Last week there was a report and presentation to the Council’s transport committee about the Northwest Busway, asking that a ‘staged approach’ to implementing busway be supported. The minutes confirm that the Committee did support this approach. It seems the main driver of the recent support for this project is the realisation that the northwest is planned to grow significantly over the next 30 years – with this fact being well illustrated in the graph below:
One agency that seems somewhat far from impressed with the relatively recent surge of support for this project is NZTA. I suppose this is to be expected to an extent, as their plans for shoulder lanes only along SH16 are now being called into question – especially for the less advanced section of SH16 for upgrade, between Te Atatu and Westgate. This is what NZTA had to say about the project in the Herald a week or so ago:
Although Labour transport spokesman and Te Atatu MP Phil Twyford is pleased about support for the concept in a staff report, he is disappointed the Government’s Transport Agency will not “future-proof” the motorway project for a dedicated off-road busway like that on the North Shore.
“My view is that we are going to need a full-service busway there within a decade,” he said.
Transport Agency acting northern highways manager Steve Mutton said a 2010 study had indicated passenger demand for a busway was “decades away” and a plan to widen and extend shoulder lanes would suffice for now.
This 2010 study somewhat intrigued us, and helpfully Matt L pointed out that in one of his recent OIA requests to NZTA he’d actually received a copy of this report. The whole thing is over 20MB so a bit big for WordPress to handle but it does show that NZTA actually have asked for quite a bit of analysis around how a busway could fit along SH16 and were guided by previous Councils only including this corridor as either a QTN or a “possible future RTN”. This is the report in question I think:
The study delved into the very issue that is now at the top of everyone’s minds. To what extent will shoulder lanes really provide for the long-term public transport demand along the Northwest Motorway corridor and when might something more than this be necessary?
Keep in mind of course that when this study was done the Auckland Council hadn’t even been formed yet and the growth envisaged for the northwest was a lot less than what emerged out of the Auckland Plan.
Interestingly, NZTA’s consultants for this particular study seem to be a bit unsure themselves about the level of infrastructure which high level policy documents were suggesting should be constructed along SH16 – especially the Lincoln Road to Westgate section classified as a “possible future RTN”:
Some discussion was held between different parties to get an idea around the priority of a busway standard piece of infrastructure – notably only focusing on the Lincoln to Westgate section:
Preliminary ideas around the location of a busway were explored:
It seems the key goal was to ensure that construction of motorway interchanges would not preclude the future provision of a busway – with that busway most likely to be on the southern side of the motorway (at least for the Westgate to Lincoln section). This is good, and hopefully was carried through to the most recent designs of the interchanges (including Te Atatu).
Perhaps the most interesting part of the study are the diagrams at the back, which show a few possible designs of the different interchanges that could accommodate a full busway – at least for the Te Atatu to Westgate section. Let’s start with the Te Atatu interchange:
And the Lincoln Road interchange (though it’s not particularly clear how this would connect to the Te Atatu-Lincoln section of busway):
What I take out of this interesting document is that actually a surprising amount of work has been done on studying a busway along SH16 in the past – at least along the Te Atatu to Westgate section. Because, at the time, this was only either a QTN or a “possible future RTN”, NZTA quite rightly felt that they only needed to plan for shoulder lanes as part of their motorway upgrade project. Yet to their credit, they made sure that interchange upgrades would be designed in a way that allowed a busway through them reasonably easily in the future.
The issue now is that things have changed. The Auckland Plan has confirmed all of SH16 between Waterview and Westgate as forming an important part of Auckland’s rapid transit network. Growth in the northwest is likely to be much greater than previously anticipated. It seems that the upgrade of the Waterview to Te Atatu section of motorway is too far advanced to radically change its design, and even in the longer run a busway mightn’t be required as there are not too many conflicts here and no likely stations.
But for the Te Atatu to Westgate section, I think it would be foolish to build shoulder lanes when they might only be useful for 10 years, due to the immense growth in the northwest. Surely it would be smarter in this section, where the stations actually are, where there’s overlap with the Henderson to Albany corridor, where the design is less advanced, to build the busway from the get-go. After all, quite a bit of design has already occurred which looks at where the busway might go.