Breaking Down the #ATAP and What it Means for Southern Auckland. A Prelude to the Upcoming RLTP

A breakdown of the ATAP and a look into the RLTP due to start submissions


On Thursday I had the privilege of being alongside others including Greater Auckland and Bike Auckland watching Transport Minister Phil Twyford and Mayor Phil Goff announcing a major turning point in Auckland’s future – the FULLY FUNDED Auckland Transport Alignment Project. You can read up on the announcements and brief list of projects here: #ATAP Is A Go and South Auckland Picks Up Major Wins with the Government and Council Announcement

For the South those projects included:

  • Puhinui to Airport Rapid Transit allowing Papakura to Airport 35mins and then out to Botany in time
  • Third Main to untangle freight trains and passenger trains
  • Pukekohe electrification
  • Motorway to Drury widened
  • Mill road gets the safety upgrades it so needs at the northern end while southern end gets a new interchange that is the first step in relieving trucks from some of our urban roads. The widening of the motorway at Drury and the new interchange will also allow Pukekohe Electrification to happen as the road bridges there need to be lifted
  • Eastern Busway from Panmure to Botany Busway – this will eventually connect to the full Southern Airport Line (Botany to Airport Rapid Transit)


Source: ATAP 2018


Airport Access Study 2020
Source: Auckland Airport Access by Auckland Airport, NZTA and Auckland Transport


Before I go line by line with the South a quick trip to the Northern Airport Line (City Centre to the Airport via Dominion Road). This was from Simon Wilson on Friday:

It’s all about the tram to the airport
“Fuel tax funds nothing but multi-billion tram” was the headline on Jami-Lee Ross’s statement on Thursday. It referred several times to “the tram to the airport”.
In fact, the regional fuel tax will not pay for any part of the proposed light rail or modern tram line to the airport. That project will be fully funded by the Government.

quote context:

So if you hear a National MP saying the fuel tax (before Council today) is being used for the Northern Airport Line then you can call them out as outright lying as the Line is being fully funded by Government (NZTA are leading and Mayor Goff has publicly said he does not want Council to fund it either).


Back to the South

Before we delve into the individual ATAP projects for the South we need to take a look at where population dynamics are going through until 2038.

Some key points:

  • Southern Auckland is now the largest sub region of Auckland and will remain that way
    • 2018: 550,000 to Central Auckland’s 460,000
    • 2028: 650,000 to Central Auckland’s 550,000
    • 2038: 710,000 to Central Auckland 610,000
  • Southern Auckland is set to grow at 30% to the Isthmus’s 29%
  • Isthmus does have the largest employment centre – the City Centre that employs 15% of Auckland’s population
  • Southern Auckland has the four of the five heavy industrial complexes (Airport, East Tamaki/Highbrook, Wiri and Drury South) with the Airport complex expanding rapidly
  • Southern Auckland houses one of Auckland’s three Nodes under the Auckland Plan 2050 and historically our second (minor) city centre – Manukau City Centre
  • Southern Auckland serves as the gateway either to the world by air (the Airport) or to the rest of the nation via State Highway 1 and the rail line going south (Northland the same but from northern Auckland)
  • As noted by Auckland Council and the NZ Government (and something Auckland Transport and I also know and have publicly commented on): The majority of new residents are likely to travel north for employment opportunities, placing increasing pressure on an already congested part of the strategic network that has few travel alternatives. They are referring to the Southern Motorway and the Southern Line.


Otahuhu rail bottleneck with the Southern and Manukau Lines running through alongside the main freight line


So we have a rapidly growing sub region in terms of population but displacement with employment growth mostly in the City Centre. This creates extreme pressure on the Southern and Eastern Lines at Otahuhu as well as the Southern Motorway also at Otahuhu. Simply put even with the Third and Fourth Mains for the rail system we as a City can not afford to bring more and more people up from the South into the Isthmus for work. The South needs to strengthen its employment base and for that we need excellent transit systems in place to support.

