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.

The Brynderwyn’s bypass options

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.

Traffic Volumes

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?

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  1. I think a better way to frame it would be:

    If road users paid closer to their full costs of travel (rather than being heavily subsidised) travel demand would be lower and the growth rate slower.

    We could undertake resilience upgrades, safety improvements, route improvements or even just sealing roads in the shorter term and defer the much more expensive capital expenditure on the motorway until such time that it is justified.

    1. Yes at the roundabout and then heading south, looks like those are cycleways. But once you get onto P2W it disappears into flush median which I don’t think is intended for cyclists. I think they just put in cycle facilities at the roundabout to ease crossing there.

  2. How-about build (or rebuild) a four lane train track? I am sure it would be costly but also future proof the northern part of Aotearoa, and we would not need so many cars to “tourist” or “commute” or get to our bach at Omaha. Continuing making it easier for automobiles to move is continuing to ignore climate change. If education shows us that CO2 has been killing us for decades, why do we continue to allow fossil fuelled ignorance to march on? The automobile may be its own religion but it is a machine, and a dangerous machine. Queen St would be paradise except that noise polluting vehicles can still threaten pedestrians at crossings. In the very least we could ensure that pedestrian centres are preserved, and cars kept to the periphery, as proposed a decade ago, and probably even before then. The sheer number of people that choose to sit in their cars listening to crap radio to go to work is horrifying, particularly that the Southern Line Train is relatively reliable. I am a dreamer, I know, but trains first, bikeways second; phase out the inter-generational reliance on the private motor vehicle before mother earth phases out human existence upon her poor bosom!

    1. CO2 hasn’t been killing us for decades and Queen st will never be a paradise. Geez you talk some rubbish.

  3. Northland has always been the forgotten region, largely ignored by successive governments and not helped by impotent, incompetent councils. This new road will be great for those visiting Matakana and their bach on the coast but will do little for those further North in Whangarei and up in Doubtless Bay. One only has to drive to these areas to see first hand how badly the roads deteriorate, no doubt contributing to the high accident and death levels there over the past few years. To accelerate the improvement in infrastructure and trade north of Kerikeri, there needs to be decent rapid access to allow Aucklanders and others to get there in reasonable time…..the current 4 hours plus isn’t it.

    1. If you want access much faster than 4 hours between doubtless bay and Auckland then you have two choices:
      Don’t be 320km apart; or
      Build a railway.

      For a journey that long, even a four lane motorway will take over three hours, plus you have Auckland traffic to contend with.

      Northland would be far better served by making the journey more reliable, by providing resilience to slips and preventing the serious and fatal crashes that cause the road to close.

      1. A 4 lane motorway between Auckland and Kaitaia could absolutely bring the travel time down to 3 hours or thereabouts.

        But spending that kind of money to improve access to a town of 6,000 people would obviously be economic lunacy.

  4. Thanks, Matt. Northland absolutely needs investment, but not like this.

    Continuing to waste money on expensive traffic-inducing motorways reduces our options today, in ten years, and for the next generations. It’s why there’s no money for the life-saving, climate-responsible investment that is the only pathway to a stable future.

    1. Well said! So disappointing that the PM thinks this was a good idea “in the face of climate change”.

      As a small business owner who relies on the road network I’m getting really tired of hearing from politicians that inducing more traffic congestion for my work vans to get stuck in is some how good for my business.

  5. The Warkworth interchange concept is just so weird. They’ve made it so the ramps are all 100km/hr. It’s a full motorway to motorway interchange connecting two separate motorways where they split, like the SH18 and SH1 intersection at rosedale, or SH1 and SH1c north of hamilton

    With the difference being the one they’re connecting to ends a km later. So is almost entirely pointless. At most you’d make it a standard interchange, maybe with a couple 80km/hr ramps for the most popular direction.

    Do they plan on massively extending the stub there past the roundabout?

    And yes 10000% agree on the whole Matt, we could buy better highway upgrades. I wrote a substack post here: https://willowskeeper.substack.com/p/thinking-about-state-highways

    Holiday highway is still apt, day to day this will make less of a difference to Northlanders than a program of smaller resilience and safety improvements.

  6. Is boondoggle one word or two? This is what you get when politicians decide getting votes is more important than getting value for money.

  7. On the bright side, if we break down isthmus light rail into $2bn chunks, not being too detailed about how many are required, and ignoring BCRs, that should be a shoe-in too.

    Is Tui looking for a new ad by any chance?

  8. Is $880 million the final cost? That was the estimate in mid-2020 after an $83m payout for Covid-related delays. But Waka Kotahi have received a claim for an extra $280 million from the builders which is yet to be resolved. That could push the cost to $1,160 million. Plus $62 million for the 1.35 km-long Matakana Link Road, which itself is just a quarter of a planned Warkworth ring road.

    The estimate of 35,000 vpd looks optimistic and nor would it be a good thing if it came about. Assuming that traffic is now back to 2019 levels of 25,000 vpd it means 12% annual growth, entirely unsustainable at a time when national VKT is supposed to be decreasing.

