This post was first published by Nicolas Reid on his Linked In page

As most older Aucklanders will know, the Auckland Harbour bridge was originally built in 1959 with four lanes then widened with a pair of ‘clip-ons’ just ten years later. This is often cited as an example of the folly of starting with penny pinching austerity. The history of the bridge is repeated as a rationale for spending ever increasing amounts to ‘do it right the first time’. What good is a cheap narrow bridge if you only have to come back and spend piles of money to widen it a few years later, right?

The ‘penny pinching’ idea

An editorial published by the New Zealand Herald on the 50th anniversary of the Auckland Harbour Bridge sums up this view quite plainly:

“The bridge, itself, serves a ringing testament to another recurring Auckland theme – the peril of short-term thinking and penny-pinching. Various reports in the years after World War II recommended either a four- or six-lane bridge… The Government of the day took fright at the cost and grudgingly settled on an “austerity” bridge of four lanes and no footpaths….Four clip-on lanes had to be added in 1969 in a novel piece of engineering, the cost of which far exceeded what would have been the case for any bridge built a decade earlier with a realistic view of probable demand.” 

The problem with this idea is that it’s not actually true!

Despite the common opinion, the staged expansion of the Auckland Harbour Bridge was not only more cost effective overall, but it also actually resulted in a bigger bridge with more capacity, with more development of the city. A win-win outcome for the most part. The tale of the Auckland Harbour Bridge is actually a parable for the opposite of the commonly held view: it shows us the value of transport development programmes with successive expansions of transport capacity and expenditure over time. Let’s walk through what really happened.

The myth of the six lane bridge that never was

This idea that they hamstrung the bridge to save a pittance seems to come partly from mistaken ideas around what was originally planned in the 1950s. Most versions of this myth claim it was supposed to be six motorway lanes (as the NZ Herald repeated), plus a footpath and cycleway, and often a pair of rail tracks or tram lines for good measure. It seems people today think Auckland had originally planned a bridge to rival Sydney famous span, which was then and still is the widest bridge deck in the world!

Indeed it is true that there was lots of talk among the newspapers and the man on the street about these sorts of things. The public dialogue is eerily familiar to the modern ear, there were calls for more lanes from automobile clubs, requests for rail lines from industry, architects demanding tall arches or fancy suspension designs, and an active lobby group that campaigned on ‘tunnel or nothing’ to save the beauty of the harbour. There was also a ferry development strategy worked up as a straw man to prove how expensive it would be to not build a bridge. But apart from the last one, that was all little more than editorial demands and empty opinion pieces.

The reality of the first Auckland Harbour Bridge design (1951)

The reality of the first bridge is much less grandiose that the lore. The original tender for the Auckland Harbour Bridge went out in 1951 with a specification for five general traffic lanes, two footpaths, and a basic low profile arch structure. This would be supported by new roading extensions on reclaimed land running up to Takapuna in the north, and through Saint Mary’s Bay to the city centre.

What does this mean for the supposed mark one harbour bridge, well it’s not nearly as super as some might believe. The facts are:

  • It had five lanes, not six. In effect a four-lane road with a fifth tidal lane.
  • It wasn’t actually a motorway at all. The bridge was designed as an arterial road with a 40 mile an hour speed limit, a shade over 60 km/h. It wasn’t intended to be a motorway. The main highway north was planned to run around the upper harbour, on what eventually became Stage Highway 16 and 18.
  • Rail was never seriously considered, not least because it would have required a bridge twice as long to achieve the required grade. Likewise trams were considered obsolete at the time and Auckland had replaced most of them with trolleybuses by the early 1950s.
  • Basic footpaths. Although there were two footpaths originally proposed (one each side), at a mere 1.8m wide they’d have been narrower than the footpaths in front of your local dairy.
  • No cycle lanes. There is no record of any serious suggestion of dedicated cycle lanes, only footpaths. It’s probable that one of the footpaths might have been allocated to cyclists, like in Sydney, but it wasn’t designed that way. Given the bridge was designed to be a main road, the original designers might have assumed cyclists would ride in the traffic lanes like they did everywhere else in Auckland.

The true costs of early bridge plans and ‘austerity’ bridge that was built (1954-1959)

Right, so winding back from the myth of what might have been we are still left with the idea of penny-pinching up front costing more in the long run. Did they still save pennies only pay pounds later? What does the record show about the actual costs being considered?

