It's summer, and that means packing the car and getting stuck in holiday traffic on route to the bach and beach. To help plan the trip, transport reporter Bernard Orsman updates progress on some of our biggest motorway projects.
It shouldn't be like this. Orange road cones as ubiquitous as flowering Pohutukawa trees on the main roads around Auckland this summer. A narrow, windy and dangerous road to the north and a patchwork of motorway and single-lane road to the south.
Across the Tasman it's a vastly different story. Australians don't just have world-class roads, they promote them to the world.
The legendary Pacific Coast Touring Route, a 1000km highway between Sydney and Brisbane, is a "drive to be savoured", according to Tourism Australia.
Driving the 138km Grand Pacific Drive south of Sydney is a "pleasure", says NSW Tourism.
• Auckland motorways: 57 separate overnight closures for roadworks in week starting Sunday
• Premium - Slow progress of SH1/Southern Motorway road works a 'major issue', trucking industry says
• Another year of roadworks and delays on Auckland's Southern Motorway
• Auckland overnight motorway closures in June 2019: What you need to know
For now, New Zealand motorists can only grimace at the condition of our so-called state highways. But things are slowly improving.
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 Waikato Expressway.
Today, the Herald begins updating a five-day series on these motorway projects which ran in May, 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 2021, 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.
Along with the recent announcement of commuter rail between Hamilton and Auckland next year, the expressway will link two of the country's fastest-growing areas and boost communities along the Waikato River.
The election of a Labour-led Government with the Green Party on board saw 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.
The 'Killing Fields' of Dome Valley to be made safer
Motorists face another year of delays on Southern Motorway
Expressway coming through as new Hamilton bridge opens
However, pressure on the Government, particularly from business, led Finance Minister Grant Robertson signalling an end to the Government's aversion to large roading projects.
Earlier this month, Robertson released the outline of a $12 billion infrastructure spend-up, of which $6.8b will be on transport projects.
This could see previously shelved projects, like a new road from Warkworth to Wellsford, go ahead once the Puhoi to Warkworth leg of SH1 north is completed in late 2021.
That's not to say, safety projects are no longer a priority for the Government - $35 million of safety improvements along the dangerous stretch of road through Dome Valley are well underway.
Ian Davis, chief fire officer with the Warkworth Volunteer Fire Brigade, has attended crashes in Dome Valley for 30 years. He supported 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.
The new approach may cause some friction with the Green Party, whose Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter criticised the Warkworth to Wellsford project for
costing $1.6b to deliver 25km of safe road.
For that money, the Government could make 870km of safety improvements to highways across the country, and a similar length of local roads, she said.
In Auckland itself, long-running roadworks to widen SH1 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, but the works have been completed for Christmas.
One Takanini homeowner, Gayleen Smith, has an estimated $500,000 damage to her home with an engineering report commissioned by NZTA finding on "balance of probabilities" the house has been affected by the roadworks.
AA principal adviser of infrastructure Barney Irvine said the delays on the project have been inexcusable.
"This has been one of the most painful points on the Auckland network, and the delays prolonged the suffering for a huge number of Aucklanders and visitors. With all the pressure Auckland traffic is under, we can't afford to drop the ball on projects like this," he said.
Hunua MP Andrew Bayly has called the project a "disaster" for the 80,000 people who used the Southern Motorway every day.
NZTA is pleased with years of planning and works on Auckland and Waikato's motorway projects, but with the change of government is stressing the safety improvements over the messages of highly engineered four-lane state highways and travel time savings mounted by National with its "Roads of National Significance" 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 in making connected journeys that don't rely on private vehicles.
He said the Government Policy Statement (GPS) last year that set the strategic direction for the land transport system prioritised safety, access, the environment and achieving value for money.
Projects to support 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 Māngere, Mutton said.
The completion of Auckland's motorway projects by 2022 and the shift to safety and public transport projects has been a growing concern for contractors.
Civil Contractors New Zealand chief executive Peter Silcock, who had criticised the shift away from big roading contracts, said the Government's $12b infrastructure spend-up with emphasis on "shovel ready" projects showed it was listening.
Details on which projects were funded and when they would come to market were needed as soon as possible, he said.
"The longer it took for project details to be announced, the more likely there were to be capacity constraints as a range of major projects such as Transmission Gully, Canterbury motorway projects and the Waikato Expressway finished up over the next 18 months and businesses looked to provide continuity of work for their skilled employees, he said.
"A year may seem like a long time, but in terms of making major infrastructure projects happen it is not long at all. The time for stalling is over and our members need to know which projects will be given the nod so they can start planning how they will put them into action," Silcock said.
He has also said contractors want to get on with the Government's $6b light rail programme, which is bogged down in Wellington with no business case, no costings and confusing messages about what the city to airport line is for - fast transport to the airport, relieving bus congestion in the city or a catalyst for intensification.
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, $400m Penlink connection between Whangaparoa and SH1 and $1.8b East West link through Auckland's industrial belt.
Auckland deputy mayor and Franklin councillor Bill Cashmore is frustrated with the funding model for big infrastructure projects like Mill Rd, which has been on the books for more than 20 years and created uncertainty for landowners.
He said councils have 10-year budgets, but are hamstrung by shorter timeframes by government and NZTA.
"Until we get guaranteed financial commitment from the Crown to match local government's commitment we won't get anywhere fast ... the benefits from longer-term procurement would deliver substantial savings and investment in equipment that delivers more, faster," he said.
Twyford has maintained 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.
Auckland and Waikato's $3.2b programme
Tuesday: Auckland's misery
Wednesday : Waikato Expressway
Thursday: Heading North
Friday: Future projects