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Busway costs reviewed as project moves forward

Busway costs reviewed as project moves forward

Revised costs for building New Zealand's first busway and new conditions imposed by Transfund, the government's transport funding agency, will be discussed next week when updated budgets go to North Shore City councillors for consideration.

The North Shore Busway was one of six major transport projects, which underwent an independent review process to assess how well they measured up to the requirements of the Government's newly enacted Land Transport Management Act. The busway project was given the green light with some conditions late last year.

The project is being developed as a partnership between North Shore City Council, Transit New Zealand ( the government's state highways agency), the Auckland Regional Council and Auckland City Council. As a result of the review, Transfund has required the project partners to recommit to delivering all elements of the project in an integrated manner. These elements include: the busway corridor which runs along the Northern Motorway from Albany to the Auckland Harbour Bridge; busway stations; bus priority measures on major North Shore and Auckland City streets and new bus services which are subsidised by the Auckland Regional Council.

Transfund is also requiring that the busway project be constructed so that parallel facilities for walking and cycling may be built in the future.

Construction has already begun on two of the busway's five stations to be built in conjunction with the 8.5km busway, which will give buses a dedicated and uncongested roadway from Constellation Drive to the Harbour Bridge.

The busway will form the spine of North Shore City's Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) network. The BRT network will enables travel around, across and through the fast-growing North Shore City. It includes improved ferry facilities, bus priority measures on suburban streets which connect with busway stations, bus interchange facilities in suburban centres, improved bus services and better information and facilities for passengers.

A major upgrade of the Esmonde Road Interchange is planned as part of the project. This will allow better connections to the Northern Motorway and between the eastern and western parts of the city for North Shore residents, by directly linking Esmonde Road with Akoranga Drive.

After reassessing the project following detailed work on earthworks, geotechnical and construction issues and landscaping requirements, the cost for the five Busway stations, for which North Shore City Council has responsibility, has risen by $18 million from the preliminary estimate of $56 million made in 2000 to $74 million.

Transit, responsible for building the busway corridor, faces increased cost estimates with a proposed construction budget up from $95 million to $155 million. Transit is expecting to take its funding application for the busway corridor element of the project to the Transfund board by May. However, it has already provided for the increase in its 2004/05 budget presently out for consultation.

Transit chief executive, Robin Dunlop, says the original Transit cost estimates were preliminary costs only that were based on concept design work at least five years old. "While Transit did allow for uncertainties, the design process had to incorporate all necessary safety, environmental and operational features needed for a successful busway," he says.

New design elements have been added since original costings and more detailed analysis has also resulted in higher standards for environmental and landscape protection. Detailed studies of geotechnical issues have revealed higher costs for earthworks and the need for higher contingency budgets.

"We've got the go-ahead from the major transport project review process for building this busway. We now just have to work through a funding process with Transfund and ensure we meet its conditions and deliver the best possible public transport system we can," says Mr Dunlop.

An officers' report that will be discussed at the North Shore City Council's works and environment committee next Tuesday (February 10) asks the council for a reconfirmed commitment to the busway stations development and the green light to proceed with final design and construction works to implement the entire project, in conjunction with the other project parties, by 2007/8. The two park-and-ride bus stations at Albany and Constellation Drive are due to open next year.

Options for funding North Shore City's shortfall of $18 million are discussed in the report. These include seeking further funding from Infrastructure Auckland (which is already committed to contributing $40 million towards the busway stations), and Transfund.

Councillor Joel Cayford, chair of North Shore City's works and environment committee, says, "Eighteen million dollars is a big shortfall for the busway's mainline stations. Officers have been rigorous in their efforts to keep costs down - but with this kind of infrastructure - the first of its kind in New Zealand - we started out in uncharted territory."

"The council has consulted extensively with our residents who have indicated strongly they want us to invest more in public transport. That means new bus shelters, providing priority lanes for buses to get through our streets quickly, upgrading suburban stations - as well as the busway itself. We can't do everything at once. That's why we need phased implementation and steady improvements in services," says Councillor Cayford.

He says the council needs to reconfirm its commitment to the busway project as the backbone of the city's Bus Rapid Transit system.

"The busway is North Shore City's leg of the Auckland Regional Passenger Transport network. It is important regional infrastructure and merits regional funding from Infrastructure Auckland and Transfund in the same way as rail infrastructure."

For more information about the busway project visit www.busway.co.nz

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