In 1951 the government selected an £8.1 million New Zealand pound tender to build a five-lane bridge with two footpaths. An interesting point was the cost of the bridge proper was less than half of the project: the tender was £3.5 million for the bridge itself, £2.1 million for the approach roads, and £2.5 million for reclamation, property and sundry other costs. This included engineering fees and interest payments for five years while the bridge was being built and before toll revenue would start coming in.

The interest payments are a critical point in this story, as the first bridge scheme was going to be paid for by borrowing on the international market with a plan to borrow in London at 4% interest. While eight million pounds seems like such a small number today, this was such a huge loan back in the day that the prime minister considered it a risk to the national economy. Too great a risk in fact, and he withheld approval for the lending and the project continued to founder.

The reasons for the cost sensitivity around the harbour bridge are quite obvious in retrospect. In the early 1950s Auckland was a small city perched at the top of a small rural economy, and the North Shore was a farming backwater, with a handful of villages at ferry wharves along the harbour edge and holiday baches dotted up the coast.

And here is the critical thing, it was simply a huge project for a small city. At the time, the £8.1 million pound cost was a full 7.5% of Auckland’s annual regional GDP, equivalent to the city spending $7.7 billion dollars today. In relative terms, that would have made the five-lane bridge twice as expensive as any transport project New Zealand has ever undertaken.

In 1954, Prime Minister Holland came back with a new proposition, the whole scheme would be funded locally but the project had to be de-scoped to bring the costs back to earth. This trimmed off the fifth tidal lane and footpaths, giving just four traffic lanes, which saved £771,000 pounds on the bridge structure. Again that doesn’t sound like much, but the equivalent today would be a saving of half a billion dollars. Furthermore, to slash the total budget in half the second scheme also initially dropped approach roads either side. Instead of new reclaimed highways from Takapuna to downtown, the MkII bridge would only have a simple connection to the existing roads either side, with all bridge traffic driving through local streets of Northcote Point and Ponsonby controlled by traffic lights either side. However, after much political wrangling and concern for local traffic issues, modified, narrower versions of the approach roads were put back into the plan.

All in all, the Mark two version of the Auckland Harbour Bridge project, the one that was actually built, eventually cost £7.5m pounds when the deal was signed in 1954. That was down to just 5% off Auckland’s GDP, equivalent to spending $5.1 billion today. The final bridge scheme saved the equivalent of two billion dollars compared to the preferred tender bridge from 1951. This was $0.5b from the cost of building the structure by dropping the fifth lane and footpaths, and a further equivalent of $1.5b from the project by having correspondingly smaller approach roads, less reclamation, and reduced overheads.

But what about the clip-ons? (1969)

Most Aucklanders are familiar with the ‘Nippon Clippons’, the pair of lanes added either side of the original bridge built by a Japanese company in the sixties. These extra structures, themselves separate bridges, doubled the traffic capacity of the bridge from four lanes to eight when they opened in 1969. Extending a bridge was novel technology at the time, and the price was not exactly cheap. They cost $7.4 million dollars in 1969 (New Zealand having changed from pounds to dollars in the meantime).

This is the bit where people seem to think things went wrong, and at first glance they saved seven hundred thousand pounds on the 1959 bridge only to spend seven million dollars widening it ten years later.

First of all, the comparison is apples and oranges. The initial saving dropped the bridge design from five lanes to four, losing one lane and resulting in 20% less the lane capacity. Meanwhile adding the clip-ons doubled the bridge from four lanes to eight, a 100% increase in capacity. Apples and apples, the comparison is a five-lane bridge in the 50s versus an eight lane bridge in the 60s. Or more to the point, given the cost pressures in the 1950s the real comparison was having no bridge at all. It’s entirely likely that if they had not value engineered the cost of the first Auckland harbour bridge it would have ended up like the 1951 contract and all the other bridge proposals before it, nothing more than an unaffordable set of plans gathering dust in a drawer.

Secondly, the costs of the clip-ons and the ability to pay for them isn’t what they seem. Recall that relative to the Auckland regional economy, the saving they got from a smaller bridge in the 50s was equal to 2.5% of the regional GDP, the equivalent of saving $2 billion dollars today. But by 1969 the population and economy had grown significantly, and the $7.3m spent on the clip-ons was only 0.8% of Auckland’s GDP, the equivalent of spending $800m dollars today.

