What should Auckland spend $2.2 billion on?

Let’s just say Auckland had $2.2 billion to spend on transportation. This money is from a crown grant rather than from petrol taxes, so there’s no real bias from the school of thought that petrol tax money should be spent on roads. Therefore, all different types of transport projects could be considered equal – ie. rail versus roads.

Now let’s look at two ways in which that money could be spent:

The first option is on a cheap and nasty Waterview Connection. This open cut, fully surface level option is projected to cost almost exactly $2.2 billion. This is a total of $1.456 billion for construction costs, $290 million for SH16 upgrades and $450 million for financing costs. This option will involve the demolition of around 500 houses, the loss of a huge amount of open space in a part of Auckland that is considered to already be short of open space. Because of its high social and environmental costs, its cost-benefit ratio may be below 1. Furthermore, 73% of the benefits it will supposedly bring are  internationally criticised ‘time-savings benefits’, which don’t actually seem to exist in the longer-term. So, to conclude, for this option we get a 4.5 km motorway driven through a suburb, a huge loss of open space and all justified on fairly dodgy time savings benefits that may not even exist.

The second option, which also costs $2.2 billion, would involve a two track railway line being built from Avondale to Manukau City via Onehunga and the airport. This option would firstly involve completing the Avondale-Southdown railway line – that has been designated since the 1940s. Because of its long-running designation no houses would have to be demolished to make way for the line. Completing the Avondale-Southdown railway line would open up rail access from West Auckland to the airport and south, it would offer freight trains an alternative route through Auckland to the congested Newmarket junction, thereby over time allowing higher frequencies of passenger trains to be operated. This part of the project would cost $729 million and include four train stations – for interchanges with high frequency bus services to the city along Manukau, Dominion and Sandringham Roads.

The rail option would also involve linking the airport to the city by rail – with trains able to travel from Britomart to Onehunga, then over the Mangere Bridge to the airport. Furthermore, it would also link with the existing main trunk railway line near Manukau City. This finally creates a high quality public transport link from the city to the airport, creates an alternative  rail link between Manukau and Britomart, increasing the capacity of the Otahuhu-Wiri section of the Southern Line. It makes running inter-city trains to Britomart a possibility, and they could even go via the airport for extra connectivity.

They both cost $2.2 billion.  They both compete for the same money, a crown grant. I wonder which has the most long-term benefit for Auckland? I wonder which will be built?

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