With that we start the breakdown of the ATAP:


The South, Transit and ATAP

Airport-City Corridor – Introducing light rail on the Airport to City corridor is expected to:

  • Alleviate current and forecast bus capacity constraints in the city centre. A substantial increase in public transport capacity and efficiency is required. Without this, travel times to and around the city centre will negatively impact Auckland’s productivity
  • Improve access to growing employment areas, particularly at and around Auckland Airport. Without a major increase in the number of people accessing the airport by public transport, the road network will not be able to function effectively and the success of this critical employment area will be placed at risk
  • Unlock significant growth potential along the corridor, especially around Mangere, Onehunga and Mt Roskill. Providing a step-change in improved access along this corridor will encourage redevelopment, particularly of major public landholdings, and assist in addressing Auckland’s housing challenges
  • Provide an attractive and reliable “one seat journey” between the city centre and airport for travellers. While a relatively small proportion of trips along this corridor (approximately 4% in the morning peak) are projected to be passengers accessing the airport terminals, rapid growth in airport passengers (from 14 million in 2014 to nearly 20 million in the year to January 2018) is placing substantial pressure on the transport network which serves the airport.
  • Auckland Transport and NZ Transport Agency board decisions in early 2017 confirmed the long-term mode for the Airport to City Corridor as light rail. Finalisation of exact timing, alignment and technical specifications will occur as design work progresses.
  • Investigation and design work on the Mt Roskill to City section of the route is the most advanced. Ongoing growth in public transport demand means this section of light rail should be progressed as quickly as possible.
  • Investigation and design for the Mt Roskill to Airport section is less advanced. The route is currently planned to follow State Highway 20 and State Highway 20A but is yet to be confirmed. It will be important for the next stages of investigation and planning to find the best balance between travel times, support for growth and urban development opportunities, and cost. Some sections of this route overlap with an existing rail designation, requiring careful design to ensure both forms of rail can be accommodated.
  • Overall, there are significant benefits from delivering the whole Airport to City route in the first decade – especially to enable growth and shape Auckland’s urban form. The greater focus placed on the role of rapid transit in supporting growth outcomes has also been a major contributor to confirming the choice of mode as light rail.


Source: ATAP 2018


While the ATAP is focusing on stage one of the Northern Airport Line, I have included it as Mangere is mentioned and will be a benefactor of the entire line once it is complete. I am of the personal opinion still that stage one should be Airport to Onehunga first allowing Mangere to be linked up the Rapid Transit Network immediately. This would give one of our most diverse areas accessibility to our large employment complexes either at the Airport, Onehunga or the City breaking the current reliance of the car (see: We are doing the Airport Lines All Wrong. Start from the Airport not from the City Centres). None the less as the ATAP says:

  • Overall, there are significant benefits from delivering the whole Airport to City route in the first decade – especially to enable growth and shape Auckland’s urban form. The greater focus placed on the role of rapid transit in supporting growth outcomes has also been a major contributor to confirming the choice of mode as light rail.

Mangere will see the benefits of the Northern Airport Line quite early on.


Eastern Busway (Panmure-Botany)
Formerly known as AMETI (the Auckland-Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative), the Eastern Busway is a long-planned critical project that expands Auckland’s rapid transit network from Panmure to Botany. This will improve travel choices to a part of Auckland that has been (and remains) highly dependent on private vehicles.
Through providing an urban busway that allows buses to avoid congestion, travel times, reliability and corridor throughput will all be improved along Ti Rakau Drive, through Pakuranga town centre and then over the Panmure bridge. The busway also provides an excellent opportunity to unlock significant growth potential along this corridor, particularly at Botany (a metropolitan centre in the Auckland Unitary Plan), Pakuranga and Panmure (both town centres with significant growth potential).
Investigation work is well advanced, particularly for the Panmure to Pakuranga section, enabling an early start on this critical piece of Auckland’s rapid transit network.


Source: ATAP

From a project that was born from the Eastern Highway oh so many years ago to AMETI which was constantly stalled to now getting a full busway all the way to Botany is one I hat tip to everyone involved in getting to happen. This one is as was said Transformational as the south-east after decades of neglect and congestion get a full Rapid Transit Network line in one go. Not just to Pakuranga and maybe to Botany somewhere in the never-never but Panmure to Botany within a decade.

This means whether in Howick, Pakuranga or Botany you can use the Eastern Busway to Panmure Interchange and either continue your journey to Britomart via the Eastern Line or carry on elsewhere on the Isthmus such as Southdown or Ellersile. Going in reverse the Eastern Busway opens up Pakuranga Town Centre and Botany Metropolitan Centre to a RTN line and equally open opportunities to turn both Centres from car dominated spaces to more human and urban spaces.