So in terms of the economy’s ability to pay for the bridge, they saved the equivalent of two billion dollars by dropping the fifth lane, and ten years later spent the equivalent of less than one billion to widen the bridge to a total of eight lanes. That means the eight lane bridge including the added clip-ons was significantly more affordable than a five lane bridge would have been.

Waiting ten years to expand capacity got them four extra lanes for half the fiscal impact of only one extra lane up front!

The outcome: the Auckland Harbour Bridge is a model for future infrastructure development

The reality of the situation is that Auckland actually got a harbour bridge funded, with the contract signed in 1954 and construction finished by 1959. That was far from certain, so the greatest success of the programme was actually delivering a harbour bridge rather than continuing to talk about one.

It is certainly true that the bridge was redesigned from five lanes with footpaths to four lanes without footpaths, and in nominal terms this reduced the cost of the project by less than a million seemingly trifling pounds. But in terms of the ability to fund the project, the ‘penny pinching’ that happened between 1951 and 1954 was the equivalent of saving over two billion dollars on a project today. It is what got the bridge built.

Yes, it was expanded from four lanes to eight with the clip-ons, after ten years of growth of the North Shore induced by the first bridge stage started to approach its peak traffic capacity. But far from being a sign of failure this was an economic masterstroke. By leaving this expansion for a decade it was actually easier to fund than if they had built a wider bridge to start with. Ten years of savings on interest payments with a cheaper bridge, combined with the Auckland economy being much bigger after a decade, meant it was much easier to fund adding four lanes of clip-ons in 1969 than was to pay for one more lane in 1959.

So, by the time the loans were paid off in 1984, Auckland had an eight-lane bridge that had been easier to pay for than a five lane one! This shows the value of approaching a programme of staged investment and capacity building rather than trying to do it all up front. To put this in simple terms: don’t borrow extra money up front to build something bigger than you need, years before you need it, because you’ll just be making bigger loan payments that you can’t afford to cover extra interest on something you’re not using yet.

That staged investment has supported a huge increase in transport capacity in parallel to growing population. This has continued over time as the bridge has been upgraded with strengthening in the 1980s, a movable barrier system and electricity and water pipes in the 1990s, and the northern busway in the 2000s. The most lamentable part of this story is that they didn’t re-incorporate the footpaths or a cycleway when the clip-ons were built… but that’s the next stage of development in the Auckland Harbour Bridge story.

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62 comments

  1. Fine. But it was a mistake not put in footpaths (and cyclelane) at some point. Either originally, or with the clipons.

    1. Agree Dave, that was my conclusion also. They should have included the footpaths with the clip ons… and they should add them in ASAP.

        1. Motorways in Christchurch have cycle paths next to them.
          I’ve also walked across the Golden Gate Bridge right next to six lanes of traffic.
          The original plan had footpaths, it’s time NZTA followed through and make it legal to walk/cycle across the bridge.

  2. That part of the story not described above is why the bridge piers were mistakenly so over designed so as to allow an additional 4 lanes of bridge weight to be added to them. The rock samples from the pier locations couldn’t be tested at the time in NZ so were shipped back to the uk, however they dried out along the way. The sandstone/mudstone is very friable so what started out as rock in NZ turned to very weak soil by the time it was treated. Roll on a couple of years, testing labs were established in NZ and the true nature of the conservatism was discovered allowing the extensions to be built. It was a happy accident, and not by design, that the clip ons happened

      1. Not directly referable unfortunately, it was from a talk Brian Wilson, an engineer who worked on the original bridge construction for Cleveland bridge co., gave to a group of engineers

    1. It’s not really a ‘mistake’ if they didn’t know any better at the time. Much of NZ’s early infrastructure was massively overengineered by modern standards, because they didn’t have computers to do the complex structural design calculations and couldn’t do design life analysis. They just built the best they could with the technology available at the time.

    2. I’m not sure if that story is quite true Ivor. My understanding is that in the days before computer aided design it was standard procedure to build in large amounts of redundancy to foundation design, like tenfold. I think you’ll find every bridge of the era has it similar.

      1. From here:
        https://www.engineeringnz.org/news-insights/op-ed-engineers-perspective/
        “The rock at foundation level was much harder than anticipated in the design of the foundations. Tests of strength were done for the record. The foundations would be able to sustain a much greater load that was possible from the 4 lane bridge. This was of great benefit to the design of the 2 lane width extensions each side of the 4 lane bridge in 1965. ”

        The mistake was in the soil classification, not the design itself.

