Michael Barnett: A new port for car imports would clog our roads with trucks

There would be serious and costly implications for the state highway north of the Harbour Bridge if the Ports of Auckland vehicle import trade was relocated. Photo / File
There would be serious and costly implications for the state highway north of the Harbour Bridge if the Ports of Auckland vehicle import trade was relocated. Photo / File

Michael Barnett is chief executive of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce and can be contacted at mbarnett@chamber.co.nz

There is a single message I hear from people north of the Harbour Bridge when traffic issues come up. It is that their problems are getting worse, much worse, and the 400,000-plus North Shore residents are not getting back a fair share of the rates and taxes they pay towards fixing Auckland's big transport issues.

They have a point. About 200,000 vehicles cross the Harbour Bridge each day, and the commute for many is up to two hours - well above the city average of 30 minutes.

Traffic queues on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula alone stretch 5km most mornings by 7am. It's the same on Lake Rd between Takapuna and Devonport. The Puhoi tunnel is another bottleneck, and on most weekends traffic crawls along SH1 through Wellsford and Warkworth.

The business community of Silverdale and Whangaparoa Peninsula have waited 20 years for action to address local congestion.

In recent months a Penlink Project linking the Peninsula direct to SH1 at Dairy flat and freeing up Silverdale roads for local traffic has been consented, has a strong business case and the land purchased. It is "ready to go" and private sector interest to invest is indicated.

Yet the latest Auckland transport plan has the project delayed until at least 2028, with claims that there are more deserving projects in south and west Auckland.

The only excuse officials seem to have is that building Penlink would shift the congestion from Silverdale and the Peninsula on to State Highway1. That's unacceptable.

Imagine the uproar then, and implications for the state highway north of the Harbour Bridge, if any serious effort was made to relocate the Ports of Auckland vehicle import trade to NorthPort near Whangarei.

Currently Auckland imports around 21,000 vehicles every month, or 252,000 a year. Eighty percent of the imported vehicles are for customers in South Auckland.

The car-carrying trucks on average take about eight vehicles. The industry advises that over a 24-hour cycle there would be a heavy truck on the road to and from Auckland-Northport every 2-3 minutes.

The pressure on the bridge and state highway between Northland and South Auckland wouldn't cope. The freight sector is already under notice that trucks will be restricted to centre lanes of the Harbour Bridge from around 2020 due to stress on the clip-on lanes.

Having a state highway clogged with freight trucks would be untenable for Northland tourism, those who live along the State Highway and other traffic through Spaghetti Junction or the Waterview Tunnels.

I am told that on current import schedules, an additional 55,000km would be travelled by trucks each day, a $35 million capital spend for trucks would be required, 140 additional drivers would be needed, and the increased cost to clients per year would be $90 million.

None of these numbers take into account Auckland congestion delays, likely increased accident rates and the impact on Ports of Auckland Ltd's bottom line and dividend returns to Auckland ratepayers if it "lost" the car import trade.

So what about upgrading the rail service to Northland to service the trade? This would cost at least $500 million, I am advised, not including the cost of new rail that would be required from New Lynn to Southdown (as it would have to be) to bypass Newmarket.

This bypass is estimated at about $1 billion, and would be necessary as it would be unacceptable to run a huge volume of freight trains - each at least a kilometre in length - down the western line through Newmarket to Southdown, Wiri and South Auckland and back to NorthPort. Assuming each train carried 60 vehicles, around 160 train trips to and from Northland would be required each week.

All this because some inner city residents are upset at the sight of cars parked on Auckland's inner city wharves.

Let's get one thing clear, the Chamber of Commerce is not opposed to the car import trade shifting from Auckland if a business case stacks up and it is a commercial decision. But our assessment shows it to be impractical, unworkable, and unacceptable to people using the transport system north of the Harbour Bridge.

A similar argument can be made for shifting the trade to Tauranga. For starters it would be unacceptable to local communities and roads would be under pressure of having to cope with the hundreds of extra heavy trucks travelling to and from Auckland and Tauranga.

That is why the Auckland Chamber suggested some time ago that it would be more practical and cheaper to put a covered car park on Bledisloe Wharf and create some green space on top in order to 'hide' the imported vehicles. It would be a solution that would allow the Port business to remain competitive and a business of scale while its long-term future is determined. But that's another matter.

Meanwhile, let's get real. Fixing the acute "here and now" roading issues on the North Shore should be our shared priority. The Penlink Project is "ready to go". There are no excuses or credible reasons for the new Council not giving the project the green light immediately.

- NZ Herald

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