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Will they ever finish that section of motorway? When will those extra lanes be open? Why is construction taking so long? Transport Reporter Bernard Orsman takes a look at the progress of some of our biggest motorway projects.

Within three years, motorists will be able to drive 200km on a four-lane motorway from Warkworth, take one of two routes through Auckland, bypass Hamilton and carry on past Cambridge.

After what seems like a lifetime, the motorway system from north of Auckland to south of Cambridge is nearing completion. All up, $3.2 billion of motorway roadworks are underway in the Super City and along the Waikato Expressway.

Today, the Herald begins a five-day series on these motorway projects, some of which have been on the books for decades; others causing choke points for years on end; but all designed to build a better roading system through and beyond the country's biggest city.

By the end of next year, all seven sections of the $1.6b Waikato Expressway are due to be finished - which means when Hamilton approaches, motorists will be able to skip the city on a new section of highway to the east of the city.

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Hamilton mayor Andrew King is fizzing about the Waikato Expressway and the opportunities for business, industry and residential growth.

Along with the recent announcement of commuter rail between Hamilton and Auckland next year, the expressway would link two of the country's fastest-growing areas and boost communities along the Waikato River, he said.

The election of a Labour-led Government with the Green Party on board has seen the cancellation of National's "Roads of National Significance" in favour of road safety improvements to reduce the number of road deaths and serious injuries.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford said, yes, the new Government has different priorities, but is ramping up spending on land transport by 18 per cent to $16.9b over three years.

This shift in policy means a new road from Warkworth to Wellsford will no longer be built by the current Government. In its place, work has started on $30 million of safety improvements along the dangerous stretch of road through Dome Valley.

Ian Davis, chief fire officer with the Warkworth Volunteer Fire Brigade, has attended crashes in Dome Valley for 30 years. He supports the safety improvements, but would like to see a new four-lane highway built along a new route from Warkworth to Wellsford that bypasses Dome Valley.

Ian Davies, chief fire officer with the Warkworth Volunteer Fire Brigade. Photo / Supplied
Ian Davies, chief fire officer with the Warkworth Volunteer Fire Brigade. Photo / Supplied

Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter says the highway will cost $1.6b to deliver 25km of safe road. For that money, the Government will make 870km of safety improvements to highways across the country, and a similar length of local roads.

In Auckland itself, long-running roadworks to widen State Highway 1 between Manukau and Papakura have made life a misery for motorists and claims of shaking and damage to homes.

Delays along the busy stretch of motorway have become the norm since work started in October 2015, with changes to the project pushing out the completion date to the end of 2019.

One Takanini homeowner, Gayleen Smith, has an estimated $500,000 damage to her home with an engineering report commissioned by the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) finding on "balance of probabilities" the house has been affected by the roadworks.

Gayleen Smith is seeking compensation because her house suffered damage during the construction on the Southern Motorway. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Gayleen Smith is seeking compensation because her house suffered damage during the construction on the Southern Motorway. Photo / Jason Oxenham

AA principal adviser of infrastructure Barney Irvine said from a congestion perspective, the works are one of the worst choke points on the Auckland network, causing massive pain for tens of thousands of commuters every day.

"The delays to the works around Takanini can only be described as a kick in the guts to motorists. Completion of this work cannot come soon enough," he said.

The NZTA is pleased with years of planning and works on Auckland and Waikato's motorway projects, but with a change of Government is stressing the safety improvements over the messages of travel-time savings spouted by National with its "Roads of National Significance" four-lane state highway programme.

NZTA director of regional relationships for the Upper North Island Steve Mutton said a safe and efficient motorway network will form one part of an integrated, multi-modal transport system for the region, including more public transport options and walking and cycling facilities, so people will have choices making connected journeys that don't rely on private vehicles.

He said last year's Government Policy Statement (GPS) that sets the strategic direction for the land transport system prioritised safety, access, the environment and achieving value for money.

Projects supporting the direction of the GPS include extending the northern busway to Albany, building a rapid transit link between the airport and Puhinui rail station, building shared walking and cycling paths across the Auckland Harbour Bridge and on the North Shore, and light rail - or modern trams - from the city centre to Mangere, Mutton said.

He did not mention a single roading project.

Truck driver Anna Voice is working on the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway, which will realign State Highway 1 north of Auckland. Photo / Michael Craig
Truck driver Anna Voice is working on the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway, which will realign State Highway 1 north of Auckland. Photo / Michael Craig

The completion of Auckland's motorway projects by 2022 is a growing concern for contractors.

Civil Contractors New Zealand chief executive Peter Silcock said the effects of the shift away from big roading contracts will become worse if progress is not made on getting public transport projects to a "shovel ready" state.

Once the motorway projects are completed in 2021-2022, he said, "where do our contractors, their employees and subcontractors go from there for more work?"

Silcock said a lot of contractors want to get on with the Government's $6b light rail programme, but Twyford is saying the line to West Auckland might not go ahead and light rail to the airport is taking an age to progress.

Silcock also wants to see other projects which have been put back to start early, including the $1b Mill Rd corridor from Manukau to Drury, the $400m Penlink connection between Whangaparāoa and SH1 and the $1.8b east-west link through Auckland's industrial belt.

"The Government has had a high level of aspiration about what they want to achieve but they haven't had that real plan about how to get things done. That has created a lot of problems," Silcock said.

Twyford said there is a large pipeline of work coming through including Auckland's light rail project and $1.4b of road safety improvements throughout the country.

"Our Government has different priorities to the former Government but we are building more transport infrastructure than ever before.

"While the former Government focused all its resources on a handful of highways in a few areas, we are building more across the country. It is a different balance of projects, not less work," Twyford said.

He said $4.3b will go into programmes and projects that will save lives by preventing accidents or reducing their severity. This will include revamping intersections to stop collisions, installing median barriers in high-risk areas, and increasing road policing.

Tomorrow: Sorting out Auckland's motorway choke points.