Serving the Southwest

A lot of debate over the last week has focused on rail to the airport and Auckland Transport/NZTA’s decision to dump heavy rail as an option, primarily due to costs but also because they believe light rail could deliver similar benefits. As has happened pretty much every time in the past when discussing this topic, the focus of many commentators here and across the media spectrum has been squarely on connecting the airport and the CBD. That’s somewhat understandable given both are significant destinations but when focusing on a singular use outcome it naturally results in a misunderstanding of what is trying to be achieved and people trying to come up with alternative ways to achieve that.

The two prime examples of this is the suggestion that we need to have a non-stop express service between the two main destinations and that we could save money but just building a connection across open land from Puhinui to the airport. The latter was even the subject of the herald editorial on Friday.

When most of us look at a map of Auckland’s railways, a spur line to the airport appears obvious and easy. The main line south runs through Wiri and its Puhinui Station is about 5km from the air terminals. A track could be laid through largely open land to the airport perimeter. What could be simpler?

Alas, simple solutions seem not to be welcome in the organisations charged with planning Auckland’s transport.

…..

They are looking at the wrong route

While a faster and/or a cheaper connection would be nice for those just going to the CBD, the numbers doing that exact trip are never likely to be higher enough to justify the scale of investment that rail requires. More importantly, the issue with both of those positions is they ignore one of the key strategic goals that are trying to be achieved, to improve public transport for those that live and work in the Southwest and this is a goal regardless of the mode used.

Southwest

Currently the Southwest is estimated to be home to close to 50,000 people and growing to an estimated 66,000 by 2043. Some of that growth is already underway with developments like the Walmsley Rd SHA set to deliver around 1,600 new dwellings which is likely enough to house another 5,000 people. There are also around 31,000 jobs in this area of which about 12,000 are at the airport itself with the rest in the industrial areas to the north or in and around Mangere and Mangere Bridge. The airport company expect to employment numbers around the airport will increase significantly as more land is developed. That will help to make

Southwest Population 2

 

Whichever way you look at it, that’s a lot of people and a lot of jobs and it would be short-sighted and unfair not to give them some form of quality PT option – this equally applies to other parts of the Auckland urban area too.

Looking at Stats NZ commuter view for two of the area units included in the figures above, we can see that the biggest single destination (outside of working within the same area unit) was working in the Mangere South area which includes the Airport and the Ascot/Montgomerie Industrial area. But while not to the same individual level, there are a number of people who also travel north to work in other parts of the city.

Southwest work location

 

Workers at the Airport itself come from all over the region, a lot from the east but also a significant numbers the north. The numbers from the east will be partially why AT have said they’ll start the early stages of investigation into an RTN route between Botany, Manukau and the airport.

Airport worker commute map

 

So rail to the airport is actually about serving three separate markets

  1. Travellers themselves
  2. People working around the Airport and nearby employment centres (this is likely to be the biggest share of potential users)
  3. People living in Mangere and its surrounding suburbs

Spending the kind of money needed to build a rail line to serve any one of these uses is almost certainly not going to be able to stack up but with all three uses combined it can. What’s more from a PT perspective a Southwest line likely has a couple of big advantages that could make it one of the busiest on the network. Compared to our existing RTN lines, having very strong anchors at each end of the line in the form of the city and the airport will help get good bi-directional usage. Added to that the inherent nature of airport arrivals and departures throughout the day would help drive off-peak usage. As such frequencies are likely to need to be kept fairly high which also benefits others on the route.

Like how some people have incorrectly assumed that because the CRL is in the city, it’s all about trains going around the city, rail to the airport is assumed just to be about people going to the airport but as I’ve discussed it’s really about serving the entire Southwest. Formally the project is called Southwest Multimodal Airport Rail Transit (SMART) but that’s a name that will never catch on. People understand the term Airport Rail and also like the CRL, some people probably won’t realise/understand just what it is trying to do till it actually opens.

The New Old Mangere Bridge

As you may know, the NZTA plan to replace the old Mangere Bridge which is 100 years old this year. This needs to happen as the bridge is crumbling away and according to the NZTA doesn’t have much structural life left.