In anyway the full Eastern Busway is transformational and ties in very well to the next  ATAP project.


Airport to Botany via Manukau – aka the Southern Airport Line

The rapid transit corridor from Airport to Manukau and on to Botany links together southern and eastern Auckland and will provide an important link to the rail network at Puhinui.
A fast, frequent and reliable rapid transit service would deliver the following benefits:

  • Improve access to southern Auckland’s two major employment areas (Manukau and the airport)
  • Provide a link for air passengers to the city centre and the south via a transfer to rail at Puhinui
  • Improve transport options for the highly car dependent southeast Auckland
  • Support major growth opportunities at key locations along the route, particularly around Manukau, Puhinui and Botany.
  • Auckland Transport and NZ Transport Agency investigations have identified the highest priority section of this corridor is between the airport and a major new interchange at Puhinui train station. The planned State Highway 20B upgrade provides additional lanes dedicated to buses, high-occupancy vehicles and freight, delivering the first stage of this priority section. It is recommended these improvements are accelerated to deliver reliability and travel time improvements by the time Auckland hosts major events including APEC and the America’s Cup in 2021.
  • For this investment to be effective, it will need to be complemented by upgrades to the transport network within the airport (which is owned and operated by Auckland International Airport Ltd.).
  • Extending this immediate upgrade further east to connect Puhinui, Manukau and Botany is a future priority, although some targeted bus priority measures in the nearer term are likely to be required to provide fast and reliable travel.
  • Projected demand levels and fewer space constraints on this corridor mean bus rapid transit appears to be the most appropriate mode – at least for the next 30 years.


Source: ATAP

One of my two star advocacy projects made it into the ATAP (the other is Mill Road basic safety upgrades and starting on the Southern section) and this project is a major transformative win for Southern Auckland including Botany. While ATAP does not have the Southern Airport Line going all the way out to Botany yet it will head out that way sooner rather than later connecting with the Eastern Busway at Botany forming a dual Rapid Transit Network circuit going east and north.

While ATAP does mention the SAirL that Bus Rapid Transit is the most appropriate mode the ATAP language is mode neutral meaning with some work we can get the entire Line as Light Rail as I would like to see.

The ATAP does mention:

  • Improve access to southern Auckland’s two major employment areas (Manukau and the airport)

Manukau is a node under the Auckland Plan, that Node follows the Southern Airport Line out to the Airport itself so getting the SAirL to Manukau rather than Puhinui as stage one would fulfill the goals of the said Auckland Plan:

Example of an AP2050 Node – Manukau
Source: Auckland Council

The ATAP also mentions:

  • Support major growth opportunities at key locations along the route, particularly around Manukau, Puhinui and Botany.

That is similar to the Northern Airport Line supporting major growth opportunities along its corridor as well. However, I would wager the SAirL presents the larger opportunities due to a Metropolitan Centre, two industrial complexes, a Node (Manukau) and Puhinui Station all linked up by the Line and as mentioned earlier faster population growth in the South. Again this means I would push for the full completion of the Southern Airport Line preferably as Light Rail sooner rather than later AND before Regional Rapid Rail hits Phase Two as well (projected 2025).

Regional Rapid Rail and the Southern Airport Line
Source: Greater Auckland

It is also worth bearing in mind that Manukau and the main City Centre both contribute 20% to Auckland’s $100b worth of GDP respectively. That is 14.8% of national GDP from these two Centres. Having the BOTH Airport Lines completed as soon as reasonably possible to me is a top priority along with this next star advocacy project.

Auckland’s regional economy as of 2017.
Source: Stats NZ


Rail network upgrades
The most critical rail network upgrades are focused on realising the benefits of the City Rail Link, providing for growing freight demand and extending rail electrification to Pukekohe. These improvements are essential to accommodate increased train frequencies and reduce conflicts between passenger and freight services.
Major investments in this programme include:

  • Extending rail electrification to Pukekohe to support growth, improve network efficiency and reduce train travel times
  • Track upgrades between Wiri and Quay Park, including a third main rail line, upgrades to Westfield junction and access improvements to the Port
  • Rail network resilience improvements
  • Britomart station remodelling
  • Rail level crossing and pedestrian crossing improvements
  • New electric trains.
  • These projects have a combined cost of around $940 million.


