Current road usage projections fail to justify a four-lane Matakana link road, an Auckland Transport (AT) executive told a lively public meeting at the Bridgehouse on November 13.
About 100 people crowded into the back bar to debate controversial plans for the proposed road, which will connect Matakana Road to SH1.
The Matakana link road was formerly conceived as a four-lane road, but AT is proposing to scale it back to just two lanes to begin with, in light of usage projections and to cut costs.
The proposal would see the road eventually expanded to four lanes as traffic volumes increase, but AT believes expansion should not be required until 2036.
That has appalled the One Warkworth Business Association, which organised the meeting. It fears a two-lane link road will add to Warkworth’s traffic congestion woes.
At the meeting, One Warkworth chair Chris Murphy and vice-chair Mark Macky reiterated One Warkworth’s position that it was vital to construct a four-lane road from the outset.
During their presentation, Mr Murphy and Mr Macky argued that constructing two lanes now and four lanes later was a false economy.
They said the need for two extra lanes would be almost immediate given the additional traffic generated by the concurrent development of residential and industrial zones and the completion of the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway.
They argued the economic benefit of a new industrial zone and benefits from tourism would be significantly compromised by a two-lane road.
They said those living east of Warkworth, in places such as Matakana and Snells Beach, would continue to endure traffic snarl-ups and Hill Street is likely to become more congested when the new motorway opens in 2021.
In response, AT executive general manager of planning and investment Cynthia Gillespie said there was no question that the Matakana link road was required, but the $88 million cost for a four-lane road, a mere 1.4km long, was an unreasonable burden for ratepayers.
Moreover, the boards of AT and the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) had only approved $66 million to fund the road.
Ms Gillespie said AT planners were tasked to come up with a road proposal that would cope with predicted traffic flows within the budget and the recommendation that emerged was for two lanes. She said a two-lane road could handle 22,000 traffic movements a day. But AT’s modelling expected only 6000 traffic movements by 2026, about 14,000 by 2036 and 20,000 by 2046.
“If you are seeking a good return on investment, you would not put in a road that future-proofs to that level if you don’t have to,” she said.
During a feisty Q&A session, it was pointed out Warkworth’s structure plan was not finalised and there was, therefore, no certainty on how land would be used and how densely it would be populated.
“How can AT know what future traffic volumes will be?” one questioner asked.
Ms Gillespie responded that AT was obliged to work with the best information Auckland Council currently had available.
Other attendees at the meeting suggested there were better ways to cut costs than dispensing with two lanes. These included foregoing proposed cycleways, using local contractors and employing Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) contracts, whereby contractors are actively involved in project design phases to rein in expensive ideas favoured by designers.
One contributor said he had built roads in the area for 30 years and $66 million was more than adequate to construct four lanes.
Ms Gillespie said she was committed to working with the local community to get the best value for money for the $66 million and local people would be invited to have input on the final road design.
She told Mahurangi Matters that it was possible four lanes might be secured for the $66 million, perhaps using local contractors, but current cost estimates suggested this was highly unlikely.
To facilitate construction of the link road AT has lodged a Notice of Requirement (NoR) with Auckland Council, which designates the land required for the road.
The public is entitled to make submissions on the NoR, but fears were raised that if the NoR was contested over road design, it could delay construction for years.
Mark Macky shut down the discussion when a questioner asked why the Matakana link road was not connecting directly with the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway (see story p3).
He afterwards explained that the time for debating the path of the link road was over and should have been held much earlier, when various routes were considered. Mr Macky said if the NoR was held up because of a route debate, then the link road would not be completed until well after the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway. This would mean traffic from the east would create an enormous bottleneck at Hill Street as they attempted to turn right to go north to access the new motorway.
“It would be a disaster,” he said.