A government task force has come up with a new proposal for Auckland’s light rail at more than ten times the original cost and long overdue initial deadlines.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promised to build a light rail from central Auckland to the airport within a decade before the 2017 general election.
Progress on the large transport project was slow and then came to a complete standstill last year when Labor coalition partner New Zealand First refused to support it.
Transport Minister Michael Wood sent light rail back to the drawing board in March, commissioning a group of experts to develop a business case to revive the project.
That group has returned with three options, ranging from a Melbourne-style tram to a London-style subway tube, each with a higher cost and time frame.
The first option ‘Light Rail’ would be a modern tram that travels the surface of the city streets, separated from the traffic but following the highway.
This is the cheapest of the three, with an estimated value of $ 9 billion.
The second option ‘Light Metro’ would travel through an underground tunnel under densely populated areas and on the ground surface through non-urban areas.
This option has the highest transport capacity, but it also has the highest price, with an estimated price of $ 16.3 billion.
The third option, ‘Tunnel Light Rail’, would see a modern tram running through an underground tunnel from Wynyard Quarter to Mt Roskill before rising to street level in the direction of the airport.
This option is essentially a hybrid of the first two options, priced at $ 14.6 billion, and it turned out to be the task force’s preferred option.
The group found that tunnel light rail provided the highest level of transportation and urban development benefits, the least disruption, and the best opportunities for future network integration.
Although the economic analysis favors the light rail option, the group found that it provided fewer benefits than the other options and could restrict transportation options in the long term.
The report notes that all three options require construction in densely populated areas of Tāmaki Makaurau, including downtown, Onehunga, and downtown Māngere.
Light rail is likely to require partial and full road closures for a period of three to five years and disrupt central areas, such as Queen Street and Dominion Road, for several years.
Light rail and tunnel light rail have reduced surface impacts, but both require tunneling in many areas that are likely to experience significant disruption.
The group found that all three options have a cost-benefit ratio of more than one and recommended that the project be developed by Crown, Auckland Council and Mana Whenua.
He said that both the central and local governments would require significant investment; the Crown expected to finance most of the project’s capital costs.
The cabinet will make final decisions on route, mode and delivery by the end of the year with a view to starting planning and design work in early 2022.
A new delivery entity will be established within Waka Kotahi or as an entirely new company to take on the construction of the project.
The task force recommended further research on their preferred tunnel light rail option to ensure the scheme design, costs and schedule.