Yesterday Waka Kotahi NZTA made a bit of a non-announcement announcement about future harbour crossings, saying that on Friday they’ll be releasing the latest business case which says they need another business case. Importantly though, for the first time they publicly confirm that a rail based public transport crossing is needed ahead of any new road crossing.

The latest stage of work to support Auckland’s growth and the future of the transport system across the Waitematā Harbour will be released later this week.

The Additional Waitematā Harbour Connections business case lays out the immediate next steps for improving connectivity and travel choice, as well as a roadmap for longer term planning to ensure resilient, reliable and efficient transport options in this nationally significant corridor.

A partnership approach between Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, Auckland Transport and Auckland Council has built on previous work including AT developing the public transport network and Waka Kotahi exploring the feasibility of a tunnel crossing.

“The incident in September which damaged the Auckland Harbour Bridge reinforces the importance of diversifying away from reliance on the current cross-harbour connections. However, the business case shows more work is required to confirm details of additional harbour connections before committing billions of dollars,” says Waka Kotahi General Manager Transport Services Brett Gliddon.

The business case analyses the current and future issues faced in Auckland’s Northern Motorway corridor (including the Auckland Harbour Bridge and the Northern Busway), assesses a number of options for addressing these issues, and recommends a way forward to provide a comprehensive and long-lasting response.

Given they’re releasing the business case later in the week I wonder what the rush was for releasing it yesterday. I can’t help but wonder if it’s just about getting some positive spin out and through the news cycle before the reports come out and we can see how little has actually been done despite this having been worked on for years. The release goes on to say:

A key finding of the business case has been the urgent need to enhance the highly successful Northern Busway. AT is now progressing that investigation which will examine ways of upgrading the Northern Busway to increase its capacity, reliability and overall service quality into the future.

Auckland Transport Chief Executive Shane Ellison says “The Northern Busway is critical to serving ongoing growth in the North Shore and we look forward to continuing our work with Waka Kotahi. This will help ensure that incremental improvements can be made as we progress towards the final outcomes of this business case.”

The business case recommends a phased approach to developing an additional rapid transit connection for the North Shore (including across the Waitemata Harbour to the city centre) that supplements and integrates with the busway and the wider transport system to provide more public transport options. Road improvements are also required in the future to improve resilience and address growing interpeak congestion.

The next phase will confirm the mode, form and function of an additional crossing as well as a timeline for it to be in place before the enhanced busway reaches capacity. This will be followed by a phase to route protect land required for the options developed as part of the process.

“This roadmap will take an integrated full network approach including integration with other plans and projects like City Centre to Māngere and North West rapid transit, work to support land use and growth on the North Shore, the construction of a connection for walking and cycling and any plans for road pricing in Auckland.”

The long-term solutions being investigated would likely be New Zealand’s biggest transport investments, costing billions of dollars and would be expected to take more than 15 years of design and construction work.

Apart from the Northern Busway improvements, construction is not anticipated to start until the 2030s. The community and stakeholders will be given an opportunity to have their say and help shape the next phases of planning work, expected in 2021.

There are certainly some positive noises in there and in their newsletter and FAQs with the language starting to support the idea of building a public transport crossing first. This aligns with the outcome of some modelling highlighted in a briefing to the (former) minister in 2018 that showed the best outcome for overall mode share, trip speeds and reducing the number of cars in the city centre was to build a dedicated public transport crossing only and implement road pricing.

The FAQs expand a bit on the press release.

First I find it funny that they’re now trying to claim previous work was somehow different to what they’ve now done, a bit of a rewriting of history if you will.

While there have been a number of previous studies into improved connections across the Waitemata Harbour, these studies have largely focused on options analysis, rather than defining the problem to be solved or outlining a case for investment.

The recent business case is the first investigation to take a fully mode-neutral approach that is consistent with business case principles and considers the wider transport system at the same time.

The last published piece of work in 2010 was a significant piece of work (papers here) and included a full business case including economic assessment, finding that a road tunnel returned just 40c of economic benefit for every $1 invested.

