Waka Kotahi have kicked off consultation this week on a proposal to toll Penlink the $830 million, 7km new road between SH1 at Dairy Flat and Whangaparaoa.
Waka Kotahi is asking for public feedback from next Monday (17 January) about a proposal to toll Penlink, the new transport connection in north Auckland being built to support people living and working in Silverdale, Whangaparāoa and the Hibiscus Coast.
Tolling Penlink would help provide more reliable journeys and pay for the ongoing maintenance and operation of the road.
When it opens in 2026 Penlink will provide people in Auckland’s north with a vital new connection that allows for more transport choices to help people get where they’re going safely.
Part of the New Zealand Upgrade Programme, the Government’s $8.7 billion investment in growing areas across the country, North Auckland communities can look forward a two-lane road with a shared path for people on foot and on bikes.
Public consultation will run between Monday 17 January and Sunday 13 February 2022, with people able to submit their feedback on our online survey site.
Every time a new state highway is built in New Zealand Waka Kotahi carries out an assessment to see if it meets the criteria to be tolled.
“Findings from our assessments on Penlink show that tolling would help to provide more reliable journeys by reducing travel times. It would also contribute to the cost of maintaining the road so it remains safe and resilient,” says Mark Kinvig, Waka Kotahi National Manager Infrastructure Delivery.
“Government funding for the Penlink project has been provided for the planning and construction of the project only, so the ongoing costs of maintaining and operating the road need to be found from other funding sources.
“Tolling revenue from Penlink and future new state highways could be used to pay for their maintenance and operations rather than trying to find funding from the National Land Transport Fund, which is under increasing pressure to fund transport improvements across the country,” Mr Kinvig says.
The tolling proposal includes different toll prices for peak and off-peak hours, also known as variable tolling. Charges vary between $1.00 to $4.00 with heavy freight paying more than light vehicles.
Variable tolling helps people make choices about when they travel, and therefore the toll price they pay. It will also reduce travel times on Penlink during peak hours.
Surely first question is why is tolling even in question.
The project has been suggested as a toll road since at least 2001. In more recent times the 2015 business case by Auckland Transport says “The Project is set to be constructed as a toll road” and “This Project is intended to operate as a toll road“. It notes that feedback from the community in the past has strongly supported tolling
Consultation has also been undertaken for the Project in respect of tolling. In 2006, a door-to-door survey and individual interviews of nearly 700 residents and workers was conducted to identify how these residents would be affected by proposals to toll Penlink. Also in 2006, the Council sought feedback on the proposed Tolling Strategy. Of the 1,400 responses received, 90% supported Penlink being tolled
In the 2018 version of the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) it is called the “Penlink toll road“. Finally, when the project was announced as part of the NZ Upgrade Package at the start of 2020, the government explicitly called it a “two-lane, tolled, 7km state highway with a separated shared walking and cycling“.
Given the history, I wonder how much of this consultation is really just a box ticking exercise.
As for the tolling proposal itself, there are some notable differences here compared to our existing toll roads and the two the government rejected recently – Transmission Gully and Puhoi to Warkworth.
Covering Operational Costs
Whereas on other roads the toll is to help support paying off a loan for part of the cost of building the road, construction costs for Penlink are being entirely funded by the government through the NZ Upgrade Programme (including the $419 million cost blowout). So the toll here has been proposed to cover the maintenance and operational costs of the road as they’re not currently budgeted for from the normal NLTF funding source. One thing notable about that is it means tolling will be needed in perpetuity rather than ending once the construction debt has been paid off.
Variable and distance based tolls
All other toll roads in New Zealand use a flat rate for using them, in part because those roads only have one entry and exit point. On Penlink that will be different and multiple connections to local roads along its length. Waka Kotahi are proposing that the amount paid for the toll will vary based on which parts of the road drivers use. a section in the middle of the route will also be free to use as Penlink will replace and existing local road.
Waka Kotahi are also wanting to charge different rates for peak and off-peak travel to help manage demand. Peak hours are proposed to be 6am to 9am and 4pm to 7pm Monday to Friday, but presumably these could be changed in future based on how the road is used.
Interestingly in their FAQs they mention that without tolling, by 2038 congestion would add 22 to 26 minutes to travel times. That’s notable because locals are already calling for lower or no tolls saying “could put people off using it“. Putting people off using it is part of the point so that it doesn’t just become another traffic jam.
Of course, while Penlink may save some travel time for those willing to pay, uses will still have to deal with the congestion that occurs on SH1 south of where it joins in.
Waka Kotahi also talk up how fewer cars using it would mean there are fewer emissions and the road would be safer though it would be interesting to compare that to not building Penlink.
The proposed toll amounts for light vehicles are shown below with heavy vehicles proposed to pay double the amounts
And the map showing the indicative locations of the three tolling points that are proposed
One thing that’s also noticeable from that map and the tolling info is Waka Kotahi are proposing a connection to East Coast Rd. In Auckland Transports 2015 proposal they had dropped this given how close it is to SH1. I wonder if that means we’re going to see some quite gnarly design proposed here.
Note: The feedback form is very straight-forward and only asks a handful of questions.
At $830 million we’re not supportive of Penlink, especially given there are only around 26,000 people, including children, living in the areas that may directly benefit from the project. There was also relatively low growth expected based on the Unitary Plan, though that may change with the government’s recent housing policies. But if we are going to build it, we support it being tolled to help manage demand and cover costs.
Also worth noting is that previous plans from Auckland Transport suggest they will use Penlink to get NX2 buses to Whangaparaoa. Managing demand on the route will be critical for ensuring those buses are able to operate reliably in the absence of any bus lanes.