Yesterday the long wait for a decision on the Waterview Connection somewhat ended. The full picture will become more obvious today, once NZTA release their prefered alignment for the route, and how much of it – if any – will be trenched or tunneled.
For now, we know that the full tunnel option is off the cards, dismissed as being completely unaffordable by Steven Joyce. That option, which comprised of $1.98 billion in construction costs, $240 million of necessary upgrades to the Northwest Motorway and $550 million of ‘financing costs’, had blown out from $1.89 billion to $2.77 billion. This ‘blow out’ wasn’t due to the actual costs of construction increasing particularly much, but because upgrades to a completely different motorway were included and also because of the project’s cost money for it would have to be borrowed – so therefore interest would have to be paid. To the tune of $550 million even.
Joyce’s proposal today comes in at a cost of between $1 billion and $1.4 billion. This includes the $240 million for upgrading the Northwest Motorway but not the $550 million financing costs (though they were quite convenient for Joyce whilst they hung around). This means that there will be between $760 million and $1.16 billion left for building the actual Waterview connection.
So what can one get for between $760 million and $1.16 billion? The answer – I think – is not particularly much. Clearly $760 million is the “cheapest and nastiest” option available – probably a surface level option that would go straight through the Oakley Creek Waterfall and have very little environmental mitigation. The other two options that the NZTA are considering sound a bit better, according to the NZ Herald:
The cheapest alternative option is all above ground and the other two are a mixture of road and tunnel.
However, I really don’t know how anything half-decent can be built for $1.16 billion, let alone $760 million. The Ministry of Transport’s own analysis of the options gave a total of $1.456 billion for the construction of an “Open Cut” 4 lane option – presumably this means trenching large chunks of the motorway but tunneling none. Something $300 million cheaper than that isn’t going to be pretty.
I do feel sorry for not only the people of Mt Albert, but also all residents and tax-payers who have been manipulated by these ever-changing figures. Whilst it is true that the National Land Transport Fund (NLTF) couldn’t have paid for all the full tunnel option, for some reason it can pay for all $1.16 billion of Joyce’s prefered option now, but not any of the $1.98 billion tunnel. Therefore, financing costs get completely lumped on the tunnel option, but not at all on Joyce’s option. That makes up to a $550 million difference. Furthermore, the NLTF has already been screwed around by Steven Joyce to fund new state highways at the cost of everything else (including local roads, roads maintenance, public transport, walking and cycling initiatives). Including the Waterview Connection in that fund will further squeeze these other areas out.
So where to from here? I guess soon we will find out exactly what the NZTA has chosen for its prefered alignment. For the sake of the people of Mt Albert and Waterview I sincerely hope it’s not the $760 million “cheapest and nastiest” option. Previously, residents would have had a reasonable chance to submit against the driving of a motorway through their suburb – in fact it was residents’ action that knocked back Auckland’s Eastern Motorway as well as the reworking of the Onehunga Interchange in the Manukau Harbour Crossing Project. A submitter could have also pointed out the dodgy workings that came up with 73% of the Waterview Connection’s benefits (just a cool $2.620 billion) being internationally criticised time-savings benefits. But sadly, Steven Joyce kindly let’s us know that we won’t easily have that opportunity – thanks to the conveniently timed amendments to the Resource Management Act.
Depending on the final scope of the project it could be possible to begin construction in 2011 and complete the project within about four years. As a Road of National Significance this is expected to be progressed under the call-in process of the new provisions of the Resource Management Act which will significantly speed up delivery of the project.
So submitters will need to make their case straight to the environment court, or a specially formed board. There will be no local public hearings, the council will not be making decisions or recommendations on this project. So much for: ‘A thorough consultation process on the form of the selected option will then commence before a final decision is made.’
But then we’re learning what this government thinks of consultation.