There’s a very interesting article in today’s “The Aucklander” newspaper (which gets included in the NZ Herald every Thursday) on the future harbour crossing options for Auckland.

Here’s an extract from the article:

Now The Aucklander can reveal another chapter to throw into the concrete and steel mix of our city’s beloved icon.

By Government decree, the bridge, having just celebrated its 50th anniversary, will be priced for removal and the surrounding feeder motorways assessed for future development.

That’s development as in housing, shops and offices, not roads.

The reason? Transport Minister Stephen Joyce has chosen to ignore strongly-argued recommendations from five major regional organisations for a road-rail tunnel from Downtown Auckland to the Shore. Instead, he wants to open up debate about another bridge.

Reports of the current bridge falling to concrete cancer or some other catastrophe, fuelled by the problematic state of the “Nippon clip-ons”, are exaggerated, says the agency charged with maintaining it. But it’s hard to ignore the thought that something needs to be done when we’re spending $86 million to patch it up and this same agency talks of its “economic life”, its “future viability”, of it becoming “maxed out”, and the “resilience of the network” or of it having a “finite lifespan”.

In 2008, the NZ Transport Agency combined with Auckland Regional Council, Auckland and North Shore City councils and Auckland Regional Transport Authority to find an alternative. The tight five commissioned a $1.3 million report from Sinclair Knight Merz consultants and whittled 160 options down to just one preference.

Four tunnels, they chimed, will alleviate the strain on the bridge – two road tunnels with three lanes in each direction and two separate single-rail tunnels. The rail tracks would cover 4km from Esmonde Rd to Britomart; the road tunnels roughly 3km from Esmonde Rd under the soon-to-be-developed Wynyard Quarter to Fanshawe St.

Treasury estimated the cost to be as high as $6 billion. The Transport Agency puts the bill between $3-4 billion, subject to more “detailed engineering”.

The debate about a future harbour crossing in Auckland has, as the article mentions elsewhere, been happening for decades. However, the bridge idea, known in some circles as “the ANZAC bridge” has fairly recently joined the mix. Personally, I think the bridge idea can be tossed away for a fairly obvious reason: “two bridges would look horrific, and the whole point of another harbour crossing is to get another harbour crossing”. So if it’s a choice between a bridge and a tunnel, then I think the answer has to be a tunnel.

But as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, is the whole “we need another harbour crossing” argument another one of ‘yesterday’s battles’ that is looking to solve a problem that no longer exists? Traffic flows across the harbour bridge have been declining in recent years, probably for a number of reasons: higher petrol prices, an increasing amount of available employment opportunities on the North Shore, and the Northern Busway making public transport more attractive for those working in the CBD. Do we really need 14 lanes of road traffic across the Waitemata Harbour? I think not. Will we need 14 lanes of road traffic across the Waitemata Harbour in 20 years time? Well if current traffic trends continue – once again I think not.

Of course, traffic flows are only half the issue here. The other issue relates to the lifespan of the current harbour bridge – or more specifically, the lifespan of its clip-ons. As noted in the extract above, there is some debate surrounding how long the clip-ons will be able to survive: even when you consider the current strengthening work that is going on. So regardless of traffic volumes, we still have the issue about the longevity of the main bridge.

However, just because the clip-ons have a somewhat limited lifespan does not mean that the bridge as a whole is doomed. The core structure is apparently in pretty good shape and has a fairly indefinite lifespan. Furthermore, the clip-ons could be replaced – and new ones “tied in” with the main structure is a better way, and be constructed from lighter but stronger modern materials. In short, from what I have heard, if we replaced the clip-ons with something more modern, new clip-ons could have a very long lifespan. Now there’s the question of how you would do such a thing – whether it would be possible to replace one at a time, and “pre-cast” the clip-on somehow so it could be slotted into place over a reasonably short period of time. Or whether you’d need an alternative crossing option because doing such a thing (temporary floating bridge perhaps? Ha Ha!)

