With 2019 drawing to a close I thought I’d pull together a quick post wrapping up the most important things that happened during the year.
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City Rail Link
The country’s biggest transport project got a billion dollars bigger this year as a result future-proofing for 9-car trains ($250m), increased contingency costs ($310m), increased construction costs ($327m) and other increases, such as property purchases ($152m).
Work on the project has continued through the year and the early works tunnels, from Britomart to Wyndham St, are now complete with works now focusing on reinstating Albert St and lower Queen St. In November some members of the public got their first glimpse of those tunnels with a public walk through.
The contract for the main works which will see new stations and the bored tunnels built from Mt Eden to Aotea was awarded in July and works have now started with demolition around Mt Eden and Karangahape. Works for the project will become much more visible in the new year as the project ramps up.
Light rail has been probably the biggest disappointment of the year. The project was picked up by the government as a flagship policy during their election campaign in 2017 but by the end of 2019 we seem no closer to it being even started. Much of this appears to be due to a bizarre process the government have undertaken following a proposal from the NZ Superfund and their Canadian counterparts (CDPQ). It appears the Superfund have proposed building something more like an automated light metro system, which while likely good, is also likely to be very expensive and effectively require a second CRL. We don’t know the details of the proposal but based on what CDPQ have done in the past, such as in Montreal, it would not be great for taxpayers.
This process, which is now claimed to only be choosing a delivery partner and not a project but as mentioned, this is a bizarre way of doing it. The government will make that delivery partner decision in February but regardless of what happens, it has likely delayed light rail by years.
The long awaited Eastern Busway that will link Panmure with Pakuranga and eventually Botany finally got underway this year. The Panmure to Pakuranga section is expected to open in 2021.
Puhinui Interchange / Airport to Botany
The first stage of the Airport to Botany Rapid Transit route, an impressive $60 million upgrade of the Puhinui Station, also started construction this year. Once complete the station will allow for an easy transfer between trains and a high-frequency bus that will initially run from the Airport to Manukau. There are other early improvements being made such as priority lanes along SH20B, on which construction will be started early in the new year. The station is expected to open in early 2021.
That bus will eventually extend all the way to Botany and possibly beyond as part of a busway along the route. Those future stages will see a bus only bridge span the rail line and hooked directly into the Puhinui Station.
Public Transport fares were an important discussion early in the year following the last round of fare increases by Auckland Transport. Those changes spurred our friends at Generation Zero to launch a campaign to freeze fares. We’ll likely hear about more fare changes for 2020 in January but the action did spur some changes with more targeted action such as making PT free for children on weekends.
Public transport ridership grew strongly over 2019 following the main completion of the rollout of the new bus network during 2018. The increase saw us break through the 100 million trips milestone in May as ridership rose from 96 million to 103 million throughout the year – approximately an 8% increase. It looks like it will be hard to maintain this level of growth through 2020.
Throughout 2019 the downtown area has been a sea of cones with a large number of projects underway to upgrade the area into a more people friendly waterfront. This also ties in with the City Rail Link works and the Commercial Bay development and represents a huge transformation for the waterfront area. These works have included the strengthening of the Quay St seawall, the upgrade of Quay St, the new ferry berths along Queens Wharf and more recently works to upgrade Lower Albert St.
One project that was announced but then put on hold was a replacement for the Te Wero bridge connecting the Viaduct with Wynyard.
Electric scooter hire was kicked off in late 2018 when Lime launched in October and since then there has been a media frenzy about them. At the beginning of the year Lime was temporarily banned after they had technical issues which saw wheels sometimes lock up. They came back though and had their licence extended along with a few other companies, Wave and Flamingo, to also launch their scooters. These also came with ridiculous speed limits for some areas. Both Lime and Wave were then kicked out but with a few new companies allowed to launch their scooters which will happen in the new year.
In February Auckland Transport launched consultation to change the speed limits on 700km of roads around Auckland as part of a drive to improve road safety.. Most were rural but the majority of attention focused on the city centre where it was proposed to reduce speed limits to 30km/h.
The outcome of the consultation was delayed till after the election when the board approved the changes with the biggest change being that some of the more dangerous city centre streets, Fanshawe, Hobson and Nelson streets were only dropped to 40km/h. These changes will be implemented in 2020.
While on the topic of safety, there have been improvements in the number of deaths on our roads during 2019. As at 26-December there have been 347 deaths on our roads this year compared with 371 as at the same time in 2018. However, this December has been horrific on the roads and is likely to be the deadliest December since 2008.
The council consulted this year on a refresh of the City Centre Masterplan. The current version has been instrumental in pushing for a more people focused city and key spawned projects like the Victoria St Linear Park. There were two big changes/additions to the CCMP
Access for Everyone – a fundamental change to how people will get around and through the city centre, making it much more pedestrian friendly
Grafton Gully Multiway Boulevard – a plan to make Grafton Gully a much more people friendly area and allow for significant redevelopment that could be home to thousands more residents and workers.
For much of 2019 it was disappointingly quiet for cycling projects despite all of the political alignment supporting them. However that did start to turn around near the end of the year with construction starting on a number of projects. Towards the end of the year we’ve had the following projects start construction:
- Northcote bridges – two new bridges alongside the Northcote motorway interchange for walking and cycling.
- Karangahape Rd streetscape upgrade, which includes a cycleway.
- New Lynn to Avondale path – this includes an underpass under the rail line being built during the Christmas/New Year shutdown.
- Victoria St Cycleway
We also had the big news on
Skypath Auckland Harbour Bridge Path with the NZTA taking over the project and announcing a significantly beefed up design. My guess is we’ll hear more about it early in the new year.
Local Body Elections
Local body elections in Auckland saw a lot of heat emerging from Phil Goff’s main challenger, John Tamihere, but not a lot of light. Transport has featured strongly in all the elections since amalgamation and this time was no different with Tamihere proposing a bunch of wacky ideas, such as double decking the harbour bridge. It didn’t amount to much though and Phil Goff ended up winning with a massive margin.
There were a number of other changes at the council table too, including long term councillor Mike Lee losing his seat to Pippa Coom.
Things that haven’t happened
Disappointingly there have been a number of high profile projects that seem to have had little progress this year. These include
- The third main between Otahuhu and Wiri
- Electrification to Pukekohe
- Rapid Transit to the Northwest
- ATs Connected Communities programme
I think that’s enough for this post, there is plenty more that could be included in here so let me know in the comments if there’s anything major I’ve missed.
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