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?