Now I know it’s a pretty big call to say that we shouldn’t prioritise another harbour crossing – but let’s have a think about the money. Treasury’s estimate is that the harbour crossings (the roads tunnels and the rail tunnels) could cost up to $6 billion. That is, quite frankly, a crap load of cash. It’s about $1500 for each person in New Zealand, or about $4000 per Aucklander. It would also pay for the CBD rail tunnel, rail to the airport, a Howick/Botany Line and perhaps even more. When we’ve got a route where the existing traffic is declining, how sensible is it really to pretty much spend the region’s entire transport budget for about 5 years on that project? Not sensible at all in my books.

While I do support turning the Northern Busway into a railway line in the future, we must recognise that the busway is fairly new, and also that it has a fairly large amount of capacity left in it before maxing out (although that might well be changed if HOVs are allowed onto it). The busway, plus its stations, cost around $400 million a few years back – so it seems reasonable that we’d want to make the most of that investment before spending say $2 billion in turning the busway into a railway line plus digging a tunnel under the harbour to link that line with the CBD.

So in my opinion, the best option is actually one that does very little in the next decade – as I think Auckland has far higher transport priorities. We should do everything possible to keep the current clip-ons safe and stable, while also ensuring that we’ve designed, consented and costed a new railway line north so it can be constructed when required. In terms of additional roading capacity across the Waitemata Harbour, my honest opinion is that I doubt it will ever be necessary. With higher fuel prices, improved public transport options and so forth, I doubt whether we need to spend $4 billion of whatever it would cost to provide for six additional lanes of traffic across the harbour – whether that’s in bridge or tunnel form.

Once again, it’s one of yesterday’s battles. Additional harbour crossings have been on Auckland’s transport plans for decades – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that in 2010 we really really need one. If you really look at the situation – particularly in terms of declining traffic volumes across the harbour – it seems as though another harbour crossing would be little more than a supremely giant waste of money.

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  1. Is light rail over the bridge (with the lost car lanes being recovered in any tunnel built), and linking up with the Northen Busway corridor feasable, or ever been considered?

  2. Firstly I think the article was written quite well and did cover off the main issues, I do think it may have been sponsored by the ANZAC bridge group though, especially the first few paragraphs which seemed to indicate that a bridge had been chosen.

    For me it has to be a tunnel, not because I like the current bridge, I think it is hideous, but because two bridges would look even worse, putting a new bridge in would destroy tank farm and if the existing bridge was taken down then it defeats the whole purpose of having an additional crossing. I also do like the plan to keep the current route as an arterial to the city rather than the main route through the region with the new crossing going straight through to the CMJ.

    What I would like to see is the rail crossing built first, with that done and linked into the busway, the trip into town would be really quick and cause patronage to soar even higher than it will be in a few years time. I also don’t think the money spent on the busway is completely wasted if we put in a rail line as much of the route would probably not need much modification so is money that would have had to have been spent anyway. The other good thing about this option is if we plan it right we could buy a TBM and use it for the CBD tunnel and then just move it/carry it on over the shore, there is $150+ million saved making it more viable. In the future if traffic numbers did increase then we could look at the car tunnels and as the route would have been protected and maybe even designed we could just get on with building it.

    Lastly one option that has probably never been considered, build a wall across the harbour at about where the bridge is now and fill the shallow parts, that would give us heaps of new land 😉

  3. What is destroying the bridge? The frequency / weight of use or age? If it is the amount it is used then I think the rail tunnels should be built now to take commuters and the northern rail line used to carry freight. How long would a trip from Albany to the city on a train via a tunnel take?

  4. It’s about 15 km from Britomart to Albany via the route the rail line would take. I think that because there aren’t too many stations, and there’d be good vertical & horizontal alignments, the train could get up to some serious speed between stations: perhaps averaging 50-60 kph along the whole line?

    So maybe 15-17 minutes between the two? That’d be pretty popular.

    I’m not sure exactly what’s killing the clip-ons. Overuse, heavy trucks, the design of the clip-ons themselves?

  5. The new SH18 bridge over the Upper Harbour at Hobsonville will take a lot of the traffic of the harbour bridge. Once SH18 through Hobsonville is finished there will be even less reason to build another bridge.

