The Government’s recent ‘re-baselining’ of the NZ Upgrade Programme has got a mixed reception over the past week or so. Most of the discussion has been about the Northern Pathway while largely ignoring greater cost increases on other projects.

Because the Northern Pathway can no longer be attached to the Harbour Bridge (for engineering reasons) and because Waka Kotahi refuses to reallocate a lane on the existing bridge, a whole new standalone crossing is now necessary if we are to correct a historical mistake and finally provide for walking and cycling across the harbour. A whole new bridge is obviously a very significant project, leading to a cost of around $685 million for the harbour crossing and another $100 million for the cycleway between Northcote Point and Akoranga.

One thing that surprised me a bit with this announcement was the decision to just focus on delivering a walking and cycling bridge, once it was clear a standalone structure was required. Minister of Transport Michael Wood hinted that other options had been looked at, but discounted:

Work is also being done on the next Waitematā harbour crossing and how public transport options can be improved.

Initial work will include improvements to the North Shore busway and services across the harbour in the next few years.

The preferred option for public transport in the long-term is a tunnel, Wood said, so that obviously would not be a suitable option for cyclists and walkers.

“The most important thing that we can do [for public transport options] is to make improvements to the North Shore busway at the approaches to the bridge. The chokepoint for public transport isn’t actually getting across the bridge – it’s making sure that we have adequate access to the North Shore busway either side of the bridge…”

If a public transport option had been added to the bridge announced today it would have added $1 billion to the costs.

With a new bridge required for walking and cycling anyway, and long-term plans for the North Shore highlighting the need for an ‘Additional Rapid Transit Connection’ to meet long-term public transport demand, it seems like an enormous missed opportunity to not build a multi-modal bridge.

The long term strategy for improving cross-harbour connectivity

This is especially true when you start looking at some of the costs for future harbour crossing options – which makes the “extra $1 billion” sound like an extremely good deal.

A new multi-modal bridge, carrying walking, cycling and rapid transit, could initially be used by buses but potentially built with future light-rail or light-metro tracks within the road-bed. Initially this would finally provide a ‘complete’ rapid transit corridor to the North Shore: linking back into the Northern Busway at Akoranga and with some lane juggling through to Fanshawe Street in the city centre. This would be entirely consistent with the long-term AWHC strategy, which looks first to squeeze as much as possible out of the existing busway.

But then in the medium term, as the busway becomes overloaded by sheer demand as population growth occurs and (hopefully) as significant mode shift to reduce climate emissions also happens, the new rapid transit crossing and the rest of the Northern Busway could be ‘upgraded’ to light-rail or light-metro at a fraction of the cost of building a new $5 billion tunnel from Wynyard to Smales Farm, as suggested by the AWHC business case.

There are currently over 30,000 daily public transport trips across the harbour and most projections suggest this will at least double over the next 30 years. At first glance it seems like spending around $2 billion on a multi-modal bridge used by at least 70,000 public transport trips a day and around 5,000 walking and cycling trips a day is probably a better deal than spending $785 million on something used just by the 5,000 people walking and cycling.

Stretching things even further, the AWHC business case made the argument that there’s a long-term need to address interpeak congestion and ease pressure on the harbour bridge’s structure so that longer-term maintenance work can be more easily undertaken. Adding a couple of general traffic lanes to the multi-modal bridge would help resolve these issues by allowing five lanes of traffic to operate in both directions all day long, and would avoid the huge problems a road tunnel creates by funnelling more vehicles into the city centre. It would also save another $8 billion, when compared to building a road tunnel.

Interestingly, the main argument in the AWHC business case for a tunnel under the harbour was the supposedly impossible hurdle to consent a bridge across the harbour:

Yet a bridge across the harbour is now what’s being proposed. At the very least we should be adding rapid transit to that bridge to achieve far more value from this significant investment.

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66 comments

  1. 100%. If you’re going to incur the time, complexity and consenting costs of designing A bridge then you need to look at the opportunity cost of not extra now to add rapid transit.

    If that opportunity cost is ‘needing a $10b+ tunnel in the future’ then that cost needs to be added to the actual construction cost. A walking and cycling bridge that dooms us to a $10b tunnel and even more motorway widening is poor value.

