Greg Sayers: Tauranga's planning puts Auckland's in the shade

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The worst intersection in New Zealand - where SH1 meets Hill St in Warkworth - is mired in a bureaucratic nightmare. Photo / Jason Oxenham
The worst intersection in New Zealand - where SH1 meets Hill St in Warkworth - is mired in a bureaucratic nightmare. Photo / Jason Oxenham

By Greg Sayers

If Aucklanders want value for money from infrastructure projects we should expect our elected officials to be more consistent and predictable in planning the city's path. Pet projects, pork barrel politics, and shadowy deals are no way to secure Auckland's future.

I represent the fastest-growing ward on the Auckland Council, Rodney, which is also the largest in area. My constituents, compared with other wards, don't ask for much but when they do, it is out of necessity, not out of some whim.

Rodney's growth is frustrated by the dysfunction of the Super City. Meanwhile, places like Tauranga have bounded ahead.

Auckland and Tauranga is a Tale of Two Cities. While Auckland is still dithering about a second harbour crossing, Tauranga's built two. While Tauranga upgraded rail and built a motorway to make its port thrive, Auckland wants to kill its port and the connecting infrastructure.

Tauranga now has the country's busiest port, while conversely Auckland's lack of investment has created a property bubble and traffic bottlenecks.

The lack of consistency and transparency of Auckland Council is the cause of budget blowouts. Officials have fudged the data, oversold the benefits, and under-estimated the projects' costs just to get the green light.

Imagine being in the construction industry. They are already stretched and outsource their engineering design offshore. Squeezed by the cost of consultants and compliance, the quality of design, materials and labour is affected. The cost blowout for the Central Rail Link just shows how out of sync central government, local government and the construction industry are.

So, what is the difference between Tauranga and Auckland? Political egos.

The first two terms of Auckland Council were like the soapbox days of the 1850s when Parliament sat in Auckland. Roads weren't built and property speculation was rife. For the infrastructure that was built, politicians jostled for photo opportunities at each ribbon cutting. Infrastructure spending was sporadic and lacked integration because each local politician sought projects solely to bring money to their suburb.

Piecemeal infrastructure causes bottlenecks. Bicycle and bus lanes don't work in isolation. Freight containers don't take the bus. Construction site materials don't take the train.

Decision making needs to be forward focused, rather than knee-jerk. There is this culture of creating crises and then claiming credit for fixing them. But claims of fixing problems is often spin and no substance.

Take for instance New Zealand's worst intersection. It happens to be in Auckland at Warkworth at the intersections of State Highway 1 and Hill St. All traffic travelling north passes through it. If you travel north, the huge delays you experience are because of this poorly designed intersection.

The state highway intersection belongs to the Government while its connecting roads belong to the Auckland Council. Its agency Auckland Transport, however, is being forced to spend ratepayers' money on temporary solutions and engineers to design plans to fix it. In my mind this is scandalous.

Before the last election, the Government promised to commit $20 million required to actually fix this bottleneck intersection. That figure has since increased to $100 million but the money has been diverted to other nearby roading projects.

Due to the obfuscation, Auckland ratepayers will inherit the cost of fixing Hill St when the NZ Transport Agency relinquishes the intersection to the council after the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway is built in 2022.

Tauranga wouldn't stand or it. This exemplifies how Auckland ends up with the worst intersection in New Zealand.

Auckland Council needs to get serious about its road network. The Waterview Connection will be open soon. With the additional traffic using the Northwestern and Upper Harbour Highways, has anyone bothered to address the compounding effect on the traffic congestion bottlenecks already at Kumeu and Albany?

But it gets worse. Work is starting on the Puhoi to Wellsford motorway and conditions of resource consent restrict construction traffic using the Hill St intersection to outside "peak" periods. Yet according to Auckland Transport, most of the time "the intersection is already operating to capacity in all directions."

How on earth can the NZ Transport Agency build a motorway if its construction equipment can't legally get to it? If the national transport agency and Auckland Transport can't work together to fix Hill St, then what hope is there for other Auckland transport projects?

It is just not acceptable for the NZ Transport Agency to push for "build it and they will come" billion-dollar-motorways but say "we won't fix it so stay away" to easily fixable intersections in Warkworth and Kumeu.

Congestion in these towns is now worse than in Greenlane or Takapuna. They must be considered equally along with all the other regional transport projects.

Auckland does not yet have a successful balanced transport network plan. Aucklanders are expecting to see one from this new Auckland Council. Pet projects and shadowy cost projections can no longer be tolerated. Auckland Council needs to learn from its mistakes and learn from what works, because this city isn't working when it is stuck in traffic.

Greg Sayers is the Auckland Council member for Rodney.

- NZ Herald

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