Auckland Business Forum chairman Michael Barnett says the region is still playing catch-up when it comes to road spending and development, despite new projects being announced by the new Government.

He welcomes the commitment by the Key administration to complete the existing arterial network but says there needs to be a vision beyond 2015. "With a complete roading network you have options and choices, especially for public transport."

Barnett applauds Transport Minister Steven Joyce's prompt decision on the State Highway 20 Waterview link in Avondale and the Victoria Park tunnel approach to the Auckland Harbour Bridge as a benefit to business which would make a significant contribution to GDP.

Barnett says it is possible to "consult to death" on infrastructure but the need to have an integrated transport system for moving people and freight efficiently across Auckland is paramount. "There have been knowingly a lot of mistruths around the Waterview link. There are people who talk about the loss of green space but that green space was designated for road or rail. There were people who bought houses or land there in the past 20 years who knew there were designations for road or rail."

He says the environmental planning of motorways has improved dramatically in recent years and people should welcome the new links. "At the end of the day we do need a network of roads and once we have done that we can look at better bus services and things like congestion charges."

The public debate has moved on from a single solution to Auckland's transport needs, such as a choice between better public transport and more roads, to a comprehensive approach. "There is no one silver bullet to Auckland's transport needs"

Barnett says people are starting to look at the productivity gains that could be achieved by an efficient transport network but planning for future transport needs is inadequate. "We are planning ... not future-proofing. We are standing still. By 2015 when the network is complete we will have done little else but stood still."

He urges people to look at developments such a third harbour crossing, an east-west link and better roads to extend Auckland into Northland and Waikato.

The forum was formed in 1999 out of frustration at the increasing time-cost to businesses - estimated at $1 billion annually - arising from Auckland's severe traffic congestion. Its members include the Auckland Regional Chamber of Commerce, EMA (Northern), Ports of Auckland, Auckland International Airport, NZAA and National Road Carriers. The NZ Council for Infrastructure Development is an associate member. The forum believes Auckland's traffic congestion is due to a long-standing failure to build a transport system which is able to keep pace with the region's economic growth and lifestyle.

National Road Carriers executive director David Aitken welcomes the Government's stated commitment to complete the transport network.

"We have to complete the network [but] we can't stop. We need more roads. Any improvement in the roads we are happy with, but is it enough?"

Aitken, who represents 2400 members (mostly North Island carriers), says a third harbour crossing is necessary to cope with a projected increase in immigration and population growth.

"Carriers make 500,000 trips in the Auckland region every day but this is going to double by 2025. We need a lot more infrastructure to deal with it."

EMA (Northern) chief executive Alasdair Thompson says progress on the transport network also owed something to the previous Labour-led Government.

"The last Government made a sea change when it got cracking on a whole lot of projects - it established a six-year funding process and committed 100 per cent of all the money collected in road charges and transport to be spent on transport.

Auckland for the first time in living memory had reinvested in it the same amount people were paying in road-user charges and the like.

"Then along came a new Government and a competent minister, Steven Joyce, who made tough decisions."

He describes Joyce's decision on the Waterview link - a mix of above-ground roading and tunnels - as "first class".

"This was a quick, good decision ... This is not as costly as [Labour's] full-tunnel deal. It also allows for growth in widening to three lanes in the future.

"The Victoria Park decision is good but not quite as dramatic."

Thompson says he is concerned there is no provision for new major projects once the transport network is completed. "Once we have completed the network there is really no plan for any new motorway or highway in Auckland.

"We should be absolutely clear on what we are going to do after 2015."

New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development chief executive Stephen Selwood says although signs for the future of Auckland's infrastructure are encouraging, nothing can be certain until the region's governance is sorted out.

"Until you have a united view about the shape of Auckland, you are always going to have short-term incremental infrastructural decisions being made."

Selwood says the hope is there would be alignment between a 20-year Government infrastructure plan and a spatial plan by the new Auckland Council.

"I am confident that there is steady alignment but I'm not sure that all the deals are joined."

He says if the Government and Auckland can work hand-in-hand, infrastructural development could be shown to be important in shaping the future of the country and "important in its own right".

"If you strengthen Auckland's ability to make strategic decisions, it will challenge the rest of the country to be proactive ... There is a national opportunity to make a difference," he says.

The enthusiasm that business is showing for Auckland's new roads is in contrast to the direction of the Auckland Regional Transport Authority (Arta), which tends to favour public transport over roads.

While Arta talks of the need for a transport system to "support national economic growth and prosperity", it places considerable weight on community rights, what it calls "environmental sustainability", human health and personal security than the need to build (or complete) roads.

It talks of the need to implement "behaviour-change programmes" to switch people from using cars to public transport, walking or cycling. It does, however, support car-pooling.

Arta, whose future is uncertain with the reorganisation in Auckland governance, says it would like greater investment in regional arterial roads to improve connections with neighbouring regions. It would like a shift in spending from state highways to local roads, public transport, walking and cycling.

It says investment in public transport services and infrastructure has not kept pace with the growth in travel demand. "This means that for many people there is little or no choice but to use private vehicles," it says in a paper on its proposed strategic direction.

"It also means Auckland has only recently started to develop high-capacity reliable public transport on major routes where public transport has the ability to significantly contribute to reduction in congestion and provision of more environmentally sustainable transport."

Arta, the country's only regional transport authority, was established in 2004 to plan, fund and develop a successful transport system for the region. It is responsible for what it describes as the "integrated planning and funding of transport (excluding state highways) throughout the Auckland region" but has been overshadowed by the recent Government approval of major transport projects.

AIRPORT-CBD LINK 'ESSENTIAL'

A dedicated transport link between Auckland airport and the commercial business district is essential to lift the region's tourism standing, Tourism Auckland CEO Graeme Osborne says. "My sense is that we are not any closer to that thing materialising. According some greater priority to an airport-CBD link is pretty important."

Osborne says cities like Dublin and Beijing have invested heavily in dedicated CBD-airport links.

"The trip from the airport to the CBD is absolutely essential to create a positive first impression."

He says with 1.8 million people coming through Auckland Airport every year - about 70 per cent of international arrivals and departures - an airport-CBD link cannot be left to chance.

"I think the cycleway is a successful new product innovation but I think the house has got to be in order as well. The airport-CBD link is on the list and we have to keep pushing for it."

The case for investing in visitor infrastructure is strong and extends to better waterfront transport links and improved parking for campervans.

Osborne says the best option for an airport-CBD link is rail but concedes that Dublin and Beijing have successful road links.

But rail has all been ruled out in the short to medium term by Auckland International Airport Ltd. Former chief executive Don Huse told the New Zealand Herald in 2007 the long-term solution for surface access to the airport is public transport, including a rail link to the city, but said completing road networks should come first.

"The capital cost of putting rail in place is enormously expensive. The rolling stock is enormously expensive and running the service is enormously expensive," he said then.

"We are somewhat sanguine about rail."

A airport company spokesman said this month the company remained committed to more efficient travel between the CBD and the airport and supported proposals such as "clear routes" to make bus and car travel quicker.

Work is under way on widening Mangere Bridge and its approaches and the long-planned western ring road now extends to Mt Roskill.