Cycle bridge prioritised over Eastern Busway

The Eastern Busway project will be delayed by at least two years. Photo supplied

Friday’s news that completion of the Eastern Busway project will be delayed by at least two years is gutting to east Auckland residents who have been waiting years for the delivery of the Eastern Busway and Reeves Road Flyover, said the region’s MPs.

“Twelve months ago, in June 2020, Mayor Phil Goff told the people of east Auckland there would be no delays to the Eastern Busway project despite projected shortfalls in the Council’s Budget as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Pakuranga MP Simeon Brown and Botany MP Christopher Luxon said in a joint statement.

“He spoke of the Council’s commitment to this project given how critical it was to solving congestion issues in the wider transport network and because it would provide more reliability and choice in our public transport options.

“Yet now we’re told the Eastern Busway will be delayed by at least two years and with this Government’s poor track record, I am increasingly concerned that the next stages of the project, namely the Reeves Road Flyover and the Pakuranga to Botany Busway, may be delayed even further.”

Pakuranga Road remains one of the busiest non-State Highways in the country, they said.

“And as we seek to rebuild our economy, we should be investing heavily into infrastructure projects like the Eastern Busway to create jobs and ensure rapid growth in the East Auckland area can be managed,” the MPs said.

“Instead, the Government sees fit to take money from projects that have been on the books for years and prioritise cycleways over the Auckland Harbour, something that a fraction of people will use.

“This also comes after several years of the Regional Fuel Tax, which we were told would be used to fund important projects like the Eastern Busway to ensure they could be completed on time. We’re paying that tax, but where’s the money gone?”

They said the Howick Local Board area covers the largest population of any Local Board in the entire Auckland region.

“Yet we are severely underfunded in terms of services provided and projects delivered,”
Brown and Luxon said.

“The Eastern Busway is set to provide enormous benefits not only to east Auckland commuters but to neighbouring industrial hubs like Mount Wellington and Onehunga.

“The Government and Auckland Council need to urgently work together to find the money and reverse this funding cut now, to ensure the Eastern Busway is delivered to the promised timeframe. It is critical we invest in this project and secure the future of our local transport network.”

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff told the Times he is worried but holds out hope the matter of funding could change.

“I am concerned that, following the completion of stage one of the Eastern Busway this year, there will be a delay of up to two years of the final stages of the project,” Goff said.

“However, I am assured that if there is a change in the funding situation, efforts will be made to again bring forward the completion date of the $1.4 billion project.”

Auckland Councillor Paul Young, for the Howick Ward, told the Times he was “completely shocked” at the news.

“The possible delay to the completion of the second stage of the Eastern Busway is completely unacceptable and is a huge blow to east and south Aucklanders who have been waiting for the busway for a decade already,” said Young.

Prior to the meeting, councillors received no warning or heads-up from Auckland Transport about possible delays to this, the second largest transport investment after the City Rail Link, he said.

“To discover these changes through a public agenda with no time to discuss options or find solutions to the funding issue was unbelievable and shows a culture issue with Auckland Transport. That is why I voted against the endorsement of the regional land transport plan,” said Young.

“Both south and east Auckland have suffered historic underinvestment in transport from both central and local government. The Eastern Busway is the first opportunity for us to change that story. Once completed it will provide a convenient and reliable connection from the east to the rest of the region. If we want to earn the confidence of Aucklanders and if we are serious about meeting our emissions reductions goals, we should be speeding the busway up not slowing it down.

“I am committed to finding a way to bring the funding for the Eastern Busway back to the earlier years as was originally consulted on by AT. We can’t to afford lose momentum on the progress we are finally making now.  There must be a solution and I will work with Auckland Transport, the Mayor and councillors to get the Eastern Busway back on track.”

Colleague Councillor Sharon Stewart said they were first alerted to the delay in the Eastern Busway at the Extraordinary planning meeting  on Thursday.  “I was gutted to find out at the committee yesterday that the $1.4 billion Eastern busway will take an extra two years.   I argued that the east had suffered from under-investment for years. “More broken promises from Labour government, more anti-car policy just like Mill Road.”

The deferment in completing the Eastern Busway is disappointing and unacceptable for young people, says the Howick Youth Council.

Youth council co-chair Danica Loulié-Wijtenburg says that further delays would be inexplicable to most young people.

“The Eastern Busway is essential to improving public transport for our community. When built, it will open opportunities across Auckland for public transport users, alongside people using bicycles.

“Youth often choose to use public transport to get around their neighbourhoods and their city. They’ve told us they want public transport to get better now — not later.

“A student’s trip from Botany to uni in morning rush hour would normally take more than an hour, depending on traffic congestion. Once the busway is complete, alongside the City Rail Link, trips would reliably take only about 40 minutes in rush hour. That’s simply transformative,” Loulié-Wijtenburg says.

The Howick Youth Council believes that the deferment is detrimental to Auckland’s aims for greater transport modeshift and emissions reductions — alongside urban housing goals that demand better transport. Central government should work with local government to resolve this delay immediately.

An Auckland Transport (AT) memorandum to local politicians at the weekend said the draft Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP) included indicative phasing of investments by Waka Kotahi, CRLL, KiwiRail and AT.

“However, as the draft RLTP noted, its proposed ideal expenditure did not match the proposed funding in Auckland Council’s draft Long-Term Plan, although the overall ten-year totals were the same. Both AT and Auckland Council worked to try and resolve this issue,” the memo said.

“Due to constraints in funding from Auckland Council and central government, at different times over the 10-year period, AT has had to adjust the indicative phasing of the draft RLTP programme to fit within the funding available in Auckland Council’s final Long-Term Plan.

“As a result, the funding for the Eastern Busway delivery programme has been spread out by a further two years to 2027/28, following a Regional Transport Committee meeting – where the draft Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP) 2021-31 was considered and endorsed.

“It is important to note that this does not mean a reduced commitment to the Eastern Busway programme. Overall, there is actually a proposed increase in funding for the Eastern Busway of $199 million (from $912 million to $1.11 billion) between the 2018 RLTP and the 2021 draft RLTP.”

Stage 1 of the Eastern Busway is not impacted, said AT, and is still due for completion later this year. “This allows for bus services between Panmure and Pakuranga to use a dedicated busway, delivering significant benefits for East Auckland.”