Plans are well advanced for dedicated bus lanes on the Northwestern Motorway to ease congestion for West Aucklanders required to drive into the city.

Transport Minister and Te Atatū MP Phil Twyford said the NZ Transport Agency is looking at building dedicated bus lanes on the shoulder of the motorway with station interchanges at Te Atatū and Westgate.

The bus lanes and stations are a hybrid of the hugely successful Northern Busway. This has separated lanes for buses, six stations and carries 7 million passengers a year beside the Northern Motorway.

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The Northwestern Motorway on SH16 has been likened to a giant parking lot at rush hour, with the morning crawl into the city taking up to an hour or more.

It currently has limited shoulder lanes for buses, which merge into general traffic at bridges and other places.

Twyford said the Government is committed to rapid transit out west, but signalled the bus lanes could be a short-term fix while the Government works through its plans for light rail, or modern-day trams.

It is understood the project was initiated in September at a meeting attended by Goff, Twyford and a handful of senior councillors. Following the meeting, Auckland Transport was instructed to start work. The New Zealand Transport Agency, which is responsible for state highways, was brought on board at the time.

The bus lanes are expected to be a relatively quick and cheap fix, with early estimates putting the cost at $40 million. The final cost and timelines will be known when the NZTA board considers the business case and funding.

The Northern Busway carries 7 million passengers a year. Photo / Herald
The Northern Busway carries 7 million passengers a year. Photo / Herald

An NZTA spokesman said design work was underway for extending the bus lanes. The agency was working with Auckland Transport on a business case for bus interchanges at Te Atatū and Westgate.

"We anticipate work on the business case will be completed in early 2020," the spokesman said.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff backs the project. With the northwest region forecast to experience a tenfold population increase over the next 30 years, there was a need to move quickly.

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"By utilising the motorway shoulders and building 'pop-up' bus stations along the SH16 corridor, we can make rapid improvements for transport now, while a longer-term rapid transit solution is developed by the Government," he said.

Councillor Linda Cooper would like to see a busway built on the motorway. Photo / Herald
Councillor Linda Cooper would like to see a busway built on the motorway. Photo / Herald

Waitākere councillor Shane Henderson said tens of thousands of people experienced "transport poverty" on the motorway. Dedicated bus lanes would make an immediate difference.

The other Waitākere councillor, Linda Cooper, said she would prefer a busway but given the urgency of improving public transport in the northwest, dedicated lanes were a start.

She said a busway would be transformative for West Auckland, which was expected to absorb 25 per cent of Auckland's growth.

West Auckland has a rail service to Swanson, but it veers to the west and leaves a large catchment living s long way from a railway station.

Cooper said this catchment takes in Massey and Te Atatū, along with the booming suburbs of Redhills, Whenuapai, Hobsonville Point, Waimauku, Riverhead and Huapai in the northwest.

She was disappointed a busway in an earlier joint National Government-Auckland Council transport programme was taken out in the latest version with the Labour Government and replaced with light rail.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford says the bus lanes will be short term while plans for light rail are worked up. Photo / Herald
Transport Minister Phil Twyford says the bus lanes will be short term while plans for light rail are worked up. Photo / Herald

Last year, Twyford rejected a business case for a western busway that could be later converted to light rail in favour of going straight to light rail.

Then in April this year, he said the Government may have to scrap light rail to the West to focus on light rail from the central city to the airport.

Light rail is becoming an increasingly difficult problem for Labour with no business case, no costings and confusing messages about what the city to airport line is for - fast transport to the airport, relieving bus congestion in the city or a catalyst for intensification.

The Ministry of Transport is currently assessing two different proposals, one from NZ Infra, a joint venture between the New Zealand Super Fund and Canada's CDPQ Infra group, and one from NZTA, for the Government to make a decision on early next year.

The NZ Infra bid is believed to include tunnelling under Queen St and elevated sections down Dominion Rd. NZ Infra has also expressed an interest in building light rail to the west.