Dominion Rd is set to become a testing ground for Labour's $6 billion light rail programme when consultation starts along one of Auckland's best-known streets.

The plan to build light rail, the modern equivalent of trams, the length of Dominion Rd to Mt Roskill and on to the airport, is full of unknowns for businesses and people who use the busy road to commute to work or eat dumplings among the clusters of Asian restaurants.

"At best it has the potential to be a game changer, but done wrong it could be a disaster," says Gary Holmes, manager of the Dominion Rd Business Association.

Holmes says little is known about light rail down Dominion Rd, the latest proposal in a long list of upgrades and public transport improvements that have come to nothing.

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New Zealand Transport Agency chief executive Fergus Gammie said the agency was not in a position yet to tell people how Dominion Rd will function once light rail is built, but that is about to change in the coming months.

"We will be talking to communities and businesses to learn how they use their current spaces now, characteristics that they love, what their aspirations are for the future and identify opportunities to achieve that throughout the corridor.

"As with any project of this size and scale there will be disruption and impacts and we want to reassure people and businesses that we will work with them to find innovative ways to minimise and manage those impacts as much as possible," Gammie said.

An artist's impression of light rail running down Don McKinnon Drive towards Dominion Rd.
An artist's impression of light rail running down Don McKinnon Drive towards Dominion Rd.

Writing in the Herald in April, pathologist Ross Boswell said the business case underlying light rail to the airport showed that trams would run on a kerb-protected central reservation, limiting traffic in each direction to a single lane shared between cycles, cars, trucks, and restricting right turns into or out of Dominion Rd.

It will also limit Dominion Rd tram stops to 800m intervals, about twice the current bus stop distance, he said.

Gammie told the Herald that the Dominion Rd light rail project to Mangere and on to the airport would no longer be the number one public transport connection between the CBD and the airport. The main airport connection would be by train to Puhinui, and transferring to buses or trams for the 6km leg to the airport, he said.

Gammie said the agency wants the Dominion Rd light rail line to be a transformational project combining transport and urban redevelopment.

Work on light rail in Sydney has caused long-running disruption to businesses.
Work on light rail in Sydney has caused long-running disruption to businesses.

Holmes said light rail down Dominion Rd will only work if it is about urban regeneration, rather than just transport.

He said light rail will remove all on-street parking down Dominion Rd and it is his understanding there will be no buses, just cars, commercial vehicles and taxis on the two remaining lanes.

A little-used cycleway built parallel to the east of Dominion Rd would be used for cyclists, he said.

However, Bike Auckland believes this "back-street" route is a bad compromise and today launched a petition for dedicated bike lanes to be included in the light rail project on Dominion Rd.

"For all the reasons Dominion Rd makes sense for light rail, it also makes sense as a popular and practical route for people on bikes," said Bike Auckland chairwoman Barb Cuthbert.

Gareth Brettell, whose family have run Antique Alley on Dominion Rd for 47 years, said light rail would be very bad for his and hundreds of other businesses. There would be no parking and no extra customers, he said.

"I can't think of any good reason to build trams," Brettell said.

Stuart Fraser, who has been a hairdresser for 26 years on Dominion Rd at five different locations, said light rail was not necessary and would cripple many small businesses during the construction period.

"Some businesses will survive, but a lot of them won't," he said.

People using Dominion Rd were more positive about light rail.

Radio Tarana consultant Magan Dahya said light rail would be less expensive than using a car, looking for parking and getting parking tickets.

Invercargill music teacher Daniel Monteath, who was waiting for the airport bus to catch a flight to Queenstown, said light rail would help make Auckland more of an international city and address its congestion problems.

"I could probably get anywhere I wanted to get at any time of the day in Invercargill within a couple of minutes, but here it is definitely within half an hour to an hour if you are in peak traffic times," he said.