The Government’s announcement on the future of Auckland Light Rail (ALR) and the second Waitematā Harbour crossing represents a transformational and long-sighted solution to Auckland’s transport woes, as well as a huge opportunity for the transport, construction and infrastructure sectors.
In late January, the Government selected the Auckland Light Rail Establishment Unit’s $14.6 billion preferred option of partially tunnelled light rail over a 24km route. It will be tunnelled from Wynyard Quarter, through Auckland’s city centre to Mount Roskill, from where it will run above ground to Māngere and on to the airport. It will be capable of carrying up to 15,000 passengers per hour and is estimated to enable the construction of up to 66,000 new homes by 2051. The project encompasses plans for 18 new stations and is expected to create 97,000 jobs.
Within the context of New Zealand’s broader infrastructure deficit, this is exactly the kind of investment we need. This is New Zealand’s biggest ever infrastructure project, which on its own is a massive catalyst for economic development and job creation. It will reduce travel times and connect Auckland’s communities, including some not currently on the public transport network. Once delivered, it will provide a future-proofed network for the whole city, transforming the city and the way people move around it.
We simply cannot afford not to complete this project. Auckland is only going to keep growing, and projects like this are only going to become more expensive. Delivering a pipeline of projects under a plan like this is always more efficient, and projects of this scale and duration will allow the sector to respond, upskill and deliver.
More information about the endorsed option is available here.
The Government has also committed to accelerating an additional Waitematā Harbour crossing. Public consultation on the crossing will begin this year, with a preferred option to be selected in 2023.
Minister of Transport Hon Michael Wood noted Infrastructure New Zealand’s comments in the House the week before last when answering a Parliamentary Question – that we are mindful things can change over successive terms of government, and that we need to step aside from politics and just get this done.
While these projects are welcome news, continued buy-in will depend on ensuring disruption to residents, businesses and commuters is minimised. The Auckland City Rail Link project has severely affected many businesses resulting in some disengagement. The same frustration can be said of big infrastructure projects such as Transmission Gully, where great promise and anticipation is turning to frustration over cost blowouts and delays. Hopefully lessons can be learnt from these projects.
Similarly, planned rail cancellations in Auckland over the Christmas period to address a range of maintenance issues and allow for work on the City Rail Link caused significant disruption to commuters during January, even though the works were desperately needed and the work done was laudable.
But at the same time, Fullers was forced to cancel 15 services – nine of which were contracted to Auckland Transport – due to a shortage of skilled workers. Replacement buses unable to carry electric scooters and bikes compounded the situation, which inevitably saw commuters back in private vehicles, causing significant road congestion.
Public transport is a core component in improving transport outcomes. It plays a key role in reducing ever increasing road congestion, the demand for – and expense of – new roads, allows for more efficient and transformational use of existing transport networks, and contributes significantly to our reduced emissions goals.
The lesson in all of that is that public transport needs to be a genuine, viable choice that Kiwis choose to use because it is efficient and effective – not because private vehicle use is a better option due to poor service delivery, or is artificially made less attractive.
Maintenance and upgrade work will always be necessary, but commuters need to be taken on that journey too, ensuring they remain invested in public transport and are not just taken for a ride.