The government have been strong supporters of light rail in Auckland, it’s even built into their support agreement with the Greens where it notes:

Work will begin on light rail from the city to the airport in Auckland

The NZTA have been tasked with building it but they’re only in the early stages of process and given the size and complexity of a project like light rail, it could take years before any construction agreement is signed. Despite that, like the CRL many years ago, there are plenty out there who want to see the project cancelled.

Arguably one of the most important steps on the long journey that is the City Rail Link was the Council funding the early works programme that is seeing the tunnels built from Britomart to Wyndham St. It showed everyone, the government, land owners, the business sector and the general public that they were serious about it and it was notable how much the noise surrounding the project then died down.

This example got us thinking about if we need an ‘early works’ type programme for light rail too. Something that the engineers at the NZTA sink their teeth into while we the rest of the project is being tendered. Here are a few candidates:

Karangahape Rd Underpass

For most of the route between the city and Mt Roskill, light rail will be at grade within the road corridor but in dedicated lanes separated from traffic. At intersections it will have priority over lights to ensure a reliable journey. The one major exception to this is at Karangahape Rd where light rail is expected to duck under the intersection for a station and to help with the grade at the top of Queen St.

The K Rd area is expected to see significant change in coming years. The enhancements project is due to start later this year will help improve walking and cycling, and we definitely don’t want to hold that up. It is due to be completed in early 2020. That’s about the time the City Rail Link is likely to be getting underway. If we’re going to have light rail running within the next 5-10 years, we’re going to need to build the underpass through all of this. Building it sooner might give us a chance to get it completed before the worst of the CRL related disruption ramps up.

There are other benefits too, for example it gives more impetus to upgrading the likes of Cross St as a connection between the CRL and light rail.

Upper Queen St Bridge

It’s possible that the Upper Queen St bridge over the motorway will need to be strengthened to be able to carry light rail. Getting on and getting it done sooner makes one less thing to make the actual light rail contract more complicated.

Dominion Rd Flyover removal

One of the big changes we understand will be required is the removal of the Dominion Rd interchange, built in the 1960’s for a thankfully long abandoned motorway project.

As well as getting what could be a fairly complex job out of the way there are a couple of other potential advantages.

  • Any works on the rail bridge part of the interchange could hopefully happen at the same time as any disruption from City Rail Link construction at Mt Eden. That could potentially help reduce the overall amount of disruption for western line services.
  • There could be a potential to use some of the spoil from the CRL works to help fill in the underpasses which would help save on truck movements
  • Finally, the biggest reason for doing this is the land opportunity it opens up. As you can see on the image above, the interchange gobbles up significant chunks of land, especially for the ramps. As a rough estimate, over 25,000m² could be freed up for redevelopment, more if combined with some of the surrounding private land. With the government wanting to better integrate transport and housing, this could be the perfect site for it.

Manukau Harbour Crossing

The City Centre to Mt Roskill section is currently expected to be the first cab off the rank for light rail but that’s no reason we can’t be planning ahead for future stages. The NZTA need to replace the Old Mangere Bridge, which is over 100 years old, with a new walking and cycling bridge. Instead, building a combined transit and active mode bridge should be considered, much like what some locals have already been suggesting.

Panukau Development Auckland recently purchased the Onehunga wharf for redevelopment and so perhaps a new bridge could tie in with that too.

The big unknown here is what the NZTA eventually decide to do about the East-West link but that shouldn’t really stop a light rail crossing.

Close Queen St to cars

This final one is a bit different to the rest as it’s something that doesn’t require any large infrastruc. In the Queen St valley, people outnumber at least cars six to one, in part because there is no reason for any car to be in Queen St. There are no driveways or carpark entrances, only shops and lots of people. The plans for light rail already turning into a transit mall with just light rail and wider footpaths. So why not just do that part now?

Queen St ©Patrick Reynolds 2015
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  1. The point of early works programmes is to bias the analysis. Any money you spend becomes a sunk cost and doesn’t get included in the economic assessment. So if that is your goal then the best way is start on the most expensive bit that provides no benefits on its own. I guess that is the underpass.

