Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and senior ministers have pumped $3.48 billion into Auckland from the Government's infrastructure fund. The money will fund seven transport projects to tackle congestion, many of which have blown out in cost. Bernard Orsman investigates.
The rural community of Drury, population 4960, is set to get two rail stations either side of the Southern Motorway costing $247 million.
According to the Government, $247m will buy two new stations, park and ride facilities and a bus and rail interchange. By comparison, a major new bus and train station at Puhinui to service a fast connection to Auckland Airport is costing $60m.
The $247m cost is more than a third of the $710m cost of a new four-lane motorway from Pūhoi to Warkworth, a five-year project employing hundreds of workers.
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The cost of the stations at Drury came as a big surprise when the Prime Minister, Finance Minister Grant Robertson, Transport Minister Phil Twyford, NZ First leader Winston Peters and Green co-leader James Shaw announced the Auckland transport package at a city law firm on January 29.
Local politicians are baffled at the $247m price tag. The New Zealand Transport Agency, which is responsible for the project, has not been able to explain to the politicians and the Weekend Herald how two small train stations can cost $247m.
Other projects have ballooned in cost, notably the SkyPath/SeaPath walkway and cycleway over the Harbour Bridge to Takapuna, which has risen from $100m to $360m in less than two years.
The Penlink road from Whangaparāoa to SH1 has risen from $200m to $411m, rail electrification from Papakura to Pukekohe has risen from $246m to $371m and a third rail line from Quay Park to Wiri has risen from $183m to $315m.
The new four-lane Mill Rd highway from Manukau to Drury South, running parallel to SH1, now has gone up from $955m in 2017 to $1.354 billion.
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Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Barnett says the projects are moving from an "estimate environment" to a reality when experts come in and apply all the costs.
"When I look at Penlink, they have used the lower figure for years and should have increased the estimate annual to at least try to be honest," he said.
Barnett said with the "extraordinary leap" in costs, the Government would get better value for money by putting the projects out to international tender for innovative solutions and not be controlled by the size of the local market.
Infrastructure New Zealand chief executive Paul Blair said reasons for the price increases included construction inflation, add-ons like walking and cycling facilities and new concepts like managed lanes and tolling.
"Beyond that we don't have detail. There are some significant increases," said Blair, who applauded the Government for the significant investment in infrastructure but wanted more information.
Twyford put the spiralling costs down to increasing construction costs and competition created by a surge in large-scale infrastructure projects throughout Australasia.
He said the Auckland projects have been re-scoped and are significantly different to their earlier versions with many now including funding for public transport and walking and cycling. Other factors included more detailed design, land acquisition and contingency for unexpected costs.
The projects and their cost
SkyPath and SeaPath costed at $100m. New cost $360m
Eighteen months ago, Twyford and Shaw told a media event at the Harbour Bridge the Government would fully fund SkyPath, the walking and cycling path over the bridge, for $67m. About the same time, the 3km SeaPath pathway connection to Takapuna was costed at $33m.
A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then. The transport agency, which has always been lukewarm on SkyPath, took over the project from the SkyPath Trust and council oversight. A detailed business case considered 12 options and a structure separated from the bridge's clip-ons was selected.
The new design has increased from a 4m wide enclosed path to a 5m open path and three observation decks connected to the concrete piers on the southern side of the bridge. The path will be at the same level as the car deck of the bridge.
The business case does not shirk from the difficulties and risks of building the project, which involve complex work connecting the new structure to the piers and challenging underwater work. The project will require significant modification if it is found during further design work that there is too much load on the piers and foundations.
SkyPath could require the compulsory purchase of up to six property titles at the North Shore end of the bridge and faces consenting issues that will "likely attract high volumes of public and political interest". The business case recommends going straight to the Environment Court to speed up the consenting process and says sticking to the Government timetable for construction to begin early next year is a "best case" scenario.
A mid-2021 start date is more likely, subject to the approval process, the agency said this week. "It's just a really complex build," NZTA senior project delivery manager Andy Thackwray said.
NZTA has redacted all the cost figures in the business case for SkyPath for commercial reasons because the procurement process has started, but Thackwray said it was about two-thirds of the $360m cost for SkyPath and SeaPath.
Penlink link road between Whangaparāoa and SH1 costed for years at $200m. New cost $411m
Penlink, the 7km road to connect the Whangaparāoa Peninsula with SH1 at Redvale, has been on the planning books since the mid 2000s. It was costed at $183m in 2008 and has stayed at around $200m since then in various iterations as a two-lane, four-lane, tolled and non-tolled road.
Barnett said the $200m figure has been used for years and should have been increased annually. In 2018, he said an overseas group wanted to build a four-lane tolled Penlink Rd for $400m to reduce congestion through Silverdale. Nothing came of the offer.
