Posted by: kentduston | January 1, 2011

Building our way out of congestion – and failing

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?



  1. NZTA learning lessons? Whith transport providers putting pressure on the Government and local roading authorities, in our opinion the answer to that question would be, probably not.

    In its 2030 master plan Wellington Airport jointly owned by Infratil and WCC demands improvements to the roading networks to support it and ultimatly growth in the Wellington region. Their support for the Ngauranga to Airport Corridor Plan saw the people of this City give up its priced possesion, Manners Mall. Waving $ 450 million dollars over the next twenty years in the face of a cash strapped council the doubling of the Mt. Victoria tunnel is a given, just like Manners Mall.

    Our addiction to the motorcar is the problem New Zealand ranks third in the world for private car ownership after the US. Without any real measures in place to control per household car ownership, our addiction to motorways will continue to grow to the point we get no say and in fact asked for it. Wellington Central City owns 16.000 carparks to prove it.

  2. 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.
    Right. Not to mention, each wasted dollar is one not spent on improving the situation with better public transport or other options. Why are there so many people in power who are so addicted to cars, trucks and multi-lane highways?

    On a tangent: If you love driving, then these types of roads (grid-locked multi-laned) are the antithesis of the perfect driving road. For example, when Top Gear wants to show off a car they head to remote places like the Alps to race around narrow bendy roads (not unlike what we experience in Wellington’s inner suburbs, minus the deathly on-street parking). Likewise when Toyota or its fellows want to sell a car they stick it in a narrow tunnel or a empty Central Otago road with high country background. Why, assuming those in power are rabid ‘drivers’, do they want to force these ugly, painful concrete monstrosities on us, when they’re not the type of roads they presumably love. I have a confession: I have just, at 37, got my licence and I’m enjoying driving (for the moment). The roads I have liked the most though are the Rimutaka Hill, the Makara road, the middle of Aro Street (yes the slow part!) and the road up Mt Victoria. Sure some of them are more dangerous (and slower) but I really dislike the motorway and similar dual carriage-ways. I really doubt that I’m alone (maybe not on the Aro Street one).

    Another tangent: There are people all around the world working to make cities more ‘walkable’. But here we have NZTA and the WCC for our sins. Their traffic engineers just don’t get it. e.g. long waits at many crossings like Cuba and Karo or crossings where you can’t, that is there is no crossing on one side of the intersection (Wakefield, Jervois and Taranaki). One of the worst of these is Tory and Cable and then Wakefield and Tory where the missing crossings are on opposite sides. This one reminds me off that ridiculous Cuba/Vivian/Ghuznee abomination that we got rid of a few years. Why are we so subservient to cars in our cities? Roads and on-street parking take up so much space, many rights-of-way and to top it off time.

    Hope the rant wasn’t too off topic. I spend half my walking time in Wellington bemoaning traffic engineers. I really wonder if they ever go on ‘walkabout’ in the disaster areas that they design. Do they, for instance, set themselves the task of walking to the Post Office, supermarket and hardware store and then look at all the obstacles? Or worse, simply getting to the harbour from different areas?

  3. And KiwiRail have now announced a review of the Northland railway line. So while the government is pumping money into roads that have a negative effect on transport in the North Auckland/Northland area, it is unwilling to provide money to maintain the railway line that would provide a sensible alternative.

  4. My holiday travels took me north of Auckland this year, so I had a chance to look over the regions that are being changed. We skipped the toll road heading north and went through Orewa, which was quite uncongested, but ran into queues approaching Warkworth. For the most part, the problem is not the capacity of the roads, but the attitudes of the drivers that cause the queues. Queue-jumping and poor merging skills kill flow and no amount of extra road capacity is going to change that. The Puhoi-Wellsford RONS project is worthless long before it even starts.

    Lessons learned, we came back south via SH16 and had clear roads straight through Auckland. I hear there were tailbacks on SH1 and multi-hour delays again. At least we learned something.

  5. You seem to be missing the point here. It may be called the holiday highway but that congestions issue is only apparent 2 or 3 times a year. The real benefit has been to reduce the daily commute for people living in Warkworth, Welsford and the surrounding area 15 mins each way on their daily run.
    Let’s be clear, the benefit of these roads is not to rich aucklanders trying to hit the beach at weekends but to try and rebuild the ailing economy of the North and far North.

    • Doesn’t that just incentivise more traffic and push the commuting limits further out, as per Marchetti’s Constant? Do you have a plan for mitigating the extra traffic that results? Research keeps coming back saying that travel time benefits get eaten by induced traffic within the next few years and then you’re back at square 1. What then?

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