        The point I’m trying to make is that the bridge overdesign was not intentional given the cost pressure is was under. Overdesigning for potential future increases can be very expensive crystal ball gazing, the flyover at the top of dominion road is a classic example where it went wrong. Ensuring the CRL uinderground stations can take 9 car trains is hopefully going to be a good example.
        Personally I hope we (quickly) develop cycle and pedestrain lanes over the harbour, that don’t get foiled by someone trying to overdesign them to put, say, a train on in the future, and the costs blow out to something unpaletable.

        1. Or, someone designs, for example, the walk and cycleways as a standalone bridge costing 500 million, and being built sometime in the next 5-10 years, by the time of which the current govt will be gone, and the next one will scrap the proposal, and we still will lack walking and cycling across the bridge. That’s the risk of what is happening now, with NZTA’s new proposals (which are still unannounced except in very nebulous terms, of course).

        2. Quite. A lower figure, and earlier than that. But the environmental concerns about building a new bridge would – surprise – delay it, and then someone would get a better, more future-proofed idea.

  3. It looks from the bottom image as through there is existing space on the bridge that could accommodate active modes. Does anyone have ideas as to why those orange lanes couldn’t be repurposed?

    1. because if you drove up the orange lanes, you would end up hitting the main bridge superstructure head on…?

      1. That’s the design genius we were looking for. Just ride up and over the superstructure. zip tie on some plywood boards if we need the extra width. What’s a little extra height to lycra clad cyclist.

      2. One way would be to use the ‘unused’ section for vehicles and to shift the outer two lanes left before the centre span. A cycleway / pedestrian path could use the space created by shifting the traffic lanes inward and at the centre span be added to the width of the span or dipped below and under the traffic lanes. This would require less additional structure overall but would pose some problems. 1) As the traffic lanes would have a shift left and back at the centre span there would be the potential for accidents. 2) The ‘unused’ piece is actually parts of both bridges (original and clipon) which would likely cause loading issues. Maybe another way would be to use the spare bit for cycles/pedestrians with a dip under before the centre span leading to a mid under bridge plaza below the original bridge deck.

      3. Yes. People seem to forget, or just don’t know, that the Auckland Harbour Bridge in its current configuration is actually 3 bridges sitting very close to each other. So not only would you hit the main bridge superstructure if you drove up the orange lanes, you would also be driving partly on one bridge (the original), and partly on another (a clip-on). These have differing dynamic movements etc, so could lead to some interesting rides.

  4. The only ships that require such a high span on the bridge are those that unload sugar at the Chelsea Sugar refinery. About once a month? Could they move their operation? Any new bridge with a gentle slope could better take trains, busses, bikes and pedestrians.

    1. Yes of course they could. It was built that high at a time they thought a new port would be built in the upper harbour. That is never going to happen as containerisation saw ships getting bigger and they can’t fit under anymore.
      White sugar used to be an essential item, now we know it to be more like a slow acting poison. The navy could keep a few small shells anywhere else.

      1. Can you give your address to the NZDF (its more than just the Navy that use the Kauri Point Armaments Depot) please miffy so that they can store a few of their high explosive “shells” in your garden shed and/or rumpus. Perhaps you have like minded friends who could also house a few missiles, torpedos, and other such munitions.
        And then perhaps you can organise a few working bees to reemploy the 200 or so people from the Chelsea Sugar Refinery that you want to throw on the scrap heap.

        1. I am all for a cycle/walking path over the bridge, but suggesting that yachties, the navy and the sugar works should move, for a yet to be tested number of cyclists, is pretty selfish.
          This excellent article is about better planning practice, isn’t it time for all of us to accept that a longer wait is needed, to make sure that the eventual solution of a Harbour crossing is going to work for everyone.

    2. There is also the marina at west harbour, a couple of boat builders years and hundreds of moorings.

      1. None of which are reasons to constrain grades on a major route connecting our country. The 43m clearance was designed for ships that never used it. All of the other users could be told they have one year to leave before the clearance is reduced to 10m.

      2. And it shouldn’t really be necessary to reduce the clearance of the bridge too much – if I’ve heard right the average Harbour Bridge gradient is around 5%, which (at least on the mass transit side) is well within the tolerance for both light rail & light metro – not that adding rail to the existing Harbour Bridge is really feasible, but a AWHC bridge could have a similar or slightly reduced clearance and similar gradient.