  6. @DC, As the main bridge was never intended to have more than four lanes the foundations were never intended to have the clip ons. When the tender went out for a new crossing one company found the documents for the original bridge design and re-analyzed them using more modern techniques. It was found that the original foundations had been over-engineered and that they could handle light weight clip ons. From what i have heard (my not be correct) the clip on’s are hollow box girders with a thin layer of tar laid directly over the steal. From my understanding it is normal to place a layer of concrete in between the bridge deck and the road surface to reduce the deflection of the metal deck as vehicles pass over. This was not able to be done because of weight constraints. This means that the metal in the deck deforms more as heavy vehicles pass over it and hence fatigues faster.

    1. Which is why I believe they are strengthening it by putting hundreds of tonnes of additional steel into it. I think I read that the next problem will be the joints where the clip-ons actually join the main structure, this is because as vehicles move over it and the weight exerted changes as well as the temp changes during the day, the joints heat up which will slowly cause fatigue. One way the NZTA said they can combat this is by installing a cooling system on them in the future.

  7. While I’m not necessarily a fan of the idea (yet), I don’t think you can say that demolishing the existing bridge and replacing it with a new one still leaves you with “one crossing”.

    We have one crossing right now only available to one form of transport – passenger vehicles (cars/buses). The replacement would, in addition, cater for rail, cyclists and walkers.

    So while its true we would be left with still the one route, it would ultimately be open to 4 forms of transport, instead of one. Thats got to be an improvement.

  8. From the Aucklander “Transport Minister Stephen Joyce has chosen to ignore strongly-argued recommendations from five major regional organisations” isn’t Stephen Joyce making himself look foolish ignoring these recommendations which have already been paid for by taxes?

    Wouldn’t crossing 2C be the best as recommended (and looks great). But keep the current harbour bridge as it is but removing the clip ons reducing the lanes at each end using the currently constructed tunnel at Vic Park & removing the fly over. Why? We would keep an icon, we would get options of how to cross the harbour 2 for road and one for rail, Freemans Bay would be with out the fly over, rail to the shore would increase patronage hugely on all of Auckland’s rail system……

  9. Thanks for this article – Can you fill out the analysis on future traffic demand by focusing on freight vehicles, as I suspect they are the real issue for bridge loading, rather than private motor vehicles.

  10. Regardless of the other more imporaant issues, lets not jump to the conclusion that “multiple bridges must look horrific”. there are plenty of examples where the presence of several (well designed) bridges adds to the drama. Although one could argue that they are all excellent bridges in their own right!

    for example Newcastle upon Tyne

    or Forth Bridges

  11. I think there is benefit in having redundancy. I don’t think the old bridge should be demolished if a new crossing is built, even if the clip ons may need to be removed for engineering reasons.

    It isn’t hard to think of a disaster (natural or man made) that made the harbour bridge unusable for an extended period. Maybe a year or more. Auckland might have survived that in the 60s, but it would bring Auckland (and NZ) to its knees now. The cost would easily exceed $6billion.

  12. For me the kicker is the inability to build heavy rail over the new bridge, this would consign us to light rail over the shore for the life of the new bridge (likely to be hundreds of years)…

  13. “It isn’t hard to think of a disaster (natural or man made) that made the harbour bridge unusable for an extended period. Maybe a year or more. Auckland might have survived that in the 60s, but it would bring Auckland (and NZ) to its knees now. The cost would easily exceed $6billion.”

    I do support the reduncancy that a tunnel in addition to the existing bridge (with the clip-ons turned into walk and cycleways) would give us. But remember also that for certain reasons they are now calling it the “third” harbour crossing. We do have a perfectly good one at Greenhithe. Yes, there would be significant economic damages. But the argument that it would bring “Auckland to its knees” is overblown – we would be putting up lots of ferries, and those who really need to drive would use Greenhithe. Kiwis haven’t lost their ability to cope with some setbacks.