    A walking, cycling AND Light Rail bridge that unlocks the NEX busway as well as significantly adding rapid transit links to the CBD for a fraction of the cost of a future tunnel will prove to be excellent value, in comparison.

    I’m starting to feel like this bridge is Light Rail all over again. Years of not getting what we were told we were getting, and then a much more expensive yet feature-limited thing people don’t generally want gets foisted upon you, which solves nobody’s problems and creates more in the long run.

    1. Please no buses within the walking jogging bridge!!

      I really don’t think breathing the diesel bus fumes while walking over the bridge may make Auckland more liveable

      1. They will be electric by then. All new busses on the AT network need to be electric starting in a month or so.

        1. Ok, than add scooters lines. Electric scooters I mean.

          Also add jogging lines both directions.

          Add slow cycling and walking paths.

          So if bridge is less than 40 meters wide there’s no space for trams or e-cars.

    2. Mt Victoria to City (Wynyard or Britomart) is the best route for pedestrians.

      Do you agree?

  2. Thanks Matt. A voice of reason!

    One thing I still don’t understand why either a bridge or tunnel needs to go all the way up to Akoranga. Why not to Onewa? It’d be shorter and hopefully cheaper, and we would get to have an Onewa interchange. Which I’ve written something (hopefully a post) about, so I won’t make my complete argument here.

    I hope that this walking and cycling bridge has been a political play to get what the end goal always was, a rapid transit and walking / cycling bridge. A new bridge would be inconceivable to the public? Well here we have one proposed and I haven’t seen a soul complain about it on the basis that it would be an eyesore or environmentally an issue. Next it needs the rapid transit lanes added, and then they need to sell it that it would be cheaper and require less reclamation if they put it from Wynyard instead.

  3. The walking and cycling bridge is clever politics. Announcing it will please all the cycling people. Not ever actually building it will please all the people who think it is a waste of $685 million. The Government can please everyone, at least for 3 to 5 years.

    1. And in that 3-5 years they can sneak through the temporary bike lane on the bridge itself, which ends up being the permanent solution.
      “In the meantime, Waka Kotahi would continue to work on how to provide safe temporary trials of using lanes on the existing harbour bridge for cyclists and pedestrians, he said.”

      1. Perhaps they could sneak it through with the next load of innovating streets bollocks. You know, that programme where they just dump any old thing on roads without any assessment, without consultation and without a safety audit.

        1. I don’t know that programme, probably because you’re lying in your description. All of them had consultation.

  4. I wholeheartedly agree. If we’re going to build a new bridge at such an immense cost, do it properly and add rapid transit to it. Then be done with the entire AWHC debate.

  5. I don’t think it pleases cycling people. We know that the design is far too expensive and car people all over NZ hate selfish cyclists even more. Waka Kotahi deliberately build bikeways such as K’Rd, Tamaki Dr at high cost to frustrate cyclists and anger motorists. They will not do low cost and popular pop up bikeways as in Paris, London and Sydney.
    NZTA and AT are both opaque organisations and don’t care about our environment and congestion. By supporting highly expensive sprawl they are anti business and put our economy at risk. People living in sprawling distant surburbs spending hours a day commuting and $100s to fill their petrol tanks will be good candidates to move to Australia

  6. While I totally agree that the logical thing to do would be to combine PT and Walk/Cycle, there is a huge difference in the type of bridge that might suffice. The simple bridge that Waka Kotahi has proposed at present looks like a very slim, lightweight, low profile design, that can bridge that large central span with a single large arch. That’s quite a feat considering the height of the trussed catenary arch spanning the same amount just to its left – and then similar sized trusses supporting it to the underside.

    Any new bridge taking the load of two metal tracks as well as the cycle/ped paths would, of course, have to be taking considerably more load – not just static, but dynamic, fast moving loads, and obviously the type of bridge proposed would have to be very different – possibly more caissons/columns into the sea, or at least an arch of a similar height to be able to take the load. Who knows what design they would have to take – but regardless, it would have to be much more beefy than what is proposed at present.

    Yes, that may all be blatantly obvious to most of you – just thought it may be worth stating it for those that may not have a good understanding of bridges, so that they don’t get too upset later.

    1. Yes, given the brief they’ve presumably been given – a walking and cycling bridge – it won’t be a design that scales up easily. Decisions to change that won’t happen quickly.

