Puhoi To Wellsford – What is the best option?

Local publication Mahurangi Matters has run a story on finding the best solution for upgrading SH1. The CBT contributed a piece on our “Operation Livesaver” proposal:

The Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) last year proposed an alternative to the costly Puhoi to Wellsford toll road currently being proposed by the Government. The Puhoi to Warkworth section alone is estimated to cost $1.65bn and the NZTA has yet to announce how much the toll will be for trucks and cars. Based on work already done by the NZTA, alternative upgrade options were costed at up to $320m. The key features include a Warkworth bypass, median barriers throughout Dome Valley and Schedewys Hill, and three-laning sections of road between Puhoi and Warkworth.

The alternative options were put forward largely to accelerate much needed safety improvements as upgrading the capacity of the route is not justified for the handful of days a year when holiday traffic creates congestion. Between 2000 and 2009, 41 people died on SH1 between Puhoi and Wellsford, most in head on collisions. Given that sections of the toll road won’t be completed until 2019 and 2022, the risk is the current poor safety record will continue.

The CBT is also concerned that for those who won’t be able to afford the toll road, the existing parallel highway will remain as dangerous as it currently is, with no planned safety upgrades.

The alternative proposal was endorsed by the former ARC in August of last year and put forward to the Minister of Transport and the NZ Transport Agency for consideration. Responding to the proposal, Transport Minister Steven Joyce said that “while upgrading the road would appear to be the cheaper option, this is not actually the case. The initial investigations … show that upgrading the existing road to a four-lane motorway standard would actually be the same or more expensive than constructing a new, purpose-built road.”

The Minister is missing the point. We don’t think there is a need to upgrade the road from Puhoi to Wellsford to a motorway standard, for the sake of a few predictable periods of congestion, especially when the alternative SH16 route is under utilised.

The Minister also claimed that the proposed toll road will have “additional benefits as it caters for the movement of both passengers and freight. Forecast freight volumes between Auckland and Northland will double over the next 10 years.” CBT believes the existing railway line to Northland, currently under threat of closure, should be left open for the purpose of carrying the expected freight growth, especially logs and other bulk goods.

Northland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Tony Collins claims that the Holiday Highway is “strategically important”, while “the sooner the better” says National Road Carriers. You would think that these two organisations would be able to argue coherently about costs and benefits, but they don’t.

NZTA will hold a final information day at the Warkworth Town Hall on Saturday, January 22, between 10am and 2pm, and it will display the same information as the earlier events to provide a final opportunity for people to review the indicative route before consultation closes on January 28.

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