With the year quickly drawing to a close it’s time for a quick wrap up the most important things that happened and WOW, what a year it’s been.
Thank you to everyone who has visited the blog and supported us in making Auckland greater.
City Rail Link
The CRL team have made huge progress on the country’s (currently) biggest project. That progress with lockdown has including launching the tunnel boring machine which is due to breakthrough at Aotea Station any day now, having reached the caverns that have been mined for the Karangahape Station back in October.
The Light Rail saga has dragged on this year. In April Transport Minister Michael Wood restarted the process following the issues with the previous one in 2020. The government created an Establishment Unit to work though the mode and route options.
In October this was narrowed down to three options, surface light rail on Dominion Rd, light rail in a tunnel on Sandringham Rd and an automated light metro option, also on Sandringham Rd.
All three options won’t come cheap with current value of them estimated at $7.1, $10.3 and $11.2 billion respectively and a lot more once inflated to when those costs would actually occur.
The light rail team recommended the tunnelled light rail option but said all three were viable and left it up to the government to choose which option to go with. That decision was due by the end of the year but I suspect we’ll hear about it early next year.
Just a few days ago the first stage of the Eastern Busway was opened.
In late July the fantastically upgraded Puhinui station was reopened to the public. This year also saw the start of the new AirportLink bus service between Manukau and the airport stopping at Puhinui and also making use of the transit lanes that have been added to SH20B.
Northern Busway Extension
Progress on the extension to the Northern Busway along with the wider Northern Corridor project has continued during the year and one part of the busway, the bridge over Constellation Dr, is now in use. The project is meant to be completed in 2022
NW Bus Improvements
This year saw the start of the Northwest Bus improvements. This will see some interim stations built at the Lincoln and Te Atatu Rd interchanges along with improved bus lanes along SH16. This work is due to complete late in 2022 and enable the bus network to be changed, including a frequent service along SH16 to the city.
Papakura to Pukekohe (electrification + new stations)
The Government’s NZ Upgrade programme (NZUP) is funding electrifying the rail network from Papakura to Pukehohe as well as building new stations along the route. It’s also funding construction of the much needed third main between Otahuhu and Puhinui. Work on these projects has progressed this year and will really kick into a higher gear in 2022 and in November Kiwirail and Auckland Transport announced they would stop running services on the Papakura to Pukekohe section from September next year through to the second half of 2024.
There’s also been more detail about the proposed new stations which are both extremely expensive and look designed to ensure these new suburbs will be car focused.
Rail Network issues persist
One of the big issues in 2020 was the sudden discovery the rail network was in much worse condition than anyone knew resulting in months long closures and speed restrictions while Kiwirail urgently worked to fix the worst parts. That work continued on into 2021 and in August we learnt a bit more about what’s caused the issues. Unfortunately, despite all the work, we still seem to have an extremely high number of issues, especially of late and continue to have long summer shutdowns.
The lockdowns this year have been hard on public transport and as of mid-December, ridership was sitting at about 38% of normal levels for this time of year.
At the beginning of the year we had some good news with AT announcing were stopping their trial of subsidised taxi’s at Devonport in favour of improved bus services. The early numbers were looking promising for this change until lockdown struck again in August.
More recently, AT have restarted the service but in Takanini.
Active Modes + Urban realm
This year has finally seen the completion of a few long-needed projects with the delivery of Karangahape Rd streetscape improvements and the cycleway upgrade to Tamaki Dr. Though both of these were a bit rough to start with and have needed some extra work to smooth out some bumpy facilities.
Best feelings in the world:
– Fresh bedsheets
– The first bite of a meal when you're hungry
– Cycling past traffic on a brand new bike path pic.twitter.com/CpVQhBqAvc
— Bike Auckland (@BikeAKL) December 19, 2021
This year also saw the completion of the downtown projects including the upgrade of Quay St and the new Te Wānanga public space
A project that isn’t going to be completed though is the Northern Path. Announced last year as part of the NZUP, in June the government announced that various engineering challenges meant an entirely new bridge would be needed and which would cost $685 million.
One frustrating aspect of this is it would have only cost an extra 10% to deliver a combined public transport and active mode bridge and which would have addressed the calls for another harbour crossing.
However, under sustained criticism from media, in October the government cancelled the project and redistributed the funding for it elsewhere, including for the next stage of the Eastern Busway.
There have been a couple of high-profile cycling projects under construction during the year.
New Lynn to Avondale – during the last Christmas break an underpass of the Western Line was installed and work has continued during the year. The project is due for completion in 2022.
Eastern Path – Waka Kotahi have continued to progress the Eastern Path and stage 2 is on track to open next year. Helpfully they released their latest video update yesterday.
