An interesting article in the NZ Herald on Tuesday, noting some comments made by Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee and Auckland Council head planner Roger Blakeley, in relation to the City Rail Link project. Starting with Brownlee:
Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee told a transport summit in Wellington yesterday that the case for the $2.86 billion rail link would be stronger in 2030 than the council’s target.
This is quite a shift from what Brownlee seemed to be saying in his immediate response to the release of the City Centre Future Access Study, where I think his key quote was this:
Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee says the Sinclair Knight Merz report “City Centre Future Access Study” released this afternoon by Auckland Mayor Len Brown is a useful addition to the debate on long term transport management in central Auckland.
“It also falls some way short of convincing the Government it should provide financial support to any fast tracking of the proposed City Rail Link (CRL),” Mr Brownlee says.
“In a nutshell the report says the case for building the CRL is weak now, improves somewhat if it’s built closer to 2030 – based on some extremely optimistic assumptions about employment growth in the Auckland CBD – and even then would only provide about 20 per cent of the additional transport capacity needed to deal with increased congestion.”
My understanding is that the purpose of CCFAS wasn’t to justify when the project should be constructed but rather to look at the impact the CRL and other transport options would have on providing for continued access to the city centre in the medium to long term. Fully understanding when the project should happen is the task of a detailed business case – which seems to be the next step for the CRL to take.
Dr Blakeley noted in the same article that waiting until 2030 for the project was “untenable”:
Speaking at the summit today, Auckland Council chief planning officer Roger Blakeley responded that such a delay would be “untenable”.
He said further delays to the rail link would limit employment, growth and economic benefits.
“I’m aware that the Minister of Transport Gerry Brownlee said yesterday that, in his view, the case for the city rail link is stronger at 2030 rather than 2020.
“The council and Auckland Transport’s view is that it should be implemented by 2021 … We think that it’s untenable to have New Zealand’s only international-sized city with traffic at speeds at peak in the morning reduced to around 7km/h.”
From a pure “can we find a way to provide sufficient transport capacity to meet demands up to 2030” perspective we probably could delay construction of the CRL to that point. We can turn most streets in the CBD over to bus-only operation, we can run more trains directly between the west and the south, we can make all trains (aside from Onehunga services presumably) six cars long at peak times and so forth. We might get through.
Of course the down-side of that approach is missing all the transformational benefits of the City Rail Link, not just for the city centre but for the whole of Auckland. Stations along the western line simply won’t be “close enough” (in terms of travel time) to the city centre to stimulate intensification. We’ll probably see the employment targets for the city centre (where the most productive jobs are located) missed and lose out on the agglomeration benefits for all of Auckland and New Zealand that increased employment density would provide. We’ll lose the opportunity to reallocate street space in the city centre to pedestrians, thereby making it a less attractive environment. We’ll lose the improved connectivity between major regional centres on the rail network and the increased frequencies throughout the rail network that the City Rail Link enables. We’ll see further extensions to the rail network like a line to the airport and the Mt Roskill spur line pushed back another decade, and so forth.
In essence, I feel that building the City Rail Link by 2021 reflects the project’s key role in transforming Auckland into the world’s most liveable city and significantly boosting our economic performance. Finding a way to “get by” until 2030 simply views the project from a narrow transport perspective and really only in terms of it providing increased capacity to the city centre. Let’s just hope that the detailed business case looks at these wider issues when finding an answer to the question of “when”.
On the bright side, I think it’s a step in the right direction to even have Brownlee focused on the “when” question rather than the “if” question.