + cycle plan will have much better long term outcomes.

    1. There has been consultation recently on lowering the speed limit on this section of SH1 and also on SH 57 from Levin to Shannon. Possibly most of it will be lowered to 80.

  10. I wonder if it is worth digging into the history of the settlements on the Kapiti Coast as a means of explaining their reluctance to take to cycles. Most of the communities up the Coast are retirement sun-havens, where people go to retire, to die, to put their feet up and get some sunshine, and get away from the god-awful weather of Wellington (we just say that to keep the Aucklanders away – it usually works). It is a very much more recent thing for people to actually want to go and live in Paraparaumu and still continue to have a life – it really has focused for years as a retirement community – but there are still very few office jobs and virtually no multi-storey buildings (only one apartment tower, and all the rest are max 2 storeys).

    The coming of TG is bound to cause massive disruption in that model and potential expansion in and around Levin. Places like Levin have never been the sleepy suburban satellite towns for Wellington – instead they are very happily centred as the local focus for the farming lobby. Will that all change? There are proposals for huge new housing subdivisions north and east of Levin – which is disastrous if people decide to try and drive into Wellington. A bypass road around Levin is a really good idea – in fact, there is a bypass there already. Single lane each way. Seems fine to me.

    I’d suggest that there is a middle road (so to speak) on this subject. There are some shockingly dangerous bridge crossings on the stretch between Otaki and Levin. Every time I drive over one of these bridges I have a conscious feeling that this could be the day I meet my maker – especially when you meet a large Mack truck coming the other way. Sweating like a condemned man, as the road curves up and over the train line, with a concrete hand rail either side. It must be horrendously scary to cycle over that bridge, as there is an 80km speed limit posted, and – well, let’s just say that it is amazing that there aren’t more fatalities. I’d be happy for them to cancel the road itself – but the need for several new bridges and new cycle routes cannot be overstated.

    1. By cancelling the new road, there’d be plenty of money for all sorts of upgrades.

      How much do you understand about cycling modeshare being largely determined by traffic danger, Guy? It’s not an age thing.

      1. I’m a bike rider, car driver, train and bus rider, but mostly I’m a walker. Not quite a white walker, but… There has been a massive boom in cycling for leisure activities in both the Horowhenua and also in Hawkes Bay where I’m originally from, but in neither place have I seen much increase from commuters – ie people are riding on the beautiful back-country pathways, but they keep the heck off the roads as they are perceived as too dangerous. But these are the same roads that I used to ride 5-10km on every single day as a teenager. We used to have about 500 bikes at school every day at Napier Boys – now these days I don’t even think they have a bike shed any more. Girls High have definitely demolished and removed their bike shed.

        These days though, people have a very different attitude. I even see people drive in their 4WD to the start of the bike track, unload a couple of mountain bikes, and go off on those. I’d say though, that the over 60s brigade in Kapiti are firmly car-bound at present. Having SH1 snaking right through the middle doesn’t really help the mind set, even though they have installed a bike/walking track alongside…

        1. As a teenager in the UK in the 1970s I used to cycle all over the place. Usually all day every Saturday and all my school holidays. I did 1000s of miles.
          But visiting my old stamping grounds in recent times, I have been shocked by how narrow and dangerous many of those same roads seem now.

          The change:
          – In 1971 the population of Britain was 56 million and the number of road vehicles was 14 million.
          – Today the population is 68 million and the number of road vehicles has just topped 40 million.
          – In 50 years the population has increased by 12 million and the motor vehicle fleet by 26 million.
          The country is saturated with motor vehicles.

    2. Getting kids back on bikes – PressReaderhttps://www.pressreader.com › new-zealand › kapiti-news

      At least some in the Otaki area are trying to encourage the use of bikes. Disappointing though that its a north American who has to show us the way.

  11. good article thanks, but i got stuck on the sign on the footpath “pedestrians give way to traffic” the sign looks like its there to assist the coroners report writing.