One of the fantastic features of the existing bridge is its width at around 15m wide. The new bridge won’t be quite so wide but still significant compared to most pedestrian/cycle bridges and will be 8m wide for most of its length extending out to 12m wide in some places where bays will provide space for fishing. It will also be a bit higher than the existing bridge to enable small boats to pass below it.

The project has progressed to the stage that the NZTA are now seeking resource consent to build the new bridge giving us some good images to see what the bridge will eventually look like. Instead of being straight like the current bridge, the new bridge will curve slightly towards the motorway bridges.

New Mangere Bridge - NW

Aerial view of the bridge from the North West

New Mangere Bridge - Harbour

Looking at the bridge from the Harbour

You can see just how much of a curve there is in the image below

New Mangere Bridge - Above

A few more images

New Mangere Bridge - Onehunga Harbour Rd

Looking South from over Onehunga Harbour Rd

 

 

The image below I’ve joined from two separate images

New Mangere Bridge - From Motorway joined

As mentioned earlier the bride is at least 8m wide across the entire length however the effective space for walking and cycling will effectively be about 6m in most places due to seating and other features – although some places get a little narrower than that. In addition the design of those features creates  chicanes all the way across the bridge.

New Mangere Bridge - Deck plan

If you want to submit on the resource consent it is open to Sunday 13 October.

East West Link and Old Mangere Bridge Open Days

Another series of consultation events that will happen this week will be for the East West Link and the replacement of the Old Mangere Bridge.

Communities will get the chance to have their say about two significant transport projects in their area – the East West Connections and the replacement of the of the old Mangere bridge.

The NZ Transport Agency and Auckland Transport say there is an open invitation for people to attend three community days planned for later this month. Two of them – at the Onehunga night market (Thursday 24 July, 6pm-10pm) and at Sylvia Park shopping mall near the foodcourt (Sunday 27 July, 10am-1pm) – focus on the East West Connections project. The third – at Waterfront Road Reserve, Mangere Bridge (Saturday 26 July, 10am-4pm) – will focus on both the East West Connections and the next stage of replacing the old Mangere bridge.

The Transport Agency’s acting Highways Manager, Steve Mutton, says the community days deliver on earlier commitments from the Agency and Auckland Transport to work with local people.

“We want to build on the great feedback we’ve had from people to replace the bridge and carry that on into the East West Connections programme. This is the latest step for us to ensure that we fully understand what people are experiencing when travelling in Onehunga, Mt Wellington, Otahuhu, Penrose, Mangere and East Tamaki,” Mr Mutton says.

Community input will help the Transport Agency and Auckland Transport develop their East West Connections programme to improve commuter and freight links, public transport and walking and cycling options over the next 30 years.

“We have already identified freight issues that need immediate attention in Onehunga-Penrose – that’s a key priority given the area’s importance for jobs and the Auckland and New Zealand economies. We will be working with stakeholders and the community in coming months as investigations progress for those improvements.

“But we are not losing sight of the issues people are facing in the wider area. The vibrant communities in the area are likely to experience a growth in the number of people who chose to live and work in them. The predicted growth will put additional pressure on the existing transport network”

“We’ve already identified the need to improve reliability of public transport between Mangere and Sylvia Park – there will be other areas for improvement. We want the conversation with local people now so that as we progress with improvements in Onehunga-Penrose, we can also continue to work with communities to address their issues,” says Mr Mutton.

The community day at Mangere Bridge on 26 July will also be a chance for people to see the proposed design for the new bridge connecting Onehunga and Mangere Bridge.

“The earlier feedback from the community was a catalyst for the project and guided the bridge design,” Mr Mutton says. “We’ve worked hard to integrate the community’s requests, and we’re optimistic that they will be pleased with our design when they see it.”

Some features of the original bridge will be retained, with the new structure curving towards the motorway bridge. It will be high enough for small boats to pass underneath. A wider span also means that some form of opening for larger craft is not precluded in future. Two artists have been commissioned to incorporate the area’s history and values into the design through art.

“Replacing the old bridge and the East West Connections are two very different projects with one similar outcome – helping the Transport Agency and Auckland Transport get the best solutions to improve the area’s transport network. We want to hear the views of people to help achieve that,” Mr Mutton says.

