The new Government couldn't be clearer in showing how determined it is to do what it takes to get on top of Auckland's deep-seated transport problems — it will use enabling legislation to fast-track the mass public transit projects it has flagged it wants built with speed and urgency.
A revised Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) package is close to being signed off between the key sponsors, Transport Minister Phil Twyford, Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Mayor Phil Goff and deputy Mayor Bill Cashmore.
Light rail, or what some cities call a fast tram and others rapid rail, will be at the heart of the transport transformation facing Auckland over the next decade.
It will be the most transformational transport project since the building of the Waitemata Harbour Bridge and associated Northern and Southern motorway corridors in the 1960s.
Auckland Transport has been assessing routes and undertaking design work, including patronage modelling and traffic-congestion impacts over the past two-three years, which means the project can "hit the ground running".
The network as broadly envisaged is now well known:
• A light rail line from Wynyard Quarter to Mt Roskill completed by 2021 and the America's Cup and APEC events, then, long-term an extension to Auckland Airport.
• A bus priority route initially from the Airport to Puhinui train station completed within a year and then a rapid transit extension option to Auckland's south-eastern suburbs. Te Irirangi Drive from Manukau to Botany is designed for a mass transit option to be added.
• A Northwestern line to the western suburbs; and
• A line to the North Shore taking advantage of the long-proposed third Harbour crossing that transport planners agree will be needed from the mid-2020s.
Other ramped up improvements to support an Auckland-wide mass transit network include upscaled feeder bus services to the main trunk rail and bus services, and much improved park and ride facilities.
Also flagged for inclusion in the upscaled ATAP agenda are the third rail line between Westfied and Papakura and a number of cross-city bus priority routes.
That is, it won't just be a network giving access to the city centre, but provide a transformed public transport system for moving around the whole of Auckland.
A key outcome that Auckland Council in particular is wanting is to ensure the new rapid transit network hooks up with the three urban intensification areas set out in the Unitary Plan — Drury, West Auckland and Silverdale and long term Warkworth — where housing developments are already under way to provide 110,000 new homes and 50,000 new jobs over the next 30 years.
As every Aucklander knows, the existing transport infrastructure serving these areas is already heavily congested.
Light rail or its mass transit equivalent into these areas will be Auckland's 21st Century transformational circuit breaker!
Another key takeaway likely to be broadcast when the package is announced is that the "One Network" or integrated approach Auckland Transport and NZTA are already applying to solving major transport problems is giving Aucklanders public transport options for moving around the whole of Auckland without necessarily having to go into central Auckland.
Quite simply, encouraging people to use public transport frees up roads for freight and commercial traffic, as well as those who can't or won't get out of their private vehicle.
A 2012 study showed that Auckland's growth will outstrip its road capacity and maximising rail — heavy and light — is an essential part of a long-term integrated transport solution. The number of trips to the city centre in the morning peak will increase by about 85 per cent from 70,000 to more than 130,000 over the next 30 years.
The City Rail Link helps access to the centre from the south and north, but the study found that increasing the number of buses from areas not served by heavy rail will create significant congestion and be a "drag" on economic growth. A light rail network is the answer.
Public transport trips around Auckland — west-to-east — are forecast to grow from the current 90 million trips to more than 230 million trips per year by 2046. A combination of bus and light rail options for getting across Auckland has been flagged by Government as a priority for its transformation package.