    BCR is a subjective term. A more realistic measure is “will i keep my job” which is the top metric for our transport mandarins, and (thanks Heidi – our Barons )

    1. You are right, BCR is a subjective term, but if even Waka Kotahi engineers with a dubious WED finger on the scale (hand wavy wider economic benefits), couldn’t make this one a somewhat palatable 0.8 or 1.0 then you know its not hot.

  12. I feel like this is an article written by someone who has never been to kapiti/ horowhenua. There is only 2 roads out of wellington and most of it goes up SH1. It’s one lane in both directions for most of the distance to Levin, and more than that there is no alternative route. a rock slip in paekakariki or a crash at the Kuku bridge causes chaos for hours. I get stuck behind tractors about 1 in 3 trips on the levin otaki road. You have your multilaned highways out of auckland, let us have ours.

    1. Alternative routes don’t help with this kind of resilience against congestion, prominent example being SH16 and SH1 though Auckland with the bridge incident. Gridlock for days. But the same happens on any motorway network with even the most minor crashes.

      You have your multilaned highways out of auckland, let us have ours.
      This kind of emotive argument leaves out a lot of facts:
      1) the population centres being connected with the motorways out of Auckland are either much larger, or much closer to the city than this (Warkworth is 60km out, vs 94 for levin)
      2) those motorways should not be built or should not have been built either.
      3) the auckland motorways have usually had positive BCRs (although dubious) Even the best minds at WK couldn’t make this one more than its 0.1 – 0.2

      No ones saying there shouldn’t be State Highway and other transport upgrades. There should. But a billion dollar + roads are silly money and planet burners.

    2. haha, seems like you don’t know Auckland. Most of Auckland to Whangerei is one lane in both directions. We don’t have to wait for a rock slip, or a crash; just a fine weekend and the road will be clogged for hours.
      The reality though is that road emissions will have to fall dramatically. It won’t happen if every community has a reason for a wider, faster road with more cars. The Kapiti area has to make change just as Auckland does.

    3. Re: “You have your multilaned highways out of auckland, let us have ours.”

      The sense of entitlement coming from the Wellington and Manawatu/Whanganui regions is frankly disgusting.

      Look at the per capita spend on the regional graph – the lower NI regions are spoilt on a comparative basis. https://talkingtransport.com/2021/09/21/canterbury-public-transport-funding-or-lack-of/

      Pretty much everywhere in NZ – certainly this is true in Canterbury – has single lane road state highways and no passenger rail services.

      Demanding motorways for all is not the way forward.

      Safer roads and restarting passenger rail in more places – certainly in Canterbury – will give more bang for the buck.

      1. Look if you want to compare apples with oranges up to you what really matters is stopping blood spilt on this road 4 Lane 2 Lane what ever who gives a crap… But for Your information horowhenua is one of the most neglected regions in NZ. Hasnt Canterbury had Billions already spent on it you kinda sound like the entitled one

        1. We are not in Wellington we are in horowhenua manawatu,you are missing the point we have the highest death and injury road in NZ levin to otaki… What are you going to do about it???? Extremely selfish people will say yeah We need it more or yeah emissions are bad or yeah cost to much say that to the family members that have to Bury there dead on the worst road in NZ

        2. Horowhenua and Manawatu roads need various safety upgrades – as others on this thread have explained. Which can be provided significantly cheaper than building a full multi $bn motorway.
          The decision to build an unneeded motorway instead of more affordable alternatives is selfishly depriving others…

        3. That’s calling the kettle black since Canterbury has had Billions of dollars spent on and your still your crying like a little baby horowhenua has had nothing. that’s selfish mate

        4. Matt, on this blog, we discuss ideas by presenting evidence. You’re justifying an extremely expensive road which has negative transport outcomes, by referring to the project’s potential positive outcomes and refusing to accept they can be met through a cheaper approach.

          It’s valid for Brendon to point out that this creates inequities. As a country we need to make all our people safe and be careful not to waste money. Brendon has given a number of links. You need to now link evidence to support your unsupported statements – or back off.