    1. The early works programme that resulted in the Dom Rd flyover didn’t provide any bias to achieve the ‘long abandoned’ Dominion motorway.
      So why would early works for LR have any guarantees? If a new govt were determined to look away from LR then these sunk costs just become a complete waste.
      Funding something more useful like advancing Ameti, finishing the WtoW 3rd main, sorting out Puhinui interchange etc. would make more sense than digging an upper Queen St underpass that may eventually go the way of the Dom Rd flyover.

      1. It did bias the assessment of the Central Motorway just as building the Central Motorway on-ramp from Hobson Street created bias in favour of the Central motorway. Those items dropped out of the costs used to promote it at the time. The fact that the bias wasn’t sufficient to overcome the strong opposition it faced doesn’t mean the Nation Roads Board didn’t do their best to bias the decision.

  2. Whatever happens with light rail it has to happen and be in peoples faces well before the next election. There needs to be rail laid, trams/streetcars visibly running, even if it is to K road from Quay St.

    Fuel taxes with no visible benefits will haunt this government if we do not see something for it very soon. Quite perversely the opposite is happening right now. The oil company leopards have not faded their spots, they’ve just cranked up the price of fuel throughout NZ instead on the back of the Auckland tax, the greedy scum they are.

    It is this government that has talked up a storm over light rail, they are the ones supporting it and as we all know National hate it and given the chance it will be scrapped unless focus groups suggest votes can be won if it is vaguely talked about in policy in a very non committal way.

    If it is not started in early 2019 and thereby committed to, its a dead duck, it’s slow bus PT forever and most of us will remain firmly attached to our cars and gridlock because PT 2018 is still PT 1970’s, just with air conditioned buses and Hop cards.

    Phil, you’ve talked the talk, so where is the walk???

    1. Generally agree.

      The projects that the previous government got going will all come to fruition in this political term.

      The CRL streetscapes, Precinct Property, Sky City Convention Centre, and most waterfront works will all be ready for launch in election year 2020.

      There is a timing to these things that the government’s political offices need to start planning events for.

    2. Effectively spreading the Auckland fuel tax across the whole of NZ may well be a politically strategic move by the oil companies to influence the next election. They know paying Auckland’s fuel tax will pee off a lot of voters nation wide who they are banking upon retaliating , not against the perpetrating oil companies now, especially as they operate with fuzzy coordination, but at next election by voting against the current Government.

      1. The now occuring reduction of the initial full 11.5 cents per litre differential is is independant of the exchange rate. Whilst some is undoubtedly is the Gull effect, there must be an explanation for the remainder, who stands to benifit?

    3. Definitely agree. Central Government needs to be inescapably committed to light rail before the next election. There also needs to be some publicly visible signs of progress (ie physical works underway).

      1. The best way could be doing a Len Brown [ with the CRL ] and get it started before the Gov’t wanted it and when the council started digging they came up with the folding stuff

    4. Governments don’t tend to rise and fall on the back of transport projects. Changes of government occur based on people getting sick of the incumbent government for failing to deal with significant problems and also an appealing leader of the opposition.

      National have already hinted at backing down on Kiwibuild and supporting it, I suspect they will support keeping fuel taxes at the same level Labour has them in 2020 as well. Otherwise they will have to go to the electorate and state that they are canning a whole lot of transport projects in a time of growing congestion.

      1. RE the canning of transport projects – The issue is that by and large the unwashed masses have no idea what a great idea the LR network is.

        Just look at the comments section on Stuff (shudder) every time a CRL or LR article is posted. It’s depressing to see the wealth of uninformed opinions. Sure, there is a selection bias in favour of the naysayers but to what extent?

        One of the biggest challenges with the LR network is conveying the substantial impact without losing people in the numbers. Nobody cares about 100,000 people gaining access to a congestion free network, or that 50,000 houses will be built along the route, or that Dom Rd simply won’t be able to handle the number of buses required five years from now. The numbers are just too big, the problem too large. People switch off.

        Somehow, the powers that be need to break the whole LR idea into smaller chunks that people are more easily able to digest.

