Developing Auckland’s light rail system could cost an estimated $9 billion dollars at the very least, according to proposals released on Friday.
That’s a jump from the $6 billion it was projected to cost in Labour’s 2017 election promise, coming closer to NZ First leader Winston Peters' claim that confidential proposals he’d seen in 2020 estimated it would cost between $10 billion and $15 billion.
Transport Minister Michael Wood announced three shortlisted options for the 22km route from the city to the airport.
The majority of the Auckland Light Rail team preferred Option 3. It would see underground light rail from the city to the airport, following Sandringham Road. From there, the route then comes up to street level at Mount Roskill then continues to the airport via Onehunga and Māngere.
Option 3 is estimated to cost $14.6 billion to develop and deliver about $11.6 billion in benefits over 60 years. The projected benefits take into account aspects like people's increased access to jobs.
“The business case draws a clear conclusion that Auckland light rail is a necessary investment to lessen congestion and further future proof our biggest city,” Wood said.
“It is a critical piece of infrastructure to support more housing, to give people real transport choices, and to build a linked up transport network for Auckland.”
Meanwhile, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said rapid transit along the route would enable the housing and job growth the city needed for the future.
By 2051, tunnelled light rail is expected to carry 31 million people a year, with capacity being reached after 2070.
The route is likely to pass the Wesley and Mount Roskill areas, where Kāinga Ora is planning to build about 11,000 new houses.
However, the exact route and locations of its 18 stations haven’t been finalised and remain flexible as development continues in the area, the report said.
The parts of the report that was released also doesn't include further details about the breakdown of costs.
The Auckland Light Rail team said the underground option would help prevent widespread disruption because most construction work would take place underground, aside from at locations of stops and stations.
The cheapest of the proposals, Option 1 at $9 billion, would see light rail begin on Wynyard, follow Queen, Customs, Fanshawe and Daldy Streets, then continue on the surface of Dominion Road, separated from traffic. From there, it would follow along State Highway 20 and 20A to Māngere and the airport.
The report noted the option would cause significant disruption, with partial and full road closures along the route for periods of three to five years.
However, others noted in the report that choosing Option 2 or 3 would mean Dominion Road would likely continue to be dominated by private vehicles, rather than people choosing to switch to public transport.
The option is estimated to carry about 22 million people a year by 2051 and reach capacity after 2070. It is estimated to deliver about $8 billion in benefits over 60 years.
Option 2, light metro , was the most expensive of the options, coming at an estimated $16.3 billion and deliver $14 billion in benefits over 60 years.
It would see a modern tram underground in a tunnel from the city, following Sandringham Road to Wesley, then continuing under Mount Roskill, Māngere and Onehunga Town Centres. It comes up to the street level in other areas.
Light metro is estimated to carry about 34 million people a year by 2051 and reach capacity after 2085.
Option 2 and 3 would be carbon neutral by the mid 2050s, with the report predicting that some people would switch away from travelling in private vehicles.
“However the scale of construction required for these tunnelled options means they have significantly higher levels of embedded carbon and that means Light Rail achieves carbon neutrality fastest – after about 25 years [at about 2040],” the report said.
The recommendations come after Wood restarted consultation on the light rail project after admitting the previous process didn't involve Aucklanders enough.
The Auckland Light Rail team considered options for heavy rail and trackless trams, but opted for light rail or light metro.
The Government would make decisions at the end of the year, with detailed planning and design work expected to start early next year.