  5. This reads very much as ‘be thankful you even have a bridge’. Add in a dash of the plan was never to have a big flash bridge like people were asking for. To be honest I found it hard to read past “Although there were two footpaths originally proposed (one each side), at a mere 1.8m wide they’d have been narrower than the footpaths in front of your local dairy.” I would be happy if 1.8m were the standard in my town where grass has been added on some streets to reduce the width to well less than that.

    If, and we know it wasn’t, the original plan had said we can only afford this much but we will need this much in the future so we will plan for an extension when we can afford it and need it then I think we would all be agreeing that they saved money. There was no forward planning, same as many other projects. Grafton Bridge is the first that comes to mind.

    The issue isn’t whether or not we could have afforded it, the issue is the lack of forward planning and that we have been left with a motorway crossing that still excludes pedestrians and cyclists from using it and no plan to change that.

    1. Please explain how Grafton Bridge demonstrates a lack of forward planning. It would have seemed perfectly adequate at the time. Are you implying that the designers somehow failed by not foreseeing a city dominated by cars?

      The construction of the bridge began in 1908, the same year the Ford Model T went into production. The city becoming car-centric was not at all inevitable, it was the result of a series of deliberate policy decisions.

      1. A quick search shows the following:

        “The current bridge was championed by the mayor Arthur Myers, who advocated for it to be twice as wide as built. Even in its narrower form it was to cost £31,918, resulting in it being called “Myers’ Folly” by many at the time, but was also seen to symbolise a commitment to a ‘Greater Auckland’, indicating leadership in technology development.[4] Many people maintained that the city would never get big enough to warrant the cost of so large a piece of engineering. Conversely Myers predicted that the population of Auckland would double in the next two decades, and he was proved correct.”

        It is one of those projects that I have heard discussed many times and my understanding is there was also an American who put forward plans for a four lane bridge obviously advocating for the wider bridge to be built to meet future needs. The reason it hasn’t been built is because people are too in love with the current bridge and it would have to be pulled down to build a wider one.

        1. I think you are mistaking hindsight bias for forward planning. Even in the quotes you give there is clearly a case being made for each side – build bigger, build smaller – and it’s only in hindsight that we can say the build bigger side may have proven to be right. At the time it would not have been that easy to tell (which is clear from your quotes), even with all the future thinking possible.
          “Forward planning” is not the same thing as “what we can now see would have been the correct thing to do”.

        2. It’s hard to know in hindsight what the best build design would’ve been, given the poor allocation of space that would’ve accompanied it.

          Had it been four traffic lanes, we could have (recently, theoretically) converted it to bus lanes, cycle lanes and better walking. But in the interim, with four lanes of traffic lanes, it would’ve induced traffic and the politics of removing those “essential” traffic-clogged lanes would’ve been hard.

          Perhaps a three lane bridge with wider footpaths would’ve been the perfect compromise; that could have been converted to having a bi directional cycleway with a buffer.

        3. For the record, the tenders received in 1952 for construction of the proposed Harbour Bridge included:
          “Cleveland Bridge-Dorman Long (Britain) £4,236,036
          Pacific Bridge Corporation (United States) £7,015,000 (target price).
          (Alternative price for a suspension bridge: £6,970,000)
          Cable Price Corporation (New Zealand) £5,607,564
          (Alternative prices for different methods of construction: £5,430,849 and £5,583,044)
          Entreprises Métropolitaines et Coloniales (France) £4,445,720 (fabricated steel work only).
          “An American firm had put forward a target price of £6,970,000 for a suspension bridge of 1,820-ft span and quoted a still higher price for the official cantilever design. However, they gave no details at all with their tender, and would have been disqualified for that reason, even if their price had been competitive, which it was not. In fact it was £2,000,000 higher than the successful tender.
          “By this time, even the lowest tender well exceeded the 1946 Royal Commission’s estimate of a capital cost of £3 million. This had been anticipated by the Bridge Authority which “…had lodged in May an application to the Local Government Loans Board for permission to raise £8,122,000. This was estimated to cover the cost of the bridge (£3,500,000), approach roads (£2,123,000), engineering fees, and interest payments to be paid during construction.” [Gas Pedal to Back-Pedal p.192]

        4. @Keith Mexsom my comment was regarding the Grafton Bridge not the Harbour Bridge.