Source: ATAP

While the level crossing removals are spread across both the Western and Southern Lines most the heavy rail work outside of the City Rail Link itself is on the Southern Line. The Third Main (Otahuhu to Wiri) and Pukekohe Electrification have been major advocacy points of the South given both projects open up the Southern Line and Southern Auckland to both passenger and freight.

The Southern Line is already congested and the rolling out of the Third Main (and eventually the Fourth Main) will untangle the freight trains from the commuter passenger trains. As Regional Rapid Rail rolls out the need of the Fourth Main becomes apparent and this is mentioned in Future priorities seen below.


Future Priorities
The above investments would complete much of Auckland’s rapid transit network. Further improvements to Auckland’s rapid transit network over the medium to longer term are also expected to be required in the following corridors:

  • Further rail network upgrades to enable express and inter-city trains
  • The most important of these future priorities is to continue to upgrade Auckland’s rail network, particularly so it can play a much greater role in meeting the current and future travel needs of the south, where substantial greenfield growth is planned and where public transport patronage has been historically low.
  • This will require a range of improvements to better match the public transport network with the travel patterns in Auckland’s south, including improved access to the rail network and a major reduction in travel times along the southern rail line through the introduction of express services that can overtake trains servicing all stations.
  • KiwiRail has advised that fully supporting express rail services would require around $800 million of investment in track upgrades. This investment would deliver the following projects:
    • Fourth main rail line between Westfield and Wiri
    • Third and ultimately Fourth Main between Wiri and Papakura
    • Third Main between Papakura and Pukekohe.
  • As further funding becomes available it is recommended that investigating the acceleration of these investments into the first decade will substantially increase the southern line’s capacity and flexibility. By helping to accommodate a larger number of trains and different stopping patterns, these improvements will:
    • Increase employment access for growing areas in the far south of Auckland’s urban area by reducing journey times on express services
    • Create a stronger connection between areas served by the rail network and Auckland Airport (via an interchange at Puhinui)
    • Support the progressive implementation of inter-regional rail passenger services between Auckland and the Waikato, which will also help to unlock growth opportunities around the rail network in the Waikato.


Source: ATAP

As I noted earlier the Southern Line like the Southern Airport Line have major roles to play in Auckland’s future both in transport and influencing Urban Geography (spatial development). Southern Auckland is now the largest sub region in Auckland, is the fastest growing sub region in Auckland and has rapidly expanding industrial complexes while Manukau City Centre is strengthening itself especially with new hotels springing up everywhere.

If we are serious in getting Southern Auckland moving, allowing freight and inter-regional passenger traffic to move efficiently and promoting equity for Southern Auckland residents then I wouldn’t be waiting long to deliver the full extent of the Southern Airport Line and the upgrades to the Southern Line as the ATAP presumes. As Minister Twyford said:

We are going to place infrastructure AHEAD of growth not behind it as we have done in the past (and as I have been telling Council for years).

Well Minister let’s get those above projects accelerated as unlocking Southern Auckland unlocks all of Auckland.


ATAP Decade 1 RTN Projects
Source: NZ Government and Auckland Council



We can not forget about our roads. But this does not mean grandoise four-lane motorways or expressways, it means getting the basics done right especially when transit is also doing the heavy lifting nearby.

Let’s take a look at what the ATAP has for roads in Southern Auckland:

Eastern Airport Access (State Highway 20B)
The State Highway 20B corridor, which provides access to Auckland Airport from the east, was identified as a high priority in earlier ATAP work. This corridor currently experiences severe congestion and because there are no bus lanes, buses also experience substantial delays and poor reliability. Further significant development in the corridor is also included in land use plans.
This upgrade will provide an additional lane in each direction between Puhinui and the Airport, which is likely to be a bus/carpool/freight lane to maximise the productivity of the corridor and provide reliable travel for the most critical users. An upgrade to the SH20/SH20B interchange is also likely to be required.
It is important for improvements along this corridor to be progressed as quickly as possible. Integration with the planned Puhinui bus/rail interchange is important to provide for reliable travel to and from the airport for parts of Auckland served by the rail network.


Source: ATAP

Pretty straight forward this one as it allows stage one of the Southern Airport Line to be built and if we get it right under the Dig Once, Build Right, First Time every time allow the Rapid Transit Network (Bus or Rail) to be built as well.


