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Extending the Northern Busway

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:

Northern Corridor Improvements

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):

nex-northbound-detour

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.

Footpath Clutter

When I was out looking at the trial bus shelters on Sunday I was reminded of an issue that plagues our footpaths – clutter. Symonds St where the bus stops are suffers from this quite a bit but by no means is it alone. In the case of Symonds St the footpaths are made quite narrow by the presence of the bus shelters and is made worse by a mixture of

  • Light poles
  • Real Time Displays and electrical plinths
  • Bus Stop and bus lane signs

All this can make it quite difficult for people walking to get through the area, especially if a lot of people are trying to get on a bus and it must be terrible for someone in a wheelchair or mobility scooter. Some examples of the clutter on Symonds St are below.

Footpath Clutter - Symonds St 1

Real time Displays, sign poles and even a car to get around – the car belonged to one of the guys finishing the installation of Shelter B and there wasn’t enough space for someone in a wheelchair to get around

Footpath Clutter - Symonds St 2

Looking straight on you can’t actually see down the footpath thanks to the light pole.

Footpath Clutter - Symonds St 3

And from a different angle you can see again the light pole, real time display and further down sign poles blocking the path.

One example I experience every day is on Albert St while waiting for my bus to Takapuna. The bus stop pole, light pole and bus stop board combine to completely block the view up the road (note buses usually stop with their front doors between these two poles).

Footpath Clutter - Albert St 1

Auckland Transport should really have a programme to identify and fix sites like this to improve the pedestrian realm and waiting experience for PT users.

I’ve seen plenty of other examples recently and I know many other readers have too judging by our twitter feed.

The Trial Bus Shelters

Back in May Auckland Transport announced that they were going to trial three different bus shelter designs on Symonds St. They are seeking public feedback on them with the intention of eventually rolling out the winning design across the region.

Yesterday I decided to go and check out the three options and all three shelters I liked and didn’t like about them.

Shelter A

This was my favourite when AT initially announced the designs and one of the reasons is it was quite different to what we’re used to seeing. Some commented in the original post that the wood would make it feel too dark and be less safe compared to the greater use of glass in the other designs. Personally I really like the addition of the wood including the structural support with the engraved Pohutukawa motif.

Bus Shelter Trial - Shelter A

I guess the only concern was the size of the glass on the front of the shelter for those times when the rain is coming in sideways.

Shelter B

This one is perhaps a bit of a dark horse. I thought it looked bland and boring in the initial images but it turns out it’s a case of actually having to see it in the flesh. Even the photo below doesn’t really highlight it that well. The real design feature is above the shelter with the roof having quite a retro feel to it, curved at the front and with fins out the back. The front kind of reminded me of an old tram. The shelter itself has a heap of seating and one big glass panel for those really rainy days which is good.

Bus Shelter Trial - Shelter B

The biggest issue with this shelter is how well the retro design holds up over time. It’s cool now but will it still be in 10 years-time? (Although I guess you could say this about all the designs). Because it’s hard to get the feeling for the shelter in this image the one below is the render from the AT Website which shows the design feature a bit better.

Bus Shelter Trial - Shelter B - Major

 

Shelter C

In our poll Shelter C was the second most popular design due to it appearing to have more design to it than B and more glass than A. In real life I didn’t really like the design that much and it seemed a bit busy and not that inviting. Perhaps it is too similar to what we’re used to seeing. Also like Shelter A it only had two small glass walls on the front to protect from heavy rain. One aspect I really did like though was the panel at the end of the shelter which was used to give more information. In particular I liked how it laid out the areas the buses that use the stop serve.

Bus Shelter Trial - Shelter C

Bus Shelter Trial - Shelter end wall

Just for a comparison, here’s what the old shelters look like.

Bus Shelter Trial - Existing Shelters

After viewing them in person I still think that Shelter A is my favourite, Shelter B lifted itself to my second favourite leaving Shelter C as my least favourite.

