Yesterday the Board of Inquiry (BOI) released their draft decision to approve the Northern Corridor project. This is the project that will upgrade the last section of SH18 to a motorway and provide a motorway to motorway interchange with SH1. More importantly for us though, it includes a long awaited extension of the Northern Busway from Constellation Dr through to Albany.
An independent board of inquiry appointed to consider an application by the New Zealand Transport Agency, has given its approval to the Auckland-based Northern Corridor Improvements proposal, part of the Government’s accelerated programme of works.
The approval gives the green light to construction of the last link of Auckland’s Western Ring Route, providing an alternative route from South Auckland to the North Shore.
The new road will create an uninterrupted motorway-to-motorway connection along the Western Ring Route – the Hobsonville, Northwestern and Southwestern Motorways (SHs18, 16 and 20) – between Albany and Manukau to the south, upgrading the Upper Harbour Highway to a motorway, and extending the Northern Busway from Constellation to the Albany park-and-ride station.
The New Zealand Transport Agency, Auckland Council, landowners and occupiers affected by the decision, submitters, and the Minister for the Environment, now have 20 working days to provide minor or technical comment to the draft decision document. The Final decision will be released by the Board of Inquiry on the EPA website in November 2017.
The process has been going on some time, concurrent to the same process for the East-West Link but is a project that has far less opposition due to its multi-modal nature. Although it should be noted that wasn’t always the case as when the government originally announced, then transport minister Gerry Brownlee specifically excluded the busway despite officials saying it was needed. That the busway is included is hugely positive and will represent the first major PT project in Auckland the government have will initiated.
The NZTA are understandably pleased with the result and note that they hope to start construction in 2018.
I haven’t been through the full report but have skimmed a few sections of it and the conditions, here are a few interesting things I noted.
One of the big challenges is obviously going to be about mitigating impacts from construction activities and there appears to be a lot of detail about exactly that in the conditions report. One of the conditions is that the NZTA have to develop and agree with Auckland Transport “acceptable performance thresholds” and included in that are thresholds on “Convenience to public transport patrons” and “Public transport patronage”. If those thresholds are not being met then some of the suggested ways to get back to meeting them is to
- Methods to provide further prioritisation of bus services on certain routes;
- Methods to provide bus priority beyond the site(s) of the construction activity;
- The provision of additional or revised bus services to respond to delays/frequency of service;
Perhaps the NZTA could avoid all that altogether by building the busway first. That could presumably be done with relatively minimal impact to the motorway and provide a viable alternative for many more people while the motorway works take place. The report does note that “the indicative work programme reveals that the Busway will be constructed at an early stage in the Project“.
On future proofing the busway for a Rosedale station and a future conversion to light rail, the report notes
The future-proofing of the Busway is incorporated in the design as there remains scope for a future station at Rosedale, and the possibility of extending the Busway further north from Oteha Valley Road is retained. Also, the Transport Agency appears to be firm in its desire to maintain a maximum gradient on the Busway of 5% (subject to detailed design) in order to provide for the efficient operation of the present bus fleet and the possibility of light rail in future.
There appears to be a good general level of support for the walking and cycling improvements in the project and our friends at Bike Auckland had some good wins, including this agreement with the NZTA (SUP refers to a Shared Use Path)
The only opponent against both the busway and the active mode improvements appears to be David Willmott, who once stood for Mayor on a banner of “Roads First” and whose organisation is called the Centre for Urban and Transport Studies (CUTS) but opposes any urban transport. The report says:
His submission was that “the provision of a separate Busway for Bus Rapid Transit is a ‘nice to have luxury’ which compounds the already inefficient use of scarce resources.”
while on the cycleway improvements he:
opposed for the reason that the SUP on SH1 will compromise any future increase in the provision for general traffic.
Any readers up for a challenge could read his whole submission to the BOI.
Now we wait for the East-West Link decision