The Southern Motorway is not forgotten:

Southern Motorway Widening (Papakura to Drury)
Earlier ATAP work highlighted that widening of the Southern Motorway between Papakura and Drury is one of few locations where additional capacity will generate enduring benefits. The upgrade passes through a large greenfield growth area and will help ensure Auckland’s key link with the Waikato can continue to function effectively as this area urbanises and travel demand on the Southern Motorway increases. Modelling work completed as part of the ATAP 2018 analysis highlighted the importance of both the Southern Motorway and the Mill Road corridor in providing access to employment across a broad part of southern Auckland. This reinforced the recommendation to include this project in the ATAP Package and to progress the most important parts of the Mill Road corridor. The NZ Transport Agency’s investigation work has identified a long-term need to upgrade the motorway all the way to the Bombay Hills,


Source: ATAP

This one has a double benefit not many pick up. Yes the motorway is widened to Drury but the second benefit is that the project rebuilds the Drury interchange which will allow Pukekohe Electrification to happen (the existing bridges are too low). So doing this knocks out two birds with one stone – so to say.


And now to the big one:

Mill Road
The proposed Mill Road corridor provides an additional strategic north-south corridor for southern Auckland, connecting Manukau and Drury to the east of the Southern Motorway. It connects future residential development in the south with employment in the north, particularly around Manukau. Once complete, it will also improve access to new employment opportunities in Drury South. Even with the public transport network absorbing around 20 percent of new trips and the Southern Motorway widening discussed above, major forecast increases in car travel are expected to create chokepoints on roads around Papakura and Drury unless there is investment in the Mill Road corridor.

Added capacity along the Mill Road corridor also helps other key routes in this part of Auckland:

  • Less pressure on the Southern Motorway allows it to be the key route for inter-regional freight movements and other longer trips
  • Less pressure on Great South Road assists plans to reallocate existing road space to bus lanes.
  • It is clear that some improvements need to be made along the Mill Road corridor over the next decade, to improve the resilience of Auckland’s transport system and to support growth areas along the route. While further work needs to be done to identify where these improvements should be targeted, key priority areas for investment include:
    • Improve intersections to address the most severe congestion
    • Improve parts of the northern end to address the most severe safety issues
    • Construct sections that pass directly through former Special Housing Areas at the time these areas grow
    • Construct the new Drury South interchange
    • Undertake route protection and land purchase of the southern section.
  • Auckland Transport has advised that these improvements will cost around $500 million.


Source: ATAP

The language around Mill Road in the ATAP is very different to what the language is used by Judith Collins and Daniel Newman. Collins and Newman are very clear they want Mill Road to be a back up Southern Motorway regardless of trip mode. This turns Mill Road into a de-facto motorway on eastern Papakura’s door step. The language of the ATAP for Mill Road has the corridor acting a sub regional road connecting Papakura and Takanini to either Manukau or the Drury South industrial complex meaning we are not needing to travel on the Southern Motorway. Mill Road – Southern Section will also take trucks off Settlement and Beach Roads that traverse through the middle of residential Papakura allowing better amenity for both residents and industry at Drury South.

Taking pressure off the Great South Road so we can get those sodding bus lanes in for the 33 Great South Road bus can not come fast enough and it Auckland Transport have really dropped the ball on this one.

Safety upgrades like kerbing, barriers and better intersections (either roundabouts or signals) will always be a winner for me and will push for them over grandiose 4-lane carriage ways (see: Mill Road Need Not Grandiose Motorways – Simple Fixes Will Get the Road Moving).

Remember the idea is to get the traffic to flow efficiently and safely to all other road users (including walkers and cyclists) and that doesn’t mean having to gun for maximum warp on a sub-regional road.


ATAP Decade 1 roads
Source: NZ Government and Auckland Council


And that is the break down of what Southern Auckland gets from the Auckland Transport Alignment Project. Basically we walk away as major winners from the project and as an advocate who has Tweeted, Facebooked, Blogged, met with officials and presented to numerous committees over the years  (along with others including elected representatives) the ATAP is a major victory. A victory that can be built on as the work continues to have the Southern projects fully completed as soon as fiscally possible.


Tomorrow the Regional Land Transport Program opens up for submissions (finally after Auckland Transport screwed it up). Ill will have the details and links to the submission forms.


Source: NZ Government and Auckland Council