Opposition to Auckland light rail mounts

:  Infrastructure Minister Shane Jones and Infrastructure NZ CEO, Stephen Selwood -- both will be key voices in the future of the Auckland light rail project.
 

Pressure is mounting on Transport Minister Phil Twyford to review the decision to go ahead with light rail from the city to the airport.

The whole line --- running from the city to the airport – is estimated to cost around $3 billion.

The latest critic is Stephen Selwood, CEO of Infrastructure NZ.

But a public campaign against the rail and instead in favour of a heavy rail link to the airport was launched in Auckland this week.

One of the organiser of the campaign, Jon Reeves, the national coordinator of the Public Transport Users Association, says he has been inundated with support for the campaign and that it will start to get a higher profile over the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, POLITIK understands that NZ First opposes the proposal  though it was included in the Confidence and Supply agreement between the Greens and Labour.

The question now is how far NZ First will push its opposition to light rail   in favour of  heavy rail which both Leader Winston Peters and Infrastructure Minister, Shane Jones, have been strong proponents of.

Critics are saying that the project will not meet the needs of the airport when traffic through it doubles, as it is expected to over the next 15 years.

Infrastructure NZX CEO Stephen Selwood says there is a lack of clarity about the role for light and heavy rail.

“This issue must be resolved when the business case is released,” he said yesterday.

“The public is understandably confused about the purpose of the Dominion Rd light rail project and its role within the wider transport system.

“They are also confused about the potential for heavy rail connections to and from the airport.

“This is a symptom of a wider strategic issue around how heavy rail is to support the future growth and development of Auckland given the significant investment in the Central Rail Link currently underway.”

Auckland Councillor and former Auckland Transport chair, Mike Lee has been highly critical of the light rail proposal.

Lee says the debate about the light rail proposal has been dominated by dominated by “political egos, technical ignorance and group-think.”

Selwood said that under standard practice, we would normally first ask what issue we were trying to address – congestion, urban regeneration or access to the airport? – and then we would decide what investments are required.

“With the decision to proceed with light rail effectively made before a business case has been developed, best practice has been diluted but not the need to be clear about what we’re trying to achieve. 

“Is Dominion Rd light rail designed to reduce congestion, support urban development or provide a rapid transit link to the airport? Is it all three or something different?

“If the purpose is to improve access to the airport, then the business case should demonstrate that light rail better serves this objective than alternatives, including heavy rail.

“If the purpose of the project is to reduce congestion, then business case analysis must demonstrate improved travel times for general traffic commensurate with the investment being made by road users.

“Alternatively, if the purpose of Dominion Rd light rail is to unlock and enable urban development, then the business case must present a coordinated land use plan indicating the residential and commercial property opportunity linked to the project’s delivery. This should include the rezoning which is required and the timeframes for development.

“Importantly, if the objective is urban development, and if congestion and other transport benefits are not improved, then funding should be primarily sourced from urban development, rather than the National Land Transport Fund.”

Selwood argues that there are number of funding options which should be assessed;  “Targeted rates, capital gains taxes and land acquisition via an urban development authority.”

 “A strong, transparent business case, clarifying why the project is being delivered, its costs, benefits and how it will be funded and delivered will address public confusion over the reason for light rail and resolve the question of light or heavy rail to the airport,” he said.

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