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.

The Opportunity

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.

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  1. I think it is only an opportunity cost if someone was actually going to spend the money. Nobody is likely to build any tunnels under the harbour or the central isthmus for cars, trams, trains or banthas. A desperate political party seeking to curry favour before an election might claim they will. But that is a different thing.

    1. We know it’s not going to be built, but its the pulling of that budget away from things than can and should be built thats the problem.

      They’re better off doing what National did when they were in, pocket the money, don’t buld anything and make claims about our rockstar economy..its the same thing really I guess, just with weird wiggly lines on a map instead.

      1. National are actually worse because they actually build expensive wasteful projects like Transmission Gully and CRL.

        1. Does that professor know anything about the underlying details of the original business case? It is really hard to say.

          From what I remember, the model used doesn’t like rail projects and underestimates future patronage. The business case for Britomart underestimated demand by half. It is likely to be doing the same here, significantly underestimating the benefit over decades. I’m usually opposed to large engineering projects, but the BCR for the CRL is probably fairly positive and worth the long-term investment.

        2. “It had a B/C ration of 0.6 before the budget blow out. What would you call it?”

          I would say that the business case writers probably weren’t brazen enough to do what National did when the economic evaluation manual poo-poohed their RONS – they just invented a new benefits category – WEBs (wider economic benefits).

          Which is ironic, because the CRL will have a lot more wider economic benefits than your usual motorway, and a lot less disbenefits.

          Ultimately, all business cases (unless they strictly compare options against each other, and often even then) are simple retroactively justifying what you want to do anyway.

          And that’s even okay in my view (albeit a bit of a waste of money and time). I DO want politicians to decide where my tax money goes – not economists. I have not had a chance to vote for the economists.

        3. The CRL people have stretched the WEB rubber band numerous times. Each time the costs went up they paid an international firm to miraculously discover more WEB that seemingly nobody had noticed before. They haven’t done so for the most recent cost blow out, maybe they figure nobody believes it any more. National is far more dangerous that Labour because they actually build these nonsense schemes. Labour just talks about them to get votes.

        4. Point well-made about Britomart grossly exceeding original expectations. Same with Northern Busway and rail electrification. I strongly believe that the CRL will follow the same pattern. Its usage will take off and its transformative effect on the whole rail network will blow any conservative predictions out of the water.

    2. The Labour proposal looks and sounds like the $800m PT and active mode bridge announced and then canned; not serious, more a diversion from other discussions. Makes it look like you are and will be doing something.

      It will have the same outcome, too.

  2. Reallocating road space for bus rapid transit, introducing congestion charging and pricing parking correctly would be a quicker, cheaper win using the roads that all parties seem to agree are indispensable.

    Maybe we’d have a billion spare to fix the potholes in our teeth.

    1. You could probably build additional bus lanes along all the main arterials (including land purchases) for a fraction of that too.

      The thing that grates me though is a) if they’re building this then for that sort of money it should easily be light if not full metro! (And even then it probably shouldn’t be that much!).

  3. The days of “Think Big” style announcements influencing voters are behind us,but political parties still live in the past,and pander to what they think will pick up votes. If a political party really wants my vote,they should offer my future generations a pathway forward,these backward thinking transport policies “cement “in the status quo. The good thing is though,very unlikely to actually materialize,but it will eat up valuable time and money,while the “dinosaurs ” consult.

    1. It would have made more sense to me if the Light Rail was positioned first. Then consider IF the Road Tunnels were still needed.

      1. The exact moment here I lost faith in the NZ electorate. These moar roads policies are obviously vote winners and I’m out of touch.

  4. I can bet that to complete all these projects in NZ, the minimum time would be thousands years! Many would come out that it will kill the environment, many will come out Global Warming. Even all these not come out, the lazy mind set of NZer would wish it fall from the sky. You can see that a merely short distance to link up Hamilton already need more than 10 years. If you ask China to build this portion, they need less than one year to complete.

    Sorry, Don’t make dreams so much in NZ!

  5. Could build proper rapid transit networks across all our major cities with that money. Daft posturing to impress a small group of current voters.

  6. I’m assuming that the government know something that we don’t, probably about the lifespan of the clipons. But I still don’t get why they can’t just build a bridge beside the existing one. Whack a couple extra car lanes on it if they must, plus walking / cycling / LR.

  7. Unfortunately whilst we may well not spend those obscene amounts actually building anything, we will spend vast amounts on consultants, and advisors, to achieve not actually building anything.

    Just a follow on, but mega upscaled, sequel, to the embarrassingly incompetent walkway/cycleway Harbour Bridge crossing fiasco. Lots of money, lots of consultants, and nothing actually achieved.

    With the same script writers, the same actors, and the same location, but with a massively enlarged stage and cast , we only expect another, but hugely more expensive fiasco.

