On Monday the government announced Penlink would be tolled. This was far from certain given the government shied away from also tolling Puhoi to Warkworth and Transmission Gully and that Waka Kotahi consulted on this well over a year ago.
Transport Minister Michael Wood has announced the decision to toll O Mahurangi Penlink to futureproof the vital connection in Auckland’s transport network.
“The road will not simply support the surrounding community through more lanes for cars, it will provide safer and more sustainable transport choices – becoming a key public transport route while also promoting walking and cycling on a separated shared path.
“This additional route will reduce travel time to North Auckland by about 20 minutes during peak hours.
“However, beyond the Government’s upfront investment the road will cost $3 million each year to maintain.
“The road will mostly serve specific communities, and so the Government has decided the fairest option is for drivers who will use the road to contribute through its ongoing maintenance costs through tolls.
“By using a tolling model the community can be assured the road will be maintained to a high level as there will be guaranteed income that will only be used to maintain this road,” Michael Wood said.
The initial toll for a light vehicle that passes through both tolling points will be $3 during peak congestion periods and $2 during interpeak periods. Heavy vehicles will pay double this rate. Public transport operators and cyclists will not be tolled. This price is aligned with other toll roads in New Zealand
Toll camera points will be installed at two locations, one near State Highway 1 and the other just east of the Weiti Bridge.
“Based on community feedback we reduced the tolls for peak trips by 25 per cent to help address concerns that the toll rates were too high. We also removed a third proposed toll point at the Stillwater interchange to improve the efficiency of the tolling scheme,” Michael Wood said.
I do find the claim that this will be maintained to a high standard due to the funding, how will it be different to any other major road?
As for the toll itself, Waka Kotahi modelling estimates that traffic volumes at opening in 2026 will be somewhere around 9,000 vehicles per day, rising to just under 14,000 per day in 2048 – though that it the 50th percentile outcome so could be a bit higher or lower. At the original proposed amount of $4 at peak and $3 off-peak, and accounting for estimated transaction costs of 70c per transaction, this would have generated a net annual revenue of $7.44 million, rising to $11.24 million by 2048 – this will now be lower.
That might sound like a lot but that’s before the $3 million annual maintenance costs and doesn’t come close to covering the $830 million construction costs.
With the announcement some of the media have clearly tried to drum up opposition to the toll, using language such as “Government to slap toll” and quoting locals saying it’s unfair.
However, the project has been suggested as a toll road since at least 2001, well before the project ballooned to $830 million. 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“.
Stuff’s own online poll showed nearly 70% support for tolling the road.
Tolling is also fairer for New Zealand. There are only around 10,000 homes and about 28,000 people on the Peninsula that might benefit the most from the project. The project is therefore providing around $83,000 of investment for each household. Asking them to pay a small toll to help cover operational costs and manage demand seems like a pretty good deal.
This is a case of locals demanding the road and saying they support a toll, then as soon as construction started demanding there be no toll. Perhaps a lesson for the government here is that it should make projects like this conditional on tolling, and set the rates for the toll as part of the project approval process rather than after the diggers start and opening themselves up to pressure not to toll.