Yesterday the Herald’s Simon Wilson reported that Skypath was in trouble.
The plan to build a cycling and walking path over the Auckland Harbour Bridge, popularly known as Skypath, has run into “significant and complex engineering issues”. The Herald understands the current design will be scrapped.
Other options are being considered but these are likely to involve substantial delays.
The original plan for Skypath by the Skypath Trust was to attach a lightweight structure underneath the southbound clip-on. The then new Labour government decided to take over the project and in 2019, Waka Kotahi announced a significantly upgraded design. They said they would build a 5m wide path with three 100m long terraced galleries which would great places for people to pause and take in the views.
This upgraded design would be achieved by attaching the new structure directly to the piers.
Early last year as part of the NZ Upgrade Programme the government then announced $360 million in funding for he Northern Pathway (both Skypath and Seapath) which would get a an off-road path as far as Esmonde Rd. They said construction was due to start in early 2021.
Wilson’s article is paywalled so I won’t share too much of it but other news sites have also since reported that the issue is likely to be with the piers.
Waka Kotahi’s director of regional relationships, Steve Mutton, has advised the advocacy group Bike Auckland that the Northern Pathway plan has “technical problems with how the pathway is supported”.
But here’s where things get a bit messy as I think Simon has incorrectly conflated some other recent discussions about the bridge. In particular the comments at the end of last month by Waka Kotahi at parliament’s Transport and Infrastructure Select Committee that the bridge can no longer be strengthened.
The not being able to add more steel comment is related to the interior of the clip-ons, not the piers themselves. As such, the issue is likely related to how the Skypath would connect to those piers. If this is the case it leaves the question, what to do about Skypath?
Simon presents three possible options
- Take a lane from the bridge
- Build a new bridge next to the current one
- Scrap the project all together and wait for another harbour crossing.
To me, the third option simply isn’t a valid one. Skypath is one of the most popular projects in Auckland and when combined with the likes of Light Rail, the failure on this project could have significant political ramifications for the government.
Meanwhile the fastest, easiest and cheapest, Option 1, appears to have been ruled out by the minister.
That leaves Option 2
The second option is to build a new structure, perhaps hard up against the existing bridge. This would require a completely new design, a new consenting process and a lot of money. A new bridge, even restricted to cycling and walking, would be expensive.
Wood said that wasn’t necessarily an issue. “Major assets will always require an investment and this Government is committed to a quality outcome for cycling and walking over the Waitematā harbour.”
This appeared to be the option Wood favours.
Building a whole new bridge on new foundations is a likely to be a huge undertaking and would take years even just to get the consents. This would represent substantial delays to a project we needed decades ago. It would also open the door even wider to scrapping it outright – the National Party yesterday said it should be scrapped with the money put towards another road crossing – not that it would make much dent in the $10+ billion that is now expected to cost.
The work to date on an additional harbour crossing has confirmed the next priority, after enhancements to the busway is to build a rapid transit crossing. But if we’re going down the route of a new structure, perhaps we should also consider combining that with the rapid transit crossing we know we’ll need. This could be similar to the Tilikum Crossing in Portland which has space for light rail, buses as well as pedestrians and cyclists. A design like this would mean we could provide benefit to existing bus services until such time as we’re ready to extend light rail to the Shore. This obviously wouldn’t be cheap but would be far cheaper than road (or rail) tunnels.
While we wait for this to happen, and as an additional incentive to get this build as soon as possible, we could also combine it with the Option 1 idea of taking a lane from the current bridge. Perhaps taking space off motorways until the Waka Kotahi engineers start delivering might finally focus their minds on delivery of this critical piece of infrastructure.
Some tweets from Transport Minister Michael Wood this morning
1/3 There has been a lot of speculation about Skypath over the past 24 hours & now the National Party is calling for it to be scrapped, consistent with their embedded hostility to multi-modal investment.
— Michael Wood (@michaelwoodnz) March 22, 2021
3/3 This work is well underway and it won’t be too long until we are able to confirm the way forward for this important project.
— Michael Wood (@michaelwoodnz) March 22, 2021