        1. It’s worth noting that a lot of the criticism comes from people who think it should be heavy rail or a busway, they are not going to vote for none of the above.

          National don’t have a lot of history of canning Labour government spending when they come into office, they tend to be a status quo party, Labour make the changes. Key spent a lot of time criticising Working for Families in opposition but it was largely unchanged after nine years in power, I wouldn’t read too much into what Bridges is saying now.

          The main reason National will probably still be in opposition in 2020 is a large chunk of their MPs don’t want to win the next election. They are far better off watching the current leadership fail, giving themselves more powerful positions in 2023 or 2026.

  3. I hope they do them all, and take the opportunity when taking down the Dominion Rd flyover to make a big, public thing about the wasted space associated with motorway infrastructure.

    1. I agree with your bar the Dominion Rd flyover.

      The reason it should remain is because it works, really well. We are reaching the point in Auckland where we are making traffic worse by being anti road for the sake of it. Do we really want this?

      Taking it down will cost millions, replacing it with light controlled intersections will cost millions more and with that the traffic flow will be worse than ever, money back guaranteed! And the saving in road space with all that will be minimal.

      To me,its part of Auckland’s history, a statement from the 60’s, a vision since passed (since Stephen Joyce left parliament anyway) but at the same time I like the look.

      There are surely to God better things to spend public money on than stuffing up travel in central Auckland by replacing something that functions perfectly well and costs virtually nothing but a bit of maintenance and replacing it with a giant cluster of intersections!

      1. It does not work ‘very well’ or indeed hardly at all. It wastes huge amounts of valuable space, and creates further place de-valuing severance. In fact it is a perfect real life example of what happens when transport provision is run in a silo divorced from anything but moving tin boxes slightly quicker, and then only for a few hundred metres.

        Dismantling it will not ‘cost millions’. The land value it generates means it will be financially and economically positive. Do it now. Sell or lease the resultant land. Build apartments. Get on with it.

        1. I wish there was a “Like” button here. Agree, the interchange is awful. And it’s a shame we can’t cover Spaghetti Junction somehow to get Newton back… crazy stupid idea but hey.

        2. Anything the council does has many extra zero’s attached. It will cost a fortune to remove and replace.

          Or do you envisage replacing it with nothing, given in your opinion it does nothing to assist travel?

        3. The transport impacts will be interesting to see, and will be large influenced by the details of how it is managed. For starters, trucks serving the new building developments will have to be kept off the roads at (long) peak hours; do AT have the strength to enforce this? Will there be kick-back about ‘restrictions placed on developers,’ etc? Can they, for example, make these restrictions clear to developers before they get involved?

          Secondly, traffic evaporation will happen to some degree, but to make sure this leads to better access and not worse access for people (as opposed to for their cars) they will have to prioritise buses to a high level, and improve pedestrian amenity right from the start, keeping it good right through the building construction period. Do AT have the strength to do that?

          Thirdly, if the northern end of Dominion Rd becomes more congested for cars, and AT don’t find a way to increase the people-flow with better PT and walking, will this push more people south along Dominion Rd to use the SH20, WC and SH16 into town instead?

        4. Nick, I think one of the small green parks that should be part of the development of that land should indeed have a statue commemorating the people forced from their houses in the name of motorway building in Auckland. Seriously, let’s keep that idea alive – it could mark the moment when we changed tack and said “Sorry, Auckland. We’ve created this mess. We’ve created the unhealthy environment that is killing our people. From now on, we’re fixing it instead.”

        5. Well they are already re-prioritising people flow on ian mckinon, making a cycleway out of empty vehicle lanes.

          For bus priority, do they need more than just a buslane that is continuous through the intersection (as they are planning to do with all intersections on Dom Rd already)?

          Do you see a problem with people choosing to use the motorway SH20/SH16 combo into town instead of Dom Rd? Seems good to get the traffic off local roads.

        6. The problem is the SH16 into town can’t take all that traffic. At Pt Chev, where the people who used to get on SH16 into town from the Blockhouse Bay / Avondale direction on GNR, those people are now using the inner west instead, filling up the local roads with traffic. The people coming in on SH16 from the west are having a very slow trip, or getting off and using the SH16 too.

