Auckland Transport (AT) has announced construction of a four-lane Matakana link road will likely be delayed for almost 20 years.
In the interim, a two-lane link road connecting Matakana Road with SH1 will be constructed instead.
It is hoped the two-lane road will be completed in time for the opening of the new Puhoi to Warkworth motorway in October 2021.
The idea of a two-lane road caused alarm among local community groups when it was raised in July.
They fear it will create more traffic snarl-ups to rival the notorious Hill Street.
The 1.4km long urban arterial route was originally conceived as a four-lane road, but the two-lane proposal emerged after AT came under pressure from the New Zealand Transport Agency to cut costs.
This month, AT chief executive Shane Ellison confirmed AT was committed to four-lanes and it would begin buying land to meet the requirements for the full four-lane design.
However, he said the link road would be built in two stages.
Stage one will see the construction of two lanes and a shared path for walking and cycling. Stage two will be constructed when traffic demand meets capacity. At this point, the road will be widened to four lanes with a separated path on each side for walking and cycling.
AT spokesperson Mark Hannan says current modelling of growth in Warkworth suggests four lanes for Matakana link road will not be needed until 2036.
But One Warkworth Business Association chair Chris Murphy says he fails to see how in the interim a two-lane road could cope with traffic to Matakana, plus the traffic associated with 50ha to 60ha of new industrial zoned land, which will use the link road as its main entry and exit route.
Mr Murphy says there are good reasons why the road was conceived as four-lane in the first place.
“They are now looking for reasons to justify two lanes, which is quite contrary to the conclusion they reached independently without the budgetary pressure,” he says.
Mr Murphy is further concerned landowners will be reluctant to sell their land to facilitate construction of a two-lane road as it is likely to frustrate commercial developments they also have interests in.
If landowners resist acquisition of their land for the link road, it could hold up construction of the road for years.
Mr Murphy worries this could mean the Matakana link road will not be open by the time the Puhoi to Warkworth motorway opens. Given the motorway is expected to spur growth in Warkworth, it will put further pressure on the already over-stretched Hill Street intersection – a pressure the link road was designed to alleviate.
But the chair of the Matakana Coast Trail Trust, Allison Roe, says AT should forget about four lanes and instead focus on developing a comprehensive network of walkways and cycleways instead, which will in turn reduce traffic volumes.
“International evidence shows the wider you build the roads, the more cars are drawn to them and soon block them up again,” she says.
Ms Roe says the trust will be putting a proposal to AT that it sticks to two lanes and puts the expected $27 million in cost savings into walkways and cycleways.
She says given Auckland Council is developing a structure plan to manage Warkworth’s growth, now is a critical time to begin establishing a walking and cycling network. If it is not planned for at the outset, the opportunity will be lost forever once other developments take shape.
She says the trust proposal would also fit with ATs strategy of making roads safer by taking vehicles off the road.
Ms Roe’s position is backed by Warkworth-based transport planner Bevan Woodward, who is currently assisting the Walking Access Commission to develop walking and cycleways between Puhoi and Pakiri.
He says two additional lanes for the Matakana link road are not needed as long as the region transitions to a balanced transport system where people have the choice to walk, cycle, ride share, or use public transport.
Mr Woodward says construction of walking and cycling pathways between Snells Beach, Warkworth, Matakana and beyond will help achieve this.
“On an e-bike the commute between these towns becomes an enjoyable, gentle exercise of around 25 minutes. Combine that with the new bus services starting this month, and the region will have a balanced transport system that provides resilience, convenience and choice,” he says.