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  • PERSONA NON GRATA: Grant McLachlan - Column

Warkworth can’t handle the truth about proposed toll road

On 5 June 2020, I submitted this column to the New Zealand Herald. It was not published. Instead, they published more rubbish from Simon Wilson.


Here is my column.


The NZ Transport Agency needs to be brutally honest about the purpose of the Puhoi-Warkworth extension to the Northern Motorway as its mixed messages could undermine the viability of the project.

The project was always a Public Private Partnership intended to be tolled. In addition to the $2.40 for light vehicles and $4.80 for heavy vehicles currently charged for the Orewa-Puhoi extension, the NZTA proposes tolling the same prices for using the new Puhoi-Warkworth extension.

Warkworth residents are fuming that it could cost $192 a month to commute to Auckland. They already pay regional fuel taxes that haven’t benefitted the area. A targeted rate, meant for roading improvements, has instead been wasted on superfluous bus services and parking.

Warkworth got the wrong idea. They thought that the motorway would fix all their problems: congestion at the Hill Street intersection and delays on the existing highway.

No sooner was the motorway given resource consent, Warkworth developers saw dollar signs and delusions of a 20,000-commuter paradise. Vested interests are still lobbying for an interchange with the motorway south of Warkworth.

Warkworth Indicative Strategic Transport Network [PDF, 178 KB]


Warkworth completely missed the point. The motorway is meant to bypass Warkworth. It is not for them. It is so others can avoid them.

The NZTA has wiped its hands of Warkworth. Warkworth – and the existing road – will become Auckland Council’s problem.

Based on the NZTA’s traffic projections, the NZTA wants Warkworth motorists to use the existing road, which they propose lowering the speed limit to 80km/h before handing over to Auckland Transport. Auckland Council then wants to extend the urban boundary and allow lifestyle blocks to congest the rest, much like the Dairy Flat Highway.

NZTA’s soothing tones backfired. Warkworth wants to build another Warkworth at the end of the motorway meant to bypass it. An application has been lodged to develop at least 90 commercial and light industrial sites at the new junction, flanked by potentially another 3000 dwellings.


The 'new' Warkworth proposed at the terminus

of the motorway meant to bypass Warkworth.

This farce could have been avoided if the NZTA didn’t fudge its case for the motorway extension in the first place. They cited that the benefits of time savings of bypassing Warkworth congestion and the high crash sections of the existing State Highway 1 would outweigh the cost. The traffic projections to generate those benefits, however, never added up.

The NZTA argued that most traffic between Puhoi and Wellsford was through traffic, when in fact it was local traffic. Even though the existing toll barrier records licence plates, they didn’t bother cross-referencing licence plates north of Warkworth. Instead, they used a theoretical model that exaggerated how many vehicles will use the new motorway.

I am part of a group whose aim is to fix Warkworth’s Hill Street intersection. When our experts challenged the NZTA’s projections, they revised them.

The revised projections creates a huge dilemma for the NZTA. The current problem in Warkworth is state highway through traffic being congested by traffic turning to and from the eastern beach suburbs. Eastern beach motorists using the new motorway will create the same problem for state highway through traffic at the new junction.

Effectively, the NZTA has just moved the Johnstone Hill Tunnel bottleneck to the end of the new motorway, potentially negating any time saving benefits that might have justified the $710m price tag.

The NZTA has recently lodged an application to extend the motorway beyond Te Hana, bypassing Wellsford and the ‘new’ Warkworth at the junction. I hope that it has learned from the Puhoi-Warkworth experience to avoid a repeat of the false expectations it gave many.

The NZTA is calling for submissions on the proposed toll and proposals to lower the speed limit of the existing State Highway 1 section between Puhoi and the Dome Valley to 80km/h. Submissions close midnight 15 June 2020.

LINKS:

1) NZTA submission whether to impose a toll (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/N2TL63D)

2) NZTA submission whether to lower the speed limit between Dome Valley and Puhoi (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/NDTHW32)


[On July 16, One Warkworth Business Association held a public meeting at the Bridge House to oppose the proposed toll. The meeting avoided any mention of the proposed lowering of the 100km/h speed limit along the existing State Highway 1 to 80km/h once the new motorway is opened.]

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