But not all bus stops are created equal, most will be much smaller than the ones above while stops in Neighbourhoods are likely to be larger. The images below are the renders for the other versions of each design.

Minor Stops

A trial of these shelters is being installed at the Silverdale Park & Ride, presumably until the full station is built.

Shelter A

Bus Shelter Trial - Shelter A - Minor

Shelter B

Bus Shelter Trial - Shelter B - Minor

Shelter C

Bus Shelter Trial - Shelter C - Minor

I think Shelter B carries the design idea through the best while Shelter A seems pretty standard with what we have now.

Neighbourhood Stops

What’s interesting about all three of these stops is they bend around the corner which makes them quite prominent which would definitely help in making bus stops more visible and a key part of Auckland’s future.

Shelter A

Bus Shelter Trial - Shelter A - Neighbourhood

Shelter B

Bus Shelter Trial - Shelter B - Neighbourhood

Shelter C

Bus Shelter Trial - Shelter C - Neighbourhood

Again my favourite is Shelter A which seems much more prominent and interesting, it even looks like it has some cycle racks behind the centrepiece part. Like in the original pictures Shelter B is difficult to see so hard to know exactly what it would look like in person. Shelter C just doesn’t look like it scales as well on the large stops.

Of course all of this is just my opinion and everyone can have a say so make sure you do. The AT website has more info including some more detailed info about each design. The consultation is open till 22 August and I would recommend going and having a look if you can, as it certainly changed my thoughts about Shelter B.

I ran a poll when the trial was announced and I’m going to repeat it again to see if anyone’s views have changed.

What new Shelter design do you like best?

View Results

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Photo of the Day: St Lukes Motorway Median

The motorway lanes at St Lukes have been parted as part of the project to widen the St Lukes Rd bridge.

St Lukes Motorway Median

In many other cities when you see the motorway parted like this it would be for a busway or rail line to be installed. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if this work was for the creation of a Northwest busway (Admittedly it probably isn’t quite wide enough).

Below are a couple of examples of median running transit.

Perth

Perth Rail Median

Los Angeles

LA Rail Median

Bogota

Bogota BRT Median

 

Istanbul

BRT Istanbul

New Network Consultation for the Hibiscus Coast

On Monday Auckland Transport are launching the next consultation for the New Network and this time it’s the turn of Hibiscus Coast. AT say the changes to the network are planned to go in early mid 2015 which could make the area the first to change to the New Network as the South Auckland changes aren’t due till later in 2015. As a reminder about the changes being made with new network watch this video from Auckland Transport

The first and perhaps most significant change to the network is that AT will extend the Northern Express (NEX) to a new busway station. AT have already started on this and built some of the Park n Ride planned however I believe it has been halted due to another challenge to the Environment court by a local land owner. It’s proposing NEX services running at 30 minute frequencies off peak and with 15 minute frequencies during the peak which it is describing as 6am-8am and 4:30pm – 7pm. They say services will be timetabled to ensure reliable connections with local services.

Hibiscus Coast Consultation - Busway Station

Where the Hibiscus Coast differs from other parts of the region is that there are no all-day frequent services and services that are a minimum of half hourly are made up of a two lower frequency for part of their journey. The full map of proposed services is below (click to enlarge).

Hibiscus Coast Consultation - Map Combined

At first glance one area that seems less than ideal is how buses are treated in relation to the Silverdale Town Centre. Going to the busway station some buses enter the town centre before doubling back and then going to the station while other buses skip it inbound and only go through outbound. All of this is because vehicles aren’t allowed to turn right out of Silverdale St or Wainui Rd. AT say that if a proposed new road gets built it will allow them to send all buses though the centre in both directions however as an interim measure perhaps they should just signalise one of the problem intersections and then have all buses run a logical route through it.

Hibiscus Coast Consultation - Silverdale Town Centre

The consultation will open Monday for a month.

Here’s the press release

More buses more often, new bus routes and extending the Northern Express to Silverdale, these are some of Auckland Transport’s proposals to boost public transport options for the Hibiscus Coast.

