There has been a reasonably large bundle of transportation news in the last week or so to come out. I definitely don’t see this blog as being a news source, as personally I find that a little boring, but I probably should at least keep somewhat up to date with what’s going on.
Probably the big piece of news in the last couple of days has been confirmation that Auckland City Council is slashing projects left, right and centre in order to keep rate increases under control. Whilst this was rather inevitable, subsequent to John Banks’ election as mayor last year and his accompanying Citizens and Ratepayers council, it’s still a rather major kick in the guts for Auckland’s future. It’s pretty much universally accepted that transportation is a huge issue in Auckland, and that our transport system is horrifically lop-sided in its dependence upon the private vehicle. A few days ago John Banks seemed in agreement with this view, arguing like crazy for the incoming government to invest heavily in Auckland’s infrastructure. Yet when it comes to Auckland City doing its bit, he’s off running in the opposite direction like crazy. Having the cycling and walkway budget being slashed from $27 million to $4 million over the next 10 years is utter insanity, when most of our transportation policies commit to further encouraging walking and cycling – not only for their important effect on reducing traffic flows, but also for their health benefits. $4 million over 10 years is practically little more than paying council staff members, so we certainly won’t see any improvements over that time. Even some of the cuts to roading projects are nonsensical, with an upgrade to Tiverton Road and Wolverton Street getting the boot, even though a motorway (due to open in April next year) is about to feed a significant amount of traffic onto an arterial route that already struggles big time at peak hour. $400 million has also been sliced off the AMETI project (which is a huge roadsfest, so I have no problems there).
So much, it seems, for trying to drag Auckland into the 21st century. So much for trying to make us a world class city. While I do understand that councils are in a pretty unenviable situation with regards to having to be funded by rates dollars alone, the prioritisation of funding is certainly annoying. In the end I think the big hope is that Auckland City Council won’t actually survive as an entity for the next 10 years. The Royal Commission for reorganising Auckland’s local government is due to report back in March next year, and will hopefully lead to a significant revamp of how local government operates in Auckland. I would hope that we’ll end up with a significantly more powerful regional council supported by about 20 small community councils. Issues such as planning and transportation will end up in the hands of the regional council, which will hopefully lead to far better integration and consistency across the region. With the extra power hopefully Auckland will have a better chance at ensuring it gets it fair share of the ‘pie’, and has a bit more money to spend on important projects such as public transportation, walking and cycle routes.
Another interesting news story that emerged this week was the possiblity of extending the Northern Busway from its current terminus at Constellation Drive all the way up to Orewa. This would be a very significant extension, potentially quadrupling the length of the current busway, at a significant cost of $700 million to $1.2 billion. I have kind of mixed feelings about this proposal. To start with the positive, I can see the point of extending the busway at least to Albany. Although I’ve never been on the busway at peak hour, I imagine that the trip is fairly severely slowed down between Constellation Drive and Greville Road in particular by the need for buses to share motorway space with general traffic along what is actually a fairly congested stretch of road. Having to cut across Constellation Drive when heading northbound also is probably non-ideal, especially at evening peak. So this stretch of the busway would be particularly useful in my opinion. Unfortunately, this bit of the busway would also be fairly difficult to construct, as the Constellation Station and the existing busway is on the eastern side of State Highway 1, while the Albany Station (and the easier gradients for construction) are on the western side of the motorway. Cue expensive bridges and tunnels. Regarding what happens further north than Albany, in reality that bit of motorway doesn’t really get congested particularly badly and I don’t see what advantage a busway would have over buses running along existing lanes of the motorway. Perhaps as a long term project where the alignment could become a railway it would make more sense.
In any case, just because a project isn’t justifiable at the moment it shouldn’t mean that future planning for it disappears. The Transport Agency should proceed with designating all the necessary space for the whole future busway as soon as possible, so that it is at the very least future proofed. The last thing they want is for someone to go and build a new apartment building right in the way of where the busway would eventually end up going. But as for construction, I definitely think additional busways out east should happen before this project. That’s where the real problems are.