    The basic script, that we have to build more roads, to provide the space for other transport options, including public transport, micromobility, and active modes is patently absurd, and actually dangerous.

    The massive costs of inefficient transport, poor road safety, and unnecessarily high emissions are costing lives now, and significantly degrading our planet for the future.

    The only logical conclusion is that our existing motoring industry is incredibly powerful and successful in protecting it’s patch, and is far too deeply entrenched in our political system.

    1. > The only logical conclusion is that our existing motoring industry is incredibly powerful and successful in protecting it’s patch, and is far too deeply entrenched in our political system.


  8. Costs for redeveloping streets for surface running are largely found in the relocation of existing buried services, as Australia has discovered in recent years.
    The Sydney CBD-SE LRT was costing A$250M/km in 2019 https://australasiantransportresearchforum.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/ATRF2019_resubmission_72.pdf
    Some of our streets will be similar, others will be cheaper. The point is well made, a network is better than one tunnel.
    Something that needs to be more front of mind is the 64% reduction in annual transport emissions required by 2030, required expansion of PT and Light vehicle VKT reduction. https://www.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/plans-projects-policies-reports-bylaws/our-plans-strategies/Documents/transport-emissions-reduction-pathway.pdf
    So far AT have failed to come up with an implementation plan.

      1. About 1/3 of all Kiwis are also Aucklanders.

        The rest of the country are mostly in the other cities.

        Watch and learn, boys and girls, you’re next…


        So the rest of New Zealand is fine with spending a couple dozen billions on Auckland boondoggles? That’s not what I hear. In fact, you folks outside of Auckland are constantly moaning about it.

  9. There should have been the same beat up over Skypath and the Northern Pathway, at 300m an 1b, either of these projects had budgets that would have delivered much better results for cyclists if spread across the isthmus.
    But no – this blog saw no wrong in a cycling project that was a terrible waste of money and yet thinks the sky is falling on our heads to speed money on road and rail projects.

    1. ??? This blog made numerous posts about how that money would be better spend on a wider spread of cycle projects and that liberating a lane on the existing bridge was much better use of money.

      1. I guess you missed the posts where people on this blog were saying Skypath/northern pathway were the necessary missing connection and should be prioritised over cycle paths in the rest of the city
        Short memories in the ant car club.

        1. Well, actually we wanted a number 3, number 7, number 12 and a side of fries and an apple pie and a Big Gulp, screw the diet.

          But we keep getting ghost-chips

        2. Yes – it’s been a long wait to walk and cycle on the bridge.
          The good news is that with this project, now it will finally happen

        3. “I guess you missed the posts where people on this blog were saying Skypath/northern pathway were the necessary missing connection and should be prioritised over cycle paths in the rest of the city”

          SkyPath, yes. The massive extra bridge? Nope. You are the one with the selective memory, mate.

          “Yes – it’s been a long wait to walk and cycle on the bridge.
          The good news is that with this project, now it will finally happen”

          In 20+ years, in another universe. This project will not happen. National will instead proceed with planning for some road-only tunnels and then claim that they still can’t spare a traffic lane on the bridge for cycling.

          You are either bloody naïve or deliberately misleading.

        4. It’s just the same old troll from under the bridge, different name same shit.

          The people on this blog were very critical when NZTA took the Skypath project and quadrupled the cost and turned it into a never-happen fantasy. Exact same thing.

        5. Sorry Damian but Skypath was a fantasy, nothing more than a few pretty drawings that cost New Zealanders 100m not to build.
          The Northern Pathway was possible to construct, but it was going to cost 1B, which most of NZ thought was way too much for a bike path.
          While there were quite a few people on this blog that thought that the Billion Dollar Bike Bridge (BDBB) was too much, there were others, including some of the moderators that were all in for it.
          Like Skypath, giving up space on the bridge right now is just pie in the sky thinking. It is never going to happen.
          The best outcome for cyclists wanting to cross the harbour is for the tunnels to be dug, that is the only way there will be cycling on the bridge. You know this as much as I do.
          Yes the project is expensive, but at least it will be carbon negative for the road transport – a first for NZ.

        6. The Northern Pathway was better than nothing, pricey but still would of been worth it so I for one was still in favour of it (besides, from memory wasn’t it $800M?).
          Yes sad about SkyPath, bit of a waste but wasn’t the fault of those pushing it.
          A solution somewhere in between the two would of been good.

        7. Quote from older post on the Northern Path when govt was rethinking it:
          “In many ways it’s not surprising people don’t support the project, not only is it expensive, it came somewhat out of the blue compared to previous discussions and the government have made very little attempt to try and defend or explain the rationale behind it. We’ve seen a similar issue with the Feebate scheme.

