Auckland mayor Len Brown has infuriated public transport campaigners - including his council's transport leader - by pushing a mega roading project ahead of airport rail.
That is despite his mayoral election promise of three ambitious rail projects within 15 years, including airport links by about 2020, for which transport committee chairman Mike Lee says he should not ignore a strong mandate from Auckland voters.
Mr Brown has until now ranked these second only to the City Rail Link, a 3.5km tunnel expected to cost $2.86 billion.
But that was before the council's future vision committee, which he chaired, agreed last week to add a $1.1 billion roading corridor through Onehunga to the $1.5 billion Ameti package of transport improvements in southeast Auckland.
The combined $2.6 billion project, strongly favoured by the Auckland Business Forum and road carriers with heavy freight commitments in the area, has been elevated to second place in the latest draft of the 30-year Auckland plan - behind only the rail tunnel.
A new Waitemata Harbour crossing of road and rail tunnels, which the Transport Agency has estimated would cost $6.7 billion but which Mr Brown hopes technological advances will provide for less than a council estimate of $5.8 billion, is third.
But airport rail for $1.18 billion has been relegated to sixth place with several other projects, and then only for route protection including land purchases.
Mr Brown said on Friday, after a ceremony for the start of the first $180 million stage of Ameti, including a bus-rail interchange at Panmure and a 1.5km road north to Glen Innes, that an east-west arterial road to State Highway 20 at Onehunga would be a logical extension.
He saw Ameti, which will include a busway from Botany to the Panmure railway station to ease heavy traffic congestion by carrying 5.5 million passengers a year, as a good investment balance between roading and public transport.
That would ease up freight movements across the Tamaki River's two bridges, which carry more traffic than Auckland Harbour Bridge, and it made sense to extend transport connections further west. "All these projects need to be interconnected," Mr Brown said.
"Look at those freight numbers coming there, and if there is a desire by the business community, that it's their number one project, we've got to look seriously at that."
But Mr Lee believed that many Aucklanders would be dismayed that a project not mentioned in the mayor's election campaign was displacing one which gained strong public support.
"He won a very strong mandate on it.
"I have often lectured other members of the council that we have to respect the mayor's mandate, which is quite unique in the history of New Zealand," Mr Lee said.
"When it comes to airport rail the mayor has to respect his own mandate and not just drop a project like that and replace it with another one because of pressure from the Council for Infrastructure Development and the roads lobby.
"We're only talking about 9km -it shouldn't be a big deal," he said of the distance between the end of the Onehunga railway line and the airport.
"The east-west link is one road too many and what it has done is transformed the Auckland Plan transport vision into something which is dominated by big roads.
"That is not what the public supported. Transformational doesn't mean more of the same, but bigger."
Campaign for Better Transport convener Cameron Pitches, whose organisation collected more than 10,000 petition signatures in 2008 for airport rail, said his members were deeply frustrated by a lack of progress.
Rail would serve not just the airport but residents of Mangere and other South Auckland suburbs with poor public transport.
Mr Brown said yesterday that he was committed to completing all the region's key rail projects, "but they cannot all be done at once".
"Fixing the east-west [road freight] link does not make us any less committed to airport rail and council is progressing with work to protect the route."
* Top three proposed transport projects under new draft Auckland plan.
* City Rail Link - $2.86 billion.
* Ameti (includes new roads, busways and bridges) plus east-west freight road link - $2.6 billion.
* Third Waitemata Harbour crossing (motorway and rail tunnels) - $5.8 billion (Auckland Council estimate) to $6.7 billion (Transport Agency estimate).