This week is shaping up to be an important one for the future of transport in Auckland with updates expected on both the government’s funding of the City Rail Link and the final Auckland Transport Alignment Project report due to be publicly released. Both issues are understood to have been discussed in the government’s Cabinet meeting yesterday. Tomorrow the council will hold a special meeting of the governing body behind closed doors to get updates on the decisions made so a public response can be made when the information is released, expected to be Thursday.
This meeting has been called to consider progress with central government on the City Rail Link and the Auckland Transport Alignment Project.
The above reports were not available at the time of going to print as the content is contingent on cabinet consideration that has yet to take place. The reason for urgency is to enable the council to respond quickly following that cabinet consideration.
While we wait for the Thursday, here are a few questions and thoughts I’ve had and will be keeping an eye on when the announcement happens.
City Rail Link
- Will the government fund 50% of the project?
- As we know the council are already funding ~$250 million for the early works on the project which will see cut and cover tunnels dug from Britomart to south of Wyndham St. This was needed in part so developments like Commercial Bay on the old Downtown mall site could proceed. Will any government funding commitment cover the entire project including a share of the early works or will it only apply to the rest of the project?
- If a formal funding announcement isn’t made, does that leave it up to the next council to agree on the outcome. Does that create a risk that if enough incoming Councillors are hostile to the project we could see delays?
- Will any funding be announced for other improvements to the rail network to enable the CRL to operate better, for example for more trains, more cross-overs, signalling enhancements, the much needed third main or a number of other potential upgrades.
Auckland Transport Alignment Project
- Focus on the first decade – ATAP breaks future projects down by the approximate decade they will be needed. Given how rapidly things can change, the modelling gets more inaccurate the longer in the future something is so any project more than a decade out might as well be ignored. An exercise like ATAP is probably needed ever 5-10 years to ensure we’re on the right track and those projects can be reviewed and re-prioritised then.
- Road Pricing – Prior to ATAP, discussions around road pricing have existed solely as a way to try and raise additional revenue. Yet it can also be used to encourage people not to drive at certain times which can in turn have a big impact on congestion. The results in the interim report were very positive and as a result we saw the first signs the government were softening on the issue – Newshub reports this softening has continued. I don’t expect we will see specific details about any road pricing scheme but an indication of when one may be needed is likely. I also expect this will be the area most focused on by the media.
- Future Technology – whether it be the likes of Uber or autonomous vehicles, almost daily there is talk of role technology could have in changing transport in the future. ATAP has been looking at the potential impacts and the Interim Report noted there are potentially quite positive impacts, but the big uncertainty will be how much and when those impacts might be seen. I don’t expect this report to answer that question and again why this exercise is probably needed on a set basis.
- Government Funding the plan – Funding the CRL is one thing but with both the council and government finally expected to be on the same page around Auckland’s transport priorities, attention is going to have to turn to how we fund it. ATAP should give a better indication of both the quantum and timing of the funding needed. I hope we’ll see an initial response from the government at the same time as the report is released.
- Mayoral candidate response – The Mayoral hopefuls are out promising projects to voters. How will Vic Crone respond if ATAP says an additional harbour crossing isn’t anywhere near a priority or what about Phil Goff if light rail is in the same boat? Whoever is elected mayor is likely going to need to come up with additional funding to help pay for the projects needed. How will this sit with candidates promising to cap or cut rates?
What are the things you’ll be looking for with both the CRL and ATAP are made public?