          A large part of the problem is the Northern Pathway increased in cost significantly after Waka Kotahi realised they could not attach it to the existing harbour bridge – contrary to what they had been saying over the past few years. This was alongside massive cost blowouts on other parts of the NZ Upgrade Programme, like the Otaki to North of Levin project that increased in cost by $700 million, and the Mill Road project that had blown out in cost by billions – eventually resulting in it being completely cancelled. It was notable that the government let the Northern Pathway bear the brunt of the attention while there was barely any mention of the blowouts on those other projects.”

  10. This is very good food for thought, its just a pity those with the purse strings seem stuck on trying to fit what other cities have done into something that isn’t necessary right for Auckland. I appreciate they are doing something but have tunnel vision, literally. We could at least see some tangible benefits years ahead before they even start to tunnel if we choose what has been suggested here. Call it a 15 year project, cut it up into stages and just get on with it.

  11. Matt, I like your comparison on the average cost per KM with other countries. This is a great comparison, however, can you also explain why NZ per KM cost is three times higher than others? Was it due to efficiency, was it due to lazy, was it due to corruption…….

    Only with the reason WHY than we can find out a better solution for NZ. Your pictures are good and wish it can include WHY as much as you can.

    Thousands of thanks if these are found out.

    1. I think a decent part of it is the design standards bring used i.e. they’re applying that while well intentioned require significant land take and needing to move a lot more services

  12. Absolutely agree, the government needs to stop making Mayor Brown sound sensible, rather than senile.

    Even Simon Wilson is writing nice things about Wayne, while Chris Hipkins sounds more and more like a “Chippie,” a builder’s understudy (Jacinda Ardern being the builder in this analogy).

    But guaranteeing the budget is surely what this “boondoggle” is about, and for that let us hope that it really is the promised “Climate Change is our Nuclear Free Moment” moment, that our last respectable prime minister, Ms Ardern announced.

    “I can smell the uranium on your breath” Former Prime Minister David Lange (Rest in Peace)

    1. Ugh. “Climate Change is our Nuclear Free Moment.”

      We promise that you won’t notice any changes to your in your life…

    2. The nuclear free moment was just all propaganda anyway. Nuclear power is one of the cleaner forms of energy.
      Denmark had similar feelings, didn’t kick up a fuss and just asked the US not to send any nuclear ships and apparently the US has never done so.

    3. “(Jacinda Ardern being the builder in this analogy).”

      Meh. Jacinda built jack squat. What achievements did she have beyond a couple of covid free years? [To be clear, I think she did well on that front, but near everything else? Zilcho]

      1. From another couple of posters:
        jezza says:
        August 1, 2023 at 9:47 am
        They’ve failed to deliver a lot but it not correct to say they’ve delivered nothing.

        – capacity improvements to CRL
        – Eastern Busway
        – Airport link
        – Te Huia
        – New trains for Wairarapa and Manawatu
        Zippo says:
        August 1, 2023 at 10:07 am
        New electric ferries on the way, national ticketing system finally underway, law changed to allow councils to own and operate PT services again, 57 new locomotives for the South Island, Hillside workshops rebuild.

        1. – Rearranging KiwiRail’s “below rail” funding to come from the NLTF instead of ad-hoc payments from the Crown which KiwiRail had to beg for.
          – Oh, and the government’s pandemic-resonse half-fare initiative was pretty cool also.

  13. Filling in the budget scenario should go towards establishing LR / Busways in Wellington, Christchurch, Hamilton, Tauranga and Dunedin. (but also include Manuakau Road in the first scenario)

    150-160km left over for the above cities would be transformational for New Zealand.

  14. Does anyone know the reasoning behind serving Bayswater in this proposal?
    Im well aware lake road has many problems, but no easy options have been applied, like dedicated bus lanes or light rail on lake road. And being a very narrow Peninsula with much of it protected character housing, is there much opportunity for development or ridership in that area.

    1. The whole of Bayswater is low density and being in close proximity to the CBD (as the crow flies) makes it ripe for medium-high density development.

      1. Yes I would expect everything south of Devonport would be ripe for development, much of it is navy housing.
        But lake rd can be made wider, obviously property will need to be purchased but a tram running between the ferry terminal and the bus way would be enough for any potential development in the area.
        Obviously the line will become the spine of Auckland with major bus lanes and future tramways acting as lims, this is the equivalent of my spine running up my leg and through my arm, this proposal is completely alian.

        1. Sorry I meant north of devonport not south, this would be in the harbor.
          my Compass has reversed.

    2. The point of the post is just purely to show the kind of scale we could get for the kind of money.
      If we’re were actually designing a PT network with that kind of money, they’d be a lot more investment in bus improvements.