On what is the plan:

After assessing many options, the business case proposes the following plan:

  • Further investigate the potential for land-use planning and demand management (e.g. road pricing) to optimise existing infrastructure and delay the need for major investment. Note that this is a wider regional planning matter and is not specifically being taken forward by the AWHC project.
  • Urgently upgrade the Northern Busway to increase its capacity, reliability and overall service quality (currently being progressed by AT).
  • Develop an additional rapid transit connection for the North Shore (including across the Waitematā Harbour to the city centre), that integrates with the upgraded busway and the wider public transport network to provide high quality access to opportunities and travel choice.
  • Improve roading connectivity in the corridor in a way that addresses resilience issues in the corridor (including the Auckland Harbour Bridge).

This is a good strategy, fix the things that we have now and get them working as best as we can. Then invest in the thing that is missing and that will add the most capacity and support government and council priorities and only after all of that, if we still need it consider more road lanes.

As for what the the Northern Busway Enhancements work will likely include, they say:

The enhancements are likely to include a variety of improvements, such as station platform lengthening, filling gaps in bus priority (e.g. northbound between Fanshawe Street and Esmonde Road) and city centre public transport improvements. The enhancements may also include operational improvements such as installing ticketing gates at busway stations (much like at train stations) to enable faster, all-door boarding. More information on these improvements will be available in early-mid 2021 once the Detailed Business Case (DBC) is completed.

They confirm the future rapid transit crossing will be a rail-based mode to “provide sufficient additional capacity to meet forecast future demand“, but that the exact mode used will depend on other factors like what happens with the light rail/metro project. As for where it will go they say the work “identifies that the additional rapid transit connection should directly link the city centre with Takapuna and Smales Farm, as well as integrate with the busway and the wider public transport network“. This sounds somewhat like my recent suggestion in a post looking at route options. It also hints that it may not replace the busway but just connect to it. That would certainly be an interesting development.

However, the enthusiasm for a dedicated PT crossing needs to be tempered with the fact the road crossing option is still being investigated as part of all this. I understand there are a number of senior managers in Waka Kotahi who, despite the evidence refuse to give up on the idea of a road crossing, including now using the once in 60 year even a few months ago as part of that argument. This is one of the reasons the idea of a combined crossing keeps coming up as it might allow the road crossing to piggyback on need for a PT crossing.

Finally, one of the answers mentions this about climate change

Climate change has been considered during this recent business case planning work and has established that the Northern Motorway will need to be raised between the Onewa Road and Esmonde Road interchanges to reduce flooding risk and impact of climate change events. The upcoming planning work will consider emissions from the transport system and the support of sustainable modes.

Assessing the impact of any crossing on emissions would be a positive step as long as they don’t just assume that all cars at some point will be electric. As for the need to raise the motorway, it already floods some times now so definitely needs to be raised.

I do worry that this latest work, like all that was done in 1988, and 1997, and 2003, and 2008 and 2010 is essentially just a make-work scheme for consultants.

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  1. Sounds like they are reluctantly but very slowly coming round to logic and evidence.

    Perhaps this evolution simply tracks their slow change into being a true full service transport agency and not just a highway builder?

    You know, if you’ve only a hammer, the world looks like a bag of nails.

  2. We have limited funds and limited time when it comes to actually doing something here. Surely a bridge with Light Rail and proper, flat pedestrian areas is the cheapest and most pragmatic option? You could call it a linear park! Hope establishing the future of the LRT programme and giving this something to connect to at the Wynyard Quarter end is first order of business for the new Minister.

    I still don’t see the need for HR to the Shore or the massive disruption of linking it to the CRL – at least one that can’t be adequately met by Light Rail. Perhaps a degree of Airport-Mania is at play here; an obsession with having a Heavy Rail link, regardless of whether it’s actually needed or not.

    1. Are you sure what they are proposing is HR? In the article they only say Rail- which could mean either. My hope is that they future proof it so a light rail system from Onewa road could be added in the future. I would love to see light rail also continue up (or more correctly under Wellesley street to Uni and then to Grafton/hospital and Newmarket. It would make a great link for tourist/students and people from NS to be able to get to all three uni campus (plus AUT), hospital, Domain & museum as well as the viaduct. It would give the CBD an important east-west link.

  3. “there are a number of senior managers in Waka Kotahi who, despite the evidence refuse to give up on the idea of a road crossing”

    Would be good to understand who these people are, and if they’re purely after a vanity legacy project to stamp their names on before retirement.

  4. Michael Wood is now transport minister. I wonder what that means for light rail: is light metro a Labour policy or was it a Twyford policy?
    Wood is MP for Mt Roskill, he lives there with his wife Julie Fairey who is on the local board. I wonder if that will make a difference: Twyford seemed obsessed with the airport and Mangere and not the isthmus “void” which is why AT proposed light rail in the first place. I think if Wood has any sense he will start on City -> Mt Roskill street level with the airport being a future addition: back to where we all thought we were 3 years ago!

    1. I thought today’s article would have been about this. I suppose there is very little info about his plans out there

      1. He probably hasn’t even had been briefed on his new portfolio yet, so it’s much too early to tell what he considers a priority. Hopefully he receives good advice.

        I expect Robertson will also have a lot of influence here. Both as Minister of Finance and Minister of Infrastructure.

        1. I do suspect Robertson threw Twyford under the bus to an extent (or maybe under the car). Housing and transport seemed to be their biggest policies but there never seemed to be any money for it, hence the PPP for light rail and the lack of a government house building program.

        2. Twyford had 1.8 billion budgeted to start building the light rail scheme he campaigned on three years ago.
          He some how managed to immediately do nothing, then eventually gave all the money to NZTA for state highways to make it look like he was doing something.

          Good riddance, Wood can’t hardly be any worse.

        3. Briefing to the Incoming Minister should be released by the MoT within a few weeks. That could be interesting to read, both the lines, and between the lines.

      2. Looking at his profile I doubt he is going to go on a roading binge. I get the felling he won’t be as vocal and polarising as Twyford, hopefully he can get through some progressive transport projects without upsetting the apple cart.
        “He also has a particular interest in Auckland’s urban development and is a keen supporter of more high-quality affordable housing, and rapid public transport in his electorate and across the city.”
        “Along with his wife Julie and their three young sons, Michael lives in Roskill South where he loves to tramp along the Waikowhai Coast, tends to a very neglected vegetable garden, and dreams of an alternative career as a roving international test cricket commentator.”

    2. It’s all a bit of a worry really. At least with Twyford we could all be confident that nothing would ever get built.

  5. Having spent the last week in Wellington I was influenced by how well their buses functioned. So just saying what about a bus only bridge connecting to the existing busway on the shore. However we would need to get our CDB sorted out first. We would need a similar route to the golden mile. I suppose that means Queen Street. My initial reaction when I saw the buses many of them double decker was to compare it to Hong Kong where I have also witnessed an endless parade of buses. Each bus seemed to be heading to a different destination. You could imagine this working on the shore as much as I am a fan of our new bus network with it focus on transfer Wellington shows there is another way.

    1. Yes the experience of being in a packed double decker heading up and down steep, winding hill roads is something you can get in both Wellington and Hong Kong. However the friends of mine that live there report the novelty value wearing off quickly.

      Wellington’s bus network was rearranged a couple of years ago to rely on transfers, in a similar way to Auckland’s New Network. However the changes was poorly executed and there was a huge uproar. They also still have a lot of problems including; no integrated ticketing, little bus priority outside the CBD, major bus snake in the CBD at peak times etc.

    2. Wellington went through a similar change to Auckland a couple of years ago, with the number of routes running through the city centre consolidated and transfers introduced.

      Needless to say it went down like a cup of cold sick as most change in Wellington does.

  6. Wellington went through a similar change to Auckland a couple of years ago, with the number of routes running through the city centre consolidated and transfers introduced.

    Needless to say it went down like a cup of cold sick as most change in Wellington does.

  7. Travel demand management is needed before any discussion of additional road crossings.
    For a rail crossing, UK tube style EMUs would allow for smaller cross section tunnels and reduce cost.
    I think the route should go past the end of Onewa road for an interchange station.