The Government's plan to start construction on the consented project by late 2021 is costed at $411m for a two-lane tolled road.
Local councillor John Watson says the anticipated cost has jumped around, saying $200m was always on the optimistic side. There has been no explanation for the $411m figure, he said.
Watson said Whangaparāoa residents would prefer a four-lane road to allow for a bus lane connected to the Northern Busway. The alternative cost of widening Whangaparāoa Rd the length of the 15km peninsula for buses would be prohibitive, he said.
Transport agency general manager of transport services Brett Gliddon said cost estimates in 2017 indicated a cost of $331m with a 50 per cent chance the cost would not increase.
He said the 2017 figure does not allow for a separated walking and cycling path. Allowances have also been made for project management, design development and contingency.
Drury rail stations. Cost $247m
Over the next 30 years, Drury will go from a tranquil rural community of less than 5000 residents to a bustling suburb of 60,000 people living on both sides of the Southern Motorway and served with two new rail stations.
The stations will have park and ride facilities as well as a bus and train interchange to make it easier for the new residents to travel by public transport.
Franklin Local Board chairman Andy Baker says plans for electrification of rail from Papakura to Pukekohe and two new stations at Drury is really exciting for the community.
But Baker is baffled at the "phenomenal cost" of the two stations, lack of information and exclusion of another planned station at Paerata. It "would be criminal" not to build a station at Paerata, he said.
Franklin councillor and deputy mayor Bill Cashmore is also in the dark: "I don't know what has been included in these estimates and Minister Twyford didn't know when I asked him."
The transport agency could not answer questions about the cost of the stations, saying "we are still seeking clarification on them".
In July last year, Crown Infrastructure Partners, set up by the Government to attract private sector investment to fund infrastructure for housing at Drury and elsewhere, estimated it would cost $60m to build two new stations at Drury West and Paerata.
Papakura to Pukekohe rail electrification. Costed at $246m. New cost $371m
The cost of rail electrification has leapt in price. By 2015, when 196km of Auckland's commuter tracks were electrified, the cost per kilometre was $5.9m. Now, it's costing $19.5m per km to electrify the 19km of track from Papakura to Pukekohe.
The long-awaited electrification from Papakura to Pukekohe has risen from $246m two years ago to $371m. The Pukekohe station, which underwent an upgrade in 2018, will get two extra platforms. The project means passengers will no longer have to change trains at Papakura.
Gliddon said the updated cost is based on more detailed survey and design work. It also includes land acquisition costs and a contingency.
Mill Rd. Costed at $955m. New cost $1.354b for total project
The Mill Rd project has been taken over as a state highway by the transport agency to provide better access for tens of thousands of new residents in South Auckland over the coming decades.
Auckland Transport was pushing to begin construction at the northern end in 2023 with a budget of $507m partly funded by the regional petrol tax when the Government handed over the 21.5km corridor to the transport agency.
The project upgrades the Mill Rd corridor from two lanes to four lanes, starting at Redoubt Rd in Manukau. It goes round the back of Manurewa and across greenfield land to Papakura and Drury. It will have separate cycling and walking facilities and is priced at $1.354b. Construction is now due to start in 2022 and be built in stages.
At the 2017 general election, the cost of Mill Rd was put at $955m when former Prime Minister Bill English promised to take it off the council's hands and make it a state highway if National was re-elected.
Gliddon said an indicative business case in mid-2019 put the cost for Mill Rd between $1.25b and $1.57b. There is $1.354b in the Government's New Zealand Upgrade Programme for the full project, he said.
Quay Park to Wiri third rail line. Costed at $183m. New cost $315m
The Wiri to Quay Park(near Britomart) project will provide 5.2km of new track to complete a third rail line and ease congestion between freight and passenger trains.
Gliddon said a draft business plan from November 2017 estimated the cost at $183m, but the new cost reflected delays and more detailed work than previous estimates.
Papakura to Drury widening of Southern Motorway. Costed at $360m. New cost $423m
The misery that was widening SH1 from Manukau to Papakura that took four years to build and plagued by delays is moving to the next section of the Southern Motorway from Papakura to Drury. Work is set to begin later this year and take until 2025 to complete.
The project includes building a third lane in each direction along the 6km route to the new Drury South interchange with the Mill Rd highway, upgrading the existing Drury interchange and widening three bridges. It also allows for planned improvements to the adjacent rail line, the new stations at Drury and electrification of the rail line from Papakura to Drury. The project includes a walking and cycling path alongside the motorway.
The agency said the latest costing for $423m included an additional interchange and other improvements.