      2. Whilst getting rid of that fly over is a really good idea, I feel that creating the disruption before the benifit is readily apparent will be counter productive towards staying with the current, relatively pro public transport, government next election. Good idea, but the timing will be important.

        1. In this case, I think the large amount of land reclaimed would be quite visible, which could actually harness quite a bit of public support.

      3. I call bullshit on the assertion the current flyover works well. There is always gridlock on New North Road through the underpass, including for buses. An at grade intersection with bus lanes for New North Road would be wayyyy better.

  4. Thinking about it the wrong way. Break the project into two. Airport to Onehunga AND Airport to Manukau then Onehunga to City Centre AND Manukau to Botany.

    You wont get LRT anywhere near the City Centre while CRL works are on without encountering resistance that doesnt need to be had.

    Both Airport to Onehunga and Airport to Manukau can be used as demonstration lines to test proof of concept (both rolling stock and Urban Development) before going into the more complex Dominion Road and City Centre areas.

    Also quick wins for Mangere, Puhinui and Onehunga all which are due for good urban regeneration.

    Last thing, starting at the Airport end allows Onehunga to City Centre to be rezoned better from mainly single use Residential to multi use zoned areas for better viability.

        1. They are working on the master plan which involves runway two. There is some stuff on their website. Realignment of the roads, etc. Includes an LRT station.

          Likely it’s an issue of timing. I think the government can force the issue. I guess it depends on what the airport wants to get from the city/government for their second runway plan.

        2. Their own airport development programme doesn’t sequence with NZTA’s desires.

          Note Puhinui package has been stripped back. AIAL, NZTA, and AT show little real cooperation when it comes to actually getting stuff built.

          Not a good sign.

        3. It’s like I keep saying – AIAL’s rearguard action to protect their parking revenues and access concessions will never end. They keep making enthusiastic noises about rapid transit but when it comes to the crunch they have either found ways to water down initiatives or made excuses not to get on board.

        4. Under the last government (and presumably this one too) I had got the impression there was a cost share debate, since a portion of the road and rail routes go over airport land.

          More to the point, they would need to be shifted under the airport land in anticipation of the second runway.

          The way the story I heard went, while the airport might not be the biggest demand generator, they would be one of the more obvious beneficiary. As such, the value capture argument then comes in here. Thus, what’s a fair contribution?

          I don’t really know anything about how the airport is using and leasing its reserve lands, but one assumes they have their own window for accommodating land use changes within their boundary, which light rail ‘now’ doesn’t align to.

        1. The risk with building it backwards, ie from the point of lowest demand to the highest later is a very very slow start in terms of ridership. Which gives fuel to haters.

          Also it essentially mistakes this project as being all about the airport. It isn’t. The airport is a fine anchor, but is no big generator of demand. And particularly an expensive transit service to an infrequent train at Onehunga is a very poor first showing for this multifaceted project. Especially as the Puhinui link will already be providing a better rail transfer service for the Airport.

          The Island Bay Cycleway shows exactly how this plays. Your plan may make sense if this was a command economy and there was no political risk to staged projects, but it is essential the first revenue service of this line is in the area of greatest demand, of greatest need.

        2. i was thinking this was like the island bay cycleway approach, in hindsight the extremity should have been the last part built. A cycleway from Berhamphore into town would have been much more popular.

        3. What will give fuel to the haters is years of disruption with no service at all. Build the easiest part first, even if it doesn’t make sense in terms of initial patronage, because it will provide a real life demonstration of the quality of light rail. There are very strong political reasons to do this. Kumeu-Westgate would probably be the easiest and quickest build. Get some runs on the board or risk another government coming along and watering down or cancelling the whole thing.

        4. One of the reasons promoted for the EWL was the statement that the SH20 bridge would soon be carrying more traffic than the Auckland Harbour bridge. I’d debate that this will be a low demand route.

          The risk is delayed and without alternative transit options.

          I could even suggest that connecting the NW and Mangere LRT is potentially a better idea in the medium term.

