The notice of requirement hearing for the City Rail Link project began yesterday – marking an important phase in securing the necessary resource consents to both protect the route and then enable the project’s construction. Compared to other major transport projects in recent times (Waterview Connection comes to mind as the best example) the consenting process for CRL seems to have been fairly low-key and almost slipping by without much notice. I think this reflects that the vast bulk of the project is in a tunnel (thus minimising its effects) and that the public strongly supports the project generally.
This is of course not to say that the project doesn’t have any effects which will need careful management. This was picked up in an article in yesterday’s NZ Herald:
Neighbours of Auckland’s underground rail project fear digging up Albert St and closing its key east-west intersections will spread traffic chaos through the inner city.
New World supermarket operator Foodstuffs wants Auckland Transport to withdraw a route protection application unless it tunnels under Albert St instead of spending two years digging up most of the road for a covered trench for two railway lines.
The council organisation, which says the tracks will be too shallow and the ground too riddled with service lines to tunnel below Albert St, will today open its case to designate a 3.4km route from Britomart to Mt Eden.
There is an amusing irony that the transport projects which will do more than anything else ever to improve transport in the CBD will potentially have quite significant impacts on traffic during construction. To an extent I think the phrase “short term pain for long term gain” applies here. Plus the traffic impacts will be limited to the section of Albert Street where cut and cover tunnelling is necessary – as well as around the stations.
Tunnelling consultant Bill Newns says in evidence prepared for the designation hearing – which is expected to take about two weeks – he expects a complete closure of the Victoria St intersection for up to 18 months and of Wellesley St for 12 months, followed by a full or partial closure of Customs-Albert Sts for up to nine months.
Auckland Transport traffic consultant Ian Clark recommends the full closure of just one intersection at a time, while maintaining east-west movements elsewhere across Albert St.
I think the impacts on Albert Street can be managed through better utilisation of those giant semi-motorways Hobson/Nelson and also ensuring that buses going along Albert Street retain their bus lanes. What is potentially a bigger problem is the closing of the key intersections along Albert Street: Customs, Victoria and Wellesley:
The dark blue section of the route above is to be built as a cut and cover tunnel (requiring Albert Street to be dug up) while the orange section will be dug out using a tunnel boring machine and avoid impacting on the road above. The three red arrows indicate the key east-west streets.
One way of reducing the impact of the project on Albert Street and on the key east-west streets is to take advantage of the recent announcements relating to the downtown shopping mall site redevelopment – which will see the very first section of the CRL begin construction within the next three years – and push that section of tunnel a little further to go under Customs Street. Something like this:
Building the tunnel to the south of Customs Street as part of this first phase would mean that one of the three key intersections wouldn’t need to be touched at all during the main construction phase of the project – potentially significantly reducing impact on traffic in the city centre. Furthermore, a tunnel with reasonable length could be useful as a train storage area during the peak times removing some of the conflicting train movements and potentially opening up another couple of train slots or at least providing for more flexibility in operations.
Of course there are always cost inefficiencies from building projects like this bit by bit. But we should at least weigh up the operational benefits it could provide as well as the traffic mitigation benefits of not having to dig up Customs Street during the main construction phase.
Today there was more coverage of the hearings and in particular the issues at the other end of the project.
Auckland Council officers fear noise from blasting rock from the Mt Eden end of the city’s underground rail project may seriously damage fragile buildings.
Council body Auckland Transport wants hearing commissioners to allow up to 150 decibels of noise around unoccupied buildings to blast away extensive basalt deposits near where it intends joining a pair of rail tunnels to the western line. That is similar to the noise of a jet on takeoff, which can rupture unprotected ear-drums.
A report by council principal planner Ross Cooper quoted a consultant’s opinion that 150 decibels would create an unacceptably high risk “of windows and other fragile building elements being damaged or destroyed”.
It will be very interesting to hear how the hearing progresses over the next two weeks.