News today that Len Brown is pushing for an earlier start on part of the CRL.
Auckland Mayor Len Brown is offering $250 million of the city’s money to kick-start the $2.86 billion underground rail project before the Government starts contributing.
He has told Prime Minister John Key his council will pay for an “early works” programme from next year to get the project out of its starting blocks at Britomart and under much of Albert St.
The council, through Auckland Transport, has already spent more than $100 million on property purchases and other route preparation work, and has included $193 million for the “transformational” project in its draft budget for 2014-15.
This is exactly what I have predicted might happen for some time and I first suggested it might have been a good idea back in July last year when it was announced that Precinct Properties were planning to get started on redeveloping the Downtown Shopping Centre and that they would build the section of tunnel under their site at the same time. The reasons the council/AT might want to carry on with the CRL work are simple in that there are a huge amount of public and private sector projects, both announced and unannounced that are currently being worked on. All of them would benefit from the construction of the most disruptive elements of the CRL being completed earlier. It’s the private sector ones that Len is rightly focusing on as they are the ones most likely to get the governments attention.
In his letter to Mr Key, he listed a string of private sector projects likely to be affected by construction of the 3.5km rail link from Britomart to Mt Eden.
They included a $300 million-plus redevelopment of the Downtown shopping centre above the route, and the convention centre which Sky City intends building for the Government in return for being allowed to install extra gambling machines.
Mr Brown said an early start to the rail project would minimise disruption and provide “a more effective and investment-friendly approach to the overall development of Auckland’s CBD”.
Precinct Properties wants to start rebuilding the Downtown centre next year into a possible 41-storey tower. It will co-ordinate foundation work with excavations for a “cut and cover” section of two rail tunnels between Britomart and a new underground station near Aotea Square.
Mr Brown said Aucklanders had shown overwhelming support for the rail project, and the private sector was making investment plans around it.
“We are saying to the Government, there is a big head of wind coming in behind this project from the private sector, and do we want to hold them up while we continue to dally, or do we want to move.”
As mentioned earlier it is more than just Precinct Properties that have plans in motion, many of which aren’t public knowledge yet and I doubt none of the private developers want to have just completed a massive investment and have their gleaming new buildings almost inaccessible due to the CRL construction just getting under way. I wonder how many jobs all of the planned projects would enable and interestingly how much they would contribute towards achieving the government’s condition of a 25% increase in CBD employment to agree to an early start to the project as a whole.
There are also a number of council projects dependant (or at least very much affected) by the need for the CBD parts of the CRL to be completed. These include:
- Quay St Upgrade – Quay St will probably need to be available to handle Customs St traffic while the tunnel is built under the Customs St/Albert St intersection.
- Customs St – We’re likely to need a proper bus priority on Customs St but that can’t happen until the CRL tunnel disruption has been completed.
- Victoria St Linear Park – Again while some parts of it can be built without the CRL, some of the key parts can only happen once the CRL has been built under Victoria St
- Wellesley St – The Victoria St linear park will reduce Victoria St to one lane each way and so all buses through the middle of the CBD are likely to shift to Wellesley St which will require proper bus priority, probably even a full busway.
There are a number of other potential street upgrades in the CBD that will be on hold they will be needed to help handle the disruption caused by the CRL construction. We know Len really likes focussing on the big projects but the reality is that without the most disruptive elements of the CRL construction being completed then many of the smaller but vital projects to make Auckland a more liveable city simply can’t happen.
So the interesting question is how much will $250 million get us? Well because much of the property acquisition and design has already taken place then it will get us quite a bit really. Here are the project costs from the original business case in 2010 (so they are bound to be slightly different now).
It can be a bit hard to read but the Britomart to Aotea section of cut and cover tunnel is costed at just ~$81 million while the Aotea station itself is costed at ~$138 million, about $220 million all up (not including rails or other fit out costs). It’s these two parts of the project that will be most disruption to the CBD and $250 million would get them out of the way. Here in orange the section that AT have been seeking a surface designation for to allow for the cut and cover tunnels (as opposed to a sub-strata designation where the bored tunnels will be in blue to the upper right hand part of the image).
And here’s how the cut and cover section would be built.
I’m not sure if this would allow for the Aotea Station to be used by trains or not. If it did it might crucially allow for a couple of extra services on the network during peak times giving some crucial extra capacity earlier than planned.
It will be interesting to see how the government responds.