Here is the plan for Auckland transport: carry on arguing. BERNARD ORSMAN on the latest holdup.
August 2001, which starts on Wednesday, was supposed to be a special month in the history of Auckland City.
Mayor Christine Fletcher, dignitaries and assembled journalists were to gather on a long-reclaimed piece of the Waitemata Harbour at Britomart for the first sod to be turned on a new transport centre.
But as history has shown, the story of transport projects in Auckland, and Britomart in particular, is littered with the wreckage of political failure and unmet deadlines.
A transport centre at Britomart was first proposed nine years ago in August 1992, and two weeks ago it was within a whisker of becoming true.
At least, that was the view at the Town Hall, where Mrs Fletcher was brimming with delight at the prospect of having a start on Britomart to bolster her re-election campaign.
As fate would have it, a last-minute drama unfolded when Infrastructure Auckland (the regional funding agency), followed by Transfund (the central Government funding agency for roads and transport), deferred grants to Britomart.
Both bodies resisted the hype surrounding the $249 million project and expressed the opinion that it should be considered in the context of the bigger transport plan for the region.
The funders started last week to smoke the peace pipe with Auckland City councillors. But all the indications are that the council's grand scheme will be diluted by financial expediency and an architectural vision will become an engineering project.
What is the transport blueprint proposed for Auckland?
After an extensive programme examining how to develop a fast, reliable public transport system, Auckland leaders unveiled a $1.2 billion scheme this month.
It has a mix of light rail similar to trams in the downtown city and in the west. Also included are heavy train services in the south with a new link to Manukau, and the busway on the North Shore.
Auckland local bodies are being asked to ratify the plan by the end of next month. It includes:
* Britomart: The downtown transport centre is the "hub" of the plan with light and heavy rail, and the busway, converging at Britomart.
But Britomart is about more that public transport - it is about rejuvenating the dilapidated historic buildings in the surrounding blocks.
Hence the row between the council and funding agencies over what are the transport-related costs and what are architectural flourishes and urban renewal works.
The council has argued that the basic transport centre will cost $189 million. Infrastructure Auckland says the figure is $140.7 million. The Auckland Regional Council uses a figure of $120 million.
* Central city loop: Once Britomart is built, the Auckland City Council is eyeing a central line for light rail going up Queen St and up to Auckland University, Auckland Hospital, Newmarket and back to Britomart via Parnell. This line would cost about $120 million. Financing has not been discussed.
* North Shore busway: The busway is the most advanced of the new transport services with two road lanes being built on the shoulder of the Northern Motorway between Constellation Drive and Esmonde Rd for buses and vehicles such as vans full of commuters.
South of Esmonde Rd, there will be only one dedicated southbound lane for buses and vans over the Auckland Harbour Bridge and into the city. North of Constellation Drive, buses will use shoulder lanes and motorway lanes to Albany.
The busway has been costed at $140 million, of which the North Shore City Council is contributing $9.2 million. The council is asking Transfund for $89 million towards the roading content and Infrastructure Auckland for $41.8 million for bus stations and park-and-ride facilities.
* Light rail to the west: The idea to double-track and electrify the western line to Swanson in the west is the most ambitious part of the plan.
Light rail, which can speed up and slow down quickly, brings a lot of benefits where stations are closer together. It is also quieter and electric trains emit fewer pollutants than heavy diesel trains.
But the $165 million plan is very expensive, including $60 million extra for double-tracking and signalling and $48.4 million to electrify the line.
Concern by Northland mayors that the western rail line will be tied up most of the day exclusively for Auckland commuter trains, blocking rail access further north, has to be resolved.
* Heavy rail to Papakura: The main trunk railway line between Papakura and the city carries high volumes of heavy freight on conventional trains, which, for safety reasons, cannot be mixed with light rail.
The cost of upgrading stations, building park-and-ride facilities and improving the track is $31.2 million, much of which Infrastructure Auckland could pay for.
