This post is an update on two of the three key busway projects in Auckland at the moment, the extension of the Northern Busway to Albany and a busway along SH16 (the third one is the AMETI busway).
Northern Busway Extension
The Northern Busway has been an outstanding success since opening fully in 2008. Despite only being grade separated for 41% of the route it has managed to exceed patronage projections and defy the doubters who claimed it would be a waste of money. It’s even had the remarkable success of significantly changing mode share with the number of people crossing at peak times on a bus increasing from 18.5% in 2004 to 41% in 2012.
One of the most crucial projects we need to be getting on with is the extension of the Northern Busway from Constellation to Albany. When the government announced it’s package of motorway projects in June last year the associated map included “Northern Busway Improvements”
It’s also mentioned on the NZTA page for the Northern Corridor improvements as component 5.
In July we found out that the plan to extend the busway was estimated to cost about $250 million and that the busway would actually stay on the Eastern side of the motorway to make it easier for a future extension to Silverdale (which would cost an additional $300 million. It would be connected to the Albany busway station by a dedicated bridge across the motorway.
So it should be about to be constructed right? Unfortunately not.
Papers released by The Treasury show the project isn’t part of the government funding package anymore.
The Northern Busway
25. An extension to the Northern Busway was previously included as part of the Northern Corridor package of projects.
26. The NZ Transport Agency has advised it would need $250 million to deliver this project on accelerated timeframes but that investigations and route protection for the project can continue without additional financial assistance from the Crown.
The point 27 which has been withheld is “to maintain the current constitutional conventions protecting the confidentiality of advice tendered by ministers and officials”
From conversations I’ve had it appears the NZTA were quite keen to get on with the busway extension and had expected to get the go ahead to do so but were stopped by The Treasury who pulled the funding for it at the last minute. I suspect that’s what point 27 refers to. My understanding is now all the NZTA can do is to make sure that the motorway plans they do proceed with leave enough space so that they don’t stop the busway from happening at some point in the future.
I guess we won’t know exactly why funding was pulled and I notice none of the other motorway projects have had parts stripped out of them. It appears to me that this is just a continuation of the single mode focus that has dominated the transport discussion for so many decades and it’s both hugely frustrating and disappointing. It’s also an insult to anyone who lives on the upper North Shore or up by Orewa/Whangaparaoa and who wants better choices in how they get around.
We’ve called for a busway along SH16 for a long time and it is a key part to the Congestion Free Network.
It’s also an idea that seems to continue to gain some traction. In my view it’s a project that will become increasingly important as large greenfield land gets developed in the North West. The area already contains ~40,000 dwellings and it’s been estimated there will be additional 80,000 over the next 30 years. To put it another way it will grow by about the size of the North Shore.
In March last year Auckland Transport proposed a bus interchange station at Te Atatu between the motorway and Titoki St however it seemed to have a couple of major flaws like requiring all westbound buses to cross the motorway twice just to access the station. There was also significant community opposition to the proposal and in the end AT dropped the idea and went back to the drawing board. In a response to an OIA request initially to the NZTA but passed to Auckland Transport they say:
There’s no information about what that new interchange station may look like but it’s positive to hear that they are now looking at full busway along the route – although I suspect only from Te Atatu west. My guess is we might hear more about the project later this year when the consultation for the new network in West Auckland happens.
Of course even with a full busway is chosen who knows if or when it would be funded. In my mind it should be an NZTA project like the Northern Busway however considering how difficult it appears to be to get the extension to that funded we could be waiting a long time for a Northwest busway.