Anthony Cross, Public Transport Network Manager says the Hibiscus Coast is getting some notable service improvements. “Extending the Northern Express to Silverdale is huge, outside peak hours that will cut 30 minutes off the journey time to Auckland’s city centre”.

There will also be a new bus service for the growing area at Millwater plus buses every 30 minutes between Orewa, Silverdale and Manly, seven days a week.

More frequent local services, and a number of new or trial bus routes are also some of the benefits residents can look forward to under the New Network.

“We’re also building a new busway station at Silverdale which will become a key interchange for the Coast. We are increasing the Park and Ride car parks too,” says Mr Cross.

“The New Network will change the way people travel – it is a fundamental shift in the principles behind how we plan the public transport network. There will be a few challenging years ahead of us as we consult and implement, but in the long term it will make a very positive difference to Auckland’s public transport system.”

Consultation on the New Network for the Hibiscus Coast runs from Monday 14 July to Thursday 14 August.

Following consultation, changes are planned to take effect in early-to-mid 2015. There will be an extensive information campaign ahead of the changes, and the new timetables will be available ahead of time so that passengers can plan their journeys.

In coming weeks, Auckland Transport will have people in local markets, shopping centres, and transport hubs and on the streets on the Hibiscus Coast talking to customers about these changes and getting their views. A series of information events have also been planned.

For more information on the New Network for the Hibiscus Coast go to www.AT.govt.nz/newnetwork

The New Network is a region wide public transport network which is proposed to deliver bus services at least every 15 minutes throughout the day, seven days a week on major routes between the hours of 7am to 7pm. Services will connect better with train services for those customers who require connections.

South Auckland was the first region to be consulted on the New Network in 2013.

Updates on the Northern and Northwest busways

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.

Northern Busway White Elephant

NZ Herald Cartoon 14 Feb 2008 – The day after the busway opened

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”

sh18-sh1-link

It’s also mentioned on the NZTA page for the Northern Corridor improvements as component 5.

Northern Corridor Improvements

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.

Northern Busway Extension - Eastern access to Albany

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.
27. [7]

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.

Northwest Busway

We’ve called for a busway along SH16 for a long time and it is a key part to the Congestion Free Network.

NW Busway on CFN

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:

NW Busway AT OIA request

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.

PT fares change today

Public transport fares have changed today and despite cash fares increasing, for the majority of users the cost of using PT has dropped thanks to an increase in the HOP discount. As I said back when the change was announced.

Overall I think this is a very good move by AT. By raising the cash fares but also increasing the HOP discount it does two things.

  1. It increases the differential between cash and HOP fares which will help make HOP more attractive. More people using HOP is good, particularly for buses as it speeds up boarding time.
  2. Over 60% of all trips now take place using HOP, that means for the majority of PT users these changes will actually represent a decrease in fares.

As of the end of May 64% of bus and train users were already using HOP cards and I suspect it has grown further during June. Since the change was announced I’ve also heard of people who have brought a HOP card simply because of the changes which are clearly designed to encourage greater use of HOP.

The adult bus and train fares changes are below.

July 2014 Fare changes

No everyone has benefited though with most ferry fares increasing.

I think it will be a fascinating to see what happens with patronage which has been growing strongly in recent months and I hope will continue to do so.

In addition to the fare changes, last week AT quietly introduced daily passes on HOP. The daily passes work in the same way and with the same zones as the monthly passes yet oddly despite there being an inner zone there isn’t an inner zone daily pass. There also aren’t any child pricing options. The costs are:

  • Zones A & B – $16
  • Zones A, B & C – $22

The map below shows the zones.