    1. I’d prefer trains with enough height in them to fit air-conditioning units. London isn’t a hot city but being in the tube in summer is very unpleasant.

      If we can afford a wider tunnel cross section for the CRL, I can’t see why it is suddenly a major cost issue for the harbour crossing.

      1. I’d prefer trains I can stand up in.

        I doubt that an extra half metre of tunnel diameter makes any significant difference. If you’re worried about cost then build a bridge and save four or five billion dollars over a tunnel.

        1. I am coming round to the idea of a bridge, given the cost of tunneling.

          But I wouldn’t want to see some grand design. Flat and unassuming. Anything else takes away from the harbour. Something like London bridge, perhaps alongside the current one?

        2. I’d rather have simple, wide, enough room for people to walk and bike and sit with Light Rail on a bridge near the current one than some huge statement about who we are and our connection to the sea and the search for the New Zealand Identity from 1946 – 1984.

        3. Can you make it big enough that I can’t the the first bridge anymore. It’s fugly and anything would be better. Thanks.

    2. Several issues with uk’s style old tube stock. By the time you get the tbm in there and do all the stations etc etc. Making the tunnel itself a bit bigger is extremely cheap and has a lot of benefits. Its also borderline required for fire / emergency egress on a safe pathway free from the trains. You can also do overhead catenary which has a few advantages vs a 3rd rail and ventilation is more practical. Side note, the length of the tunnels is really cheap too, the big expense is the stations and the upfront cost of setting up the tbms and an inordinate amount of supporting equipment. The reason that the uks old tube is so small is because they didn’t have tbms and there was a legitimate considerable cost saving by doing the smallest possible tunnels.

      The demand management would make a big difference!

      1. Indeed, but ‘really cheap’ is relative. No way near as cheap as surface level where you have a corridor available.

        And while it’s true that the lions share of the cost is in setting up and delivering the stations, it’s a little academic because there are very few urban transit tunnels that don’t have stations (harbour and mountain crossings the obvious exceptions), and the longer they are the more they have, generally.

  8. The government should just buy large areas of land and then build the rapid transit to these areas, divide the land up sell some to private developers at a profit and have the rest developed and sold as Kiwi build also at a profit and leave some for state housing.
    3 birds down one stone. Possibly 4 when you consider the jobs this would create.

    1. I have always thought the same. Kind of like how HK paid for their rail, with the sale of the air rights above the stations.

      In a more suburban context like Auckland, surely developers would be lining up to buy and build, given the transport infrastructure is provided up front and they are not asked to contribute (although it would be reflected in the land selling price). And as you say, the opportunity for Kiwibuild and the resulting jobs.

      1. This is how Hong Kong works, and they do have a fantastic rapid transit system as a result. Their transit authority only releases land to developers when they get enough money to build the trains there, to the point where they make a profit for the government. However it leads to a government incentive to restrict the amount of land developed. And is part of the reason that their house and land prices are absolutely astronomical. Obviously this is an extreme example and I think that the idea has some merit however there is something to be wary of.

        1. I agree, we could copy HK and Singapore model for our rapid transit system.
          If you take the north shore rail, why not build the takapuna station underneath a new retail complex, with high rise apartments on top. It would be a better use of the car park that the locals seem to love.
          The sale of the retail and residential would help fund the building of the rail link.

        2. “However it leads to a government incentive to restrict the amount of land developed”.

          Which would be OK, if it wasn’t for the 5 other insanely wealthy guys holding the rest of the land and restricting development there too.

        3. Japan and Tokyo essentially have the same MTR – property + rail fare profit making business model. But because their is more than one rail company there is not the monopoly effect on housing that Hong Kong experiences. In Japan the rail companies compete to lower land/house/commercial prices/rents while improving amenities and the service users experience – this brings in more people to the rail companies part of the rapid transit system.

    2. Yes, this is how the Hutt Valley, Tamaki/Glen Innes area, and Porirua area were developed, but apparently it went out of fashion in the 1980s, when individuals in ‘free markets’ were assumed/expected to do all this rationally, perfectly and automatically – oops.

