It has been a long time since we heard anything about the City Centre to Mangere light rail project. Delays to what was meant to be the government’s flagship transport initiative seem to stem from a revelation back in February that a frankly bizarre proposal from the NZ Super Fund was being entertained, which proposed a very different design including tunnelling under Queen Street. This from the Herald article at the time:
A radical plan to tunnel below Queen St for modern trams is being considered by the New Zealand Super Fund, which wants to roll out Auckland’s $6 billion light rail project with an international partner.
A political source has told the Weekend Herald the country’s pension fund was looking at tunnelling below Queen St to provide a faster and safer route through the city centre…
…A spokeswoman for the Super Fund would not comment on specifics for light rail, but said it was working with international and local experts to refine its proposal with a focus on fresh thinking.
Tunnelling below Queen St would be extremely complex, cause major disruption and cost more, but was indicative of the long-term outcomes the fund had in mind for one of the biggest projects New Zealand had seen.
“We believe that light rail has the potential to be transformative for Auckland’s urban development and public transport network,” the spokeswoman said.
As I said at the time, you wouldn’t go and build another CRL to then run light rail on the street outside the city so the plan would likely have also involved even more tunnelling or building an elevated line the entire length of Dominion Rd and none of this would come cheap.
However, several comments from Minister of Transport Phil Twyford in recent months seem to suggest that the government is considering the Super Fund proposal seriously, and that the project is proceeding slower than previously expected.
Last week there was some discussion about light-rail in the media for the first time in ages, with comments from Mayor Phil Goff suggesting that we might see some progress in the relatively near future.
Work on Auckland’s long-discussed light rail network could begin next year, with Mayor Phil Goff expecting decisions to come from the Government “reasonably soon”.
The Labour-led Government took over the project from Auckland Council after committing in the 2017 election to build it, but Transport Minister Phil Twyford is keeping tight-lipped on when the lengthy procurement process might be settled.
Little has been heard of where the Government is heading since it sought proposals in May 2018, and flagged that it also had a bid from the Super Fund to finance and build Auckland lines.
“I am assured they (Government) are in the home straight in terms of making those decisions and that, hopefully commencement will start next year,” Goff told Stuff.
The article also revealed a bit more information about what has been happening behind the scenes over the past year.
The head of Light Rail Carl Devlin, did outline the state of paperwork on both the Māngere and northwest lines.
Devlin said an indicative business case for the Māngere line had gone to Treasury and the Ministry of Transport for feedback, before being fleshed out into a full business case.
“When this occurs, there will be more clarity around timing, staging and estimated costs,” wrote Devlin.
“Investigations for the (northwest) line are at a very early stage and still require a lot of work to develop a business case.”
It’s good that work on the business case has progressed, as it will form a key part of the design process where route options get tested and refined – as well as a lot of technical work being done to really understand and maximise the benefits the project can bring. It’s also worth remembering that this is just another stage in the business case process where earlier, less detailed cases have already been completed.
Hopefully the business case documents will be made public soon, because the current lack of information is leading to a lot of myths about the project going relatively unchallenged. For example, this letter to the editor appeared in the Herald last week:
This idea that running on-street light-rail will take away space for buses and cars along Queen Street and Dominion Road seems to be held quite widely – even among transport professionals I’ve talked to who probably should know better. So let’s make two key points:
- Light-rail will replace bus services along Queen Street and Dominion Road, so therefore won’t conflict with them. In fact one of the main reasons why we need light-rail is because there are only so many buses we can stuff in the city centre and we’re reaching those limits. Dominion Rd is the busiest isthmus corridor so replacing those with light-rail frees up capacity for more buses from elsewhere.
- Light-rail will not reduce the number of general traffic lanes along Dominion Road, although we should think about doing that in certain locations, instead at peak times it will replace the bus lanes and outside peak times it will replace the on-street parking. There’s currently one lane of general traffic capacity in each direction now and there will remain one lane of general traffic capacity.
The images below show (conceptually) a before and after of how the street might look:
Obvious there are design details to be worked through, especially in the village centres, where we should consider having no cars (below), and how we find the space for bike lanes (which is totally possible). But in general, traffic capacity along Dominion Road is unchanged at peak times. In fact, with fewer conflicting movements from right-turning traffic (which will need to use signalised intersections and not cut across the tracks) it’s entirely possible traffic will run more smoothly along this road.
Hopefully we hear more about light-rail soon.