    2. “This reads very much as ‘be thankful you even have a bridge’. Add in a dash of the plan was never to have a big flash bridge like people were asking for.”

      Yes that’s it exactly.

      I think you missed the whole point of the article. You’re idea of ‘forward planning’ seems to be only accepting bigger more expensive stuff. If you do that you don’t get anything, because you can’t afford to even start.

      I’m not sure what your point is with Grafton Bridge. The third Grafton bridge replaced the first two footbridges, it was a great improvement being able to take horse carts and did famously to open up the eastern suburbs. It was first strengthened to take heavier traffic in the 1930s, and again in the 50s to take light trucks. It was strengthened a third time in the 2000s to take buses, and the added on suicide screens at the same time.
      It does famously, carrying about 700 buses and 15,000 passengers on a normal weekday.

      Over time it’s also been supplemented by two other road bridges across the Grafton gully, and of course two motorways.

    3. Grafton bridge has exactly the correct number of lanes. The last thing we need is more car routes into the city centre.

  6. Great reading. One extra thing, it might be interesting to see a graph with the “people carried” in the x axis.
    I had around look around couldn’t find one pre made. Might indicate the capacity increase to the bridge made by moving more people by bus

  7. Yep its definitely better to do an imperfect something than a perfect nothing.
    The reason we have to “penny pinch” in NZ is because we don’t have hundreds of millions of people to pay for it.
    It’s actually pretty amazing what we do have: look at all of those roads spanning a fairly large country twisting through hills and gorges, all built and maintained by the taxes of 5 million people

  8. Great article.

    Very interesting to see the numbers that way.

    I guess if we wait some more it will be even cheaper in the future to finally get a footpath on the bridge.

    1. Yes not building something is always cheaper, and the longer you don’t build it the cheaper it gets relative to today. This is actually a fundamental point of economics.

      I guess you are being facetious but there is one point missing from your quip. They didn’t build extra lanes up front but they did built the extra clip on lanes when they were needed for the growing traffic. We have not built the foot or cycle lanes despite them being already needed.

      Staging expansion and delivery over time as required rather than doing it in advance, is not the same as not doing anything ever.

  9. Another story I have heard about the clipons is that the bend was not quite right in the top section, so they attached a barge, sunk it to straighten the section, and welded in place.
    Is this one correct or just rumour?

  10. Thanks Nicholas, good read. Interesting and thought provoking.
    Austerity ties into the politics around the 1950’s – with the waterfront action and lockout of 22000 workers. Union breaking police actions and “strongman” government. Hard to understand decisions of the day with our current lens. Missing from the article is the late realisation that the shiny new bridge would bring motorway level traffic into a low traffic city center. Much spaghetti followed. Electric Tram network being dismantled 1956. The article reads as – dont build a final solution – put in an infrastructure. Transport Planners – go read up on active transport please.

    1. Thanks South Auckland Rules.
      I alluded to that above, and wrote about it more here: https://www.greaterauckland.org.nz/2021/02/10/cut-and-cover-spaghetti-junction/

      But rather than ‘much spaghetti followed’ this was 100% intentional!

      As I noted the bridge was designed as an arterial road to the city centre, the equivalent of Great North Road or Tamaki Drive. The first plans for the motorways bypassed around the city core and had the main motorway north via the upper harbour. That’s why the first part of the motorway built was the northwestern causway.

      However, there was very serious concern that a northern motorway around the harbour this would drain all the projected traffic off the harbour bridge. The bridge was built on the basis of toll revenue to pay for some of it.

      So the plans were changed, and in the 1959 master transport plan the motorway network was changed to push the northern motorway across the harbour bridge, changing it from a city bypass to running right through the city core to tie to the bridge. That way the motorway traffic would pay the toll. Look at the traffic graph above and you can see the ‘laughable’ traffic projection being exceeded within a few years… but that was the traffic projection of a local bridge joining Northcote and Takapuna to downtown, not a traffic projection for state highway 1.

      In hindsight they made a major strategic misstep by combining the city/local traffic routes and the regional motorways into the same roads and forcing them all through a giant interchange. It would have been far better had they kept the motorways as regional bypasses and used main roads for traffic in the core.

