A paper to the Auckland Transport board tomorrow is looking for approval and funding to finally make some progress on another of the key city centre public transport projects – the Wellesley St Bus Improvements (WSBI). This along with the Te Hā Noa – the Victoria St Linear Park are two of the flagship projects as part of the council’s Midtown Regeneration plans.
That the Auckland Transport Board (board):
- Approves the Wellsley Street Bus Improvements Detailed Business Case, including the recommended option and delivery staging to deliver safety upgrades, emission reductions, and mode shift to progress implementation of the Transport Emissions Reduction Plan, bus priority measures and connected cycling facilities along Wellesley Street in the central city.
- Approves a budget of $26.7 million from the Regional Land Transport Plan (2021-2031) Midtown Bus Improvements budget of $132 million to deliver the capital works for Stage One.
- Notes that while outside the prioritised annual capital budget, this is one of the 11 projects approved by the board, in August 2023, to continue subject to ensuring overall capital expenditure remains within the annual budget.
- Delegates to the Chief Executive to finalise and approve a procurement plan and to execute physical works contracts over $20 million for Stage One within the total budget envelope of $26.7 million.
Improving Wellesley St has been on the City Centre Masterplan for some time now the two key focuses for that are to make buses better and improve pedestrian connections, especially around the new Te Waihorotiu station being built as part of the City Rail Link and which will see thousands of people an hour pour out of its Wellesley St entrance. Buses on Wellesley St need both speeding them up and better bus stop infrastructure. This need will only increase as AT say that by the late-2020s, the number of buses using Wellesley St will increase by one-third to almost 200.
As noted in the recommendations above, the first phase between Queen St and Albert St is $26.7m but the total plan is for the bus improvements to cover from Symonds St to Victoria Park and the total cost for that is estimated at $174 million.
The Stage 1 design was consulted on in 2021 and confirmed last year and will see the section between Albert St and Queen St become bus only. That will not only speed up buses but allow for the footpaths to be widened and bus stop infrastructure to be improved.
The design above isn’t new but these artist impressions are, and they show a much nicer street environment to what exists today.
By making this section of Wellesley St bus only it should also help improve the Elliott St Shared Space as there shouldn’t be as many cars using it.
The recommended designs for the future stages will provide near-continuous bus priority along the corridor.
The Western end of the corridor is at Victoria St and includes the removal of the slip lane onto Victoria St West as well as the connections to Drake and Vernon St which will allow for a new plaza.
The design above continues through to Albert St where it will join Stage 1.
Stage 3 runs from Queen St to Symonds St and will see a cycleway added on the Northern side – hopefully eventually extending under Symonds St to Grafton Gully and the Domain. It also includes the removal of the slip lane onto Mayoral Dr – though I am a bit concerned this will result in cars backing up and blocking buses trying to get through the intersection.
Here are some of what AT say are the key aspects of the plan.
- The project will provide infrastructure to enable increased bus boarding by 25% and reduces journey times by 14-23% and kerb side priority lanes for up to 200 buses. It will also support the increase in foot traffic and increase the overall customer experience by delivering safe connected, and efficient walking and cycling facilities that enhance the public realm.
- Delivery is in three stages to align with external projects, as shown in Attachment 1. Stage One is aligned with the CRL delivering Te Wai Horotiu station. Stage Two (between Victoria and Albert Streets) is aligned with the Council’s Victoria Linear Park project and Stage Three (between Queen and Symonds Streets) is aligned with Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency (Waka Kotahi) and Council’s City Centre Masterplan (CCMP) upgrades to Grafton Gully.
- Stage One will provide infrastructure to support increased bus frequency and to support increased foot traffic through engaging streets and spaces that are safe, connected and efficient for people moving along and across the Wellesley Street corridor, see Attachment 2.
- Detailed design for Stage One has progressed in coordination with the design and construction of the CRL programme. Approval is now sought to deliver the infrastructure and pedestrian provisions surrounding the CRL Te Wai Horotiu Station, so they are appropriate, safe and provide a seamless customer experience the station opens.
- Stage One implementation work is planned to commence in April 2024 over an 18-month construction period in alignment with CRL to achieve efficiencies through a “dig-once” approach. Completion is planned for September 2025. The P50 cost estimate of Stage One is $26.7 million, with a Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) of 3.4. A Waka Kotahi funding application will progress following the board’s approval.
- The project is Regional Fuel Tax (RFT) funded, and the Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP 2021-2031) has allocation of $132 million for Midtown Bus Improvements with $59m allocated up to FY24 for Stages One and Two with an additional $73m from FY27 for Stage Three.
If there’s one concern I have it is that outside of the improvements in Stage 1, most of the benefits could probably be achieved quite with a bit of green paint. Instead, it seems we’ll be waiting 5-10 years for the council to find funding and there’s a good chance that will be made much harder if the incoming government implements their stated transport polices, including cancelling the council’s source of funding for it, the regional fuel tax.
Overall, the changes are exciting and hopefully fully the AT board approves them tomorrow.