There was an interesting article in the Sunday Star Times yesterday, calling for the next crossing of the Waitemata Harbour to be a bridge rather than a tunnel. As I outlined a few months ago, the current plan for the next crossing of the Waitemata – whenever it should be required – is a pile of tunnels, potentially two for rail and two for road. The total cost of this project is pretty immense, $3.7-$4.1 billion for the whole thing. Personally, I don’t think it is something that will be required for quite a number of years yet – largely because from a public transport perspective the Northern Busway has plenty of capacity remaining before it becomes overloaded; while from a roading perspective there are more significant capacity constraints to the north and south of the bridge – rather than the bridge itself.
Nevertheless, I suppose that at some point in the future we will need to build another crossing of the harbour. The current ‘clip-ons’ on the side of the Harbour Bridge have a limited lifespan and will probably reach that limit some time within the next 30-40 years. While they could be replaced one at a time, cutting the Harbour Bridge back to 6 lanes without building an alternative route would lead to a lot of chaos and probably couldn’t really happen for an extended period of time. More detail on NZTA’s current preferred option is available here, while the bridge option is detailed a bit more below:
The Group consists of a number of well known local companies, including NZ Steel, Mainzeal, Aspec Properties, Davis Langdon, and Jasmax.
It has been endorsed by organisations such as the Returned Services’ Association, the Heavy Engineering Research Association and Heart of the City, and has received guidance on financial and technical matters from leading international consulting firms.
Representatives of the Group have had encouraging informal discussions on the ANZAC Centenary Bridge with Prime Minister John Key, Transport Minister Steven Joyce, Auckland MPs, and other Government officials.
The Group is committed to promoting a solution to the Waitemata Harbour crossing debate that addresses Auckland’s transport needs, celebrates the city’s natural and cultural heritage, and elevates its standing on the world stage.
A new bridge can deliver such a solution, the Group maintains, and can do so more cost-effectively than a tunnel or any other alternative. The Group is calling for the new bridge to be constructed by 2015, to commemorate the ANZAC Day centenary.
Group spokesman Richard Simpson said it was confident that the Government would give equal consideration to a bridge as to a tunnel when it came time to decide on options for a new harbour crossing this December.
“The new ANZAC Centenary Bridge would be cheaper to build and operate than the new tunnel/existing bridge option”, he explained. “It would carry more cars and trucks, while providing for rail, cyclists and pedestrians. We see it as the best option in economic, environmental, and social terms.”
Mr Simpson said that the Group was currently focused on getting the numbers right, rather than “making noise”.
“We look forward to sharing the full details of the feasibility report in early December”, he said. “Until then, the key thing is following the correct process to ensure that the bridge option gets on the table.”
Nevertheless, Mr Simpson said more information would soon be available on the proposed new bridge, with the ANZAC Centenary Bridge Group website scheduled to go live at http://www.bridge2015.org.nz by the end of October.
Mr Simpson described the interest and support that the Group had received thus far as “very positive”, and as having come from both large and small companies and organisations, from a range of areas of the economy.
Some of the estimated benefits of this option are outlined by this “ANZAC Centenary Bridge Group” include:
1) Construction cost $2-3 billion compared to $3.7–$4.1b for the proposed tunnel
2) Operating cost of 1/5 to 13 of a tunnel (based on ventilation, lighting, drainage and maintenance)
3) About 350,000m2 of land valued at around $1b in St Mary’s Bay and Northcote Pt could be sold off after closure of bridge.
4) Travel time and distance savings worth about $60 million a year (based on a bridge being 1.2km shorter than a tunnel)
5)Estimated tourism benefits: $325 million a year (based on tourists staying an extra night)
I think a likely route for the roading part (red) and the rail part (blue) of the project would be as I have shown in the map below:
So, now that we’ve looked at the potential benefits of this option, let’s examine it’s negative effects. Firstly, let’s be clear that as part of building a new bridge instead of going with the tunnel option we would have to remove the current harbour bridge. This would be pretty expensive in itself and would also remove a pretty massive Auckland icon – whether or not we consider it to be a particularly great design there can be no doubting that the Harbour Bridge symbolises Auckland in many ways and it would be a pretty big step to completely remove it. Secondly, there would be some potentially pretty nasty urban design effects on the Tank Farm area at the southern end of the bridge – arising mainly because it would have to be pretty high up to avoid conflicts with shipping, plus I imagine having a viaduct over Tank Farm would be considered preferable to having a surface level motorway running through this part of the city.
Another big issue to resolve would be how to actually make the rail link work. The tracks at Britomart are about 8m or similar below ground level, and they would need to rise up steadily to join the bridge at its southern abutment. That would mean a slowly rising railway line cutting through a very large part of Auckland’s CBD – once again being incredibly expensive and also having potentially significant visual effects on that part of the city (even if it was run down the middle of Fanshawe Street for example).
So all-in-all, I just can’t see this as being a viable option. By cutting an elevated motorway and railway line through the heart of the CBD it would take us back decades in terms of urban design, whereas a tunnel is a modern solution that removes or reduces the effects of the transport project on the surrounding urban fabric. So while it’s an interesting idea in principle – and it potentially quite cheap compared to the tunnel options – I really don’t think it would end up having a good effect on Auckland at all.