Prime Minister John Key says Auckland will need a new Waitemata Harbour crossing sometime between 2025 and 2030 and that it should be a tunnel. Key also says Auckland's proposed city rail loop, which the government agreed to help fund this week, could be started before 2020 if demand for it is there.
In a speech to the Auckland Chamber of Commerce at the Sky City Convention Centre, Key said congestion on the Auckland Harbour Bridge was already a problem in the peak periods. Traffic forecasts indicated that, as the Auckland economy grew, this would increasingly spread throughout the working day.
"So a new harbour crossing is likely to be needed between 2025 and 2030. A new crossing will address the issues I have just mentioned and provide for the expected growth in Auckland’s population and economy," Key said.
"The Government agrees with the Auckland Council that the next crossing should be a tunnel."
"The first step in what will be a very long-term project is therefore to protect the route for the crossing, which we expect will occur before the end of the year once the details of the preferred alignment have been confirmed," said Key.
Meanwhile, Key said Auckland Transport’s City Centre Future Access Study last year had concluded that the forecast growth in demand for access to the city centre would best be met with a combination of the proposed $2.86 billion City Rail Link and substantial access upgrades for buses.
"I can tell you that the Government broadly agrees with that conclusion," said Key.
"We don’t, however, agree with the timeframes proposed in the report, which concluded that the City Rail Link needs to be in place by 2021. Given the scale of the project, this would effectively mean construction would need to start in two years’ time."
"So, as I indicated earlier this week, the Government is committing to a joint business plan for the City Rail Link with Auckland Council in 2017 and providing its share of funding for a construction start in 2020," added Key.
"And we will be prepared to consider an earlier start date if it becomes clear that Auckland’s CBD employment and rail patronage growth hit thresholds faster than current rates of growth suggest."
An earlier business plan could be triggered if two conditions were met.
"The first is if Auckland city centre employment increases by 25 per cent over current levels – that is half the increase predicted in the Future Access Study. And the second is that annual rail patronage is on track to hit 20 million trips well before 2020. But that is something we will discuss with Auckland Council," said Key.
"We will also need to address funding, including how project costs will be shared between the Government and the Council."
"In the meantime, the conclusions of the Future Access Study showed bus crowding and congestion coming into the CBD is a priority issue, and we will look to make funding available in the next government transport policy statement for projects to address this."
Auckland Mayor Len Brown said about 70% of the funding for the City Rail Link was now secured and work on options for the remaining funding, which he estimated at about $30 million a year, was underway. An additional harbour crossing would also be vital.
"I’m pleased that the government is backing the council’s preferred option of a tunnel, which will secure the option of a rail link to the North Shore," Brown said.