The new multi-modal projects outlined in the Government's $6.8 billion transport boost will unlock housing developments in high-growth areas and clear some of the country's most dangerous black spots.
The 22 projects, both road and rail, in the New Zealand Upgrade Programme were specially selected to make crucial infrastructure connections. And three of them will be ready to start later this year.
"These are projects that are really needed and it was important to get them under way," says Brett Gliddon, NZ Transport Agency's (NZTA) general manager transport services.
"They will add value from a road safety, housing and employment perspective."
NZTA operates a national land transport programme with an annual budget of $4b, and the $6.8b additional spending announced by Finance Minister Grant Robertson meant the selected projects could be brought forward.
It also means NZTA can review its own long-term programme.
"The Government investment has created headroom for us to deliver on other projects earlier than we thought — such as looking at bringing forward the Cambridge to Piarere motorway," Gliddon says.
The $6.8b boost is going into projects in the growth regions of Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Wellington, Canterbury and Queenstown. Auckland — whose population is expected to reach 2 million within 13 years — received a strong dollop of funding, with $2.5b for roads and most of the $1.1b to enhance the rail network.
A new feature of some of the expressway projects is providing dedicated lanes for public transport, trucks carrying freight and cars containing more than one person.
South Auckland, where residential development continues to spread towards the Bombay Hills, has benefited — with the Mill Rd build, widening of the Southern Motorway from Papakura to Drury South, electrification of the rail line from Papakura to Pukekohe, two new railway stations at Drury and a third freight and passenger rail line from Wiri to Quay Park in downtown Auckland.
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"We are responding to the huge growth happening there," says Gliddon. "An additional 120,000 people are expected to live in the area within 30 years — on top of a further 38,000 jobs — and these improvements will provide greater choice for how people travel to work, access local services and connect with family and friends."
Mill Rd, a 21.5km four-lane corridor with separated walking and cycling facilities, will run parallel to the Southern Motorway and help manage the high demand on State Highway 1 (SH1).
Gliddon says Mill Rd will provide an easy-to-use alternative route for local trips, helping to reduce traffic volumes on SH1 and keep inter-regional travel and freight moving to support economic growth.
Auckland Transport is transferring the responsibility for Mill Rd to NZTA and the northern end of the corridor is already designated and consented, while the remainder still needs to be consented and designed. Construction is expected to begin in late 2022 and the work will be completed in stages through to 2027/28.
Penlink, a new 7km tolled transport link between SH1 at Redvale and Whangaparāoa Peninsula, will also be transferred to NZTA and design and construction contracts will be tendered this year.
"Penlink gets misunderstood," says Gliddon. "It is a connection to Whangaparāoa which is great for the people living there. But it takes the pressure off the Silverdale intersection and provides capacity for growth in residential development between Silverdale and Orewa, such as Millwater, Milldale and Wainui. The northern busway will also be extended to Silverdale."
A new roundabout where SH29 from Tauranga joins SH1 near Lake Karapiro will remove one of the country's most dangerous T-intersections. There have been 62 crashes in eight years at the intersection, resulting in two deaths.
A design contract for the roundabout, costing an estimated $58m, will be awarded this year and construction is expected to start in 2022 and be completed by late 2024. The roundabout will also become a connection for extending the Cambridge motorway to Piarere, just past the eastern end of Lake Karapiro.
By then motorists will be able to travel on a long, efficient SH1 four-lane expressway — not excluding the six lanes of the Southern Motorway — from Warkworth to Piarere, with Puhoi to Warkworth, the Huntly and Hamilton bypasses having been completed.
SH2 out of Tauranga towards Katikati is another dangerous and congested section of road, and the Tauranga Northern Link, which had been delayed, will bring much-needed and long-awaited relief for motorists.
Gliddon says current demand on SH2 is a barrier to economic and residential growth, and the Tauranga Northern Link and Te Puna to Ōmokoroa four-lane upgrade will provide a transport system that offers safe choices for people to move about.
One lane in each direction along this 14km corridor will be prioritised for buses, freight and vehicles carrying multiple people. There will be a separate walking and cycling path. "We can't just keep building lanes for one person in every car. We have to get a modal shift in Tauranga by providing dedicated bus and freight lanes."
Asked why the four-lane corridor wasn't being extended to Katikati, Gliddon says the growth node is Ōmokoroa and the traffic from there, combined with that from the lifestyle blocks towards Tauranga, had created strong pressures.
"There is demand further north but $100m worth of road safety improvements are taking place from Waihi to Ōmokoroa through Katikati over the next four years. We are widening parts of it, separating the [oncoming] traffic with a gap, putting turning bays at some intersections and adding wire rope safety barriers. We are also looking at grade separation for the Ōmokoroa intersection with SH2," he says.
Tauranga Northern Link, with designation, consenting and design completed and the construction contract to be tendered in a few month's time, will be one of the first new projects to kick off — along with further Southern Motorway widening and electrification of the Papakura to Pukekohe rail line.