    2. Yeah this is my reservation to adding PT. Will slow the process down too much, and by the time they’ve worked out how to do it in a consentable way the light rail unit will have decisions on mode and route, which will better inform where the north connection is.

  7. Sadly,Miffy, you are right,this is (light rail 2).Twyford painted them into a corner,now there is desperation,to get anything over the line,however impractical,advocating for extra’s on current proposal, muddied the waters even further.The walking/cycling bridge proposal buys time till next election ,at minimal cost. Government’s rarely last past 3 terms,so there’s clearly no long time plan,apart from getting their names on a legacy project.

  8. Has anyone done air quality test on the harbour bridge . I can imagine they are not good . we could spend lots of money on the new bridge and then find it is a health hazard to anyone who spends 5 minutes walking across it, 8 lanes of traffic belching out pollution is something I would not wont to be anywhere near.

    1. What do you think all the car drivers are currently breathing. It is the same air as the walkers will be breathing.

    2. It is a health hazard, but mainly to those in cars as their air intakes are right behind the next car belching out fumes.

    3. Unfortunately, for Auckland, that would be little more than concern trolling.

      The busiest cycleway in the city (the Northwestern Cycleway) already runs alongside a 6-8 lane motorway, and has done for the last 20 years without anyone worrying about air quality.

  9. Absolutely.
    However I do wonder if they are planning on never actually upgrading the NEX and simply (not so simply) building another RT route (perhaps tunneling). Why? One word: Disruption. As you have correctly pointed out, the NEX carries a huge volume of passengers and is only getting busier and will reach capacity. So if it’s at capacity how on earth do you upgrade it to rail (of whichever flavour)?
    In theory you could make it one way in sections while building out the other side… that would still be very disruptive – and slow.

    That’s my take on it anyway. I do agree though that it is ridiculous to spend the best part of a billion on a pedestrian/cycle only bridge when for (I’d say $1.2B you could get bus lanes too). Double deck would seem to be the more cost effective way of doing this (less side loading).

  10. I guess when considering PT option on the new bridge some thought must be given to the gradient. I’m not sure what’s possible with modern light rail/metro but I suspect that the result crossing would end up being much longer just to accommodate for that.

    1. The current bridge is fine in terms of grade for light rail / light metro. Although near the upper limit. The DLR in London used to have a bit that was 5.8%, the Auckland harbour bridge is 5%.

      1. The Sheffield Supertram in the UK has a gradient of 10% along Netherthorpe Rd, and I believe the Vancouver Skytrain light metro can manage up to 6% gradients as well.

  11. 5000 people walking and cycling a day: I guess that is based on 1000 cyclists and 4000 tourists. I still think if they ae going to build a new bridge make it at a lower height.
    The assumption that a cycling and walking path is needed is of course debatable.
    These politicians are very clever. They please the vocal minority by announcing shiny new toys, while having a high cost to upset others so it will be not difficult to “reprioritise” the funds later when the costs blow out again (as they did with the NZUP). That way they get to “spend” the same funds multiple times.
    Not that they seem to be able to actually spend the promised funds when needed (e.g. mental health spend)

  12. Knock down the old harbour bridge and build a new one.

    One that’s capable of HR (future proofing for more growth the LR will ever provide, especially freight), buses, cars (tolled), bicycles and pedestrians but ban trucks and make them use the ring road.

    Do the job right first time (3rd time lucky in this case) .

    1. Easier said than done – of course it is the timing. If you were indeed to knock down the old bridge first, and then build a new one, then you’d have a 5-10 year period of time when there was no bridge across the harbour at all. So that’s clearly a non-starter.

      The other option is to build a new bridge first, and then in theory you could demolish the old bridge later. But as with all bridges (Mangere Bridge anyone?), people grow attached to the old one, and don’t want to lose it / want to keep it as a backup. So, a bit of a tricky one there too.

    2. The Shore will literally never need HR. There’s practically no industry and the Northern Auckland line runs through West Auckland, nowhere near SH1.

  13. Let’s hope they can bring it on time and within budget. It would be great if just for once New Zealand could propose, plan and build something on time and not dither around so long that the sense has gone out of the project like the light rail to the airport.

    1. “Let’s hope they can bring it on time and within budget.”

      I spat my coffee when I read this. Best post ever.

