The NZ Herald reports:
In a surprise announcement, the Government has today unveiled advanced plans for a combined transport and housing package in Auckland. The centrepiece of the announcement is an “Eastern Ring Route” between Takapuna and Drury to complement the soon to be finished Western Ring Route and take pressure off State Highway 1.
The 44 kilometre long route, including a new Eastern Alignment for crossing the Waitemata Harbour, was announced by Transport Minister Simon Bridges after a snap cabinet meeting on the issue and ongoing frustration about growing congestion in New Zealand’s biggest city.
“This is a bold response to the big issues faced by Auckland,” explained Mr Bridges at a press conference following the announcement. “With the Auckland Transport Alignment Project highlighting major issues being faced in the west and south of Auckland, we have made a well targeted approach by focusing our next major motorway project in the north and east of the region.”
Confirmed as a 6 lane motorway that will replace Lake Road in Devonport before passing under the Waitemata Harbour to the east of the Port and continuing underground along the old Eastern Highway to avoid angering core National Party voters before emerging again around Glen Innes and linking in with the AMETI and then Mill Road projects. The “Eastern Ring Route” has a currently estimated cost of around $25 billion and a likely construction timeframe of 3-4 years. The project’s route is shown in the map below:
When questioned on the scale of the project’s cost, Mr Bridges appeared unfazed. “Oh it’s OK, we’ll just turn it into a PPP!” he said to surprised reporters.
For the first time in New Zealand the transport project will also contribute directly to addressing Auckland’s housing shortage. Housing Minister Nick Smith joined Mr Bridges to announce that the earth from the twin 9km tunnels would be used to reclaim parts of Shoal, Ngataringa and Hobson Bays. “Auckland needs housing and we need somewhere to put all of the dirt from the tunnels” he said.
He added “We want to ensure more Aucklanders can get a slice of the quarter acre paradise and so we’ll be passing legislation to ensure the new sections created will stay forever at a minimum of 1,000m². We believe this will also help allay the fears of nearby residents concerned that people not like them may move in to the area.”
Support for the project from business groups was quickly forthcoming. Stephen Selwood, Chief Executive of the NZ Council for Infrastructure Development stating: “this is a fantastic announcement by the government and exactly the project that we have been pushing for over the last few years. Our members are particularly pleased as this will be excellent for their balance sheets… sorry, I mean it will be excellent for Auckland for decades to come!”
On the project’s high cost, Mr Selwood noted that “it’s a good project because it’s expensive… sorry, I mean it’s expensive because it’s a good project.”
Outgoing Auckland Mayor Len Brown lent his support for the proposal: “This is the kind of big thinking that Auckland needs if we’re to accommodate an extra million people in the next 10 years. This is why we need to get on with introducing motorway tolls to pay for the City Rail Link so that all our normal transport budget can go on projects like this!”
Local support also appeared strong, with Devonport-Takapuna Local Board Chair Joseph Bergin highlighting excitement on the Board’s behalf that something would finally be done to fix the highly congested Lake Road. “While replacing Lake Road with a 6 lane elevated motorway that carves its way through Mt Victoria is certainly a novel way to solve the issues faced along this corridor, we are glad to see transport money being spent in our Local Board area and not in West Auckland, South Auckland or the CBD,” Mr Bergin said in an email to the Herald.
Chief Executive of the Ministry of Transport, Martin Matthews, whose staff led the month-long investigation into the project, was particularly enthused about its potential to be used by driverless vehicles and the possibility of the project replacing the Eastern Railway Line with a concrete “truckway”. “Rail is such 19th century technology and we are on the cusp of a technological breakthrough that will enable the productive use of infrastructure like this,” Mr Matthews stated from his 5 car garage.
Construction on the project is due to begin in August, with the first stage being a 40 metre cut into the side of Mt Victoria in Devonport for the harbour tunnel’s northern portal.