On the weekend Auckland’s newest motorway opened, but will it be the last?
Following a formal opening on Friday, during the weekend the $880 million Puhoi to Warkworth (P2W) motorway opened to traffic. At the same time, Auckland Transport’s Matakana Link Rd was also opened.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has officially opened the Pūhoi to Warkworth motorway, delivering a safer, more resilient and reliable route from Auckland to the North.
The 18.5 kilometre stretch of motorway was built as a partnership between Waka Kotahi and the Northern Express Group and will open to the public shortly, with only finishing works outstanding and expected to be completed over the next few months.
“Safe and reliable transport links between Auckland and Northland are essential for commuters and business alike, and this motorway goes a long way to securing that,” Chris Hipkins said.
“The recent extreme weather events have highlighted how fragile the Auckland to Northland transport corridor can be, so this is a major step forward in ensuring a reliable connecting to the North.
“The route is vital for the economy. It will provide consistent and reliable travel and better access to markets in Northland and to export ports at Auckland and Tauranga. That’s important for businesses to be able to plan their logistics.
“More than 35,000 vehicles are expected to travel the stretch of road every day, including 1300 trucks. Commuters are expected to save several minutes in travel times too
“This is an exciting day for local communities, Northland and the upper North Island. The completion of such a strategic piece of infrastructure is part of our infrastructure plan to ensure our communities prosper and we are more resilient in the face of climate change and extreme weather,” Chris Hipkins said.
For those wanting to take a virtual look along it, interestingly there are already streetview images for it that were taken in May
One thing that stands out in the press release above and various ones from Waka Kotahi is the focus on this road being about improving Northlands economy. They’re not the only ones either.
Stephen Joyce who as Transport Minister in 2009 hand-picked the project, which wasn’t even on Waka Kotahi’s plans, to become one of his government’s Roads of National Significance had this to say:
The motorway, which cost around $880 million to build, is a huge step towards providing a safe, efficient route between our largest city and one of our poorest regions just to the north of it. It is vitally important for lifting economic activity in Northland. It will help get goods to market more quickly, make it more practical for Aucklanders to live in and visit Northland, and ensure much-needed supplies flow north more quickly and reliably.
And Sam Stubbs, the CEO of KiwiSaver provider Simplicity echoed that and called for the motorway to be extended to Whanagrei.
For its wellbeing, Northland needs a four-lane state highway to Whangārei, as a matter of strategic national importance.
So why should the current four-lane highway go all the way to Whangārei?
Only a reliable major highway will generate the broad economic growth, across many industries, that Northland sorely needs. This has proven a winning formula across New Zealand, and it would for Northland too.
To be absolutely clear, Northland needs better, safer and more resilient roads but the idea that should be provided by motorways, or that offer unquestionable value is absurd.
With the completion of P2W it is still over 90km to get to the edge of Whangarei. The next project on the list, Warkworth to north of Wellsford is around 26km and if built would be the most expensive road projects we’ve ever had (so far) with costs prior to all the inflation we’ve had recently estimated at up to $2.1 billion.
Given that project and the need to build a bypass of the Brynderwyn’s, to complete a four-lane highway all the way Whangarei could easily cost $6-8 billion. A stellar amount of economic growth would be needed to justify that.
To put a few things in perspective.
Travel Time Savings
Right at the end of 1999, the Northern Motorway was extended from Greville Rd to Orewa. This saved around 3km and 8 minutes of travel time for a trip to Whangarei. In 2009 the motorway was extended again as a toll road to Puhoi. This saved around 5km and about 12 minutes of travel time.
So in total travel time has reduced by about 20 minutes which is fairly decent and yet Regional GDP figures from Stats NZ show no material improvement in Northland’s economy compared to the rest of the country.
This new P2W section saves only around 1.5km, though Google suggests it will be about six minutes faster, likely due to avoiding the urban speed limits and intersections in Warkworth itself. The extension to Wellsford is only likely to save around three minutes.
The growth of Hamilton and the northern Waikato is often held up being due to the expressway and could be replicated if only the same thing happened in the north. However, it is worth remembering that there are more people that live in Hamilton and northern Waikato towns than there are in all of Northland and many of those in Northland are in the Far North where any large new highway would have a much more limited impact.
In the business case for the Warkworth to Wellsford section they note that one of the triggers for the project is if the current route is predicted to exceed 25k vehicles per day – essentially the level at which it makes sense to think about expressways scale infrastructure.
The road from Puhoi to Warkworth saw rapid growth from the mid-2010’s onwards to get around that level, however, that growth appears to mostly be for trips to Warkworth and places east of there like Matakana or Omaha.
Meanwhile, traffic volumes between Warkworth and Wellsford as well as between Northland and Wellsford don’t come close to that level, only recently rising about 10-15k vehicles per day.
Instead of focusing so much on an expressway, imagine if instead we took even half of what it would cost and invested it in a package of improvements to state highways and local roads all around Northland. That could fund a lot of resilience upgrades, safety improvements, route improvements or even just sealing roads.
That could benefit almost all Northlanders and I would be surprised if such a package ended up having lower benefits than one mega-motorway.
Is Puhoi to Warkworth the last northern motorway extension?