Passenger rail from Paengaroa to Ōmokoroa. Ferries between the Mount and CBD. Park and ride hubs. Light rail. Double-decker buses.
These are some of the big ideas in four new visions for what living and getting around in Tauranga and the Western Bay could look like 50 years from now.
They are published in the interim report of the Urban Form and Transport Initiative, set up last year to prepare a pitch for long-term government transport funding for the sub-region.
The options model a transport network to support four different growth scenarios, accommodating a predicted population increase of 200,000.
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They describe where new communities would be built, which existing areas could be intensified and what transport options would be needed for people and freight to get around.
The initiative is a collaboration between Smartgrowth and the NZ Transport Agency involving the Tauranga City, Western Bay District and Bay of Plenty Regional councils and iwi.
It's project director, Robert Brodnax, said the team started with nine options, but some had not stacked up as well as others.
Abandoned concepts included trying to make Tauranga a compact city through heavy CBD intensification, plonking a new town for 40,000-plus people out east, and only growing inland - away from the hazard-prone coast.
The final four will go through further feasibility tests and investigations to produce one preferred option - likely a combination of ideas - by April next year.
Brodnax said the "base case" option of the four was essentially a "worst-case scenario" of the current planning direction called "dispersed growth", with low densities in new areas and minimum intensification everywhere else.
"We would end up having to build lots and lots of roads and the modelling shows us those roads will be congested, so it will be difficult for us to move around."
Brodnax said all options included rapid public transit along Cameron Rd. A rapid public transit network beyond Cameron Rd was "at the core" of all options except dispersed growth.
Modes could start with very frequent buses - including double-deckers - and upgrade to trackless trams or light rail as patronage increased.
"As the city grows, we are going to need to move people around the city differently," Brodnax said. We can't all continue to move in cars – we just can't simply build enough motorway."
A "rail enabled growth" option would put that network mainly in the existing rail corridor - passenger rail snaking from Paengaroa along State Highway 2, over the Matapihi Bridge to The Strand then Ōtumoetai, Matua, Te Puna and Ōmokoroa.
Little medium density villages would spring up around stations.
Brodnax said towns smaller than Tauranga around the world had passenger trains, so it was possible.
"The decision is what you choose to fund. For a rail system to wash its face - to be economically viable without a good amount of public subsidy - you need a population of about 350,000 people. But you could choose to subsidise rail."
Subsidising rail could make it happen quicker, or the city could plan ahead to be ready to go when the population was big enough to support it through fares.
"Cities that make that decision early manage the transition better."
The system would likely require some double-tracking given the increasing importance of rail in Port of Tauranga freight operations.
An unresolvable clash with port operations would be a "show-stopper" for passenger rail, Brodnax said.
Two other options would see the Matapihi Bridge - with agreement from mana whenua - used priority public transport - not necessarily trains.
Brodnax said the "connected urban villages" option emphasised rapid public transport throughout the central city and spreading out to all major population centres - Ōmokoroa in the west, Wairakei and Te Puke in the east, Tauriko in the south and Mount Maunganui in the north.
Areas around major interchanges would have higher density builds with a mix of housing and shops.
The "two urban centres" option, on the other hand, had "more of a greenfield flavour" with housing growth through Tauriko and up SH29 to Omanawa Rd as well as between Te Tumu and Te Puke.
It still had rapid transit but would require some new roads.
Tauranga's leaders backed the initiative's progress to date, but say the options need a lot more work to test their feasibility and costs.
Mayors Tenby Powell of Tauranga and Garry Webber of Western Bay said buses that could run on both rail tracks and road were an option being considered for rapid transit.
Webber said future-proofing the region was about finding ways to make the best use of the transport corridors that already existed.
He said the next stages would involve a conversation with both taxpayers and ratepayers about the costs involved, once those were established.
Recent future planning feedback indicated the public wanted the roads and congestion fixed.
"They know this will cost money and there is going to be some rate increases. But the ratepayers are saying just get on with it and stop mucking around," Webber said.
Tauranga mayor Tenby Powell said he had seen a lot of investment pitches and "this is a really good one" but the devil was in the execution.
Vital to that was being able to get some infrastructure costs off councils' already stretched balance sheets.
That was why councils would be talking to the Government and the private sector about co-investment opportunities and special purpose investment mechanisms.
He envisioned SH29 becoming the "main entrance" to Tauranga in the future.
He also said the Port of Tauranga needed to be the "centre of gravity" in any transport planning for Tauranga, especially given its 65 per cent capacity for growth - enough to take the whole of Ports of Auckland.
Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns backed that statement, but said his focus was on getting heavily-congested Totara St designated a State Highway - a "no-brainer" in his view.
He had some reservations about using rail for passenger trains, but did not want to shoot the idea down without seeing it fully worked through.
The port's objective was to get as much cargo as possible off roads and on to rail, he said.
Bay of Plenty Regional Council chairman Doug Leeder said the initiative had a "bumpy start" but was now progressing well.
Ferries looking increasingly viable
A ferry service is looking increasingly viable for Tauranga and the Western Bay.
Economic development agency Priority One is part-way through a study into the need and feasibility of ferries.
Chief executive Nigel Tutt said so far in the investigations, there had been "nothing but positive feedback".
"But we've got a long way to go and it would be a large investment."
At this stage, the service envisioned would require four dedicated vessels making trips every 15 to 30 minutes.
Stops could include Salisbury Wharf in Mount Maunganui, The Strand in the Tauranga CBD and the top of the Ōmokoroa peninsula.
It would serve both commuters and tourists.
Two of the options developed by the Urban Form and Transport Initiative involve ferry services - one between the Mount and CBD, and the other adding on Ōmokoroa as well.
Tutt said it would be another four to six months before the study could make any final recommendations.