The Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy Implementation Committee at its meeting on 11 July recommended to partner organisations that they commit to a package of short-term measures to accommodate the significant growth in the Waimakariri area until the Western Corridor and Northern Arterial are built during the next four to six years.
This is includes a package of on-going changes to the operation of State Highway 1 and the promotion of such measures as carpooling and encouraging people to start work at different times and consideration of additional commuter bus services and new and extended bus lanes to help relieve congestion on Christchurch's Northern Motorway.
NZ Transport Agency's Southern Regional Director Jim Harland, who is leading the team working on short-term solutions to ease congestion and provide reliable journey times, says with the $13 million capital and first-year operating cost making it prohibitive to proceed in the short-term with a rail option, a package of options to help improve travel times has been conditionally endorsed this week by the UDS partners.
"This endorsement is subject to further and detailed investigations being completed for some parts of the package, including the development of a funding package between the parties."
He says two changes already made to the operation of the Northern Motorway have provided motorists using the three-kilometre section from the Tram Road on-ramp to the Dickeys Road/Main North Road intersection with a stable travel time of 10 minutes during the peak morning commute. "These changes were to the phasing of the traffic lights at the Main North Road/Empire Road intersection and installation of bollards on the motorway at the Tram Road on-ramp."
The partner organisations, the Christchurch City Council, Waimakariri District Council, NZ Transport Agency and Environment Canterbury, are now being asked to make a commitment to other such changes to help improve traffic flows. These could include improving queuing at onramps and changes to travel through Belfast to ease congestion, delays and driver frustration.
Part of the proposed package is to enhance traveller information, promoting greater use of public transport and carpooling, including driver education on how to better use the existing road space by merging like a zip and getting motorists to think about travelling at different times on the network or working from home one or two days a week.
Waimakariri District Mayor David Ayers says this congestion is a product of the earthquakes accelerating growth in the district and the large number of people who now live in the Waimakariri district and travel to Christchurch city.
"The numbers are exceeding network capacity both on the state highway and local roads, resulting in unreliable travel times and frustration. The accelerated need for a short-term response does pose financial challenges for the partners as our annual plans and long term plans do not contain resources for the proposed solutions.
"However, we do recognise that money spent now on traveller information and getting motorists think about how they use the network will have long-term benefits across our roading network."
Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel says with Waimakariri, the City Council will work to get commuters to think about how they can be part of the solution and change their travel behaviour, reducing the current 84 per cent single vehicle occupancy.
"Employers throughout the city, in particular large institutions and where there are business parks will be approached to see how they can help with providing greater flexibility with start and finish times, as we work to reduce traffic flows during peak travel times and assist with longer term performance of the network.
"If employers have a number of staff coming in the same direction they may be able to assist getting carpooling going and work with others in business parks to come up with some other innovative solutions themselves," she says.
"In many cases it is a question of changing the culture of organisations to think outside the square. As a Council, our own staff will be encouraged to develop approaches that help solve the problem."
Environment Canterbury Commissioner Rex Williams says a study commissioned by the regional council on behalf of partner organisations confirmed now was not the time to be introducing a commuter rail service on the single-track Main North line between Rangiora and Christchurch.
The study, which considered the introduction of a short-term passenger rail service to help address current congestion issues, concluded that as much as$10 million would be needed for carriages and to provide suitable stations for commuters; and $3 million would be needed annually to cover ongoing running costs. More significantly, the study found that trains alone would not get people to where they needed to be.
Many Waimakariri residents work in the vicinity of the airport and in the general central city area - none of which can be reached by the existing rail line - and they would need to transfer to buses to reach their destination.
"The study told us it was possible to implement a commuter rail service but a short-term service was not feasible."
Officers have been asked to explore further options for medium to long-term public transport, including the role of rail.
"For now, we are going to focus on increasing the frequency of the Blue Line bus service during peak times; introducing a new commuter service between Rangiora, Hornby and the airport; and a park and ride service for commuters living in rural parts of Waimakariri."
Rex Williams says bus lanes will need to be enhanced to accommodate the extra services and reduce travel times.