Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

$5.5b wishlist: Queen St light rail?

An artist's impression of Queen St with a light rail/tram system. Photo / Supplied
An artist's impression of Queen St with a light rail/tram system. Photo / Supplied

The Auckland Council has drawn up a $5.5 billion wishlist to transform the city centre and waterfront over the next 20 years.

By far the biggest project is the $2.4 billion inner city rail loop, which is top of Mayor Len Brown's list to turn Auckland into the world's most liveable city.

The rail project aside, the redevelopment of the waterfront has been costed at $2 billion over the next 20 years and $1.1 billion to improve the central city. Both of the projects fall within the overall 30-year Draft Auckland Plan.

A copy of the draft Central City Plan, marked "not to be distributed", includes plans for temporary road closures of Queen St, then at lunchtimes within three years, followed by a staged rollout of a "shared space" where drivers have to thread their way around pedestrians.

An earlier proposal to close parts of Queen St to traffic has been abandoned because it "might be an unnecessary and overly expensive step".

However, there is ambitious talk of a possible light rail system on Queen St and along Tamaki Drive to Mission Bay, although these projects have been placed beyond the council's first 10-year budget.

Funding projects in the city centre and waterfront masterplans will largely fall on ratepayers, although Mr Brown is investigating a range of new options, including tolls and congestion charges, to spread the cost.

Development levies are another important source of funding for projects, such as the revitalisation of Wynyard Quarter on the waterfront.

Projects that could occur over the next three years include the first steps to remove vehicles from Quay St and turn it into a waterfront boulevard, revamping Queen Elizabeth Square outside Britomart and building a cruise ship terminal on Queens Wharf.

A bit further out, there are proposals to turn the multi-lane, one-way motorway feeders of Hobson and Nelson St into "welcoming" two-way, tree-lined avenues, restore the St James Theatre and redevelop the downtown carpark as a commercial building.

The draft masterplan places a strong emphasis on making the city more pedestrian-friendly and having fewer cars, although there has been strong opposition from many businesses and property owners who fear the focus on pedestrians over other transport modes would have severe economic consequences.

One idea is to turn the abandoned Nelson St motorway off-ramp into a park connected to a new walkway-cycleway, much like New York's High Line - a park built on abandoned railway lines above the streets of Manhattan.

Another radical and expensive idea is a land bridge over parts of Stanley St with the possibility of tennis and basketball courts, five-a-side pitches and a swimming pool to improve the connection between the city and Auckland Domain.

On a smaller and more affordable scale, there are plans for parks to have drinking fountains and a play space for children, a 24-hour running track, 2000 new trees and greater priority for pedestrians at major intersections.

Details of the $2 billion of projects in the draft waterfront masterplan are still under wraps, but council officers have warned about the practicality of some of the "visionary" ideas.

The city centre and waterfront masterplans will be launched on September 20 for public feedback before being completed in March next year.

PROPOSALS

* $2.4bn inner-city rail loop

* $1.1bn CBD improvements

* $2bn to develop waterfront

* Pedestrians and cars sharing Queen St

* Quay St becoming a waterfront boulevard

* Hobson and Nelson Sts turned into tree-lined avenues

* Nelson St motorway off-ramp becoming a park

* 2000 more trees in the city

- NZ Herald

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