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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The maximum possible funds

The Newmarket motorway viaduct replication and destruction scheme underway is possibly the most extraordinary waste of public funds currently authorised and the worst since Cullen's 2008 railways election stunt/Aussie business bailout. This $215 million project will provide only one extra lane across a gap of barely one kilometre. That's about a quarter of a million dollars per metre... for a net gain of... a single lane.The NZTA list of benefits doesn't mention the benefit to the contractors, but it does say - in this order:

  • Enhanced motorway capacity and safety.

    - which means there's going to be one extra lane. That's all that means. It is the first - in fact the only - reason for this massive and costly project. One extra lane. $215m - one extra lane.

  • Increased seismic integrity.

    - So they fear an earthquake? Are we supposed to believe that the authorities in the mid 60s let them build a concrete viaduct that wasn't built with earthquakes in mind? And that the new one will be able to withstand an earthquake appreciably better should the city have one? Auckland doesn't really get earthquakes anyway of course - none in my lifetime that I've ever felt. It doesn't seem plausible for earthquake fears to be a major consideration.

    And we're off to a really shitty start because there's only two benefits left and they are ridiculous:

  • Connects more appropriately with surrounding environment and provides opportunity for more progressive local land use.

    - It's an exact replica of the existing structure though - isn't it. How can it do anything more or less appropriately if the new one is just like the old one except it's got an extra lane on one side? Look at the picture - it's at the same height, it covers a parallel path and mimics in a flawlessly uncreative stroke the existing structure, it's form, it's pillars, carriageway, alignments and so on - and yet we are supposed to believe the pomposity of the rhetoric claiming it "Connects more appropriately with surrounding environment". That's a joke, right? The NZTA are cracking jokes and it's only the third of four listed "Benefits" down their list of why the fuck they are spending near quarter of a billion dollars on ONE extra lane across a distance that could be jogged in less than five minutes. And as for land use, the net effect is the same for land use only now they raise the spectre - as we read between the lines - of a land deal being in the mix. The transit board had the Labour Party President on it until just after the election when he was forced to resign. How much credibility does that lend to these squanderous funding decisions?

    And the final justification is as laughable as the preceding one:

  • Facilitates better pedestrian links through Newmarket.

    - It's not as if the pillars hinder the pedestrians now? What on earth could it mean? They would never have the thought to put a cycle lane or anything along it or under it so it's not that they are referring to, so they are just absolutely taking the piss at this point.

    The Newmarket viaduct was built in the mid 60s and yet the NZTA expect us to believe that unlike the other concrete bridges in Auckland like the one across the Waitemata Harbour (finished 1959), and the one across Grafton Gully (finished 1909) it has to be completely demolished and another one erected... and all for the gain of... one single lane. This must be the most expensive motorway lane in the history of the nation. Even more expensive than the deluxe bus lanes over on the North Shore.

    And what does Auckland's newspaper of record say about it with all of its institutional knowledge and experience: It's a boom! Yay! The NZ Herald is a grossly over-priced shit rag and if they ever start charging for their online content again they will be toast because they simply do not and will not pay anyone to create worthy content - this article is a case in point. The ubiquitous Mr Brewer and his media slut-whoring does not a news article make. The real story is right under the reporter's nose, or more accurately right above his head.

    There's only 150 people employed on it according to the NZ Herald - that would be not much over $10m a year in wages, so where's the $ going? Are they renting all the equipment at $1000/hr from Hirepool for the next three years? Since when did they start making concrete with diamonds? Are the cats eye's now made of the eyes of the snow leopard? The boom isn't going to accrue to Newmarket either as it is a complete bypass of the shopping strip and already has on and off ramps at either side which will remain. The "boom" from the few properties that were in the way isn't going to change the face of retailing either. The boom is for the construction firms and their owners primarily (see their carping about the spend and their margins below).

    The crux is the alarming proposition that something built in 1965 is so defective that it has to be torn down less than fifty years later. All of it - torn down. Can't just add another lane - have to tear it all down - all of it. And a completely new one built. Which is all awfully convenient for the small cartel of firms who can tender for these contracts isn't it, but it's a boom according to granny Herald. So yay! Like majorly yay!

    None of it can be believed.

    From the FAQs:The answer to Question No1: WTF!? is waffle. One extra lane and the ability (as is explained later) to take "overloaded" vehicles. The Transport Minister has authorised ramping up the size of trucks to satisfy the friends to whom the Tory apparatus is dependent and so now they have to build the roads to take them and handle the extra wear and tear they create.

    They could have finished the SH20 connections instead - the point of which is to take heavy trucks off the Harbour bridge and the central motorway junction - but that way they wouldn't have the excuse of building a brand new viaduct. The whole thing is pointless. If SH20 is going to be connected "keeping to the completion date of 2015/16" as the Minister says in his latest statement on the subject then it is all horribly, utterly, expensively pointless.

    I believe the NZTA (and the predecessor Transit) thought it was a more achievable short term option of alleviating the Isthmus' North-South motorway flow than finishing off the SH20 connections at Wiri and at Waterview. I believe that the pressure from the roading lobbyists would have influenced the NZTA directly on the decision. I believe the engineers who run the show and plan these things are inherently committed to large projects that have the highest visibility possible for their masterpieces, ie. preferring viaducts and bridges rather than tunnels and trenches, for reasons of professional ego more than reasons of simplicity of construction, cost or necessity; which also explains the carving up of Grafton and Newton gullies and the incomprehensible decision to leave the Victoria Park viaduct intact but build a tunnel for just one direction next to it (instead of putting it all underground).