    The main arguments against the new bridge in my opinion are the destructive effects on Wynyard Quarter and the massive amounts of money – which we don’t need to spend it, and direly need elsewhere.

  14. Ingolfson… The bridge currently handles about 170,000 vehicles a day, including buses. Say 250,000 people a day, maybe more. SH 16 and 18 just aren’t a useful alternative route for many of those journeys, especially those to the CBD. There is no way we’d be able to arrange ferries to handle that many people, especially given that many of those journeys happen in rush hour. And you’re going to add a couple of hours travel time a day for every person who has to bus to somewhere on the shore, queue for a ferry, take a ferry, and then transfer to a train or another bus. Sure, some discretionary journeys will be cancelled. But if you live on one side of the harbour and work on the other, then you’re as good as unemployed until the harbour crossing is restored.

    I don’t see any reason to couple a harbour rail crossing to a second vehicle crossing. The two are largely independent. I suggest prioritising a rail tunnel, which provides some degree of redundancy and provides a useful link in a public transport network. Then looking at a vehicle tunnel or second bridge later, when the need is clear. Oh, and the CBD tunnel seems to be a pre-req for a harbour rail tunnel, so get digging that as soon as possible.

  15. In the longer term just a rail tunnel and new, light-weight clips-ons would surely suffice? Do we really want/need 14 lanes of traffic across the harbour? How would this work at Esmonde Rd? Surely we don’t want a 14 lane wide Northern Motorway?

  16. I like the idea of having it the harbour bridge minus clipons as a local road connecting Ponsonby and Northcote. It would provide the desired redundancy, stop too many lanes of traffic from hitting the northern motorway and also allow for pedestrian crossing of the bridge. Could the CBD tunnel and cross harbour tunnel be built in one piece? I.e. start in Newton and then drill towards the harbour. Then turn west and head under Wynyard Quarter and under the harbour.

  17. The problem with building a rail tunnel is that it’s actually going to be a horrendously expensive exercise to make it useful. The busway isn’t constructed to rail standards, and is far too steep in sections. You’d need significant regrading a probably a tunnel under the Sunset Rd Ridge.

    The cross-harbour rail tunnel itself is likely to cost around $1.5 billion, and it might be another billion or so to build a rail quality line to Albany – which is where I think it needs to go. I think it’d just be silly forcing everyone to transfer from a bus onto a train at Akoranga, which is the cheaper option.

    Plus, what’s wrong with the busway?

  18. Nothing is wrong with it, apart from the cross harbour section which could be fixed with dedicated bus lanes across the bridge. It just seems that if you already have a team together with the tools for tunnel building why not extend the contract out and do it in one hit. It might save a bit of money and nobody said that you had to have the cross harbour tunnel as rail at the start anyway, you could make it an extension of the busway and then lay tracks once you are ready to start Shore rail. Put an underground depot below QEII square or Quay Street. Besides I just thought I’d throw the idea out.

  19. Well, if I get to chose, I’d rather have a rail tunnel than a busway tunnel, admin!

    I actually agree with what obi said in terms of how we should proceed – I am just disagreeing with the argument that life & economy would come to a halt. People are very adaptable. Cities have risen from the ashes (literal ashes – of earthquakes and large-scale bombings in war) within years in the past, destruction far more wide-spread than losing a bridge. And you are saying Auckland’s economy would collapse from having to drive longer to get to the Shore? People are adaptable. We would find ways – within weeks or months.

    And no, we don’t want/need 14 lanes of traffic crossing the harbour. The very thought is obscene.

  20. Guided busway anyone? The Adelaide model, rather than a tram on rubber wheels.

    The advantage of a rail tunnel is that it adds redundancy to the system, and also allows public transport to the Shore without it having to either mix with vehicles on the harbour bridge or require the bridge to lose vehicle lanes. A tunnel through the tank farm also provides a more direct route to the CBD than the meandering route of the bridge and motorway. The motorway is designed to bypass the CBD while we’d like to bring public transport IN to the CBD to facilitate transfers.