        5. You know what Heidi I’m not arrogant enough to think I know more than the experts you guys have tried to demonstrate that you know more than the experts. you are not state highway and expressway bass line quoters and you will never know how much cheaper it can get done.. so stop guessing, it’s going ahead so suck it up. If you can show me clear facts about otaki to levin expressway only.. that shows it’s hugely more cheap then please do so.. If you don’t like my opinion we’ll that’s to bad

        6. Actually, you are trying to say that you know more than the experts. Waka Kotahi estimate median barriers at less than $4m per km. There are only 22km of rural highway in the corridor. Cost to install the barriers (including widening and turnarounds) would be under $100m.
          https://nzta.govt.nz/assets/resources/standard-safety-intervention-toolkit/standard-safety-intervention-toolkit.pdf page 46

          Believing that safety upgrades are better than a 4 lane motorway isn’t saying you know better than the experts, the experts thought that was better value for money. The government, who are not experts, set the strategic outcomes that supported the motorway.

        7. This is a national nz safety Rd policy not otaki to levin. where are the new bridges that go over rivers that causing multiple deaths? where are the new roads to get the tractors and farmers machinery off ? As this is a farming area Where is the levin bypass so our kids can safely breathe the air from all the pollution going threw it.. And widening the roads will cost arm and leg buying property off people not mention the side Rds coming of the old statehighway causing huge amounts of deaths sorry but that policy 100m won’t cut it…

        8. “This is a national nz safety Rd policy not otaki to levin”
          I dont really know what you mean by this

          You can build new bridge upgrades as an upgrade package. https://www.nzta.govt.nz/projects/sh7-ahaura-river-bridge-replacement/
          One recently on the west coast only cost 25 million, and is substantially longer, old one could be a cycleway or demolished.

          Farmers driving machinery isn’t really issue that causes death and serious injury. Its people passing these vehicles or having poor sightlines or the tractors without appropriate lights.
          Again all improvable with upgrades of the alignment. The median barriers prevent passing in poor locations.
          Adding passing lanes (which I think is a decent value upgrade) solves the problem of them backing up traffic.
          And we really do need to improve the laws around what they are required to display in terms of lights.

          “Where is the Levin bypass so our kids can safely breathe the air from all the pollution going threw it.”
          I agree Levin does need a bypass. But that is totally different kettle of fish from a parallel motorway alignment all the way from Otaki.
          A new single lane each way (with median ropes) alignment running for 6 km vs a 2 lane each way multi interchange motorway.

          “And widening the roads will cost arm and leg buying property off people”
          Just wait until you hear about how expensive it is to buy orders of magnitude more productive farmland for a full motorway, than an extra couple meters beside the existing alignment

          “mention the side Rds coming of the old statehighway” Yes, these turning movements are very problematic. They are solvable though, left turn only on a long shoulder for most.
          And right turn bays every now and then in order to bring back the U-turn and right turn facility. Nothing new, nothing crazy. There are probably a couple areas that would require a heavier intervention.

          We’re not competing with a 100m project here though. It just has to be an order of magnitude cheaper than 1.5 BILLION dollars.
          You could spend 400 million for all I care. So long as we don’t soak up 1.5B!! dollars of our limited capex funding, when you could do all the desired things for cheaper.

  13. I’m from Levin, and first off house median in horowhenua is not $525.000 it is $625.000 according to reinz property report september. Second of all, the only reason that Otaki to Levin is going ahead is because its classed as the most dangerous Rd in NZ we have the most highest injury and Death on this strip in the past 10yrs, which stops all freight trucks and people from entering Wellington, Horowhenua is the third fastest growing region last year in the North Island mostly because more, Wellington, Kapiti people are moving here, which is causing more chaos on the old road. This is the only reason its going ahead to save life’s.

    1. There are vastly more economical safety treatments than a full new motorway alignment. Waka Kotahi have been conflating this safety with motorway argument for years and its pretty bloody dirty. Yes motorways are the safest roads, but they are terrible value for money as safety treatments.

