Monday’s NZ Herald finally picked up on the Northern Busway extension from Constellation to Albany being left out of the government’s accelerated transport package that was announced as part of the Budget.
Auckland’s successful Northern Busway has been set back by a Government decision to exclude an extension to Albany from an $815 million package of accelerated roading projects.
A Treasury paper shows the Government considered a Transport Agency plan to extend the dedicated bus highway from Constellation Drive, but backed off after being told it would cost an extra $250 million.
But it is pressing ahead with northern corridor roading improvements costing $460 million, including a full motorway-to-motorway “elbow” link extending four kilometres from State Highway 18 to Greville Rd on SH1 – parallel to the first part of the busway extension route of similar length.
As I mentioned last week the busway extension was originally an integral part of the “Northern Corridor” package of projects:
This went back to the Prime Minister’s speech in June last year, where he also made reference to improving the busway as part of the Northern Corridor package:
Deliver a complete motorway-to-motorway link between the Upper Harbour Highway and the Northern Motorway at Constellation Drive, upgrade the Greville road interchange and improve the Northern Busway
Plans to extend the busway from its current northern end at Constellation Station on to Albany have been around for a number of years – which I looked at in quite some detail last year, drawing from an OIA response on the busway extension’s route and business case which had been prepared for NZTA. Within that report there’s a good summary of how successful the existing busway has been:
Over the past few years investment in the Northern Busway, and efforts to improve bus and transit lanes in other parts of the North Shore, have resulted in a significant increase in the proportion of trips made by bus. Not only has the number of bus users across the Harbour Bridge improved significantly during this time, but there has been a decline in the number of cars crossing the bridge: freeing up space so everyone’s trip is faster and more reliable.
Recent figures indicate that almost 12,000 out of the 29,000 people crossing the bridge in the morning peak period are now travelling by bus (i.e. almost 41 percent of all people use the bus). This figure represents a significant increase in bus mode split compared to 2004 (which had roughly 5,000 out of 27,000 (18.5 percent)) of people crossing the bridge at peak times by bus.
The argument for extending the busway from Constellation to Albany is not only about the success of the current busway, but also about fixing some of the problems faced by buses along this section and supporting the growth of Albany into a true metropolitan centre. The current Northern Express bus gets a great ride between Constellation and Akoranga, but further north the only infrastructure available are some pretty stop-start shoulder lanes, the main consequences of which are that buses get stuck in general congestion on the motorway and also that (particularly northbound) buses waste a lot of time getting through the interchanges. Let’s just look at what a northbound bus needs to do at Constellation Station when going north (in red) compared to the much more direct route it could take with the busway extension (in green):
That might not look like much but getting from Parkway Dr on to Constellation Dr then turning right from Constellation Dr on to the motorway can easily take 5 minutes or more. Multiply that over hundreds of passengers a day and you have some substantial delays.
Further north at Greville Road, my understanding is that in the morning peak the buses get stuck around the interchange for ages as they exit it and then enter again to make use of the bus lanes and shoulder that exist. Yet again many minutes are lost for the huge number of people who use the Northern busway every day.
As a final point, it was interesting that when asked by the Herald, Gerry Brownlee seemed to leave his options open:
A spokesman for Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said last night that although a $350 million Government loan to the agency for motorway improvements did not provide for the busway extension, the project “has not been dropped from the list of projects that may be considered for acceleration in the future”.
If the government did accelerate progress on the busway extension it would become the very first new public transport project in Auckland from them.