Aucklanders need to "pour a bit of cold water" on dreams of better transport infrastructure after the City Rail Link (CRL) is built, says Acting Prime Minister Bill English.
That is, unless they like roads.
Last week the Government and Auckland Council agreed to split the bill for the 3.4km underground rail tunnel, and revised the upper cost estimate to $3.4 billion - about $1 million for every metre.
While it's estimated the CRL will cut congestion on Auckland's clogged roads by doubling rail capacity, vastly improving travel times, it was originally expected to cost only $2.5 billion.
"The big number that's come out should pour a bit of cold water on some of the other dreams that have been expressed about what might happen in Auckland, because this is a large contribution from everyone outside Auckland to a critical piece of infrastructure there," Mr English told Paul Henry on Monday.
Because the Government has essentially written a blank cheque, with the final cost still a mystery, Mr English says it'll be taking a big role in the decision-making process from here. This he expects will ensure it comes under budget.
"In recent years our large roading projects have actually come in a bit under budget."
Traffic in Auckland has gotten progressively worse in the past decade. More than 40,000 new cars hit the road every year, and the average rush-hour journey from Papakura to the CBD has gone from 46 minutes in 2013 to 67 now.
"We're getting a more realistic view of how to deal with congestion and the need for more roading projects in Auckland," says Mr English.
"They might just have to pull back on some of the big ambitions for [the CRL]."
Likely future Mayor Phil Goff has proposed petrol taxes and congestion charges to push people off the roads and onto buses and trains, as well as developing a light rail system and extending busways.
His closest opponent, Vic Crone, is "fundamentally opposed to congestion charging when there are no viable alternative routes or good public transport options available".