The Government will announce funding today for two major new roading projects in Auckland.
One is Penlink, in the north, providing a new connection between the Whangaparaoa Peninsula and the Northern Motorway. The other is Mill Rd in the south, improving the connection from Manukau through Takanini to Drury.
Both roads have been favoured projects of the former National-led Government. But until now they did not feature among the key elements of the Labour-led Government's transport strategy for the city.
The surprise announcement will be part of a new 10-year funding package for Auckland transport, to be released today by Transport Minister Phil Twyford and Auckland Mayor Phil Goff.
The package will focus on public transport, as expected, but the inclusion of funding for the two big roads was not widely anticipated.
Speaking exclusively to the Herald ahead of the announcement, Twyford called the package "the biggest infrastructure programme in New Zealand's history", although he declined to reveal the total amount to be spent.
The package will replace National's 10-year programme costed at $24 billion in 2016, which rose to $26.9b in 2017. That suggests Twyford and Goff will announce funding of $30b or more for the 10-year period.
The announcement marks the start of a major new stage in the development of Auckland transport.
Back in September 2016, the then-transport minister Simon Bridges and then-mayor Len Brown released the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP). It set out priorities for the next 30 years, divided into 10-year blocks.
ATAP represented the first time central and local government in Auckland had taken a fully co-ordinated approach to transport funding.
But it had a problem. The projects in the first 10 years were going to cost $4b more than the funding allocated. Neither party was able to say where the extra money would come from.
In an ATAP update in August last year, that funding gap rose to $5.9b. Twyford and Goff's new plan, ATAP 2, is not expected to have a shortfall.
Penlink has been a priority project for all MPs and local body politicians based in the north of the city, including Labour list MP Marja Lubeck, who is based in Albany. Under the original ATAP it was scheduled for the second decade, but the update last August moved it into the first decade.
Penlink will run through Stillwater to join the motorway at Dairy Flat, taking pressure off the heavily congested arterial route through Silverdale. Twyford told the Herald the new Government will allocate $200 million to get the road built within the next 10 years.
It will be a two-lane highway, future proofed to enable later expansion to four lanes. Twyford said the work will include measures to ease congestion at the Silverdale interchange and improvements to the Northern Busway.
He expected Penlink would be built as a public-private partnership (PPP), which means it's likely to be a toll road. National also proposed it as a toll road.
The expansion of Mill Rd will serve fast-growing industrial and residential areas to the south of the city. The previous Government allocated $82 million to the project in its own ATAP funding, but Twyford said only $2m of that was ever spent.
Mill Rd, like Penlink, was originally scheduled for the second decade of ATAP, but last year was moved into the first decade.
National transport spokesman Jami-Lee Ross and local MP Judith Collins have both argued strongly for it, claiming Labour was ignoring the need to develop the road. Mill Rd is in Collins' Papakura electorate.
Twyford said $500 million will be allocated to Mill Rd in the next 10 years. "It's a vital artery in South Auckland and is essential to managing the surge in growth in the southern corridor."
The work will be on stage one, at the northern end of the project. Twyford said they would add capacity to the existing two-lane local road, relieve congestion at intersections, make safety improvements at the north end, connect to the new special housing areas and provide a new interchange at Drury South.
There will also be route protection and land purchases to enable stage two, at some stage in the future, which will focus on the southern section of the road.
The funding of both projects will come as a surprise to many because recent transport debates have focused more on public transport and cycling. But in the recently released draft Government Policy Statement on Transport, 78 per cent of the funding nationwide was scheduled for roads.
"Both Penlink and Mill Rd are local roads," said Twyford. "And despite what some people say they were never dropped from our plans."
He described them as the kind of roads that were "starved of funding" by the National-led government. In a reference to National's so-called Roads of National Significance, he blamed the previous government's "obsession with a few gold-plated super-roads".
Twyford said ATAP 2 is the result of "months of work" by central Government, Auckland Council and Auckland Transport.
"We've got a new set of priorities now. The new ATAP will be an important step towards creating a world-class transport system for Auckland by creating a genuine congestion-free alternative to the current situation."
He confirmed the central focus would be on public transport, especially rapid transit. That means light rail and dedicated bus routes like the Northern Busway.
There would also be a renewed emphasis on walking and cycling infrastructure, and on improving the safety and efficiency of local roads.
"Improvements to roads are important to support the rapid greenfields growth in some parts of the city," he said. Drury is one of those areas. The Auckland Council expects it will see over 40,000 new homes built and around 20,000 new jobs created in the next 30 years.
Putting the focus on rapid transit means there will be more projects than those already announced. The Government has already said it wants to build light rail from downtown Auckland through Mt Roskill and Mangere to the airport, and a new rapid busway from Puhinui (near Manukau) to the airport.
Twyford confirmed other rapid transit projects would also be funded, but declined to say what they would be. He and Goff will announce the details of ATAP 2 at midday today.
Extra rapid transit projects that could be started in the next 10 years include light rail alongside the Northwest Motorway to Westgate, a rapid bus route from Manukau through Botany to Howick, a rapid bus route through Hillsborough and more rapid bus routes on the North Shore.