International precinct perfect way to welcome visitors: businesses.

Dominion Rd's business community says it would welcome visitors passing through its colourful precinct on trams from the airport to downtown Auckland.

"We are branding Dominion Rd as Auckland's international precinct - what better way to promote that than by having people travelling through it?" business association general manager Gary Holmes said of a proposal to incorporate the thoroughfare into a $1 billion-plus airport rail link.

"Wouldn't it be great to have hundreds of thousands of visitors to Auckland coming up through a vibrant shopping area along Dominion Rd, and down Queen St to Britomart, rather than going through an industrial area on heavy rail?"

Mr Holmes was commenting on Auckland Transport's consideration of extending tram lines from Dominion Rd to the airport as an alternative to a faster but more expensive heavy rail extension from Onehunga - as revealed by the Herald yesterday.

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Both the Campaign for Better Transport and Auckland Council infrastructure chairman Mike Lee, a supporter of light-rail for shorter runs, questioned mixing tourists and commuters on an airport tram link.

Mr Lee said he was sceptical about some of the assumptions in a report by Auckland Transport consultants, which predicts tram trips on the 21km route from the airport to Britomart will be just five minutes slower than a potential 39-minute train service via Penrose and the southern rail line.

Transport campaign representative and Albert-Eden board member Graeme Easte fears commuters now served by high-frequency buses along Dominion Rd will lose out, by having to share trams with tourists and their luggage.

But Mr Holmes said airport trains would also serve commuters, should Auckland Transport choose them instead, and he could envisage express trams delivering tourists from their flights between shorter-running services along Dominion Rd.

That would give visitors a glimpse of what might be in store for them through the precinct, enticing them back for shopping or dining once they had settled in to their city hotels.

Trams would also make it easier for visitors to reach Eden Park.

Mr Easte is concerned a map by Auckland Transport consultants of potential light rail stations - including eight along Dominion Rd and four along Queen St - indicates commuters will have to walk further to catch trams than they do now to reach bus stops. But the council transport body hopes to replace buses with trams along Dominion Rd anyway by 2019, whether or not tracks are extended to Mangere to meet an Auckland Plan target for an airport rail link between 2021 and 2030.

A consultants' cost estimate of $1.1 billion for an airport link, compared with $2.3 billion for heavy rail, is understood to be in addition to an isthmus tramway.

Although funding has yet to be allocated for any form of tramway, Auckland Transport chairman Lester Levy has said he does not expect a first stage of an isthmus network - from the waterfront to Denbigh Ave near Dominion Rd's intersection with the Southwestern Motorway - to exceed $1 billion.

Further stages are expected to include Sandringham, Manukau and Mt Eden roads.

Potential timeline

• Britomart to Dominion Rd-Denbigh Ave intersection - 2019.

• To Stoddard Rd via Sandringham Rd - 2021.

• Dominion Rd to the airport - by 2030.

• To Onehunga via Manukau Rd - 2030.

• Mt Eden Rd to Three Kings - 2035.
Based on indications by Auckland Transport and the Auckland Plan.
An earlier version of this story carried an AT sponsored content tag. The tag was mistakenly added during production and the New Zealand Herald regrets the error.