Michael Barnett: New chapter opens in the Penlink saga

The already huge congestion on the North Shore is expected to get much worse as more homes are built over the next 10 years.
The already huge congestion on the North Shore is expected to get much worse as more homes are built over the next 10 years.

Michael Barnett is chief executive of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

With a lot more houses likely to be built on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula over the next 10 years one thing is certain - the already huge congestion will get worse, much worse.

Unless, that is, a way can be found to unlock the long-discussed Penlink Project - the 7km of road and bridge linking the North Shore peninsula to State Highway 1 at Dairy Flat.

Penlink was proposed 20 years ago when peak-time traffic queues at the Silverdale intersection with the main highway were about 500m. Starting at 6am most weekdays queues now stretch about 5km.

Yet development continues apace in the string of attractive seaside suburbs along the peninsula - Gulf Harbour, Stanmore Bay and Red Beach - and Millwater.

It is transport congestion that diminishes local quality of life.

With the Penlink project not in Auckland Council's financial timeframe until between 2025 and 2035, nothing will happen for 10 more years except more houses will be built, and more cars will make congestion worse. It shouldn't surprise, then, if the already deeply fatigued and frustrated residents, employers - their staff and customers - lose what level of confidence they may have left that council and its agencies are on their side and are there to help.

Not quite all. The Chamber of Commerce has been approached by concerned transport planners who have backed the business community taking the lead to unlock the project and get it built by 2024 - a date selected on evidence that planning and approval processes for major transport projects typically take seven years. That's bad enough, but is another story needing sorting!

Meanwhile an option is being developed to test a design-build-finance Penlink project option with the private sector. The business case for the project stacks up, with a benefit cost ratio of 2.9, giving it a rating higher than several New Zealand Transport Agency "roads of national significance" projects. The estimated cost is a modest $290 million, compared with the billions of dollars of recent larger projects, travel time savings of up to 15 minutes.

Funding options include a toll of about $2 or $3 a trip for users and a targeted transport rate for non-users in nearby suburbs that will benefit from less congestion in getting access to State Highway 1 - Millwater, Wainui and Silverdale West.

Politically, the decades of delay on Penlink and the growth in demand for it by the local community makes it an attractive project.

Mayoral candidates should note there is no other transport project of scale looming on the North Shore (other than the next Waitemata Harbour Crossing). To date, most investment in road infrastructure has been in the west and the south of Auckland. Another attraction for private investors is Penlink is consented and virtually ready to go.

Add in that the Whangaparaoa Peninsula has significant potential for value-add property development. Also, a population the size of Hamilton is projected to be added to the Silverdale area over the next 30 years. In short, the pre-conditions are in place for a farsighted local private-sector investor to step up and add Penlink to its portfolio.

Clearly, the traditional approach of relying on council hasn't worked. If the project is to be speeded up, a new approach is required.

As with the East West Connection project which sat on council plans for 40+ years until taken over by NZTA after a business campaign, business is encouraging the private sector and Government to work together to shape a finance package and get the job done quickly.

If Auckland is to be progressive and stay a world top-10 attractive city to live and work, another decade of Penlink delay is unacceptable. We aspire to be a first world city, but our slowness in delivering projects like Penlink makes us more a third world city - that's not good enough for the Auckland Chamber of Commerce.

- NZ Herald

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