How to deal with Queen St has been an ongoing point of discussion throughout the year, in part due to the frustrating council process where it seemed some officials were trying to undermine the agreed vision for the street.
In September we saw a new design for the street and this week the council announced construction will start in a few weeks and be completed in September. Frustratingly the design still treats the additional space as a shared path.
Waka Kotahi’s Innovating Streets initiative has been a feature of 2021, demonstrating that it’s possible to change streets in quick, affordable and responsive ways. Some projects came up against those opposed to even the slightest change to vehicle priority, but there have been some creative triumphs, and some useful outcomes and learnings from the trials, which is part of the point of the programme.
And looking at the numbers, out of the 56 projects around the country that made street changes that were intended to stay in place for some time, 49 are still going strong. We make that a 87.5% success rate. Looking ahead to the next phase, it’ll be interesting to see which places take advantage of tactical methods to make headway on the kinds of road reallocation we urgently need for mode shift and climate action.
There have been plenty of projects consulted on this year and one common feature in many has been AT continuing to ignore improvements to cycling despite being on their own strategic plans, for example the Ash and Rata St consultation or the Swanson Rd consultation.
We did see a big consultation for a network of cycleways on main roads in Henderson but it’s not clear if or when it will be implemented.
NZ Upgrade Programme
AS well as the Northern Pathway, all of the other NZUP projects experienced budget blowouts resulting in some changes to the programme. The biggest blowout was for Mill Rd which increased from $1.354 billion to $3.5 billion and as a result most of it was cancelled with funds other projects in South Auckland. Another change was to Northland where the proposed 4-lane highway from Whangarei to Marsden Point was dropped and replaced with building a rail line to the port.
Funding Plan word soup
It’s been funding plan word soup this year with the latest versions of the GPS, NLTP, RLTP, ATAP all released. These plans have certainly improved from what they were a few years ago but they often feel like the kind of thing we should have had years ago but that are already out of date given the latest evidence on the scale of change needed.
Addressing climate change has continued to be an increasing part of the discussion during 2021 and this year saw some particularly big pieces with the Climate Change Commission’s advice being released. The Ministry of Transport also released their advice on responding to climate change which was much bolder than the commissions. Both of those have been fed into the government’s draft Emissions Reduction Plan which is due to be finalised next year. If the draft plan holds, it will represent the need for significant change for transport in Aotearoa, such as agencies needing to work to reduce the amount of kilometres we travel in cars.
Housing has continued to be a key point of discussion this year, especially in the last few months after the government shocked everyone by announcing a bipartisan agreement with National to allow a lot more development in our biggest cities. That change was passed by parliament just last week and councils will now have to make changes to their district plans to accommodate the new rules.
We’ve also continued to see record housing consents this year
This year the council agreed to sell the Downtown carpark for redevelopment and as part of that they want to include new bus facilities, either in the building itself or possibly by removing the Hobson St ramp. The outcome of this is definitely something we’re keen to see more about.
Earlier in the year Transport Minister Michael Wood referred the concept of road pricing to a parliamentary select committee to conduct an inquiry on it. The select committee unanimously supported the idea but we’re still waiting to hear if the government will actually implement it.
An ongoing story this year has been the issues with the delivery of Transmission Gully, including just recently with news that it wouldn’t be open in time for Christmas as the builders still can’t get the seal right and have a number of other outstanding consenting issues. As taxpayers we’ve also had to pay significantly more for the project too.
In April a government ordered review of the project was released highlighting there were big issues with the PPP process.
Puhoi to Warkworth
The massive Puhoi to Warkworth motorway has continued to progress through 2021 and is expected to open in mid-2022.
Wellington’s Transport Plans
In November Let’s Get Wellington Moving released consultation on four possible options for transport in the capital, three of which included light rail. It will be interesting to see what option they go with, particularly given Auckland’s light rail discussions.
It’s been another huge year for Greater Auckland so I thought I’d share the top-10 most viewed posts.
- Improving Te Huia
- An Alternative North Shore Rail Crossing Route
- The Papakura to Pukekohe upgrade
- Auckland Transport’s 2021 Speed Limit Change Proposal
- The Auckland Harbour Bridge clip-ons, planning disaster… or best practice?
- How we’d build Light Rail
- Light rail veers off course
- Is there a case for an overnight sleeper train between Auckland and Wellington?
- Taking rail to the North Shore
- The Great Intensification
In total we’ve had over 18,300 comments on posts this year
One thing you may have noticed this year, and something we think is great to see, is we’ve had more voices writing posts on the blog. This is something we hope to do even better on next year.
On a personal level it’s been a big year for me too with the arrival of my first child which gives me all the more reason to make this Auckland greater.
There’s so much more we could include here. What are your highlights for 2021
This will be our last post for the year so once again thanks for reading and supporting us. Have a happy and safe Christmas and New Year.