Light rail will be an important tool in realising the potential of the communities it services, says Brett Gliddon.

An artist's impression of light rail in the Auckland suburb of Balmoral.

We aim to unlock new opportunities for housing, economic development, place making and recreation.

It's a great time to live in Auckland. It's a world-class city and a great place to live, work and play. It's the economic engine of New Zealand, offers a diverse set of opportunities, and touts an internationally recognised quality of life.

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That's why more and more people are choosing to move here. In fact, over the next 30 years, up to a million more new residents are expected to claim their piece of the Auckland pie.

Like other big international cities on the rise, it's vital to seize the opportunities and tackle the challenges that come with significant growth. All too often, cities across the world can point to a lost opportunity that failed to ease growing pains and hindered their ability to maximise their potential.

To meet the needs, and leverage the talents, of our current and future population, Auckland has to continue to adapt and improve. In order to stay ahead of the curve, we need new solutions. The NZ Transport Agency is proud to be doing our part with the delivery of Auckland Light Rail.

Light rail will be the centre piece of Auckland's public transport future. It's a much needed solution with the ability to provide better access to home and work, while encouraging new business and housing growth opportunities along the route.

It's new for New Zealand, but has proven itself around the world as the kind of permanent infrastructure a growing city needs.

In April, central government and Auckland Council announced a for-ward looking set of agreed transport investment priorities over the next decade. The Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP) is built on the vision to create a transport system that provides safe, reliable and sustainable access to get people where they need to go.

Auckland Light Rail is a cornerstone of ATAP and central to an integrated public transport system. With the addition of two light rail lines from the City Centre to Māngere and the northwest suburbs, we will achieve a transport system that seamlessly connects Auckland via light rail, heavy rail, ferries and buses. A system comparable to international cities like Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney, Vancouver and Portland.

In the months since the ATAP announcement, our project team has worked to develop a business case, and investigate a preferred route, for the City Centre to Māngere line. That work is near completion and we look forward to sharing its findings early next year. We're keen to talk with Aucklanders about the project and how it can improve their communities and quality of life. As the business case has been developed, we've had insightful initial conversations with councillors, local boards, business associations and transport advocates on how to best work together as the project develops to achieve the best outcomes.

We have also progressed active engagement with construction, infrastructure and finance industries here and overseas to tap into ideas and innovation that will set us apart. This started in late July, with a procurement briefing attended by more than 450 people representing 200 national and international companies.

In addition to providing better transport access, light rail will also be an important tool in realising the full potential of the communities it services. Auckland Light Rail has more ambitious goals than simply moving people between points A and Z; what happens in between is the key reason we're building it.

Light rail will provide greater transport access to suburbs that don't currently have good public transport options. That's particularly important in light of the travel behaviour changes among young people who represent our future workforce and commuters. In 1989-90 nearly half of all 15-25 year olds had a full drivers licence. That percentage decreased to around 34 per cent by the late 2000s. Greater transport access will in turn attract private and public investment in new housing developments. International examples show light rail can regenerate urban areas and make neighbourhoods better places to live.

Because we are integrating transport and urban development solutions, it would be foolish to work in isolation from the other vital initiatives taking place in Auckland. While the Transport Agency is leading the delivery of light rail, we are working side by side with Auckland Council, Auckland Transport and HLC, a subsidiary of Housing New Zealand.

For example, Auckland Light Rail helps deliver on the aspirations of the City Centre Masterplan and its vision for access for everyone. It will take passengers off buses, which are already adding to congestion and is forecast to get worse. That congestion is limiting the ability of the city centre to grow and deliver higher economic growth and productivity for Auckland and New Zealand.

Light rail will provide four times the carrying capacity of a double decker bus and enable more people to move in and out of the City Centre, producing no local emissions.

We will achieve most by integrating transport infrastructure with smart urban development. The pedestrianisation of Queen Street and re-examining the existing street network, coupled with an integrated public transport system are types of initiatives we should be progressing.

Within the City Centre to Māngere corridor, there are large areas of publicly-owned land with high redevelopment potential to increase Auckland's housing supply and support urban regeneration. The Government is currently developing a mix of state housing, affordable homes, and market homes along the corridor in places like Mt Roskill and Māngere.

The recently announced Housing and Urban Development Authority will further streamline large scale developments and will take a holistic view in transforming communities, including how reliable access to light rail can positively impact a neighbourhood.

Working closely with our partners, we aim to unlock new opportunities for housing, economic development, place making and recreation along the routes. Light rail, and the integrated public transport system it enables, is an opportunity we will seize. It will be our new way to connect and ensure the city is fit for the growth that lies ahead.

Brett Gliddon is general manager, system design and delivery of the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA).