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.