East West Connections – Another roading project looms

As the government tips millions of dollars into Auckland’s transport infrastructure the green light for the controversial East West Connections is getting closer as the NZTA narrows down its options. BY MARY SEARLE BELL

THE NZ TRANSPORT AGENCY’S plan for Auckland is to provide an alternative to State Highway 1, linking Manukau, Auckland, Waitakere and the North Shore. Known as the Western Ring Route, this comprises State Highway 20 (the Southwestern motorway), State Highway 16 (the Northwestern motorway) and State Highway 18 (the Upper Harbour Highway).

The Waterview Connection, with its twin tunnels, is currently under construction, and will join the Southwestern and Northwestern motorways. It is the final piece of the Western Ring Route, and will be completed in 2017.

To make the system operate most effectively requires a number of connecting routes between SH1 and the Western Ring Route. The interchange at Waterview will provide one, but what is missing, and is sorely needed, is a link between the two routes just south of the CBD around the suburbs of Onehunga and Penrose.

A major industrial hub, this area currently suffers from significant congestion, especially at the approaches to SH20 and SH1, which hinders freight movements and ultimately restricts productivity and economic growth.

Known as East West Connections, the connecting route was identified in the Auckland Plan as one of the top three transport priorities for Auckland. The NZTA says the route will support economic transformation as a major freight corridor, enabling goods and services to move safely and more steadily throughout the country.

It will also improve the resilience and performance of Auckland’s transport network, increasing capacity, protecting our infrastructure against the elements and providing an alternative route in the event of an incident on the network.

However, where it was actually going to be built has been a matter of debate for years.

Now, finally, some progress is being made, thanks to the project being brought forward following its inclusion in the Auckland Accelerated Projects package in 2014.

It received an additional $10 million to speed up the investigation of options for the East West Connections as part of a much larger $375 million package to accelerate a range of key transport projects in the city.

In June, the NZ Transport Agency and Auckland Transport announced that a preferred route had been chosen.

For Onehunga-Penrose a staged full connection on the north side of the Mangere Inlet between SH1 and SH20 has been identified as the best long-term solution to the current
transport issues.

Transport minister Simon Bridges says, “The Onehunga-Penrose industrial hub is a significant contributor to our economy – generating $5 billion per year in GDP and employing over 64,000 people. Many of our largest distribution and logistics facilities are based in the area because of its access to key road and rail routes, but its heavy congestion is slowing freight movements and restricting economic growth.

“The projected growth rates of Auckland, particularly of Auckland Airport, Manukau City and East Tamaki/Botany, are expected to generate greater demand for cross-city, east-west movements.”

Brett Gliddon, the Transport Agency’s highway manager for Auckland and Northland, says the preferred approach for Onehunga-Penrose will improve the reliability of freight journeys in the area and will provide an additional route which makes the transport network more resilient for all users. It will also improve pedestrian and cycling facilities and connections for buses and general traffic. In addition to the transport improvements, there are opportunities to achieve some positive environmental outcomes, particularly for the Mangere Inlet.

“This project is all about improving access into and out of Onehunga-Penrose. For this reason the new connection is expected to be a ‘limited access’ state highway, not a motorway,” stresses Gliddon.

MP for Maungakiekie Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga says this project will significantly decrease congestion on local roads and deliver tangible benefits for both residents and businesses in Maungakiekie.

“This is another step towards new infrastructure that will bring benefits to this area.”

Currently there is no direct path between the Port of Onehunga, the rail freight hub at Metroport and the Southern Motorway. This is critical as the port handles around 270,000 containers a year, making it the third busiest freight terminal in New Zealand.

“Progressing the East-West Link will mean fewer trucks on our local roads and freight will get more efficiently to its destination. It will also enable improvements to be made for public transport, walking and cycling,” says Lotu-Iiga.

Substantial work will be undertaken to identify how to speed up bus services between Mangere, Otahuhu and Sylvia Park and improve connections. These improvements are aimed at supporting Auckland Transport’s Frequent Network, which will have buses and trains at least every 15 minutes from 7am to 7pm, seven days a week.

Auckland Transport’s key strategic initiatives project director, Theunis Van Schalkwyk, says that the plans propose bus priority and transit lanes at key pinch points along the future Frequent Network bus route.

“Buses often get stuck in traffic, for example along Massey and Walmsley roads. The average travel time between Mangere and Otahuhu at 8am is 22 minutes, but congestion and queuing can slow this down to half an hour. Similarly the bus journey between Otahuhu and Sylvia Park can take anywhere between 17 and 29 minutes.

“Bus and transit lanes would speed up bus journeys and, most importantly, make sure passengers can rely on the travel time. We are also proposing sheltered bus stops along the route, upgraded bus stops at Otahuhu town centre and an upgraded bus station at Mangere town centre.”

New facilities are also proposed along the route between Mangere, Otahuhu and Sylvia Park to improve cycle and pedestrian safety.

The project is still in its early stages and the NZTA and Auckland Transport held a series of open days in late June and early July to get feedback on the preferred approaches from the community to help further develop the project.

Pending funding approval, further investigations will now be carried out on the preferred approach and confirm the land or area needed to protect the route. The NZTA says it expects this to be completed by 2017.

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