Following on from the Memorandum of Understanding signed between various parties on improving transport access to Auckland International Airport a few months back, the tender for “the first stage of an investigation into preferred routes for rapid transit and state highway links to the airport” has been called. Here’s Auckland Transport’s media release:
Auckland Transport, Auckland Council, the New Zealand Transport Agency, Kiwirail, and Auckland International Airport Ltd have signed a memorandum of understanding to undertake the joint investigation.
The New Zealand Transport Agency will fund the first stage of the study, which is known as the South-Western Airport Multi-Modal Corridor Project.
The study will identify preferred transport routes between the Manukau Harbour Crossing and the airport, towards the junction of SH20 and SH20B and towards the commercial and industrial area in Manukau.
It will also investigate improvements to state highways and public transport (including bus and rail rapid transit). The study will identify the need, timing and feasibility for improvements.
Phases two and three are dependent on the outcome of the first phase. The aim is that the second stage will further assess the preferred routes at a detailed level, with the third stage of work preparing to protect the chosen route.
The project will also identify current and potential integrated transport/land use opportunities along the various transport connections to the airport.
According to estimates, the number of passengers through the airport is projected to grow from the current 13.4 million a year, to 24 million in 2025 and potentially as much as 36 million by 2050.
A recent Market Economic study projected employment at the airport and the surrounding airport corridor area to grow from the current 21,000 to as much as 38,000 by 2031.
If this really is a study on the first step of making rail to the airport a reality (which is my understanding of what it is), then it’s certainly being very secretive about that purpose. The word “rail” only gets mentioned once – and that’s for some reason to highlight that rapid transit to Auckland Airport could be by bus or rail – even though ARTA did a study a few years back showing that heavy rail was by far the best option for serving the Airport with Rapid Transit.
Personally I’m really not sure what a bus rapid transit option would achieve over and above what we already have with the airport bus. Perhaps it might add a few bus lanes onto State Highway 20 between the Airport and Mangere Bridge – but what happens at Onehunga? We already have a railway line between Onehunga and the CBD, what we don’t have is a busway between Onehunga and the CBD (and it would be stupid to build one when the railway line’s there). Because of the whole “what on earth would you do between Onehunga and the CBD?” question, it seems silly for this study to even be considering the option of bus rapid transit to the airport again – especially when previous studies ruled it out.
It’s also odd that the study would focus on motorway improvements. While there are some roading improvements to the airport that will inevitably be made in the not too distant future – like grade-separating the Kirkbride Road intersection and extending the motorway grade section of George Bolt Drive right to the airport – this is already reasonably well underway in terms of its planning.
I suppose perhaps the most useful outcome of such a study might be providing a mechanism to link up future transport projects and ensure that they are compatible and – if any project is built before any other project – the first project makes the next one easier to construct. A good example here is the grade separation of Kirkbride Road, where a future road bridge could be build long enough to accommodate a railway line passing under it (potentially much like how the Northern Busway passes beneath Northcote Road). It the study addresses questions like that – then it will make a useful contribution to making Airport Rail a reality. If the study focuses on designing fancy motorways to the airport and even considers bus rapid transit as the preferred option for rapid transit to the airport, then the study will be a complete waste of time and money.