      They can buy far more safety for the same (or less) money by putting down reasonable projects rather than this.
      Rope median barriers, some passing lanes, shoulders and side barriers on the existing alignment would be orders of magnitude cheaper. And could be rolled out far more than a few km of motorway, saving vastly more lives overall.

      No one is arguing against state highway safety upgrades, maybe even some curve easements. Roll out a 200 mil project like that, doing these upgrades to their highest degree. Then see the safety improve by 90+% and re-do the business case for the motorway, there will be almost zero benefit any more.

      It wont be as shiny, WK wont get a big CV booster project, and the politicians wont get a fancy ribbon cutting, but it would be better.

        1. I went up to Dome Valley where they’re essentially doing this exact model of project, and filmed a bit of it.
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9clsaAcbRa8&t=22s

          This bit highlights the scope of the project well:
          https://youtu.be/9clsaAcbRa8?t=136

          And here are some images from WK https://www.nzta.govt.nz/projects/sh1-dome-valley/gallery

          The dome valley works are very extensive and its supposed to cost 67 million.
          They’ve had to widen the corridor by a few meters for around 15km. This has involved a lot of retaining walls.
          Added the median ropes for most of that. Added u-turn facilities and turning bays, added more side barriers.
          This is all in really complex winding steep terrain too, Plus the road has mostly been kept open and running its full SH1 duties well. Its pretty much a worst case scenario for a project like this. And includes quite a lot of fiber utility work too.

          The cost was supposed to be around 67 million. I think with covid lockdowns and some other changes it will work out to be more expensive, but even if it doubled, its way way cheaper. Given my arbitrary 200 million number you could do something similar with extras(in my opinion) in almost any other area of the country. Especially that section south of Levin in bits like this : https://goo.gl/maps/xkuYr9zc6zR9J1Fc7 That is way way flatter, the only complicating factor is a larger number of driveways, but I think this can be solved with the right incentives and techniques. Putting in a few access roads from the roads behind, and consolidating the hard ones.

        2. One more point. I think we’ve become desensitized to the costs of these big motorway projects. 1 billion + is an absolutely absurd amount of money to drop on a few km of road.

      1. Safety does not require a massive motorway.

        Prior to 2004, Centennial Highway (SH1 Pukerua Bay to Paekakariki) used to have a speed limit of 100Km/h, passing lanes and no median barrier along a narrow stretch of winding road. It was a notorious death trap.
        In 2004 the speed limit was reduced to 80Km/h, the passing lanes were removed and a wire-rope median barrier was installed. There have been no fatalities since.
        https://www.nzta.govt.nz/safety/what-waka-kotahi-is-doing/nz-road-safety-strategy/speed-and-infrastructure/safe-system-in-action/state-highway-1-centennial-highway-lower-north-island/

        1. Agreed. TG is a colossal waste of money, I’m not arguing that. But now that it is built, all I’m really interested in debating is whether it will do more good than bad.

        2. Transmission Gully will “do good” only in the framework of excessive car-dependency continuing to be considered a good thing or at least an acceptable thing. More and more factors are being stacked against this continuation. TG will worsen car-dependency. It will not help achieve better public transport and it has already been predicted that it will abstract patronage from the parallel rail service. It has sucked-up and will continue to suck-up a huge amount of funding that is now unavailable for achieving much-needed alternatives such as development of electrified rail. It relies on the rapid and large-scale conversion of the present fossil-fuelled vehicle-fleet to environmentally benign electric vehicles, in order not to simply contribute to increased carbon emissions. Yet this level of EV uptake and its environmental benignity at large-scale is by no means a certainty.
          To justify itself economically, TG needs as many vehicles using it as possible (preferably paying tolls – which of course have been ruled out). But to help achieve strategic traffic-reduction and emissions goals, it needs to be used as little as possible. It is a conflicted mess that does not belong in the era we are moving into. It is a massive mistake foisted on a car-addicted population that will only make this unsustainable addiction worse.
          I hope Steven Joyce one day gets to appreciate the major setback he has caused by ideologically ramming TG through, when so many indications were that it should not be built. He misguidedly closed his eyes to these, as indeed much of NZ’s population continues to do.

