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Recent planning work
Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, Auckland Transport (AT) and Auckland Council have been working in partnership to investigate more resilient, reliable and efficient transport options to connect the growing number of people, goods and services moving across the Waitematā Harbour between the North Shore, the city centre and beyond.
The recent planning phase has involved the development of a document called a business case, which analysed the current and future problems faced in Auckland’s Northern Motorway corridor (including the Auckland Harbour Bridge), assessed a number of options for addressing these problems, and has recommended a way forward to provide a comprehensive and long-lasting response.
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 need for further investigation work has also come in response to wider strategic initiatives, such as the Auckland Transport Alignment Project (ATAP), the Auckland Plan 2050, and associated projects, in particular AT’s North Shore Rapid Transit Network (RTN) investigations and the work Waka Kotahi has been doing with AT and AC to support growth to the North and Northwest of Auckland.
The growth of Auckland’s North Shore and the wider region is placing increasing pressure on the transport system. This pressure is being particularly experienced on State Highway 1 (SH1) and the Northern Busway. This is a nationally significant corridor, providing access within the North Shore, from the North Shore and across the Waitematā Harbour to the Auckland isthmus, and acting as the most direct link between Northland, Auckland and the rest of New Zealand. The corridor is already under pressure and faces some resilience challenges. These pressures and challenges are forecast to increase further as population and employment continues to grow.
If we do nothing, our analysis shows the corridor will be congested throughout the day in both directions, the Northern Busway will become overwhelmed and no longer provide a high-quality travel choice, and key resilience risks will continue to grow. Given the national importance of the corridor, and how severe and widespread the impacts are from any issues with it, doing nothing is not a viable option.
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 plan will be progressively implemented over time, to ensure maximum value is achieved from what will collectively be New Zealand’s largest ever transport project.
Busway and rapid transit
The rapid transit activity class is defined in the Government Policy Statement on Land Transport (GPS) as public transport capable of moving a large number of people with largely dedicated or exclusive right-of-way routes.
The Northern Busway needs to be progressively enhanced to meet the growth in passenger demand until a supplementary higher capacity rapid transit network can be delivered. While parts of the busway operate well, undersized stations, gaps in bus priority and city centre constraints mean the busway is not used to its full potential. Addressing these issues will help maximise the benefits for passengers from this asset and delay the need for major further investments.
Furthermore, the planning, design and construction of an additional rapid transit connection is likely to take at least 10-15 years, due to its scale and complexity. This means interim busway improvements are required in any case.
A Detailed Business Case (DBC) further investigating busway enhancements is nearing completion by AT.
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.
Work to date suggests that the additional rapid transit connection will be a rail-based mode. This is because only rail-based options provide sufficient additional capacity to meet forecast future demand. Finalising the exact mode of this new rapid transit connection (i.e. light-rail, light-metro or heavy rail) will need to be done through a regionwide rapid transit plan, because of significant interdependencies with other rapid transit corridors/projects (e.g. City Centre to Mangere and the Northwest corridors). This next phase of work is expected to begin next year in 2021.
The recent business case 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. Finalising route options for this new rapid transit connection will be done during the next phase of planning work, expected to begin next year in 2021.
Consistent with earlier ATAP work, an additional rapid transit connection is likely to be needed around the mid to late 2030’s. The planning, design and construction timeframes for a project of this scale are likely to be around 10-15 years.
Bridge and tunnel options both have their advantages and disadvantages. A tunnel is much more expensive, but has lower environmental, cultural and social impacts. A tunnel can also more directly link Takapuna and the city centre and was the preference of the business case work. Future planning work will confirm the form of any additional connections before a final decision is made and this will be investigated as part of the next planning phase in 2021.
The rapid transit connection is not expected to fully address all the identified problems and investment objectives. Congestion in the corridor is projected to extend across more hours of the day, increasingly affecting freight and business trips that tend to occur outside the peak. The bridge will also remain the sole road connection, leaving the transport system exposed in the case of an event similar to the September 2020 truck strike or when the bridge needs to undergo maintenance.
The business case therefore still considers the need to progress with investigating road improvement options. Further work is required in the next planning phase to ensure longer term roading improvements effectively target the key problems in a way that supports wider transport and urban outcomes in conjunction with the recommended rapid transit improvements.
The merits and complications of combined or separate road and rapid transit connections needs to be considered in more detail, including when they are needed and whether the optimal design is consistent with a combined crossing, as well as cost and environmental impact considerations.
Finalising the form of this new rapid transit connection will be done during the next phase of planning work, expected to begin next year in 2021.
The future business case planning work is expected to begin in 2021. This work will take an integrated full system approach and interdependencies with other transport projects need to be a key part of this future investigation. This work will also include engagement with stakeholders and the community to help shape the project and gather insights into what customers need for future connections. Subscribe to receive future updates and notifications on upcoming consultation.
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.
The Congestion Question is a joint project between Government and Auckland Council to investigate whether or not to introduce congestion pricing in Auckland. Congestion pricing is a method used to ease congestion by charging road users at different times and/or locations to encourage some users to change the time, route or way in which they travel. The aim of the project is to develop, test and analyse options, and this, together with what Aucklanders tell us, will inform the decision on whether we recommend congestion pricing for Auckland.