Daily Pass Zone

It seems like there is still some way to go before this can be a product easily used by many people

Bring on the New Network

The new bus network aims to revolutionise the bus network in Auckland turning it from a network that resembles spaghetti thrown on a map to a more legible and customer focused one. It provides a lot more routes that run with decent frequencies all day and is able to do so in a revenue neutral way by stopping stupid stuff like bus routes that duplicate and compete with the rail network and by having a greater use of transfers. Below is a map of the frequent network that will have services at least every 15 minutes between 7am and 7pm 7 days a week. It is supported by a secondary network that provides greater coverage with 30 minute frequencies as well as peak only and other localised services.

newnetwork

To me the full roll out of the new bus network can’t come soon enough and that was highlighted again last night with the problems that occurred on the rail network. A water main burst at Fruitvale Station and apparently undermined the tracks. As a result the network was closed for a large portion of the day including the evening rush hour. There were a number of services cancelled outright and those that did run on the western line terminated at New Lynn with a shuttle bus taking passengers between there and Henderson.

Given how poorly these types of impromptu shuttle services have run in the past I didn’t hold out much hope that they would be any better this time. As such I decided to catch a bus home. The experience highlighted two things

1. AT need to have plans in place to make better use of the bus network when events like yesterday’s happen.

I don’t mind using an alternative service – even if it takes a little longer than the train does – if it means I don’t have to worry about mucking around with an hastily organised shuttle service. However while I’m someone who catches PT frequently I don’t have much idea about which bus alternatives I can catch.  AT could make it easier for people by having some prepared information telling people alternative options. For example some posters they can quickly pull out of a storage room telling people their options without having to wade through little pamphlets.

Fixing their journey planner would also help with this. When I looked on it half the services I could have caught didn’t show. It also might not be practical for a lot of people. Further it’s not just about which services but the myriad of potential bus stop locations around Britomart which makes everything confusing, something that will hopefully be addressed as the new network is rolled out.

2. Get the New Network Rolled out.

After fumbling around I found a service that would at least get me home – the 079 to Sturges Rd. I knew the route would be convoluted but that turns out to be an understatement. The map below shows the route the bus takes to get to Sturges Rd. The red part indicates the part of the route where most of the 20-30 people on the bus hopped off. The handful of people who remained on the bus in the blue part were mostly the rail refugees.

079 Route

By comparison if the new network was in place it would have been super easy to find a different way home. I could have jumped on a frequent bus along SH16 and transferred (at a Lincoln Rd interchange) to a bus down Lincoln Rd and had a short walk to Sturges Rd, an excellent alternative.

So bring on the new network with its more frequent and legible services along with the added resilience it provides.

Note: AT are starting consultation on the Hibiscus Coast services in just over a week and Warkworth services a week after that. They are also expecting to consult on West Auckland later this year.

We can (and must) afford both CRL & new network infrastructure

Former ARC Councillor Joel Cayford has recently criticised the City Rail Link as being unaffordable in the near future – largely it seems because of the need to invest in a number of pieces of bus infrastructure to support the new PT network that’s being rolled out over the next few years. Here’s his key point:

However, the CRL is a massive project that improves just one of Auckland’s transport networks – the rail network. It will have a huge impact on Auckland CBD during construction because of the cut and cover sections through Queen Elizabeth Square and up Lower Albert Street. It will offer major opportunities for land development – including the Downtown Precinct which abuts Queen Elizabeth Square. And it comes at enormous cost.

So it needs to be right. It is more important that it’s planned right, than that construction gets started in 2016. And it is critically important that its construction takes its place in the queue with other important public transport network improvements.

newnetwork

This Auckland Transport map depicts the proposed Frequent Network which would/could have services running at least every 15 minutes 7am to 7pm 7 days a week. What it amounts to is a strategic re-organisation of Auckland bus routes in particular. It has largely been agreed after detailed consultation. Parts of the South Auckland network have already been improved.

The transport objective underpinning this plan is the establishment of frequent services right across Auckland. Not just on Rail and the Northern Busway (which you can see in black) NB: The proposed CRL is not shown on this map, but its route is more or less from Britomart, via K’Road to Mt Eden station (shown as the purple star).

