Government puts Auckland light rail back on track with communities having a say

The Government is getting light rail back on track by involving Aucklanders in a six-month process to come up with a project that works for the city.

Transport Minister Michael Wood today acknowledged Aucklanders had been shut out of the multi-billion-dollar project between the CBD and Auckland Airport, which went on hold in the middle of last year after being blocked by NZ First.

He said an establishment unit has started today between central and local government to get buy-in from Aucklanders and come up with the mode, route, costings and financing options for Cabinet to consider later this year.

“We have to take a little bit of time to engage with Aucklanders to get it right.

“Involving Auckland Council is critical, so the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor of Auckland will work with me and the Minister of Finance to oversee this work,” he said.

National transport spokesman Michael Woodhouse said light rail represents everything that is wrong with the Government – “big talk but useless on delivery”.

Light rail, or modern-day trams, will either run at street level or underground between the CBD and Mt Roskill. From there they will straddle SH20 to the airport.

Likely routes for light rail at street level are Dominion Rd or Sandringham Rd, close to extensive urban development at Wesley and Stoddard Rd.

It is understood there are two options at the CBD end; starting at Wynyard Quarter or the new Aotea station being built as part of the $4.4 billion City Rail Link.

The Government is not commenting on the likely cost, but last year NZ First leader Winston Peters said it would cost between $10b to $15b and lead to a “decade of chaos”.

Wood acknowledged that Aucklanders had been shut out of the previous process that saw rival bids from the NZ Transport Agency and a consortium of the NZ Super Fund and a Canadian pension fund being considered.

The Cabinet opted for the Super Fund proposal in the middle of last year, but it was scuppered by NZ First.

Wood said light rail is the most significant city-shaping piece of infrastructure since the Auckland Harbour Bridge, which opened in 1959.

“Light rail is a critical investment to develop a modern, connected mass-transit system in New Zealand’s largest city, supporting jobs, growth, and housing.

“Without decisive investment in mass transit Auckland will choke on its own growth.

“Light rail will support growth in Māngere, Onehunga, and Mount Roskill in particular, connecting these communities and giving people the option to leave the car at home, which will help reduce congestion and emissions.

“Our vision for Auckland is to create a vibrant connected city that’s easier, cleaner and safer to get around – light rail will help make that happen. The city centre to Māngere line will be a backbone that eventually will link with the North and North-west, forming a rapid transit network that fully integrates with other forms of transport across the city,” he said.

Wood since once the establishment unit comes up with a plan and business case for light rail, the Cabinet will make the key decisions on the route, mode and who will deliver the project. This could be City Rail Link Ltd or a new joint venture with Auckland Council.

“We will then be able to give the public certainty on issues like cost and timeframes.

“We hope to go into the next election with a plan in place and shovels in the ground,” Wood said.

The Herald understands it will be six to eight years before light rail is up and running in Auckland.

Woodhouse said the “fresh start” on light rail amounted to another business case after wasting four years on the project and spending $15m on a business case.

“Today’s announcement was ridiculous. After four years there is still no business case. No funding. No route. No idea of who will build the project or how they will build the project. No consents. No engagement. Nothing,” he said.

The Greens, however, welcomed the announcement with the establishment unit to engage with Aucklanders on works for them.

Transport spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter said street-level light rail is the party’s preferred option because it can deliver the benefits of a more expensive metro system at lower cost.

“Street-level light rail is also more easily accessible for people with mobility issues and avoids the significant property purchases and disruption that comes with tunnelling and building underground stations.

“With street-level light rail, we estimate there could be a train every four minutes at peak times, taking 40 minutes from Queen St to the airport. Three quarters of the journey would be separated from roads, allowing speeds of up to 100 km/h, but obviously slower though suburban centres,” she said.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff welcomed the Government signalling decisive steps to get light rail back on track for the city.

“I welcome also the Government’s inclusion of Auckland Council and the community as key partners in the project, which is fully funded by central government.

“The Government has also indicated that it will be listening carefully to the views of the Auckland community and other stakeholders, and I commend this collaborative approach,” he said.

Heart of the City chief executive Vic Beck said “involving Auckland in this major project is vital and something we have been asking for”.

“Rapid transit is needed to ease congestion and support our rapidly growing city but the light rail project announced today must learn lessons from the City Rail Link.

“Putting in a place a solution to address the severe impact on businesses impacted by City Rail Link construction will be a fundamental element in getting the light rail project right,” she said.

Wood said he was very conscious of business disruption caused by construction of the City Rail Link.

“It is my view we have to deal with that issue(for light rail) as part of the indicative business case process,” he said.

A spokesman for the Super Fund – which is no longer involved in the public delivery project – said “we acknowledge the Government’s decision to establish a new unit to deliver the Light Rail project”.

“Last year NZ Infra put forward a world-class, innovative and fully-funded proposal to deliver urban transformation facilitated by light rail from Auckland’s city centre to Māngere and the airport.

“While we won’t be involved in delivering this project, NZ Super Fund remains open to exploring options for applying our investment approach to other projects to help New Zealand bridge its infrastructure deficit,” the spokesman said.

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