New Zealand Herald — news general Dec 16 2004 4:57AM

Keith Rankin: Western ring road vital to solving traffic congestion

The Government's decision to delay its disposal of Whenuapai aerodrome is great news for Auckland. It means the Whenuapai decision might be made in the context of the city's future transport network.

The argument for a commercial airport at Whenuapai was based on today's problem of poor road access to the international airport at Mangere.

We must give priority to finishing existing roading projects. It is not the time to fantasise about expensive new motorways to Pakuranga and Northcote. It is time to complete the western ring road.

What was John Banks' transport legacy to Aucklanders? On his watch, the completion of the final (Avondale) link of the ring road was put back to 2017. There was hardly a murmur from the former mayor, who was obsessed with his pet project, the multi-billion dollar eastern highway.

Mr Banks and Sir Barry Curtis were prepared to spend more than it will cost to complete the ring road to give precedence to a new road with fewer benefits to Auckland.

Will Mayor Dick Hubbard similarly take his eye off the ball, by promoting an under-harbour tunnel that will direct more through traffic into the central city zone, when we so desperately need a ring road that will do the precise opposite?

There are four links of the ring road to be completed. The State Highway 18 Greenhithe link from Albany to West Harbour is under construction. The Manukau City and Mt Roskill links must surely start next year. They should have been built in the early 1990s when Auckland's construction workforce was unoccupied, and when Ruth Richardson was promoting financial austerity over economic common sense.

The mayor, the regional council and the Auckland and Waitakere City Councils must now turn their complete attention to the Avondale link. Each member of these councils should be required to clearly state an agendas on the ring road.

Given that most Aucklanders want this project to be completed, the councils need to put concerted pressure on the Government to get it fast-tracked. All of Auckland's transport planning remains in limbo until this critical project - started decades ago - is finally completed.

Transit New Zealand's preferred route for the final link is through Waterview, alongside Oakley Creek. This route will be the cheapest in terms of construction and land acquisition costs.

But the Waterview route would be a big mistake. In the light of the cancellation of the eastern highway, some of the money that will now be saved should be committed to getting the Avondale link right, in both a traffic and in an environmental sense. The only option that maintains the road's integrity as a ring road is to cross Avondale and to link with the Northwestern Motorway at Rosebank-Patiki Rds, just before Te Atatu.

If Transit New Zealand stubbornly persists with the Oakley Creek route, the reality is that it will take decades to override the environmental opposition that will result. Millions of dollars of public money will be spent on lawyers instead of engineers.

Further, the Waterview route will combine ring road traffic with city-bound traffic from the southwest, creating rush-hour snarls between Avondale and Pt Chevalier.

And if the Oakley Creek route is chosen, there will be a need to widen the already congested Northwestern Motorway between Waterview and Te Atatu into five-lane carriageways.

Auckland is not London. Auckland is congested mainly by through traffic, whereas London was congested by city traffic. Congestion taxes for central Auckland will kill the central business district. Who in their right minds would start a new business in the central city?

The Western ring road is not a single-bullet solution to all of Auckland's transport and planning problems. But it is the necessary precursor to all of the public transport and other elements that will make up this century's planning mix.

Once we have direct motorway access from Whenuapai to Auckland International Airport, the argument for a commercial airport at Whenuapai will have withered. Instead, the Air Force base, when sold, should become an industrial zone.

Once complete, the ring road will become the catalyst for the development of a sequence of employment-rich destinations. Then, the bulk of Auckland's commuter and commercial traffic will not go anywhere near the city centre.

Whenuapai, with its potential to attract commuters from the North Shore, will be foremost among such employment zones.

There is a much better case for a commuter airport at Dairy Flat (north of Albany) than for a commercial airport at Whenuapai. Auckland's second international airport is, in fact, Hamilton.

Once the ring road is finished, improved transport links - including commuter air travel - between central/north Auckland and Hamilton will make much more sense than a Whenuapai airport.

* Keith Rankin teaches economics at Unitec's school of accountancy, law and finance.

SubjectDetail: none (Ref: 9003406 )
© The New Zealand Herald,