$14 billion Auckland light rail bid gets green light, decision on second Waitematā Harbour crossing in 2023

A decision on light rail in Auckland has finally been reached. 

The Government has selected partially-tunnelled light rail from Auckland CBD to the airport, a proposal that comes with a $14.6 billion price tag

It will become the "spine" of Auckland's future transport network and will eventually integrate with light rail and with new rapid transit to the North Shore and northwest. 

That will be possible thanks to an additional Waitematā Harbour crossing, with decisions on that mammoth task to be brought forward to 2023. 

While it's expected to generate up to 97,000 new jobs and 66,000 homes by 2051, the construction will be a huge disruption for businesses - Auckland's City Rail Link is a prime example. The Government has committed to a support package to be developed alongside affected businesses.

But the benefits, not least of all a cleaner way for Aucklanders to get around, will mean that transport will be available every five minutes from approximately 18 stops, cutting travel times from the CBD to the airport in half for many. 

"Where previous governments and councils have failed to plan for the long term, we are committed to preparing for and safeguarding our country's economic future today," Finance Minister Grant Robertson said on Friday.

Transport Minister Michael Wood added: "Our largest city needs a linked-up rapid transit transport network that will serve Aucklanders into the future, making it faster to move through the city, connecting communities, providing greater access to businesses, all while reducing congestion."

Auckland light rail map.
Auckland light rail map. Photo credit: Supplied

Getting to this point has been rocky, which you can catch up on here

But setting the drama aside, light rail offers some exciting prospects for a city expected to have 31,000 additional households by 2051. 

The chosen light rail option will be 24km with up to 18 stations or stops from the CBD to Māngere and the airport, running every five minutes so people can turn up and go. 

It will be capable of carrying up to 15,000 passengers per hour at peak, which is four times more passengers than a dedicated busway or trackless trams. It will also take an estimated 12,000 cars off the road.

The light rail track will integrate with current train and bus hubs and the City Rail Link stations and connections. Light rail can also be extended to the North Shore and northwest without having to transfer from one line to the other. 

Transport network with light rail.
Transport network with light rail. Photo credit: Supplied

It will see light rail in a tunnel from Wynyard Quarter to Mt Roskill, which comes to the surface and runs alongside the SH20 motorway to the airport.

There will also be safe walking and cycling along the corridor and with connections to all stations.

The Greens are pleased Auckland will have a clean transport option. 

"For years the Greens have been pushing for accessible public transport options for Aucklanders that reduce traffic congestion, cut climate pollution, and make it easier to get around without a car. Today we can see part of that vision becoming a reality," said transport spokesperson Ricardo Menéndez March.

"While the Green Party's preferred option has always been more accessible street-level light rail down Dominion Rd, it's time to get on with building better transport options for Aucklanders."

Artist's impression of Sandringham Station.
Artist's impression of Sandringham Station. Photo credit: Supplied

Auckland Central MP Chlöe Swarbrick said it was "encouraging" that modelling shows building light rail with a boring machine will cause much less disruption than the trenching seen with the City Rail Link.

The Greens also welcomed the decision to move forward with an additional Waitematā Harbour crossing. 

But ACT wants politics taken out of transport projects. 

"The light rail process to date has been a disaster. We've spent four years trying to figure out how to make a political promise from Jacinda Ardern work. In the meantime, we've seen billions of dollars moved away from road building, projects cancelled, rescoped and deferred, fuel taxes increased, and regions neglected," said transport spokesperson Simon Court. 

"New Zealanders deserve better."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Transport Minister Michael Wood.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Transport Minister Michael Wood. Photo credit: Getty Images

Court said ACT isn't opposed to light rail in principle. But he's concerned about the process and what the project could do to Auckland.

"Auckland is staring down a decade of disruption. Questions need to be asked about whether we could be taking actions today at less cost to deliver light rail in the future. For example, options like investing in the bus network and repurposing it for light rail later could be reconsidered."

But according to Wood, the Northern Busway is growing by 20 percent a year and will run out of capacity in 10 to 15 years, so new transport options for the future are required. 

"Addressing future disruption is front of mind for the Government, and designing a support package alongside business will be a major part of this engagement in 2022," Wood said. 

"We are making a commitment to businesses in the area that significant disruption will be addressed through a comprehensive package, including direct financial support."