          Fundamentally Onehunga is a key transport node. It’s also a primary residential, industrial and commercial note. The build out starting there is I think needed to get a network that functions properly.

        5. Yes and no. You forget the Airport also has a very large Heavy Industrial Complex that is the fastest growing and the second largest job centre outside of the City Centre itself.

          This is why Airport to Manukau is also Light Rail so that you get a through service through the airport and out to Mangere or Manukau allowing a very large residential catchment call Southern Auckland to catch transit to the Airport or Airport industrial complex. More than enough initial demand to cover this stage for 5 years as well as whatever else comes down Manukau to Airport owing to Puhinui having the Southern Line AND RRR.

        6. 2021 – lol.

          There are no consents, no detailed design, construction wouldn’t be starting until 2022 at the earliest.

        7. Building the link to the airport last, once you have proven patronage on the LR, makes it a lot harder for AIAL to reject the concept as being not worth the effort. If you have public buy-in to LR by that point, AIAL will be under a lot of pressure to put in a station.

          If you start at the airport, they can easily say the idea won’t work, so everyone else has to pay for it.

        8. If the Airport was to reject the stations – except they are not. SH20A is a choke point which impacts Auckland worse than Dominion Road. So get Airport to Onehunga and Airport Manukau and knock out a huge PR problem on the way out – that is SH20A being blocked

  5. Question….I like the idea of building the Manukau Crossing as soon as possible as a combined light rail/active mode bridge plus combining a light rail station at Onehunga wharf to link it with Panukau Development Auckland. But the picture shows car using the bridge. Does the current proposal to upgrade the bridge include future use by cars?

    1. It’s the TOES plan. There is a strong desire from elements of the Mangere Bridge community to have a “local road” connection to Onehunga. I think this alignment with a station in Mangere Bridge township is good. They don’t need a road connection.

      Ultimately I think Onehunga Mall Rd from Neilson St to the port should be closed to non-local traffic. There are ways to move the on/off SH20 ramp to a different alignment.

    2. the more they get done the harder it will be for a future govt to wiggle out of it. And not repeat the mistakes of the past when building a bridge over the Manakau that does not (even tho it was supposed to) take steel rails.

  6. If we’re going to close Queen St to cars can we please consider some pedestrian infrastructure to enable better access from the edges? We’re in a canyon with an ageing population – we need covered escalators (as well as Queen St level access to stations) to actually make Queen St accessible along its length to those engaging with it at the periphery, as many European cities built with challenging topography have long enjoyed (I’m thinking Perugia here). Because Auckland is only flat on a map.
    And architectural drawings aside, filled with happy cyclists on sunny days, how do you actually run a film premiere at the Civic, or an APO season with a black tie audience, if you can’t get near the place in anything except a tram? There’s a lot of detail on the what, not so much on the how or why. What exactly will people do in this city once it’s done, apart from keeping fit?

    1. I would guess the patrons who are driving would park in the Civic car park as they do now. There are no entrances to the Civic car park on Queen Street.

      1. True. And car access for anything but the briefest dropoff is nigh impossible already. But you shouldn’t have to park downstairs to get to a show. We need decent drop zones with covered access to major venues.

        1. There’s a lift at the Civic carpark, to all floors. Is there an accessibility issue with this? It’s a well lit, clean carpark. I can see a far bigger pedestrian amenity issue if there’s a ground level drop off zone.

        2. So, does this idea encompass closing off the major cross-roads along Queen Street too? I don’t see that it has to.

          Without the need to provision for turning traffic onto and off of Queen Street (buses excepted, I guess), and if we ditch streetside parking, I imagine there would be room for P5 drop-points (no vehicular loitering), as well as much simpler pedestrian crossings allowing for more pedestrian-friendly phases.

          The choke on car demand might make doing the underpass easier, too, so these two seem like good candidates for early action.

        3. Another way is people could re-train themselves is to use more outer stations etc as kiss & rides. Eg from the Northshore drop friends family at a busway station or near a Wynyard Qtr light rail stop. Park& rides are usually pretty empty after commute times.

