A business champion and a cycling crusader both heap praise on a joint effort between the Government and Auckland Council to solve Auckland’s horrendous traffic issues. 

Seems unlikely on so many counts, but that is what a re-jigged Auckland Transport Alignment Plan (ATAP) has delivered. 

Mayor Phil Goff and Transport Minister Phil Twyford together announced spending on Thursday of a record $28 billion over the next 10 years to get the region moving. 

Light rail, heavy rail, bus upgrades, cycle lanes and two massive projects designed to ease congestion at two far reaches of the super city have all been given the green light. They’ve been accelerated by a funding boost that hasn’t yet arrived – an estimated $4.4b from Auckland’s proposed fuel tax. 

Public Transport lobbyist Matt Lowrie, who runs the Greater Auckland blog, is thrilled with the announcements. Rapid Transit gets $8.4b; there’s $900m for safety improvements and the same again for walking, cycling and local board projects; and buses and ferries get a $700m top up. Lowrie said of the package, “Auckland’s next decade of transport is looking fantastic”. 

Chamber of Commerce CEO Michael Barnett (“Phil Twyford called me ‘Michael Penlink Barnett”) is absolutely delighted that the project he’s worked so hard to push forward has been given the go-ahead. The second connection to Whangaparoa was first identified as necessary in the 1980s. It has had land secured, and consents in place for nearly two years. The queue on the only route out of the peninsula at the moment stretches back nearly five kilometres most days – including weekends. Over a year ago, he told Newsroom its failure to progress was a prime example of the sort of short term thinking that was strangling Auckland’s development. 

Penlink will be a $200m, seven kilometre stretch of tolled road including a bridge over the Weiti River which would join Whangaparaoa to State Highway 1 at Redvale, taking current stress off the Silverdale interchange. Plans have been approved for a four lane project but it will for the moment be just two, with future proofing built in for expansion. With an intention to build another 15,000 homes in Silverdale and Dairy Flat in the next 30 years, the future is here, but in the glow of yesterday’s green light, Barnett is not quibbling too hard. “For us, the fact that they are committing to it going ahead is a good start.” 

He says the Chamber’s surveying suggests residents would be happy to pay a $2.50 fee to use the new road. Barnett says the impact of the Waterview tunnel has shown how vital such projects are. 

The other project that’s had a huge amount of community effort put into it over the last few years is at the opposite end of the city – the Mill Road corridor connecting Manukau with Drury. The congestion in the Papakura area now is legendary and homes are being built at a rapid pace. Stage one will cost $500m. Barnett says it’s frustrating that the entire project won’t be completed (Stage two is down the track) but “they are going to start it and we can only hope a decision is made to accelerate it”. 

Another $800m will be spent on an east-west link which Barnett says has been a priority for a long time. “There are 6,000 truck movements a day going through there which is the reason why the previous government put a project to the EPA which it approved, worth $1.5b. The new government said that was an outrageous amount…it said it would come back with an altered plan with more rail in it but they’ve only allocated $800m. But again there’s a commitment to do it.” 

Barnett has in the past berated governments for ignoring the needs of Auckland – but he says Twyford appears now to be in the driving seat with passion and commitment. The minister has promised Auckland will get its fair share of National Land Transport Fund money over the next decade – 38 percent, proportionate to its population. Goff pointed out in a news release yesterday that still falls short of Auckland’s projected 55 percent share of the country’s population growth over the next decade. But Barnett says they’ve managed to fully fund $28b worth of projects and deserve credit for that.

With the mayor and government wearing the same shade of red, Auckland’s funding blues, at least for transport, appear to be improving. That hasn’t always happened as politics aligned – the joke used to be that once Auckland politicians got to Wellington they forgot where they came from. Barnett says there now appears to be a willing partnership – “You can see that in the way they’re working together – I think that’s what the difference is. Their values align”. 

“Phil Twyford really does have commitment…Goff understands his constraints.” 

Whatever the politics Barnett is just pleased that there now seems to be an understanding that Auckland’s congestion is costing businesses $1 – $1.5b a year, and something has to be done about it. 

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