On the East West Link it will be interesting to see if they actually show what they plan to do for the project or if they will just talk about the need for it. This is especially the case as I know they showed business and road lobby groups exactly what they plan to build about 7 months ago.

We can get a bit of a background as to what they will show from some of the information on the AT website including this image which highlights all the issues they’ve identified in the area.

East-West Issues

For a big click the photo or for the original it’s from here (5MB).

This image (on the NZTA website) shows all of the projects going on in the area.

East West Other Projects Large

As for the Old Mangere Bridge Replacement this newsletter shows a couple of impressions of what it may look like.

Mangere Bridge Replacement Total

 

Old Mangere Bridge replacement to be wider

Regular readers will likely know about the plans by the NZTA to replace the old Mangere Bridge which is now more almost 100 years old and requires a lot of maintenance to keep open. One of the massive advantages of the old bridge is that being a former road it is quite wide and it has become a very popular spot for walking, cycling and fishing with the width allowing everyone to happily do these activities without impacting on others. This is shown quite well in this time-lapse the NZTA made on a mid-winters day (imagine just how much busier it would be in summer)

However people were annoyed, not because of the plan to replace the bridge but because the new bridge was proposed to be only 6m wide. If it were a new pedestrian/cycle bridge that width would be considered wonderful but the current bridge is around 15m wide and so the replacement would represent a significant narrowing of the path. That might have been ok if it was just walkers and cyclists but throw in people fishing and things can quickly get quite narrow.

So some good news today from the NZTA that as a result of the feedback they received, they are going to make the replacement wider. Here is the press release.

Community feedback from both sides of Auckland’s Manukau Harbour has made a significant impact on the next phase of the NZ Transport Agency’s project to replace the Old Mangere Bridge.

The Transport Agency has advertised tenders to design the new bridge and its Highway Manager for Auckland, Tommy Parker, says that design will include features requested by the community.

“We’ve heard them very clearly and we’re delighted to be able to respond positively to ensure the new bridge continues to be a much loved and popular connection between communities,” Mr Parker says.

Mr Parker says one the most significant changes is that the bridge will be wider than the six metres the Transport Agency had originally planned for.

“The bridge will now be designed to have a basic width of eight metres, with some sections or bays up to 12 metres wide. This will ensure that people can continue to enjoy to fish from the new bridge and walk and cycle across it safely just as they do now.”

Other elements to be included in the design of the new bridge include:-

  • Constructed next to the old bridge and further from the port
  • A higher clearance above the harbour than the existing bridge for better boat access (the new bridge, however, must have a gradient that is comfortable for walkers and cyclists)
  • Enhanced lighting, seating, railings and rubbish bins
  • Features yet to be confirmed that reflect the area’s iwi connections and rich history

“These elements mirror the feedback we received last year,” Mr Parker says. “The project team’s worked hard to incorporate the community’s wishes and this is an excellent result for everyone.

“Identifying these issues upfront means that they can be included into the design right at the start of this phase of the project. This delivers more certainty about the cost of the bridge and value for money for the Transport Agency, and great transparency for the community.”

Mr Parker says $1m in funds has been approved for the design of the bridge. As part of the tender process, the Transport Agency is working closely with iwi, Auckland Council and the Historic Places Trust. It is anticipated a successful tender will be named in October.

There will be a second chance for community feedback in early 2014 on the detailed designed for the new bridge. The Transport Agency plans to start construction later in 2014 with completion estimated in 2016, around 100 years after the existing bridge opened.

Once the replacement bridge has been constructed, it will be transferred to Auckland Council as its asset.

The Old Mangere Bridge is believed to be the oldest reinforced concrete bridge crossing a harbour in New Zealand. With the opening of a new Southwestern Motorway spanning the Manukau Harbour in 1983, the bridge was closed to all traffic except walkers and cyclists. It is also one of Auckland’s most popular fishing locations.

That certainly seems like a decent improvement on what was originally proposed but what do you users of the bridge think of this change? It’s also interesting that the NZTA will hand it over to the council to be maintained after it has been built.

Old Mangere Bridge

There is of course one more bridge that will be needed in the area in the future, one to carry rail on it’s way to the airport.