    2. Queen Street has only a modest gradient up to beyond the Town Hall. Under current plans it is to provided with frequent, state of the art, spacious, air conditioned, easy to board, people moving pods travelling its full length, and far beyond, with free travel by gold card for the elderly and seniors. The only thing that could be better is getting it in place earlier.

    3. The problem with Queen st is the City Link has no stop after 280 queen st (before Wellesley st). The bus does not serves up hill along queen street – it detour to Greys Ave.

      Neither the proposed light rail map has any stop in that uphill area as well.

      Therefore the only way to get there is a long uphill walk that require a very fit person and some sweat.

      So the result is that section a has very low pedestrians and limited retail opportunities.

      I would suggest we change the way the City link bus route. The uphill should be queen street and down hill should be Greys Ave. So people can take the bus to avoid the long uphill walk.

      Also there should be a stop in the future Light Rail.

        1. That workaround is indirect and time consuming as it takes 15-20 minutes ride from Wellesley st to k road

    4. The Civic already has bus stops on both sides, it’s literally illegal to stop or park there at any time, black tie gala or not.

      1. Maybe illegal, but take off the utopian glasses and watch them do it! City planning should include the psychology around people choosing to do what they perceive they need, not outlawing behaviours that don’t fit the model.

        Just a moment ago in K’Rd a guy ran in front of me , literally ran, to cross at the top of Queen St against the lights through gaps in the traffic. I might have had the right of way, but he was exercising his right to promote pedestrian use of car lanes, at some personal risk. He got a light beep from me as I braked, and I got a raised middle finger from a retreating sprinter. Because I guess I had employed car-bound 1970s thinking, and he was the future I should embrace. Righto.

  7. Waspman has it all wrong – this is the only grade separated arterial intersection in Auckland so why not treat it like any other major intersection – but using far less precious real estate to do so. Yes it will cost millions to demolish the ramps but there are 10s of millions (arguably up to $100 million) worth of land that can be used for development. There is also the advantage that creating an at grade intersection removes the need for 2 level crossings (George Street, 200m W of Dom Road) and Porters Avenue (200m Et) can be closed – actually Poterts Ave will be closed in about a year for CRL works so replacement of the interchange with an ordinary intersection has a certain urgency. Various council agencies (Panuku, AT, place making, etc.) are working on a TOD (Transit Orientated Development) around the new intersection and light rail station so this project already has substantial legs – unfortunately the rethink of Light Rail under LTNZ is slowing things down but I expect a decision by years end when the business case is due to be approved/released.

    1. Well get it down ASAP, as the contingent removal of two rail level crossings can be sold as an immediate benifit to both road and rail users prior to the next election.

  8. As has been discussed here before, there’s no way light rail will be operating in the CBD before the Americas Cup. However in time for the event we could easily close Queen St to cars and lower speed limits throughout the CBD. These changes would significantly improve pedestrian safety and amenity, both for those attending the event and everyone else.

    1. Waiting for light rail to start in order to close queen street is a risky move. What if light rail got delayed another 10 years?

        1. +1 There seems, sometimes, to be no spine in Auckland’s leadership. Too much consultation, and then more consultation. Too much time is wasted.

  9. It looks to me that they could leave the flyover bridge alone but free up lots of land by removing some of the curvy on ramps. It would require some traffic lights for turning traffic, but the straight through Ian McKinnan and New North road traffic wouldn’t meet. Surely that would be good for light rail too?

    1. It would need a new bridge, which won’t be cheap, the original was not built to take LR. Also LR just needs signal priority, not an expensive bridge. In addition, I’m not sure how appealing development around the intersection would be with a flyover running through the middle of the intersection!

      1. Traffic lights will impact bus travel times on New North Road and cause more bunching.
        I’m not convinced priority will make light rail as fast as a bridge would. How much priority will they really get?
        Will a new bridge cost more than demolition and filling it up?

        1. The loss of value of the surrounding land would certainly make it a more expensive proposition. I agree New North Rd buses will be affected, however given there are a number of other intersections on this route I don’t think this warrants a new bridge.

  10. Agree with all points, but from what I have seen it won’t be going over the Upper Queen St bridge so that won’t need to be done.

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