      1. I’ve thought about this on the few times I’ve driven a long way south. We could talk about the negatives all day (and there are a lot)

        But it would be damm nice to drive.

        1. To be fair, I just like looking at infrastructure so maybe that’s why I like driving / being driven on them.

    1. Road capacity expansion doesn’t work like that… it drives sprawl. In response, traffic grows. The “Fundamental Law of Highway Congestion” means that what you achieve in the end is much more road to maintain, much higher carbon emissions, a much more expensive health system, because everyone ends up having to drive because walking and cycling is too dangerous and circuitous… and the congestion is only eased short term.

      This is the reason New Zealand’s road transport emissions have nearly doubled since 1990, an increase that’s way above any other sector.

      So getting your head around why this road building must stop is critically important, if you have any wish to provide a stable future for our kids.

      1. I won’t let my kids drive that Rd if it’s.. Not Done!!.. We need this Expressway. Its the Highest injury and Death strip in NZ look it up… I care more about people dying and getting injured on this road. than your emissions

        1. Safety is incredibly important, and improving it is compatible with reducing *our* emissions. But not via road building – that’s a myth you’ve been fed by Waka Kotahi and the transport sector.

          The type of treatment Jack has described is better for safety than Waka Kotahi’s intended Otaki to Levin highway.

          When you talk about the traffic stopping “all freight trucks and people from entering Wellington” – you’re actually talking about improving traffic flow (not safety).

          When you say, “Horowhenua is the third fastest growing region last year in the North Island mostly because more, Wellington, Kapiti people are moving here” – you’re noticing the effects of all the road building which has already happened and which is driving sprawl.

          When you notice that this influx of people, “is causing more chaos on the old road” you’re witnessing the cycle: increasing road capacity encourages sprawl; people to move to an area and commute long distances, creating pressure on the roads, with demands for further capacity expansion.

          What will attain your goals of improved safety is if Wellington would intensify properly, and the damaging road and sprawl development in Kapiti and Horowhenua wasn’t happening. The money should be spent instead regenerating the areas to make them safer and more liveable.

        2. Well if your kids or the community drive on any other state highway as well, that will forgo any safety upgrades to gold plate this alignment, then they’re worse off safety wise.

  14. Whether you don’t like it or you do I’m Glad they are saving lives… doing things cheaper doesn’t always work and I garentee you that they would of got estimations done for the old road improvement and new expressway and guess what the expressway won….unless your a professional bass quoter for highways or expressways… its a pointless conversation

    1. I’ll collect some more information. I might see if it comes to a post and try convince you with some more numbers.
      I’m not a professional bass quoter but I think it will be reasonable to extrapolate out information from the various business cases from people who are.
      Eg: What kind of % safety improvements the Dome valley model is going to have and the $ for value that will bring, and how much that has decimated the Warkworth to Wellsford project business case.

      I will say its not too hard to see the political reasons for motorway projects getting done rather than the cheaper ones, even if the cheaper ones would lead to better outcomes overall. Politicians like big shiny things, voters are most likely to see big shiny things. A wire rope upgrade is not all that shiny.

      These smaller projects are bad for almost every link in the decision making chain in the short term. Engineers, Waka Kotahi leadership, local politicians, area MP’s and the ruling political party. They all gain more from the bigger project even if its way worse value for money.

      Would GA be interested in a “Better model for upgrading state highways” post Heidi? May already be being worked on.

  15. Trying to turn around NZ’s obsession with road-building and car-dependency is like trying to turn a large ship. You turn the rudder then wait, and wait, and wait.
    Since National left office in 2017 the rudder has turned (a little). Policy is starting to change. People’s concerns about NZ’s excessive car-dependency and climate-inaction are starting to grow. Slowly, slowly the ship is turning.
    But it needs to turn more quickly because there is an iceberg ahead.

