The Auckland mayoral contenders were criticised at the outset of the campaign for making the election little more than a book-keeping discussion about saving money and advocating additional sources of revenue. Since then they have thrown caution to the wind. Vic Crone has promised to fast-track a second harbour crossing to the city, Phil Goff has backed light rail from the waterfront to Mt Roskill and possibly continuing to the airport. If we want candidates to think big and show "vision", we cannot complain when they seize an easy one.
These two projects are "easy" only in the sense that they are already on the horizon of Auckland's transport plans. Another harbour crossing is always the first thing that occurs to anyone who contemplates the city's needs from south of the Harbour Bridge. Anyone living north of the bridge, however, especially if they cross it at peak hours every working day, knows that traffic flows more easily on the bridge than it does on the motorways approaching it. The movable median barrier gives the bridge a greater capacity than the rest of the network. If there is more money available for Auckland transport improvements, another harbour crossing is not the highest priority.
Light rail on the isthmus is also an old idea, revived late last year by Auckland Transport after the airport company asked for an indication of the form of public transport that should be incorporated in its terminal developments. AT drew up plans for light rail - glorified trams - running on tracks laid from Britomart to Dominion Rd, possibly also Mt Eden and Sandringham Rds, to serve a section of the isthmus that does not have a "heavy" rail line through it. Its planners envisage the Dominion Rd line being extended along the motorways to the airport.
Even the Auckland Council's tram enthusiast, Mike Lee, found the prospect of them trundling to the airport a little far-fetched, as did an Eden-Albert Local Board member Graeme Easte who tried to imagine suburban commuters sharing trams with airline passengers. "People wanting to get home at rush hour will be tripping over people with luggage, large packs and the odd surfboard," he said. The front-runner for mayor evidently does not share their doubts.
The candidate's precise proposals probably should not be taken too literally. Voters should perhaps treat them as a guide to the candidate's thinking rather than a cast-iron commitment. Goff no doubt intends his advocacy of light rail to be a way of branding him to passionate promoters of public transport and passenger rail services in particular. Crone's harbour crossing suggests her priority is to reduce congestion for private cars, though the crossing may also bring rail to the North Shore, another very low priority now that the Shore has a dedicated busway.
The candidates need to be careful not to nail their colours too tightly to any scheme that has not been properly researched, costed and prioritised. The last thing Auckland needs is a mayor elected on a mandate to pursue a needless extravagance for no better reason than he or she promised it. Visions are fine but they should not be a shackle.