* Manukau link: A new 1.8km railway line linking Manukau City Centre with the main trunk line is proposed, the last 700m between Lambie Drive and the city centre being underground. The Manukau City Council has put aside $15 million in its long-term financial strategy for the $40 million project and will seek grants from Infrastructure Auckland and Transfund to complete it.
How does access to the rail corridors fit into the picture?
Before local politicians get too carried away, the region has to secure access to the rail tracks, now controlled by Tranz Rail.
When the Government took over negotiations with Tranz Rail in April after the region agreed to pay $112 million for the corridor lease, Finance Minister Michael Cullen declared it would negotiate a price substantially less.
Two weeks ago, Dr Cullen signed a memorandum of understanding with the Auckland councils stating that it was the Government's desire to reach agreement with Tranz Rail "on or before August 31, sub-ject to achieving satisfactory terms, including price."
How is this grand scheme going to be paid for?
Infrastructure Auckland, which has a statutory duty to improve transport and stormwater disposal, has set aside $410 million over the next five years for public transport, a third of the $1.2 billion master plan.
Its chairman, John Robertson, said this was a "scarce resource" and it has prioritised the $410 million into six categories - $151 million for tracks, $66 million for signals, $118 million for railway stations (including Britomart), $23 million for park-and-ride facilities, $34 million for structures such as tunnels and $18 million for electrification.
The Auckland Regional Council will lease 34 light rail and 39 heavy trains needed on the new rail routes at a cost of $382 million paid for from ARC and Transfund public transport subsidies.
The Auckland City Council is contributing $133 million towards Britomart. North Shore and Manukau councils are putting money into the busway and Manukau rail link.
Transfund has announced a $20 million contribution to Britomart, although it also stipulated that half of that would have to be offset by a reduction in future annual grants.
Is Infrastructure Auckland being a help or a hindrance?
When Infrastructure Auckland, with about $1 billion of assets, was set up nearly three years ago with the profits of regional services, there were high hopes that it would pay for much of the city's transport needs.
As it turned out, it has adopted a cautious approach and in three years has made grants totalling only $42 million, of which $423,711 has been paid out.
As well as $410 million for public transport for the next four years, it has allocated $90 million to roads, $75 million to "innovative transport solutions" such as cycleways and walkways and $100 million to stormwater.
It has also set aside $250 million for grants between 2005 and 2011.
Infrastructure Auckland is partly handicapped in the amount it can distribute because it has vowed to keep its biggest asset, an 80 per cent share in Ports of Auckland, in public ownership.
Where does the funding row leave Britomart?
In the lurch. Until the council, Infrastructure Auckland and Transfund agree, the council cannot complete its funding package and go to tender to make a start.
The council says it can still build a good quality transport station for $189 million, but it will be at the expense of cutting $60 million out of the project, including a subway, $7 million of improvements to the old Chief Post Office and $25 million of architectural features and works to surrounding streets.
In a letter outlining Infrastructure Auckland's position, Mr Robertson said the cost of Britomart had risen from $174 million at the time of the design competition last year to $194 million in November and $249 million in March.
Despite this 43 per cent increase, the council's contribution had remained steady at $133 million, dropping from 76 per cent to 53 per cent of the total cost, Mr Robertson said.
By the same token, the funding agency dropped a hint this month that Britomart could be in line for a grant of up to $65 million.
In a report dated July 13, it dropped this figure to $55.5 million. Five days later, in another report, the range for a grant shrank to between $29.8 million and $35.2 million.
It is this kind of argument that led Auckland City chief executive Bryan Taylor to send a terse letter to Infrastructure Auckland accusing it of making a narrow assessment of a key aspect of making public transport more attractive to the public.
He wrote: "To build a transport interchange at this vital location which later proves to be inadequate will only add one more transport blunder to a long list of previous Auckland projects that have been underfunded and proved inadequate."
Feature: Getting Auckland moving
Herald Online traffic reports
Rideline Auckland public transport information
Here is the plan for Auckland transport: carry on arguing. BERNARD ORSMAN on the latest holdup.