    Then there is the disappointing matter of not imposing a separate toll on P2W as originally recommended.

    My impression is that the locals would love this road whether it cost $1 billion or $30 billion.

    1. And this is a PPP so I’m not sure how much the operational cost will be. It’s weird how the public aren’t really concerned about the cost of projects like this, yet when it comes to increasing fuel taxes which are necessary to pay for it then it’s “this Government is all about tax with nothing to show for it” etc. Total disconnect.

      1. Good point. Also, this is officially the first phase of Puhoi-to-Wellsford, the 2nd phase (to Wellsford) is planned to go ahead and apparently is now before the Environment Court.

        Re: PPP, I couldn’t find the actual payments anywhere but if the contract is anything like Transmission Gully, the actual payments over 25 years will be approximately triple the construction cost.

  9. Are there plans for a Warkworth Bus station (like Hibiscus Coast) with Limited NX services straight to the CBD?

  10. I don’t have an issue bypassing Dome Valley through to Wellsford, think it’d be well worth it for resilience, safety (one of the most dangerous roads), time savings.
    Further than that? Probably not for some time!
    What is madness though is that Warkworth interchange between the existing (new motorway) and the planned new extension.
    The current motorway looks like it’s going to be replaced by another series of flyovers and motorways costing huge dollars for no real purpose or gain!
    It should be like the Waikato expressway where it separates away from the Hamilton bound motorway off to the new bypass motorway around the whole city.

    1. I don’t think Warkworth to Wellsford is one of the most dangerous roads now that there is an 80 km / hr speed limit and there are wire barriers almost the whole way. What are the stats in recent years?

      1. I agree, its probably quite safe now, but it is definitely very slow.
        Maybe I just tend to travel through it at busy times, but the last 5-6 times I have driven through I reckon I would have been lucky to average 50 km/h. There is always a truck or nervous driver slowing traffic there.
        The suggestion from this article that a DV bypass would only save a 3 minutes is not true – My calculations say more like 6-7 minutes when busy assuming the bypass has a speed limit of 100 km/h. It still isn’t much but its a lot for only 10km of road.

        1. And if we are spending money with the chief purpose of improving travel times, then we wouldn’t build a project outside of the major cities for the next 30 years.

          The whole auckland motorway network (so all directions) averaged 43km/hr during peaks in 2017. Albany to the city averaged 36km/hr.

          Would be even worse today.


    2. Warworth to Wellsford designation for the 4 lane thing goes through Dome Valley – to the west of the current road.

  11. Our biggest future industries rely on information and communication technologies, not lugging stuff on roads.

    Imagine what Northland could do instead with free fibre connections to every business and home, with a Whangarei university and creative hubs across the region?

    1. They’re going to eat pixels?
      As long as people require food, homes, appliances, furnishings, etc., lugging stuff on roads will remain a crucial part of the economy, regardless how good the Internet connections are.

  12. One thing i don’t understand is the ‘all or nothing’ approach that NZ seems to have to road building/planning in recent years.

    I don’t believe NZ will ever have the population to justify a 4-lane highway to Whangarei. But we know that the current route is inadequate and slow in many places (Dome Valley in particular), and startlingly unsafe in others (i.e. several sections from Whangarei to Kawakawa).

    The gold standard in sensible roading upgrades in my opinion is something like the bypass for SH2 around Mangatawhiri which was built in the 2000s. Easy corners, good sight lines, no major at-grade intersections, and regular passing lanes. This kind of road could deliver 90% of the benefits of an expressway for 50-60% of the cost, and would also be less likely to induce lots of extra long-distance commuters as it doesnt have the gold-plated image of a motorway.

    Start with the most critical sections – bypass Wellsford and Te Hana, try for an improved route up the south side of the Brynderwyns, and perhaps bypass the windy/hilly section between Waiomio and Towai north of Whangarei. Improve intersections and ease corners along the rest of the route, retaining mostly the same alignment. Then bypass Dome Valley once it starts getting too congested (tbh its already pretty bad even with the new works), and suddenly the drive North is a lot easier and more inviting for tourism and business travel.

    This would also be done in parallel with more rail upgrades to make Northland less reliable on trucks. Unfortunately with the circuitous route that the Auckland to Whangarei rail line takes, I don’t think this can ever be competitive with road for passenger transport.

    1. +10000

      This is what other countries do with decent smaller roads

      Have a look at this example, the 52: https://goo.gl/maps/5DfxEvDy7uPNeyqS7
      and go south along it. Bypasses the town, no driveways as they’ve been collected onto small local roads into major intersections. Good curves. Only issue is it needs roundabouts, and given we can have cheap median barriers now with the ropes or armco should have them too.

      This would be a vast improvement over todays SH1 for almost all of its length. Instead we build 10km of 4 lane highway a year around Auckland and Wellington and hang the rest of the country of the country out to dry.

      Although there is one good example we have: https://goo.gl/maps/8rsxpF9m7PgTBXGm8

      Edendale got a new SH1 bypass

      1. To be honest I don’t even mind roundabouts – good solution where traffic is not high enough to warrant an overbridge with ramps, but high enough that collisions become likely. Truck drivers might disagree with this though.

