Transport consultants believe $50 million could be chopped off Auckland's annual congestion bill, by co-ordinating traffic lights on the region's main roads.
The Auckland Regional Transport Authority has begun developing a project with the consultancy firm GHD to create a regional "route optimisation" programme to reduce driver frustration while yielding time and fuel savings.
That follows a trial conducted for the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority over five adjacent intersections at Takanini, calculated to have saved road users 63,453 hours and more than 214,000 litres of fuel in a year.
GHD intelligent transport services manager Blair Monk said yesterday that while various local councils had similarly streamlined about 10 other routes, a co-ordinated network approach was needed across Auckland to make the most of valuable existing infrastructure.
"It's not terribly sexy, because there is nothing new and exciting to open - it's just taking what you've got and making it work properly," he said.
"Compared to building new roads, it's just so much cheaper."
Mr Monk said that although the Takanini trial offered a time saving of just 17 seconds for each passing vehicle, that soon built into major benefits for busy routes, including reduced emissions from stopping and starting.
"It adds up very quickly."
Peak-hour delays on another key arterial route through nine intersections were reduced by about a third.
His consultancy predicts potential annual savings of $50 million from making the most of main roads throughout the region, against an existing estimated congestion cost of $700 million to Auckland motorists and businesses.
It has charted a potential development of route optimisation across Auckland over five years for $10.5 million, to be followed by annual spending of $1 million to adjust traffic lights and other measures to changing patterns of use.
The firm is also advocating such management techniques to improve the safety of pedestrians and cyclists, and to promote public transport, by configuring signals to encourage or discourage the use of particular routes.
Mr Monk said it was even possible to programme signals to give priority only to buses which were running late, to improve travel times for all road users.
But he acknowledged challenges in obtaining enough Government money through the new three-yearly funding cycle for land transport, despite support for the project from the regional transport authority.
He hoped obtaining funding would become simpler under the Super City model, with a single budget for transport projects throughout the region.
Regional transport authority spokeswoman Sharon Hunter confirmed that her organisation was preparing for its successor agency to roll out a region-wide route optimisation project under the new Super City.
Sites would be prioritised under a region-wide programme so that the most important routes were improved first.