A cloud hangs over one of Auckland's biggest public transport projects, the $1.4 billion Eastern Busway, after a major new transport funding package was announced today.
Transport Minister Michael Wood and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency chief executive Nicole Rosie were unable to give a guarantee the project would proceed as planned, or be pushed back by two years.
The Eastern Busway, a much-anticipated project in the city's car-dependent eastern suburbs aimed at reducing congestion and carbon emissions, has got caught up in a funding wrangle between Auckland and Wellington.
Wood, Rosie and Waka Kotahi chairman Sir Brian Roche announced the National Land Transport Programme (NLTP) had a budget of $24.3 billion over the next three years, which Wood said was up 44 per cent since the last programme between 2018 and 2021.
Despite the largesse, the transport leaders said questions remained about the level of subsidy from Waka Kotahi towards a couple of projects in the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (Atap), a separate transport plan for Auckland agreed between the Government and Auckland Transport.
The biggest sticking point is the Eastern Busway, a dedicated busway, similar to the Northern Busway, for the eastern suburbs. Once complete in 2027, it is expected to carry 30,000 people a day between the rapidly growing south-eastern suburbs and the rail network at Panmure.
It is the second biggest public transport project in Auckland behind the $4.4b City Rail Link.
The Eastern Busway was put back by two years from 2025 to 2027 after the council cut AT's budget from $940m to $820m in June. AT had assumed it would receive a higher subsidy from the NLTP.
"I'm very, very keen to see that project move forward as soon as possible and if we possibly can achieve it, get it back to its previous delivery date," said Wood.
He said he would continue to work with Auckland in the "relatively short-term" to resolve the issues.
Rosie said there was a gap in Atap, particularly around higher subsidies, and Waka Kotahi was working with Auckland on how to manage the increased subsidies being sought.
National MPs Christopher Luxon and Simeon Brown said East Aucklanders will be gutted by further delays to a project that is not an investment priority for the Government.
"It desperately needs to get back on time and delivered in full.
"The Eastern Busway project would connect 30,000 people a day to education and employment, as well as achieve the Government's stated goals of mode shift and emissions reduction, and they can't even prioritise or deliver that. It's appalling," said the MPs, whose respective electorates of Botany and Pakuranga are served by the busway.
Green Party transport spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter also believed the Eastern Busway should be a very high priority in the NLTP and get a higher subsidy to meet the 2025 completion date.
She said the $6b being invested in public transport, walking and safety nationwide was welcome but nowhere near enough.
"Sustainable transport options are only 25 per cent of the budget. If we are going to give people practical, climate-friendly options for getting around the investment needs to be the majority of new spending. We need to go further and faster in climate change," she said.
The NLTP provides $7.3b to fund roads, public transport, walking and cycling and safety initiatives in Auckland over the next three years, a 28 per rise from the previous NLTP.
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff welcomed the funding package for the city, saying $3.1b will go to public transport, walking and cycling and other active transport. Big roading projects like Penlink linking the Whangaparaoa Peninsula with SH1 and widening the Southern Motorway between Papakura and Drury were also funded, he said.
Auckland Business Forum chairman Michael Barnett said the real concern with today's announcement is that forecasts show Auckland's congestion is going to get significantly worse.
Alongside investment in public transport, which is soaking up a huge amount of the budget, more investment was needed to get cars and freight moving.
"That means new road projects to support growth areas in the outer parts of the city, targeted widening of motorways, and lots of smaller-scale projects to get better performance out of existing roads," Barnett said.
He also called for faster progress on the next harbour crossing and funding to bring forward congestion charging.