Auckland to get partially tunnelled CBD to airport light rail

Auckland's promised light rail between the airport and the city is set to be partially tunnelled, the Government announced today as part of its 30-year transport infrastructure plan.

Artist's impression of Auckland light rail

The Government has also committed to an additional Waitematā Harbour crossing, and has brought forward planning to integrate with other transport systems.

Infrastructure Minister Grant Robertson and Transport Minister Michael Wood made the announcement on Friday morning.

The decision for a partially-tunnelled light rail system was made from three shortlisted options for the 22km route from Auckland city to the airport.

A tunnel would run from Wynyard Quarter to Mt Roskill, which will then exit to the surface and run alongside the SH20 motorway to the airport.

The chosen option, number three, would see transport available every five minutes from approximately 18 stops.

“We have deliberately chosen this option for Auckland Light Rail that will integrate with other major infrastructure projects across Auckland, like the additional Waitematā Harbour crossing, the Auckland Rapid Transit Plan and Kāinga Ora Large Scale Projects,” Robertson said.

Future Rapid Transit network

In October, this option was 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 Government said the plan would create up to 97,000 new jobs, and 66,000 homes by 2051.

“Alongside the City Rail Link, the underground network will bring Aucklanders transport infrastructure into the 21st century, allowing faster trips and reduced emissions. City Rail Link is the heart of Auckland’s transport network, and Light Rail will now form the spine of what will be a fully integrated rapid transport network that will lead us into the future,” Wood said.

Auckland Light Rail route map

“The Northern Busway is growing by 20 per cent a year and will run out of capacity in 10-15 years, so new transport options for the future are needed, and the planning must begin now. This decision alongside the City Rail Link means that we can now ensure rapid transit to the North as well as the South, East and West.”

Public consultation on options for the additional Waitematā Harbour crossing would begin in 2022, with a preferred option selected in 2023.

A business support package would be developed alongside affected businesses.

Building light rail to Auckland's airport was plagued with issues. In June 2020 the multi-million-dollar transport project was halted until after the September election.

More than six months after the election, new Transport Minister Michael Wood said the project was getting "back on track", admitting the previous process didn't involve Aucklanders enough.

ACT transport spokesperson Simon Court said before the announcement that it could cause Auckland 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.

“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. New Zealanders deserve better