$37 billion to keep Auckland transport from getting worse

Auckland now has a new transport plan, designed to soak up population growth with billions of dollars invested in new public transport projects.

The total budget for the new 10-year Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP), including new capital works and operating expenditure, is $37 billion. Half the money is for new capital works, the other half for operating costs.

Auckland Council will contribute $10.2b, with another $21.4b coming from Government sources and the balance from public transport fares and other income. Just under half the funds will be spent on public transport.

But last week it was revealed that a part of this spending will be delayed. Nearly half a billion dollars originally slated for spending in the next few years has been pushed back to the second half of the 10-year period.

This includes funding to complete the Eastern Busway, a long-awaited project now under construction that will provide rapid transit between Botany and Panmure.

Other big public transport projects are also delayed, along with some community projects.

Cycling and walking projects will receive $200 million – about 0.5 per cent of the total budget – although much of that spending will also be delayed until after 2026. There is also an extra $20m for new footpaths.

The plan includes roading work to improve safety and efficiency in Dairy Flat and at the Hill St intersection in Warkworth, both of which have been the subject of strong local campaigns.

However, although the work is approved, the funding for many projects remains uncertain. AT’s head of planning and investment, Jenny Chetwynd, told the board, “The RLTP contains our choice of projects, but many of them still need to go through the funding applications process.”

The board of Auckland Transport (AT) signed off the RLTP after a short discussion, during which board members expressed concern about the Eastern Busway delay, uncertainties in Government funding and other issues.

Chris Darby, Auckland Council liaison on the board, asked why the cuts affecting the Eastern Busway had not been notified earlier.

AT’s chief executive, Shane Ellison, explained that Waka Kotahi, the NZ Transport Agency, had withdrawn the funding only 10 days ago.

There were 5800 public submissions on the draft RLTP and only 53 per cent said AT had “correctly identified the challenges facing transport in Auckland”. This was down from 73 per cent in 2018.

The biggest issue of public concern was the climate impact, followed by congestion. Spending in the RLTP may hold both at roughly the current levels, but will not reduce either.

AT executive Hamish Bunn told the board that with expected population growth of 22 per cent over the 10 years, this was a “significant achievement”.

Speaking to media after the meeting, Chetwynd said she believed congestion will get worse unless the Government introduces congestion charging.

A select committee is investigating this now and will report to Parliament in August.

Board chairwoman Adrienne Young-Cooper said AT “could only do so much” in regard to carbon emissions with the large spending projects.

“Now we have to look at a very comprehensive suite of incentives and disincentives.” She proposed that AT executives look for ways to make it easier to repurpose the roads. In effect, this would allow for the easier creation of bus lanes and cycleways.

She also proposed that AT now accept council’s invitation to work together on a new emissions plan. They will report jointly on this in August and again in December.

Asked afterwards about the key to reducing emissions, she said: “We have to persuade people to drive less. It won’t be easy.”

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