        As long as the roundabouts have >200m of passing lane as you leave them so that cars can accelerate past slower traffic, I’m all for it.

  13. On reflection $880 million now sounds quite cheap compared with other recent projects that have been costed. I wonder if this was priced today if it would not be well north of this number. This project is a game changer for both safety and congestion going north, hopefully in the future this can be extended to Whangarei. Well done to the politicians that saw fit to press go on the project.

  14. I am actually really supportive of this project and the next project – extending it to Wellsford. The interchange at Warkwork needs to change, knock off several million dollars, as it is over engineered. The public and drivers need normal interchanges at Woodcocks Road and Kaipara Flats Roads. The W2W 26km motorway extension is likely to come in at over $1 billion but can be funded through tolls. Hopefully the next government begins construction of this vital route.

    1. To fund W2W entirely through tolls, the toll would need to be $20 per trip. I don’t think people would want the project at that price. But yes, a partial toll of $6-$8 would go some way towards making the project viable. However, it would need to be accompanied by other measures to reduce emissions overall.

    2. It’s likely the just completed stage will come in at over 1 billion. There are outstanding cost claims from the builders to the NZTA due to lockdowns etc.

      The next section will be multiple times that price. Have to build interchanges (p2w didn’t), a tunnel, huge cuts and fills.

  15. Last motorway for Auckland? Doubt it. SH16 extension and Warkworth to Wellsford are the two I expect to see.

  16. This week, finally opened the new stretch of SH1 motorway! Yay! Now let’s build more motorways to ease the pain for our farmers right now and commuters too! As you know it, people up from Kumeu-Huapai have been long pleading for any kind of transport solution for their issue around congestion. Think it’s time to bring back the ‘Kumeu Bypass’ again. But this time do things differently, only have ‘bypass’ and cycleway and takeout plans for rapid transit. That’s costing more and don’t need as of now, that can come in-future.


    Getting from point A to B is becoming difficult in Kumeu-Huapai as many motorist, residents or regular visitors know, their main on-terroir route SH16 is always congested no matter time of day coming in or out of the big town. Already at a point where critical investment in a transport project is needed! So commuters or motorist have no worries getting to places they need to be. No need for a rapid transit corridor when not enough patronage by public transport likes of 122, 122X & 125 to keep it running sustainably. But yes, at some point will require need for a rapid transit but not at present time. We’ve seen the effects when a new motorway comes into a town, creates free flowing traffic, quieter neighbourhood and less cars in town!

    Farmers play a big part in a Kumeu-Huapai ‘Bypass’. If you haven’t been paying attention this last week or months, you would have noticed National had visited Helensville to meet with farmers about their concerns. Congestion on SH16 at Kumeu would be on the farmers minds right now. Only way to fix it would be to build a Kumeu-Huapai’ bypass’ to ease their concerns!

    Many of us here up in Auckland right now is feeling the punch in inflation when they go to the supermarket, farmers aren’t having it easy, one of the reasons is lack of Kumeu-Huapai ‘bypass’. If people don’t know, Helensville has heaps of farms of crops of vegetables and fruits. Also vegetable and fruit are perishables, so they need to be transported out to distribution sites immediately as possible. A lot of the farms around Helensville or nearby Kumeu-Huapai have to travel on SH16 into Auckland and to the distribution sites, they can’t deliver the perishables in good condition if investment in roading infrastructure isn’t being invested and they’re clogged in traffic all the time! It drives up cost of your groceries, cost time and money! Building a Kumeu-Huapai ‘bypass’ would be key to brining down prices of groceries at the supermarket.

    ‘SH16 Kumeu-Huapai ‘bypass’ would fix all the the current problems with the existing Sh16 route, SH16 Kumeu-Huapai ‘bypass’ route brings more efficiency for businesses, commuters, more lanes, no congestion and faster commute to anywhere. Should be considered as a ‘Road of Significance’. Main priority, get constructing on SH16 Kumeu-Huapai ‘bypass’ without rapid transit!

      1. Hello, nihilist, the future is calling, people from the future is bringing electric Vehicles on roads back! This time permanently!

        Get annihilated!

        1. funny, annihilation is exactly what your consumerist addiction culture has doomed humanity too.

          The permafrost is melting in an unstoppable feedback loop. The Amazon forest has passed its tipping point of deforestation in the name of the dairy industry and “progress”. The oceans are about to suffer radical disruptions to their currents, and the resulting mass extinction that will wipe out 50% of most species within the next century will result in famines and mass deaths for homo sapiens.

          There is no future. You and your asphalt-addicted petrol huffing ilk have ensured that. Time to sit in the grave you’ve dug for yourself and face the consequences of your greed and stupidity.

          No amount of techbro cultism can stop our impending extinction.

          You have only annihilated yourself.

    1. I think the low 125 patronage is a result of the ridiculously low 2 hourly service off peak. I occasionally use it and get on/off near muriwai road, I can’t rely on the final service to run, so I have to use the second to last service and hope it’s not cancelled. Quite possibly the most infrequent bus service in Auckland

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