Given the affordability of the CRL, the low hanging fruit public transport priority needs to be to deliver the frequency and promise that can be obtained from the new frequent bus sections of the network, which require modest investments in key sections (bus priority lanes, other priority measures such as priority signalling, some network interchange stations, extended lanes, corridor widening, and additional bus stops and shelters).

I understand that all of these bus network corridor improvements have been planned and await funding in a package of works that will cost about $200 million, but that this package is being stalled because of the perceived priority of the CRL. Under the mayor’s current direction, the CRL project is becoming a black hole. All consuming. Surely it’s a priority for South Aucklanders to benefit from the promised frequent bus service.

The political problem that I see is that the pressure to “start CRL in 2016″ (especially in a substantial way) threatens a tight public transport budget. And threatens to delay the rollout to wider Auckland region of frequent bus services that might not be “world class”, but they will be a lot more reliable and attractive alternatives to car than the bus services available now. And the packages of work required a whole lot more affordable for Auckland Council than trying to get the CRL off the ground all by itself.

We know from page 96-99 of Regional Public Transport Plan that various pieces of infrastructure are required in the near future to ensure that the new network can launch successfully in 2016. Items identified as essential include:

  • Integrated ticketing (completed)
  • Electric trains rollout (already funded)
  • Integrated fares (funded in 2014/15 Annual Plan)
  • City Rail Link (for the 2022 networks rather than the 2016)
  • Bus stop and shelter programme ($30m programme completed by 2015/16)
  • Otahuhu interchange (funded in 2014/15 Annual Plan)
  • Te Atatu bus interchange (proposed for funding in 2016/17 year)
  • Westgate bus interchange (proposed for funding in 2016/17 year)
  • Wynyard bus interchange (proposed for funding in 2015/16 year)
  • Other city centre bus infrastructure (funded over three years up to 2016/17 year)

There are others but either they’re desirable rather than essential or they’re fairly small. Joel says all up this comes to about $200 million and that might be roughly in the ballpark from what’s in the RPTP. We really do need to do these projects – and a bunch of bus lanes – to make sure the new PT network is implemented in a successful fashion. Its connected design relies upon good quality interchanges and a much larger bus lane network to ensure services run quickly and reliably. So I am in full agreement with Joel that we can’t let funding CRL (or AMETI, East-West Link, Penlink, Mill Road or any of the other big projects sitting in Auckland Transport’s future work programme) get in the way of funding these other projects.

But where I disagree with Joel is the extent to which the “new network infrastructure” outlined above really conflicts with funding CRL. Timing-wise, it seems that most of what’s listed above will be completed by 2016 or 2017. Almost by definition the projects have to be done by then in order to roll out the network successfully. No Otahuhu interchange means no new southern network, no Te Atatu bus interchange means no Western network rollout. These projects are top of the current priority list – with many funded in the 2014/15 Annual Plan (see page 198 of this document). Further there has been mention of the need for this investment in the draft Government Policy Statement.

GPS 2015 (draft) will enable:

  • completion of improvements to metro-rail services, integrated ticketing and public transport network changes intended to increase patronage, including transfer and interchange facilities
  • provision for targeted infrastructure improvements that improve transfer facilities across the network and address emerging bus capacity constraints in central Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch

In contrast, we know that even if construction of the City Rail Link begins in 2016, the serious investment in its construction will be after 2017 once the main tunnelling and construction of the three new stations gets underway in earnest. Early construction – particularly for the section under Britomart and the Downtown Shopping Centre, is around $250m, leaving plenty of available funding for the new network infrastructure, given that Auckland Transport plan to spend $825 million on transport projects in the 2014/15 year by way of example.