      1. thanks – that helps and makes sense. re routing traffic to HB toll booth’s reminded me of all the PPP projects that didnt meet financial goals due to tight motorists routing around them. We’d drive miles to save pennys.
        I remember the tollboths across the full width of the bridge, then just one side, then none at all. 20cent toll from memory. Good Read, thx

  11. Sometimes you can have too much ceremony and expense and it is just better to get on and do it. The most obvious example was the building of Britomart although that then necessitated the CRL. I think the harbour bridge falls into the same category. Times change and needs change. In hind sight it would be done differently. Our job now is to add in the missing features and build resiliency and redundancy on and along the harbour crossing corridor.

    1. The $4b Western Ring Route and its second harbour crossing from Hobsonville to Greenhithe already provides redundancy. The excessive focus on one part of the region is ridiculous.

    2. Royce, Britomart and the CRL is an excellent example. There are half a dozen schemes for a rail system for Auckland across the 20th century. All of them made the same mistake of combining a rail tunnel with electrification and new trains and double tracking and station upgrades and signal upgrades, etc, etc, into one huge project to try and ‘do it right the first time’.

      The one that finally managed to actually get built was the small iterative projects. First some new second hand trains. Then some station upgrades. Then the Britomart terminal. Then double tracking. Then electrification and signal upgrades and new trains. Then level crossing removals and track amplifications. Then the rail tunnel.

      Once the CRL opens Auckland’s rail upgrade will have comprised of dozens of projects, each with successive independent improvements and with the costs and impacts spread out over 30 years. This is how they have actually delivered what the previous projects failed at time and time again.

  12. Great summary Nick R and very interesting historic sequence of outcomes.

    I agree the failure of the active mode ability at the time of the clip-ons is the biggest failure.

  13. The Royal Commission that recommended the design for the Auckland Harbour Bridge could not be clearer that a cycle track and a footpath was to be provided on the bridge.

    At some point, the politicians and bureaucrats of the day overlooked the Commission findings (to Auckland’s detriment) and threw away active transport across the Harbour.

    So, a bike lane now would fulfil the Royal Commission’s findings – as Auckland deserves. See page 7 of the attached original report – great reading:

    https://atojs.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/atojs?a=d&d=AJHR1946-I.2.2.3.6&e=——-10–1——0–

    The more people who understand that the bridge design was altered away from the initial design to remove bike traffic the better.

    See you all on May 30th – Liberate the Lane!

    1. Actually its not. They didn’t recommend a cycle track on the bridge, only a “four-lane carraigeway, 44ft between kerbs, plus two 6ft footpaths”

      The cycle track recommendation was for the new approach roads only. My assumption is they assumed cyclists would ride on the general traffic lanes over the bridge.

      The most curious thing in that report is the weight they placed on buses and trolley buses, predicting they would carry the majority of people across the bridge. Makes sense, at the time the use of private cars for general transport was very minimal.

  14. My understanding is that the British firm that built the original 4 lanes offered to build an identical bridge next to it for free, so long as they could keep the tolls. Maybe NZ’s first PPP.
    The reality today is that the bridge seems to be ok for current levels of traffic, with the expectation that Heavy goods will be ‘encouraged’ to go via Upper Harbour.
    I know some people think that traffic is going to decline, but that’s unlikely. We are going to have cars on our roads for the foreseeable future.
    That means we will have to have some additional Harbour crossing.
    Skypath is dead, The Northern Pathway is dead and no matter how much we may want it, no way is a traffic lane going to be given up for walking and cycling.
    What this story tells me is that Auckland should build a rail tunnel and if later on, we need additional road lanes, we can add to the tunnel.
    So if we learn from the lessons of 1960 & 1970, we should dig a hole that big enough for both.
    Thanks to the author – it was a very interesting post. The bridge turns 62 on the 30th May

    1. If traffic levels are not going to decline before 2030, Daniel, would you please lay out your plan for how Auckland achieves the reductions in transport emissions required to fulfill our commitments?

        1. Yes, congestion charging is one of the levers to reduce vehicle travel and thus reduce emissions. There are many other levers and they complement each other. Their effect on reducing emissions relies on their actually being applied sufficiently to reduce vehicle travel, and not just to hold it steady. Daniel seems to believe that vehicle travel won’t reduce; in this case emissions will not be able to reduce by this key mechanism.