    The lobbyists ask: Can we have more?The lobbyists are claiming the government hasn't spent enough because the local councils haven't spent enough - and the Transport Minister is not one to contradict the friends and funders of the National Party:

    The Transport Agency was also left with $40 million in unclaimed subsidies at the end of 2007-08, and a Government budget allocation of $436 million the previous year was under-spent by $138 million after just one new urban road and no rural roads were completed.

    Transport Minister Steven Joyce confirmed last night that the Government, having spent so much extra money trying to boost the economy, was concerned about a risk of "losing jobs out the other end".

    He has met Roading NZ and the Contractors' Federation, Local Government NZ and the Transport Agency to ensure the maximum possible funds were spent during this summer's construction season.

    The Minister says have as much as you can take.In the shadows behind John Key, Steven Joyce wasn't even in parliament before the last election - now he is the government's infrastructure chief. His stripping of the ability of Regional Council's to levy a surtax on petrol spelt the death knell for Auckland's capacity to dedicate funding to the rail electrification and has made them beholden to central government and their roading agenda once more.

    The reason Auckland has a rail system so appalling that they don't even have clocks at the stations and the reason the motorways are not connected properly with one another is, in large part, because the people making the decisions are not connected properly with each other and one division goes off and makes a funding decision like this Newmarket folly which has more to do with engineering bravado and an opportunistic grab at lavish state highway spending than solving Auckland's actual transit problems.

    If the government and the ever-changing transport structure (including another set of new boards established by the end of the year under the Auckland ├╝ber city legislation) continue to set priorities according to the convenience of the cartel then game-changing transport investments like electric trains and extra lines will remain unplanned, unbudgeted and undelivered.

    Rudman's piece on the SH20 Waterview tunnel shenanigans are another illustration of the opaque nature of these national projects under the aegis of the NZTA.
    Whether or not the new Auckland Transport Agency will have enough teeth to commission their own works, depth and security of funding to plan long term projects, legislative focus of mandate to see it through without outside interference and enough local democratic representation to counter the industry lobby and Wellington are questions soon to be answered - and I fear - all in the negative.



    At 26/1/10 3:52 pm, Blogger CHRIS said...

    This comment has been removed by the author.

    At 26/1/10 6:10 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Good post Tim. Why not ask the Herald's transport reporter (Mathew Dearneley) about the reason for the replacement Newmarket viaduct.

    Newmarket is a synonym for corruption - the $100m wasted building a redundant (but flashy) rail station (while demolishing the humble but faster Kingdon St station), and the SH1 viaduct for 1 lane. Ya gotta love them tories - they know how to roll in the pork barrel.

    The Newmarket viaduct project is a joke - Auckland does not suffer from earthquakes of any significance, and an extra lane makes little difference when the traffic actually jams in the 'upgraded' Spaghetti junction.

    NZTA should be cancelling the viaduct replacement, and spending the $215m fixing their just-finished Spaghetti junction 'upgrade'.

    Start by closing Maungawhau Rd (the little SH1 underpass just north of Gillies Ave), so the Gillies Ave on- and off-ramps can be lowered. Residents still have road access through Almorah Rd.

    This allows the Northbound Khyber Pass off-ramp lane to be 1-lane bridged over the Gillies Ave onramp, and the Southbound Khyber Pass onramp to have a 1-lane bridge over the Gillies Ave offramp.

    That completely eliminates the cross-over traffic - vehicles trying to get off northbound and on southbound crossing the lanes of Gillies Ave traffic trying to get on and off SH1. Which is the major source of congestion on SH1 (the others being backlogged harbour bridge and SH16 traffic flowing back onto SH1).

    Sorted. When do we get the consultancy fee? Oh right. Gotta be part of which cartel?


    At 26/1/10 7:14 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    The structure has undergone cyclic loading for the better part of five decades. Nothing lasts forever, not even concrete and steel. Today the structure sees larger daily loads than originally designed for. It is the busiest roadway in the country, the extra lane is highly valuable, especially if you take into account the huge cost of lost productivity gridlocked traffic causes. Seismic safety design standards have also become stricter since the 60s. It is an important structure to survive an earthquake, not just for the people on it or the people under it, but because it is a main route which would bring Auckland to a stand still if it was severed, hindering any emergency response.

    But yeah, I don't know why they're wanking on about it being better for Newmarket.

    At 26/1/10 8:15 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    The new bridge might stay up a bit longer though

    At 27/1/10 3:31 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Anon 7:14 - SH1 has peak traffic volumes at Manukau I believe. But Newmarket viaduct is busy - it's just that the cause of the traffic jams is not the viaduct's capacity!!! It is the cross-over traffic flows - stand there and watch it some day.

    Raised seismic standards - the best corruption in the country. Responsible for new buildings and structures all over the country, even in regions (like Auckland) that have extremely low earthquake risk. Money well spent, aye?

    And if Newmarket viaduct collapsed, the alternative route is Gillies Ave to Market Rd via Alpers Ave and Great South Rd. But you're right, buildings under the viaduct (old or new) are at risk in an earthquake; so why is NZTA claiming their rebuild will enhance use under the viaduct? Surely they would want that as vacant storage space?

    It is a rort. Prosecute them.


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