    Admin… You’ve indicated that heavy rail to the Shore is too expensive and that you don’t see benefits of light rail over the current bus lane. So, is a guided busway leading in to a tunnel the solution?

    A guided busway might be useful for Dominion Rd as is currently being discussed in another thread. Guiding would allow the buses to run a lot closer to each other and therefore take up less of the road width.

  21. Thinking… How does a guided busway from Albany along the current northern busway, dipping in to a tunnel to Britomart, up Queen St (pedestrianised except for the guided busway), and along Dominion Rd sound as a route?

  22. Guided busway doesn’t seem to add much more than what we have now in terms of capacity and speed.

    My feeling is that we keep using the current busway until it get overwhelmed with patronage, and you literally can’t put any more buses on it without causing big problems. At that point you go the whole hog and do heavy rail.

    The Regional Land Transport Strategy suggests that approach, and doesn’t actually anticipate another harbour crossing (either rail or road) before 2040. I go with that.

  23. I can see some advantages to the guided busway for Dominion Road if the street width really is a big issue.
    However cant see the advantage of using this system for the Northern busway.
    Also dont think a guided busway works with pedestrianised streets.
    Has trolley buses for either of the routes ever been looked into. Would give some of the street environment (less noise) and passenger comfort benefits of trams, however is much cheaper.
    I know there are issues with the routes splitting up around Mount Roskill but maybe they should be run in smaller buses to connect with a Mt Roskill terminal anyway.

  24. One of the main reasons why we’d need to upgrade from bus lanes to tram on Dominion Road in the future would be capacity. A modern tram can carry as many people as four buses. In other words, I think if you are going to go to the trouble of putting up wires you might as well go the whole hog and get the capacity gains of trams.

  25. The advantage of a guided busway over a bus lane is that it doesn’t require the same level of concentration from the driver in order to avoid collisions. It allows buses to be run closer to each other with narrower lanes. A guided busway through a tunnel should allow the driver to floor it in complete safety without having to worry about hitting things. And an Adelaide-style system should be able to be installed through a pedestrian mall because (based on photos) the guides aren’t much more than 15cm high so they’re about the same profile as a normal street curb.

    I don’t understand how you could ever upgrade the northern busway to rail. It’ll be popular and used to full capacity and you’re going to take it offline for maybe 12 months? That just sounds like a way to prompt passenger riots!

  26. I guess you build the railway line like most upgrades are built when you have to keep things going. You build it half offline and do things half at a time.

    Or we turn two of the motorway lanes into a temporary busway. Actually I like that idea. 😀

  27. Do nothing with r.egards harbour
    if the cbd tunnel is built to britomart..good bus services on the isthmus,
    then all you need is good connection to britomart..

    answer….park n ride ferries at takapuna.

    built out a huge wharf half moon bay style at the intersection of northern constellation
    and ferry people across.

    if they need to get somewhere other than flether park in ellerslie..they get off the ferry, go downstairs soon after departing ferry..get on a metro work in no time.

    ( my understanding is they are freeing up the other side of queens wharf..
    there’s your second “ferry base”! near the current one

    building a cbd tunnel would solve many probs people..

    ..and..did i mention…do nothing with regards to the harbour.

    auckland has a wonderful harbour..use it.

  28. If the council or police want to make some xtra money they should put up a camera at the St Marys Bay exit going into the city, because as there is now nowhere for the police to sit around the corner due to the road works, they would have great takimgs from all the cars travelling in the bus lane and also all the cars travelling over 70K speed limit

  29. “A guided busway through a tunnel should allow the driver to floor it in complete safety”

    Curiously, I think the benefits are not that great in a tunnel! Because for wind drag reasons (both in a static tunnel and against oncoming vehicles) and for safety reasons (passengers disembarking from a crippled vehicle), even in a guided busway tunnel you need a lot of extra space along the sides and separation from oncoming vehicles. So you might as well build a non-guided busway tunnel (standard road tunnel).

    “If the council or police want to make some xtra money they should put up a camera at the St Marys Bay exit”

    Legally, Council gets no money from such cameras. I would like them to, but at the moment, they don’t.

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