    1. And this is where the Italian autostrada road tolling model could be so helpful. The toll price is set to pay for the road. So those who use Transmission Gully might pay $15.
      It’s equitable in a world that demands emissions reductions. First, if the community doesn’t want to pay $15, don’t build the road. If it is built and its a marginal project taxpayers don’t have to pay for it. Thelma and Louise, pensioners of Taihape, who only drive every Christmas to see Thelma’s kids in Porirua pay a small price for that. David Cockwomble, a younger almost professional of Wellington, with a high disposal income can easily pay the toll if he wants to exercise his testosterone by speeding along the road every weekend. Transport companies pay the toll and pass on the small cost. And perhaps most importantly the 5 million tourists, not all of whom we can afford to have back, pay for an amenity they use (just like in Italy).

  16. Road building would only be an issue for reducing carbon if electric cars weren’t happening. But they are. Eventually there will only be electric cars on those roads.

    As for stopping sprawl, since most people want to live in a house on a section, and we have plenty of land in NZ, it will always be the primary housing development option. Firstly, if that’s what people want, that’s what developers will build. You’ll go out of business pretty quick if you only build what people don’t want. Secondly, politicians blocking the ability for New Zealanders to live the way they want will get voted out. That’s why you you don’t see this left wing Labour government making any real change to the situation.

    It’s not really an issue. Suburbs in NZ function well, and when all the homes are accessed with electric cars available on demand it’ll be a bright future for NZ.

    1. Electric cars are happening and we need them, but they are only one of several levers needed to reduce our emissions. The biggest ones are:
      – shifting as much of our travel to public and active transport modes, and
      – reducing the distances we travel by making better use of land.

      Both of these levers are hindered by road building along the lines of the Otaki to Levin road.

      We also have an extremely expensive transport system and need to get the costs down to be more reasonable. That means not keeping on adding capacity, and being able to remove the most polluting vehicles from our fleet without having to replace them (at high cost).

      You might find this interesting: https://www.research.ox.ac.uk/article/2021-06-14-obsessing-over-electric-cars-is-impeding-the-race-to-net-zero-more-active-travel-is-essential

      As for what New Zealanders want, this is very much shaped by what the government puts money into and what the regulations create in terms of incentives and disincentives. Houses on sections is not what a free market is providing, it is what a skewed market is providing. The developers are not having to pay for the emissions from the travel induced, nor for the loss of biodiversity, nor for the social and health problems from the car dependency the sprawl causes.

      1. On top of that:
        Not working well for kids who have no freedom and have to be ferried everywhere they go.
        Not working well for parents who have masses of time soaked up becoming taxi drivers for their sprogs
        Not working well for elderly, forced to operate multi ton vehicles well past the point when it was safe to do so, or give up living in their own homes.
        Not working well for the alcoholic or substance abuser who is given back their license exceptionally early so they can be able to actually get a job.
        Not safe for other road users who have to share the road with these dangerous drivers.
        Not working well for the commuter who has exceptionally long journey times compared to if other transport investments were made.

        It works well at 3am, and on Christmas day when the city is emptied out. But that’s about it.

  17. “Lets take the climate crisis seriously by doing nothing”

    Great answer

    “The answer to a better future is not to stop building roads or ban cars, the answer is in moving to sustainable clean fuels”

    Oh boy

  18. Great article and comments also worthwhile. What’s not discussed here in depth is the elephant in the mini, dangerous global heating is here and now and we need to reduce carbon emissions 50% by 2030 as per ipcc recommendations. This needs a complete rethink of everything we do especially reduce car travel and intensify.
    Reducing emissions needs to be all consuming and do away with the petty politics. Dr James Hansen, godfather of climate science, latest Research is that we are headed to 1.5 warming by 2030 and 2 degrees by 2040 I.e. worst case scenario. The only way to stabilize world Temps is immediate sustained decarbonisation. This is central, build your policy and story around this. You and your children, society, planet are at high risk of severe impacts. It’s happening already overseas…time is short and we need vision and make the right choices and spend very wisely.

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