Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Government reveals shape of Auckland's transport future

The Government will push major roading projects In Auckland including a wider southern motorway, upgraded roading to the airport, and a freight corridor in Manukau before it begins work on the City Rail Link and a second Waitemata Harbour Crossing, Prime Minister John Key has revealed this afternoon.

Mr Key confirmed that Government would back Auckland's three top transport priorities - the City Rail Link, another Waitemata Harbour crossing, and the Auckland Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative (AMETI), which includes the East-West Link.

"These three projects are all identified as the highest transport priorities in the Council's Auckland Plan," he said. "They have a price tag of around $10 billion and they are projects that need to be planned for over a long period of time."

The harbour crossing will be twin tunnels under the Waitemata - the option of another bridge has been ruled out - and construction was expected to start between 2025 and 2030.

Auckland Council would begin protecting land for the development in December once the alignment of the crossing had been finalised.

Mr Key said construction of the City Rail Link would not begin until 2020 unless employment levels in the central city climbed by 25 per cent and annual rail trips hit 20 million a year.

"We will consider an earlier start date if it becomes clear that Auckland's CBD employment and rail patronage growth hit thresholds faster than current rates of growth suggest.

"I realise 2020 is not what the Council leadership is wanting, but while we may differ on timeframes, there is clear recognition by the Government that the project will be needed to address access to the Auckland CBD and improve the efficiency of rail."

Total rail trips are around 11 million a year.

Mr Key confirmed that the Government's "next major focus" for Auckland would be the AMETI project, which is already underway but was not scheduled to be completed for 20 years.

"Given the importance of the area, delivering these projects over 20 years is simply not acceptable."

Government has asked the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) which parts of AMETI could be accelerated with additional funding.

"As you know, the area between Onehunga, Mt Wellington and East Tamaki is home to a number of industrial and logistics businesses that make a critical contribution to the Auckland and national economy.

"About as many people are employed here as in the CBD and there is considerable potential for more growth.

"However, the transport links in and out of this area aren't up to the job.

"Truck drivers have told us they can get stuck in congestion at any time during the working day and a seven-minute trip between Metroport and the Onehunga wharf can take as long as 40 minutes."

The $2.6 billion project included a $1.1 billion East-West Link, a road between Mt Wellington and Onehunga.

Government also planned to fast-track three NZTA projects:

- A motorway-to-motorway link between the Upper Harbour Highway and the Northern Motorway at Constellation Drive

- Widening of the Southern Motorway between Manukau and Papakura

- Upgrade of the State Highway 20A link to the airport to motorway standard

These developments were designed to reduce congestion, capitalise on the benefits of the Western Ring Route, and improve access to the airport.

Mr Key said: "Under current funding assumptions, construction of these projects may be up to 10 years away from starting.

"But the Government is not prepared to wait that long."

Government will consult with NZTA on how to bring these projects forward, and will provide additional funding to make this happen.

The transport package did not mention rail to the airport, which was no longer one of the highest priorities for the Auckland Council.

It has not yet been made clear how Government will source its funding for its share of these projects, but the Prime Minister has confirmed that some of the $2.86 billion rail link could be paid for with proceeds from asset sales.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown welcomed the Government's support for the ambitious projects and said it marked a big step forward for both Auckland and New Zealand.

"Backing for the City Rail Link (CRL) in particular, is a major milestone. The CRL will double the capacity of Auckland's existing rail network and, when combined with new electric trains, will provide a major boost to economic growth in the CBD."

He said he was pleased that the Government backed the council's proposal for a tunnel under the harbour, because it secured the option of rail to the North Shore.

Labour Party Auckland Issues spokesman Phil Twyford questioned where the money for the projects would come from, and said the timing for some of the construction was still vague.

"The Prime Minister is talking about a ten billion dollar commitment to three projects but in his speech he was completely silent about how he is going to pay for them. Where on earth is the money coming from?"

Labour felt that the City Rail Link should also be fast-tracked.

The Automobile Association's motoring affairs general manager Mike Noon said these will be some of the biggest transport projects New Zealand has ever seen, but they are crucial to keeping Auckland moving.

"Auckland faces unprecedented growth and the transport system is already struggling to cope with the current population.''

He said the Government's commitment to the City Rail Loop, a second harbour crossing, the East-West Link and the AMETI will allow the city to move forward with the extensive programme of work that is vital for the future of the city and the New Zealand economy overall.

BusinessNZ chief executive Phil O'Reilly said the Government proposals will help address the congestion that is a huge productivity cost to New Zealand, and will bring greater certainty for future business planning.

"As the country's major business centre, Auckland has significant transport needs that are best addressed in a coordinated way between central and local government and the private sector.''

Auckland Mayor Len Brown said the Government was now listening.

"Auckland's success is critical to New Zealand's success. We are a third of the population, responsible for around 38 per cent of GDP, and the gateway for 70 per cent of visitors to New Zealand.

"It is not our size that is driving our need for infrastructure but our growth rate. Currently half of New Zealand's population growth is happening in Auckland. By 2030 it will as much as 70 per cent. It is critical that we make the upfront investments in infrastructure to enable us to meet this challenge.''

The New Zealand Transport Authority's (NZTA) regional director for Auckland and Northland Stephen Town said preliminary work is underway to respond to the Government's transport package.

"The confirmation to accelerate key projects allows the NZTA and Auckland Transport to prepare these projects for delivery with much greater confidence, especially those projects that are already in early design phases such as the State Highway improvements along the southern and northern corridors.''

Employers and Manufacturers Association chief executive Kim Campbell said he welcomed the Prime Minister's recognition that transport congestion is limiting Auckland's productivity.

- additional reporting APNZ


Auckland Transport

- NZ Herald

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