Transport minister says Greens' light rail cost estimate way off track
Transport Minister Simon Bridges says the Green Party severely undershot the cost of bringing light rail to Wellington, which he says could be upwards of $1.2 billion.
The Greens have announced plans to establish light rail between Wellington Railway Station and Newtown by 2025, and extend it to the airport by 2027, at an estimated upfront cost of $630-700 million.
National, meanwhile, has proposed to invest $37m over three years to improve the city's commuter rail network, but has made no mention of light rail.
Bridges said the party did not support the Greens' policy, based purely on cost for what was a "very limited line".
* Transport group wants review of proposed light rail route
* Light rail route needs to be locked in now, expert says
* Auckland light rail plans boost for option in Wellington
* Wellington drivers average just 27kmh during rush-hour
* Solving Wellington's congestion problem no easy task
* Greens plan light rail to airport by 2027
"The estimated costs I've seen put it around $1.2b, but the reality is, internationally, there's many examples of cost blowouts for these sorts of projects where they go much higher than what's originally estimated."
The Government is, however, part of the Let's Get Wellington Moving working group, along with Wellington City Council and Greater Wellington Regional Council, exploring the possibility of future-proofing a rapid bus route through the central city for light rail conversion.
The Greens say light rail would result in a seven-minute time saving between the railway station and Newtown, as well as slashing the number of buses on the Golden Mile by 40 per cent, and reducing central city traffic during business hours.
A Wellington public transport spine study, completed in 2014, also found there would be a seven-minute time saving between the two points by 2031, but put the upfront cost at $940m, and concluded a rapid bus route was a better option.
Bridges said further rapid transport proposals were likely to come out of the working group's research, which the Government would be likely to support.
"Rapid bus transit, I think, probably being the most likely of those scenarios to improve getting in and around the city of Wellington."
Greens transport spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter said there were more than 170 cities around the world, of similar size to Wellington, that had successful light rail systems.
She said 50 per cent of the cost should come from the national land transport fund, with the rest coming from local government.
Labour transport spokesman Michael Wood said the party was committed to providing a rapid public transport system between Wellington Railway Station and the airport, and wanted to commission a feasibility study into light rail within the next year.
"The problem with our big cities is they haven't had integrated, long-range public transport planning to link public transport modes together.
"Something absolutely has to be put in place between the city centre and the airport."
Bus rapid transit and light rail were the two best options to move large numbers of people quickly and reliably, Wood said.
The party had not discussed how the funding should be split between central and local government.
NZ First transport spokesman Denis O'Rourke said the party would push for two light rail routes in Wellington, the first between the airport and CBD within five years, and the second connecting the CDB and the Interislander ferry terminal at a later date.
Road user charges would be introduced to top up the land transport fund, from which 75 per cent of the construction cost would come, O'Rourke said.
"The land transport fund is already under stress. It's no longer viable to rely on petrol taxes alone."