Transport Minister Michael Wood says Auckland light rail is 'bread and butter' issue after criticism over cost

Transport Minister Michael Wood says while Auckland's biggest public transport project might not be popular, it's a necessity.

The first surveying work has begun on Labour's long-awaited light rail project, despite pleas from some to focus infrastructure resources on Cyclone Gabrielle repairs.

"We're still going ahead with this $30 billion project? People of the cyclone-affected projects must be sitting there pretty upset right now," National Party MP Erica Stanford told AM on Friday.

But Wood, now also the Auckland Minister, continues to defend the project. Asked on AM if the Government could afford the cyclone rebuild and light rail without increasing taxes or borrowing more money, Wood said Governments "always borrow money for these kinds of projects".

"A really important point to make about these projects: no one's writing out a full cheque for the project this year or next year - these are big projects and networks that you stage out over 10 or 15 years of construction. This will be a long-form project that we carry out over stages."

But Timothy Welch, an urban planning senior lecturer from the University of Auckland, said the project was still hugely expensive.

He told AM the project is the most expensive in the world and would be billions cheaper if it was built above ground.

"It's two to three times more expensive per kilometre than any other light rail project in the world."

But Wood said the Government had to plan for the future.

"We've got to also have transport infrastructure that reduces our emissions," he added.

When asked whether the project was a "bread and butter" issue like Chris Hipkins promised to focus on soon after becoming Prime Minister, Wood said it was in his view. 

"Building a functional, linked-up public transport system for our biggest city is basic transport policy."

Details of the exact route and cost of the light rail project have not yet been finalised, the Government has said - but it will be 24km long and have the capacity to move 17,400 people every hour.

It comes after Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown criticised it last month, saying the "case for light rail was lighter than ever".