Tony Garnier: Still running for the bus

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Connectivity: Funding transport is the key to Auckland thriving - that's nothing new, writes Tony Garnier

Photo / NZ Herald
Photo / NZ Herald

Investing in integrated transport infrastructure and much improved public transport services is essential if Auckland is to get on top of its growing population and deliver its economic growth aspirations.

There is nothing new about that.

Auckland's transport problems have been apparent for years.

With our population increasing at twice the rate of the rest of New Zealand since at least the 1950s but the level of transport investment needed to meet the growth challenge stalled over much of that time (until the 1990s), Auckland continues to be in "catch-up" mode on solving its transport problems.

We now face a double challenge - meet the backlog of projects to provide the infrastructure that planners in the 1960s said Auckland would need by the late 1980s, and provide the new infrastructure the new Auckland Plan says will be needed to cope with continuing projected population growth for the foreseeable future.

At lot has happened over the past 10 years. We have made some faster than planned progress to build a modern motorway network with options - the Western Ring Route links and the widened motorway approaches around the Spaghetti Junction.

But now we need to be more optimistic and focused to go even faster.

The Auckland Plan brings together a package of projects critical to improving access to key business areas, and gateways such as Auckland Airport, Ports of Auckland and MetroPort in Southdown (now NZ's third largest container port for road and rail by volume), as well as tertiary educational facilities in central, west and south Auckland.

Three projects are highlighted in the Auckland Plan as being of the highest priority for helping manage Auckland's future growth - both of population and economy (productivity). Two - the AMETI and East West Link and the City Rail Link (CRL) - are scheduled in the Plan for completion by 2021.

Both will serve areas that the Economic Development Plan (EDS) predicts will continue to enjoy high business and employment growth.

CRL will turn Britomart rail station from a dead end-of-the-line station of limited capacity to a through rail route, and the opportunity for a comprehensive suburban rail service with 10-15 minute peak intervals - and, with the new train units and electrified network, much greater prospects of rail services becoming more reliable. Unquestionably, the lack of reliability is at the heart of the recent drop off in rail patronage. Similarly, the AMETI and East-West Link, now getting under construction at its eastern end in Panmure has huge potential for enabling a much improved freight and bus services across southern Auckland, where congestion queues of up to two hours have recently occurred.

Road freight trips in Auckland are projected to double by 2021; much of the demand is from distribution companies between Onehunga and East Tamaki and who service Auckland sea, rail and air connections, as well as interprovincial centres. Likewise, with an efficient east-west link, there is scope for a better bus system linking eastern and western suburbs to the large employment base in the southern Auckland sectors.

An additional harbour crossing is the third highest priority project listed in Auckland's plan. To meet expected demand, this is scheduled for completion by 2030.

All up these projects have a ballpark cost of around $10 billion. Though economic benefit assessments are still to be fully completed, the raw data on Auckland's growth trend demands alone suggests they are all required. But that's not all.

Work is finally starting on the last missing link in the Western Ring Route - the Waterview Tunnels and western motorway widening. This is funded, so no problems about getting it completed with speed and urgency.

More problematic but nonetheless vital to helping Auckland lift its economic game, quality of life aspirations and meet population growth over the next 10 years, are projects to address bottlenecks on the motorway system - at Constellation Drive on the North Shore and Mt Wellington near Sylvia Park - and improve the inner city roading system where a number of growing mode conflicts are apparent (between private vehicles, freight to the port, cyclists, and the large number of buses and pedestrians).

Finally, the Plan lists a number of regional arterial road improvements, a completed cycleway network and a rail freight third track.

If Auckland is to complete its agreed package of transport projects within the timelines of the Plan and within projected costing estimates, a funding gap in the order of $10-15 billion (or $333-$500 million a year for the next 30 years) will need to be bridged.

As recently publicised, work is just getting under way on a council initiative to identify a funding tool or toolbox to bridge this long-apparent transport funding gap. Again, as with all key Auckland initiatives since the time of the city's founding in the 1830s, ultimate success will hinge on the vision and determination of Auckland leaders to stay focused and passionate on getting the result Auckland wants and needs.

* Declaration: Tony Garnier is a member of the Alternative Transport Funding Project Consensus Building

- NZ Herald

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