Therefore it seems that there’s little conflict between successfully implementing the new bus network and building the CRL. Put simply, they’re two different things happening in different timeframes – bus stuff in the next 2-3 years and then CRL’s serious investment after that. I wish Joel would spent more of his time criticising the bigger risks for improving public transport in Auckland – like the limited PT funding available in the Government Policy Statement, the refusal by treasury to fund the Northern Busway extension to Albany as part of the Northern Corridor package, NZTA’s willful disregard of the need for a Northwest Busway, government blowing billions on unneeded state highways, the potentially over-sized East West Link project, the expensive and unnecessary Penlink project and many more.

CFN and budget transport announcements

In the May budget the Government announced they would fastrack yet another $800 million of motorway projects, partially financed by a $375 million loan. These were projects that had been identified in the Prime Minister’s Auckland speech in 2013. There were 3 main projects as outlined below.

Budget-2014-Auckland-Transport-package

 

Two of these projects have major potential to impact on 2 key elements of the Congestion Free Network.

The first is the State Highway 20A upgrade, which involves extending the motorway about 2 extra kilometres towards the airport.

Airport Access Map

 

NZTA says the main features are:

Grade separation of SH20A and Kirkbride Rd intersection

Upgrading of SH20A to motorway standards: two lanes in each direction plus dedicated bus priority lanes

Reprioritisation of Ascot Rd / Kirkbride Rd intersection

Installation of truck priority lanes and ramp signalling

Relocation and integration of cycle lanes in local road network

Note there is no mention at all of rail to the airport, which would follow the motorway corridor from Onehunga most of the way to the airport. It is of upmost importance that a rail corridor is reserved by NZTA when they are planning and building the project. They have done this on the SH20 extensions through Mt Roskill, however there was a designation already in place so the situation is somewhat different. Auckland Transport has been investigating rapid transit along this route since 2011. Initially they said the route protection was to begin in late 2011, however 3 years later we have learned little. The latest we have is an April 2014 update which suggests that a preferred alignment will be identified in 2014. While the Airport’s Masterplan may be causing issues at the southern end of the route, work should still be moving ahead in the northern area. It is essential that NZTA and AT work together to speed up alignment identification in this area, something which has been highlighted by the Campaign for Better Transport. If the upgrade is built without an alignment for the rail corridor it will add huge extra cost to the airport rail project. For one thing all the new overbridges would have to be rebuilt, which would be a huge waste of money. Auckland Council need to send a strong message to the government that this would be unacceptable, and ensure the rail corridor is allowed for in the design.

 

The second project is the suite of Northern Corridor projects, which largely revolve around the State Highway 1 to State Highway 18 grade-separation and associated widening. In December 2013 NZTA claimed there were 5 main components to the Northern Corridor projects.

Northern Corridor Improvements

Component 1 is already under construction (costing $19.5 million). Component 2 seems to be the smart low-cost improvements. The announcement above seems to refer to Components 1 to 4, totally leaving out the much needed Northern Busway extension to Albany. Currently the Northern Express speeds the 15km from Britomart to Constellation Station in just over 20 minutes. However the last 4km to Albany can take 15 minutes as there is no bus priority. This busway extension is another project that NZTA and AT have been working on for years, and seems have got bogged down somehow. In 2011 NZTA were saying that the route needed to be designated soon due to the development taking place. Last year we found out a little more about the route investigations, which suggested it would cost $249 million.

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planned SH1/SH18 motorway upgrade

The planned motorway interchange upgrade is quoted as costing an astonishing $450 million. For that cost the project is totally unnecessary for something that just replaces a few at grade intersections with ramps. The focus should be much more on cost-effective targeted upgrades, then we could have the busway extension to Albany and plenty of spare change. The result would be lots more people using the busway, and reduced traffic congestion along the entire Northern Motorway and CBD.

The third set of projects around the Southern Motorway don’t have any components of the Congestion Free Network linked with them. However the upgrades should be a good chance to make Great South Road better for pedestrians, cyclists and buses. The one positive of this project is this means the current expensive plans to turn Mill Road into a 4 lane highway should disappear, and be replaced by a much cheaper safety upgrade. This would be a great way to free up over $200 million to help with Auckland Transport’s stretched budget.