  15. The picture of the Auckland and the network shows how vulnerable Auckland is to sea level rise.
    Parts of Auckland are not much above sea level such as St Marys Bay, Orakei, Mangere and Rosebank. The Wynyard quarter is sinking at a few mm per year. Huge storm swells will wash away large areas of our coast.
    Has WK, AT, National, Act or Labour even considered the increasing rate of sea level rise ?
    The sea is rising 5mm per year and in 20 years time it will be 10cm higher.
    More frequent and damaging storms will occur and the cost of repairs will be huge.
    We shouldn’t spend $billions on roads and tunneled LR to distant suburbs as that just encourages more sprawl. We must reduce our emissions.

    1. That’s where the tunnels come in. A tunnel is resilient against rising seas, whether it is 20m or 22m under water makes no difference… So here is an idea, move all of Auckland underground. Now this is a bold plan.

        1. “It makes a difference if the tunnel entrance is only 5m above sea level though”

          No, you are not getting with the program. MOVE ALL AUCKLAND UNDERGROUND. Close the hatch. Sea level rise sorted. I agree with Ralf. Think Big. Or deep in this case! It makes more sense than the plans of our two biggest parties.

      1. But these are the same people that built a busway on the surface that fills with water. Could they really build a tunnel under the sea that doesn’t fill when it rains?

  16. Come on. Everyone knows the most important journey in the world is North Shore based executives to the airport, so they can fly to Wellington to design and lobby for further Shore to Airport infrastructure. Driving obviously, but that’ll soon clog up, so direct train will be necessary too, obviously that’s where the next $100B of public money just has to go. Only reasonable. Hospitals and schools? Transport for bottom feeders? pffft.

  17. We need a visionary mayor to pick up the first option and run with it, would be transformational. I would tend to use higher costs to be more NZ realistic & give it more authenticity.

  18. Matt has done a really good job of expressing the opportunities in Rapid Transit scope. a government has to balance the whole investment/ expenditure portfolio, part only of which is infrastructure. The size of that ‘elephant’ does make opportunity cost difficult to comprehend, but we do need to see this at least in a Transport
    Policy scale.
    How soon can usable infrastructure be delivered, and what benefits would it bring? We have to look at redesigned lifestyle to survive in the future. More benefits need to be achieved with less high-emissions, high-cost travel. Covid showed that radical change can happen and what is or is not feasible, quickly and cheaply. Land development guidance that enables these changes is part of the picture – unlimited travel is not a goal that can be reached; unlimited prosperity is a better target. Especially if travel and prosperity are to become equitable, for a change.

    We also need to opportunity cost lens to be passed over the National & Act parties’ transport policies. Pulling out the unaffordable road projects – East-West link, Mill Road to by-pass SH1 where it is about to be widened, 4-lane Whangarei-Tauranga – needs to be set against how much could be done with the same investment elsewhere.

    Making decisions about the huge infrastructure deficit when peoples’ bank accounts are in big debt is bold. Or rash. Or doomed to failure at the ballot box. any positive thoughts, people?

  19. Thanks, equally $60 billion would easily put high speed rail between Tauranga, Hamilton and Auckland. Far better use of the $ imo

  20. Both National and labour’s transport policies are obscene, lazy AF, demonstrably ridiculous expensive, won’t solve traffic issues, won’t be here for decades and ignore the obvious better quality solutions like 2nd bridge over the harbiur with light rail plus bus,freight lanes plus w&c…I mean ffs .. I mean FFS! Useless in a clime f#$king emergency with the planet on fire

  21. To fix Belmont issue, all it really needs is more frequent ferries and buses as of this moment and into the next 50 years. Doesn’t make any real sense of urgency to be placing light rail at Belmont right now due to how many resident reside there and future population growth in Belmont. Makes more sense to be placing light rail at Akoranga, due to commuters on NX1 and NX2 missing buses and more greater catchment (Northcote, Takapuna and Hillcrest) are the commuters.


    Now fixing Central Auckland issues isn’t easy, in-fact it’s complex. If we were to fix it, it would mean needing to extend roads up to cater both roads and public transport usage. Roads like Mt Eden RD and Dominion RD get clogged with traffic on a daily basis, no matter what time of the day or week, becomes too congested. No fault of their own, past Mayors of Auckland haven’t considered the fact their ‘anterior route’ for vehicles go through in years, instead were choosing go this path of congestion, less fast commute, reliability and not building alternatives!

    What we need is to build ‘anterior route’ for Dominion RD and Mt Eden RD, along with turning Dominion RD and Mt Eden RD into New North RD upgrade, where there’s two lane (not four lanes), less congestion and less private vehicles. One of the ‘anterior route’ we need to build is going existing Parau ST with Kingsford RD, Mewburn AVE, Henley RD Ashton RD and finally Esplanade RD, to turn it into one long road. With Mt Eden RD, anterior route’, we need join up St Andrews RD with Mountain RD. Only obstacle which is blocking its path is University of Auckland Epsom Campus facility, which the university can look towards redeveloping due to how outdated the facilities look and looks undesirable.


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