Is the baseline transport programme actually OK?

In the Mayor’s proposal for council’s 10 year budget, there is discussion around how two transport programmes will be consulted on early next year once a draft budget has been fully formulated:

  1. A programme which is based on the funding envelope possible with a 2.5-3.5% rates increase. This is referred to as the ‘baseline proposal’ in the document
  2. A larger programme that relies on additional funding, either from higher rates increases or from alternative funding options (like a network charge or congestion charge)

The paper highlights that what falls within the baseline proposal will be the subject of ongoing discussion between the Council and Auckland Transport, based around a system of ranking projects. However, a number of key projects that can be funded within this programme are listed:

  • City Rail Link
  • North Western Growth Area Projects (presumably this means new roads in Westgate and Hobsonville)
  • Warkworth SH1 intersection improvements (an odd one to include as I thought this was an NZTA project)
  • East West Connections (the new name for the East West Link)
  • Lincoln, Te Atatu and Dominion Road upgrades

Later in the document, when each of the transformational shifts in the Auckland Plan are discussed, there’s some further information on key projects which are included in both scenarios:

Whichever transport programme we eventually include in this LTP, there is no doubt that it will reflect the ongoing shift to public transport that this council has been committed to since its inception, with $700 million spent on public transport in the four years of Auckland Council.

The City Rail Link is fundamental in both scenarios. The baseline programme in addition, incorporates significant investment in bus lanes and bus infrastructure to support the new public transport network. Projects such as AMETI include walking and cycling provision. The city centre transport budgets include funding for Wellesley Street bus infrastructure and the Wynyard bus interchange.

One thing that’s really important to note here is that the CRL is no longer dependent upon finding alternative funding sources. It’s in both scenarios, which makes complete sense as the project is listed in the Auckland Plan as the number one priority. Even if the alternative funding options go nowhere, CRL is still budgeted to happen (when it happens is mainly down to central government).

Projects essential to the success of the new bus network’s rollout are also included in both programmes – a big programe of bus lanes, the Wellesley Street bus infrastructure, Wynyard bus interchange, the Dominion Road project and AMETI are all mentioned above, while Te Atatu bus interchange is listed (along with some rail grade separations) as a project that’s come out of some work on spatial prioritisation.

So a lot of the really good stuff we need council to focus on building – both to kick start implementation of the Congestion Free Network (i.e. CRL and the AMETI busway) and to ensure the new bus network is implemented successfully – appear possible in the baseline programme.

If we turn to what’s highlighted as being excluded from the baseline programme – but could be funded if extra money was available from network charges or some other funding source – there’s a rather strange mix of projects listed:

  • A majority of local and arterial roading projects across the region
  • Almost all of the park and ride projects currently programmed
  • The North-Western busway
  • Strategic projects such as Penlink and rail electrification to Pukekohe

Looking back in the project list from the Integrated Transport Programme, most of the arterial roading projects seemed like a huge waste of money, so I doubt we’d miss them. We had things like:

  • Mill Road – $239 million
  • Albany Highway upgrade – $665 million (likely a typo)
  • Lake Road Upgrade – $120 million
  • Great South Road (Otahuhu-Manukau) – $820 million (another possible typo

There was also another $2.5 billion budgeted for “other arterial road upgrades” over 30 years, excluding anything in the new greenfield areas as they were a further budget line item. So while we may miss having some of the arterial roading programme cut back, it seems like there was an enormous amount of waste in it. In terms of Penlink, well I think that was covered off last week in quite a bit of detail – in short, it won’t be missed too much.

In terms of park and rides, we’ve highlighted on many occasions in the past that these are not a panacea for improving public transport and in many cases may be both poor value for money and could undermine other goals such as cost-effective feeder buses or development opportunities around train stations. A small park and ride development programme is probably appropriate, focusing on stations that serve areas where feeder buses just aren’t viable (i.e. rural areas). Beyond that, however it’s hard to see a major programme being fundamentally essential.

That leaves the Northwest Busway and Pukekohe electrification. While these are both critical projects – particularly if Auckland is going to sprawl to the northwest and south over the next 10 years – it’s debatable whether they are projects that should be mainly funded by the Council. It is central government which owns both the rail network that would be electrified between Papakura and Pukekohe as well as State Highway 16, which the Northwest Busway would be built alongside. Sure there may be some costs to the Council in relation to stations, new trains and bus interchanges, but I would have thought the bulk of both projects should be paid by government.

In summary, it seems like it may well be possible for the council to proceed with a pretty good transport programme in the near future without relying on additional funding sources – including making significant effort towards implementing the Congestion Free Network. This is essentially what we’ve been saying since the CFN came out over a year ago, so it’s nice to finally see. Of course the devil will be in the detail of what projects are and are not in this “baseline programme”, but at the very least it’s great to see CRL’s in – and therefore no longer requires alternative funding options to be approved before it can proceed.

Electrifying from Papakura to Pukekohe

Well it looks like Auckland Transport has already started responding to the calls by new chairman Lester Levy to be more transparent. The AT board meets next week and one interesting paper going to them in the open session is the business case for extending electrification from Papakura to Pukekohe. The paper going to the board recommends that the project be including in ATs capital plan but says that more work is needed to work out how the project could be funded which would either need to be by an additional funding source or re prioritising existing projects.

Work completed as part of the City Centre Future Access Study, including looking at where future greenfield development might occur, has helped feed into the business case. They have assessed that the population between Drury and Pukekohe will more than treble over the next 30 years going from around 23,500 to 78,300 by 2041. Four options were looked at and assessed:

The business case also suggests that the options of increasing the frequencies south of Papakura or even running express diesel trains all the way to Britomart were looked at but ruled out due to the operational complexities and that there isn’t enough patronage to justify them. All three of the electrification options contained the following requirements with the only differences being the cost of station construction.

The electrification options (A-C) include signalling, overhead line equipment (OLE) and trackimprovements required for electrification. KiwiRail advise that there is no requirement for additional traction power in any option.

There are nine road-over-rail bridges between Papakura and Pukekohe. Detailed measurement has identified that three bridges along the route would need to be replaced because they lack the minimum clearances required for electrification (see appendix). The bridges are Onslow Road, the Southern Motorway (Northbound) and Stadium Drive No.2. Track lowering is required under one additional bridge at Great South Road, south of Drury. Track lowering was discounted as an uneconomic solution for the other three bridges due to the need for expensive works to underpin the existing bridge abutments.

AT estimate that only two extra 3-car EMUs are required under the electrification options. Spare EMUs are not required given the synergies of operating as part of the wider EMU fleet.

Its interesting to note that only an additional two EMUs are required to enable services to be extended vs needing four to run services using a diesel fleet due to the need for spares. When looking at the benefits however AT suggest that 90% of the benefits for the proposal comes from increased patronage with most of the rest coming from operational savings due to things like having a common fleet. The costs and benefits for each option were assessed using the standard NZTA criteria and the outcomes are below with the recommended option being C.

All up it looks like quite a bit of effort has gone into this business case and it definitely seems like a project we should be doing we should be doing. I would also go further and suggest that based on the maps we saw recently (linked to above) there might even be a case for a station between Drury and Paerata which may bump up the business case even more. The business case suggests that we should be aiming to have the wires up to Pukekohe by 2016 when the last of the EMUs arrive so if funding can be found it could be something that starts to happen fairly soon.

Finally its really great to not only see this report but also to see the level of detail being released, well done AT.