          Economic constructs like the Emissions Trading Scheme work at a higher level by putting pressure onto government, organisations, businesses and individuals to change. They are only helpful if there are mechanisms to translate their pressure into practical steps. For individual citizens, this is difficult in transport as the idealised “rational man” is reliant on the systems being provided by our collective society. You can’t respond to higher fuel taxes, for example, by cycling if there’s no safe infrastructure or by using the bus if there’s insufficient bus priority to make sure the journey isn’t held up by private vehicles.

          Therefore the ETS would need to work by putting pressure on central and local government to sort out the systems to enable individuals, organisations and businesses to respond to the higher fuel prices. That pressure is helpful, but is insufficient because
          – until every kg of CO2 is part of the scheme the price is not going to reflect the climate damage emissions do,
          – even if CO2 was properly priced, there’s a lot of counterpressure due to the political economy of car dependence
          – even if government made all the right decisions about systems change today, we face a built environment that is designed around enabling vehicle, rather than sustainable, travel. It will take a while to set that right.

          Economic constructs can be fast acting, but due to the enormity of systems change, they are not fast in transport. It doesn’t make sense for the government to turn to economic tools alone when there are many other tools to use.

  15. New Zealand’s commitment requires us to reduce transport CO2 emissions from 16.6 to 8.8mt by 2035 (Climate change commission report Jan 21). About a quarter of transport emissions comes from Heavy transport (MOT Green Freight report 20).
    So, the Govt should mandate E10 as the NZ gasoline specification and B30 for diesel. If you factor in a realistic uptake of BEV light vehicles of 10-15%, make all public transport and public service vehicles zero emission (at tail pipe) and have domestic aviation using SAF, then you are pretty much on target.
    Some small mode shift 5-10% will be the last part of the puzzle and building a rail tunnel would be a tremendous way to encourage that. More people would rather take a 5 min train from Takapuna to to city than a 40 min bike ride. That is an obvious reality.

    1. The distance from Takapuna to the CBD is 9.2 kilometres which is a 20 minute bicycle ride not 40 minutes. It’s currently 40 minutes taking the ferry.

  16. A great read and brings in a new perspective to the history of the bridge that I wasn’t fully aware of.
    In most large construction projects there is invariably a play-off between the need, desired outcome, engineering, cost, public good, environment, and other factors. The cost is not just the “down payment”,] and its deterrent effect if its considered too expensive. There is also the opportunity cost of the spend. If $xxx is spent on one project then that is $xxx that cannot be spent elsewhere.
    I imagine that if Ardern, Twyford, and their ilk were in charge back in the 1950’s they would still be talking about a Harbour Bridge in the same way as they are about Light Rail to the Airport and West, Sky Path, KiwiBuild (oh thats right, not allowed to talk about that anymore), Rapid Rail to the provinces (Tauranga, Rotorua, Hamilton, and other towns and hamlets between and beyond) and such like.
    To date we have a slow train from Hamilton that a minivan could replace to carry its daily passengers.
    Imagine a similar scenario with the Harbour Bridge. Would it be a fleet of Subritzky Sealink Ferries, or would they have put in a “temporary” Bailey Bridge?
    As said elsewhere, sometimes an imperfect affordable something is better than a perfect unaffordable nothing.

  17. I’ve always thought the harbour bridge was an example of pragmatic design where the built what they reasonably could with the money they had and so I’m happy we agree on something. It is however potentially a case of more good luck than good planning that they were able to add the clip-ons without needing to dig new pier.

  18. Can they build footpaths and cycle lanes underneath the roads?
    Can they make the bridge even stronger with added pillars, or widening it even more, adding extra lines?

  19. An excellent article, well written and researched. The lesson that the author seems to want to convey is to build what is reasonably foreseeable and add to transport infrastructure as needed. That assumes that it will be possible to increase the capacity of the infrastructure in the future. A critical element when planning new transport infrastructure – e.g. the Mill Road alternative to State Highway 1 – is that you purchase sufficient land for an exclusive right of way to accommodate future growth for whatever transport modes are to be used (road, rail, cycleways etc). Once the infrastructure is built, development will follow and the appreciating cost of land will forever limit or preclude extending the transport system. On that issue it is foolhardy to start small. In other words, even if you are only going to build 4 road lanes, set aside land for 6, plus generous shoulders. If
    plan is to eventually have double track rail in an area envisaged for future urban development, set aside land for an additional dedicated freight line.

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