These works will begin late this year, with the electrification project finishing mid to late 2024 and the Southern Motorway widening and Tauranga Northern Link completed in late 2025.
The New Zealand Upgrade Programme made special reference to a balanced transport policy that included cycling and walking and public transport. Minister of Transport Phil Twyford says: "We are giving families across New Zealand real choices in how they travel to work, home, education and play.
"Building alternative transport options for people and freight is a vital part of achieving the Government's goal of net-zero emissions by 2025."
Electric bikes are likely to play a greater role as the Government pushes for more walking and cycling paths, especially through Auckland.
The Northern Pathway, which includes SkyPath over the Harbour Bridge and Seapath towards Takapuna, provides a vital connection to Auckland's city-wide walking and cycling network.
The construction contract for the $360m project will be awarded late this year and work is expected to start early in 2021, with completion in 2023/24. The 3km SeaPath from the Northcote Point end of the Harbour Bridge to Esmonde Rd is currently in the consenting phase.
Gliddon says SkyPath has been redesigned because of the challenges of managing loadings with the traffic on the Harbour Bridge and the path underneath. The 2km walking and cycling path will now be built alongside the bridge facing Stanley Pt and the city centre and attached to the piers.
SkyPath is wider at 5m and includes three 100m-long observation decks terraced down to create safe, sheltered seating areas. Early forecasts show 4500 pedestrians and cyclists a day or 1.64m a year will use SkyPath by 2026 and 6560 a day or 2.4m a year by 2046.
It will almost certainly become a tourist destination but also a vital commuter link.
Gliddon says the Northern Pathway is a missing part in completing the cycling network in Auckland which has been 10 years in the making. Cyclists will be able to enter the network at Esmonde Rd from Northcote and Takapuna and ride across the Harbour Bridge to Westhaven, the city centre and Grafton Gully, then alongside the Northwestern Motorway and over the top of Waterview Tunnel on a dedicated path alongside SH20 to the Manukau Harbour.
"We are building a brand new walking and cycling bridge at Mangere Bridge alongside the existing car crossing," says Gliddon. "It includes fishing spots and will be an amazing structure.
"We are also working with Auckland Transport on a walking and cycling path from Tamaki Drive to Glen Innes, and we want to push further north from Northcote.
"We will end up with a great piece of infrastructure that will ultimately go right out to Albany.
"With the advent of electric bikes, people will be able to move around safely and just as quickly.
"We want to move an entire city on separate, dedicated cycling paths.
"There will always be a level of congestion but we want Auckland to be a liveable city where people can move around in an efficient way. To do that we need a balanced approach with investment in public transport, walking and cycling.
"People can catch a bus on the Northern Busway to work, or bike from Albany or sit in a queue in a car on the motorway if they want to. At least they will have options.
"We cannot continue to allow one person sitting in a car — maybe tradies need to do that, but for other people, they need to have other options to move around easily and efficiently."
Gliddon says the business case for the second harbour crossing will be completed by the middle of this year but any start to the project is probably more than 10 years away. He indicated that the crossing would most likely be a tunnel but the question was what should run in it — public transport, private vehicles or heavy or light rail linking in with City Rail Link at Britomart.
Gliddon is confident the construction industry can respond to the New Zealand Upgrade Programme.
"Some large motorway projects such as Transmission Gully, Huntly and Hamilton bypasses and Puhoi to Warkworth will be finished in the next 12 to 24 months.
"The new projects fill that void, and the industry has told us it will have the capacity and resources to take on the new jobs," he says.
"We also have the opportunity to speed up the construction time by improving the programming and sequence of works and even doing more work at night.
The challenge is to do things quicker and more efficiently, and we are talking to industry about this."
New road-rail projects
• SH1 Whangarei to Port Marsden (est. $692 million). 22km four-lane corridor with separated walking and cycling path; construction starts late 2023/early 2024 and completed 2027/28.
• Penlink linking Whangaparaoa Peninsula to Northern Motorway (est. $411m) start late 2021 and completed late 2025. 7km corridor will be tolled.
• New Mill Rd connection from Manukau to Drury South (est. $1.35 billion) 21.5km four-lane corridor running parallel to Southern Motorway with separated walking and cycling facilities; start late 2022 — completed from 2025-2028.
• Widening Southern Motorway from Papakura to Drury South with a third lane in each direction and upgrade of Drury interchange (est. $423m) separate walking and cycling path alongside northbound lane; start in late 2020 and completed 2025.
• Northern Pathway including SkyPath across Auckland Harbour Bridge and SeaPath from Northcote to Esmonde Road (3km) for cyclists and pedestrians (est. $360m) start early 2021 and completed 2023/24.
• Auckland rail — electrification of track between Papakura and Pukekohe including upgrade of Pukekohe station (est. $371m) start late 2020 and completed mid/late 2024; third line for freight and passenger services from Wiri to Quay Park in downtown Auckland, $315m, start late 2020 and completed mid/late 2024; two new stations and bus and rail interchanges at Drury, $247m, start 2023 and completed late 2024.