The NZ Herald is reporting that the Orewa to Puhoi toll road – a $365 million extension to Auckland’s northern motorway – has failed to cure the holiday congestion problems it was meant to solve. For the second year running, motorists are being told to use the coastal route instead, bypassing the stalled traffic and 17km tail-backs that have resulted on the shiny new high-speed toll road:
Ulrik Olsen said it took him 2 hours from 12.15pm to drive the 104km from Auckland to Mangawhai – including about 40 low-speed minutes on the toll road and then stop-start travelling on much of the rest of the journey …
He said the queue on the toll road started only about 200m north of the Orewa turnoff to the free coastal route, which was relatively uncongested.
As can be discovered from the most cursory Internet research, the academic literature on traffic management is full of the perils of “induced traffic” – where building a new road merely attracts more drivers to it, making the congestion worse rather than better. And it appears that the NZ Transport Agency has fallen into this most basic of traps with the Orewa to Puhoi road. Despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars on its construction and justifying the expenditure by claiming mythical productivity benefits from decreased travel times, road congestion in the area has actually worsened. Which makes the “benefits” of constructing the project entirely fictional.
The reason this failed Auckland roading project is relevant to Wellington is that the NZ Transport Agency will be trying to use the same mythical productivity argument to push through Transmission Gully, the Basin Reserve flyover and a second Mt Victoria tunnel. And as is the case in Auckland, it’s most likely that these new roads will simply induce more traffic and make congestion worse, not better, thus negating any positive economic effects.
One way to look at the Orewa to Puhoi road is as an experiment – albeit one that has cost taxpayers $365 million. And the experiment is a failure – we simply can’t build our way out of congestion, as has been demonstrated in the rest of the world. The question is, will the NZ Transport Agency learn from its mistakes, and follow the lead of more enlightened transport agencies? Or will they continue repeating the same errors?