On Monday, I posted about Labour’s harbour crossing boondoggle. Prime Minister Chris Hipkins called it a “bold” project, but really it represents a twenty year delay to building the rest of Auckland’s Rapid Transit Network.
I also noted on Monday that for the combined cost of the project and the City Centre to Mangere light rail project, you could build about 300km of surface-running light rail all over the region.
Today, I’ll show the workings and an idea of what such a network might look like, to help show the scale – illustrating the opportunity cost of current proposals, and also the massive potential of transport investment for Auckland.
Overall, the total harbour crossing costs were estimated at $35-45 billion with the road component coming in at $13-16.5 billion and light rail at $21-27 billion. (Another billion was for walking and cycling improvements and for busway improvements. We’ll ignore those parts for now.)
For comparison, the City Centre to Mangere project was estimated at $14.6 billion. However, that was before the significant inflation we’ve experienced over the last few years – and indications are they’ve since pushed towards more of a metro solution, which was costed at the time at $16.3 billion. Further, Treasury have said that the project cost could be as high as $29.2 billion.
For the purposes of this exercise, I’m going to take the midpoint from these values for the two projects which, combined, is about $61 billion.
Next, I’ve looked in the past at the cost of light rail in many other cities – I’ve converted that to NZ dollars and applied inflation to get a fairer comparison. As you can see below, some cities manage to build surface light rail for less than $100 million per km but $100-150 million seems more common. This is vastly less than the nearly $300 million per km for the surface option presented by Auckland Light Rail.
However, I’m going to go for a figure between these and use $200 million per km for our potential network. There will undoubtedly be some sections that cost more than this. But also, if we were building out a large network, the knowledge, skills, equipment and supply chains established for earlier sections would create efficiencies such that later sections might come in much lower.
So, combining these together: applying a $61 billion budget to a network that costs $200 million per km to build would give us a total network for Auckland of 305km.
To put that in perspective, Melbourne’s entire tram network – the longest in the world – is about 256km. The original Auckland tram network was around 71km.
So, I then set about building a 305km light rail network in Auckland. Just to be clear, I don’t think a network of this scale is what we should be aiming for, and not every route would need this level of investment. If we truly had that kind of budget, I’d expect some of it would be spent in other cities. This is all purely hypothetical – the point is to show the immense opportunity cost of these two mega-projects. Also, this is just a look at the infrastructure, and some sections may serve multiple routes.
To start with, let’s add in our entire proposed rapid transit network. This includes:
- The CC2M project on the surface along Dominion Rd
- Converting the Northern Busway to light rail, with a spur to Takapuna and extending the route from Albany to Orewa
- A combined light rail and active mode bridge from Wynyard Quarter to around Onewa Rd. To ensure enough capacity for some of the lines later in this post, this would have four tracks.
- Our proposal for a crosstown light rail which we’ve also extended to Sylvia Park.
- Converting the Eastern Busway and Airport to Botany to light rail as well as extending it west to Ellerslie.
- The Northwest line, from the City to Huapai
- An Upper Harbour line from Henderson to Constellation.
Delivering this combination alone would be transformational for Auckland. And, despite having some very long routes, it still only comes in combined at just under 130km of network.
Filling up the budget
To fill in the remaining 175km of theoretical potential network within our working budget, I’ve looked at our busiest bus routes and a number of other strategic corridors. It picks up most of the corridors for the top 25 bus routes in the region. And, for the routes on the North Shore, this is where the need for extra capacity on a new bridge comes from. All up, this version came in at 304km.
This would be an extensive and very impressive network, with a huge amount of capacity. It’s also one I bet would deliver significantly greater ridership and housing uplift, as well as generating much greater mode-shift – meaning a lot fewer vehicle kilometres travelled and fewer emissions.
Or we could just do one big tunnel.
I know which one I’d choose and which one is I think is bold.