      1. Why not build to buy? Housing built by the government and sold at cost to first home buyers. If FHBs could buy 2 bedroom apartments in Auckland for 450k rather than 600k plus they would fly out the door. Supporting housing affordability AND better PT.
        Build to rent is a good option too.

        1. I think build-to-buy is middle class welfare and they already get enough support in the housing space. Build-to-buy type schemes will always be taken up by those with higher incomes, bigger deposits etc. Middle class housing supports include HomeStart grants, KiwiSaver is govt subsidised that FHB can access it to buy a home. KiwiBuild had something like $2bn in seed funding.
          NZ needs a housing support scheme for the part of the housing continuum (many hundreds of thousands of households) whose income/wealth means they are not eligible for state housing but is insufficient for them to consider KiwiBuild priced houses. Build-to-rent done properly could be a significant missing piece in our housing/infrastructure puzzle.
          Having said that I am not a fan of more build-to-buy schemes I do like the feature of the Austrian housing model where community housing provider renters can contribute 5% equity which gives them the right to buy after 10 years.
          Also build-to-buy if they are affordable and significantly under existing market prices – can be sold for significant capital gains – another form of middle class welfare – which also self defeats the purpose of the scheme.

        2. Rapid transit hubs also need heterogenous building types that cater for housing demand coming from the full housing spectrum. In Austria (and to a lesser extent places like the UK) -25 to 35% of a new suburb like Hobsonville is capital-subsidised rental housing. By catering for the full housing spectrum – housing supply can be larger -build rates can be faster – economies of scale both wrt generating a good number of fare paying rapid transit customers and wrt construction technology like prefabrication is greater. One of the problems with KiwiBuild is even at its reduced prices most rental households cannot afford the finances required to buy them.

        3. In practice it doesn’t work like that at all. Very few houses qualify for the FHB subsidies in major cities; those thresholds haven’t been changed in years. Bigger mortgages mean higher incomes are needed to save deposits and service debt. All that ‘middle class assistance’ tops out at $130K per couple – that’s $60k per person in income a year. As banks get more and more conservative with lending, fewer and fewer will lend on incomes that low. As for Kiwisaver being ‘government subsidised’ – technically it is but the vast majority of it is from people’s own wages that are locked away and unable to be used to meet living costs in the here and now. For most FHBs, the govt contribution component after leaving $1K in their Kiwisaver post-drawdown will be a couple of thousand at most.

    3. +1 all too often the gains (profits) from infrastructure spend have been privatised while the costs have been on the public.

  9. Great work Matt – Thanks. Loved the links at the end of your article – similar plans developed over previous decades. i believe we need a “Plan of Plans” to properly co-ordinate all the planning effort, both past wisdom – and future rediscovery of past wisdom. Maybe we should redeploy some planning teams into execution teams, plan -do -check -act… or plan plan plan plan plan new plan…? One day roger fitch – i will ride my bike over that bridge! sigh – but ever hopeful.

  10. It’s slowly sinking in for some people that a PT only crossing is the only way. Should only take a few more million $ to make the obvious clear.

  11. “Road improvements are also required in the future to improve resilience and address growing interpeak congestion.”
    So where and how are AT going to reduce carbon emissions? How are they going to meet the targets that Auckland Council have recently outlined? Yes the large projects lie with govt, but somehow AT has to coherently develop an Auckland wide strategy to move mode share away from cars. Improving roads to help interpeak congestion (if indeed this phrese has any meaning at all) is not going to be helpful.

  12. Does anyone know what effects there have been on vehicle numbers in those countries of Europe that have taken the decarbonising of their transport seriously?

    Is there any records that would indicate a reduced road demand when the ICE vehicles being charged for their emissions. (How is the increased cost of ICE vehicles reflected in the road use figures?)

  13. Thank you Matt. “I do worry that this latest work, like all that was done in 1988, and 1997, and 2003, and 2008 and 2010 is essentially just a make-work scheme for consultants.”
    Pertinent and I wonder how long it will contiue?

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