  14. Trouble is if you add on rapid transit it probably won’t even be consented and designed until 2027. A relatively simple bridge like the one proposed can be built much quicker. I think just go ahead and sort out rapid transit later. At least that way something gets done

    1. It also sucks up a huge amount of $$$ for something with an extremely limited numbers of users. Just blindly building something for the sake of building anything and to hell with the cost isn’t a recipe for proper transport networks.

    2. Disagree – I say take the time to design a combined active mode/rapid transit bridge, and in the meantime make space for walking & cycling on the existing bridge. Seems like better value for money to me.

  15. So Wales has frozen all road projects until they’ve been put through a proper review for climate appropriateness. That’s what NZ needs to do. I also suspect we are going to have to think through whether this sort of thinking is out of date:

    “as the busway becomes overloaded by sheer demand as population growth occurs”

    I know this is what WK have advised, but we can avoid overloading the busway by giving it bus lanes on the bridge, and splitting it into two after the bridge. This would help with spatial planning, too. Repurposing an arterial road corridor in order to provide excellent transport connections to a far bigger part of the north shore would allow for radical upzoning, meaning the sprawl further north is not required. This would reduce car dependence immensely, and bring more amenities to many more people.

    With the 2046 AM peak trips increasing by only 44% over the 2016 numbers, it is clear that using 2 or 4 lanes for buses can easily accommodate this. We can probably still take a lane off for walking and cycling and still accommodate it. If not, building the walking and cycling bridge is all we need to add, and at only $685m is a far better deal than any other option.

    1. Good on Wales.
      I look forward to the day when we do a similar thing here.
      The motorway projects lately have been becoming less and less cost effective as the places that could heavily benefit (network completions etc) have been built out.

      Waka Kotahi have been avoiding doing safety only upgrades, instead ignoring these options and building full motorway extensions. Once its clear this is no longer an option we can finally get on with the vastly more cost effective dome valley style treatments all over the country. They have resisted this option because it torpedo’s their only remaining excuse for building motorways, safety. With that gone from the business case they become even less cost effective. The opportunity cost associated with projects like Otaki to North of Levin is immense, and the blood is effectively on Waka Kotahi’s hands, they claim safety is the reason for the project, but if that same money were spent on Safety only treatments then they would see vastly less deaths.

      We could avoid the overloading of the busway through that method for some time, but I’m under the impression that with a system that was upgradeable light metro we would have significantly higher headroom again. And without this we will once again run into capacity issues eventually, especially with significant upzoning. I guess
      at least further busway upgrades would delay the need for upgrade for another decade or so

    2. Yes. You might need a new RT bridge if you think you have to keep accommodating the current vehicle levels, but they don’t. They have to reduce them, while also increasing capacity for travel. That means reallocation to bus lanes – or light rail if it will work.

      I can’t see any reason the bus way would then be swamped with your idea of splitting it into two. Sure, the first station on the north shore might have some clever design needed, and even a little stopping delay. But then it’d be plain sailing after that.

  16. Please no buses.
    I don’t think breathing the diesel bus fumes while walking over the bridge may make Auckland more liveable

    1. Why are people so concerned about fumes on the Harbour Bridge!? There are fumes on every road and on most bridges across the world with pedestrian paths, but for some reason on the Harbour Bridge it’s a huge issue.

  17. I wonder if Matt wrote this after a heads up with Michael Wood.
    It’s clear to me that the government will never try and build a cycling/ walking only bridge. No way can anyone justify 780m on so few users.
    I think this project has always been about a new PT bridge that then allows for walking and cycling as a bonus.
    The Government is all out trying to encourage councils around the country to replace diesels with electric buses. There are no fit for purpose BEV busses that can use the bridge without a weight limit waiver and we know the clip ons (bus lane) is weight sensitive.
    So I think the Government are going to try and build a new bridge for PT and the only thing that they are not sure of yet is if it will be busses or light rail. Probably this argument will go on for at least the remainder of this parliament with no decision made.
    Meanwhile there will be no cycling on the bridge 🙁

    1. I didn’t realise electric buses couldn’t use the clip-ons. Maybe good use for hydrogen powered buses?. Otherwise would need some complicated flyover to get elec buses from left lane to/from a central bus lane (lane 3 would be best). Bus lane could only be peak though or get rid of movable barriers so always 4-4 config.

  18. 1) Build the cycle/ped bridge with piers for PT

    2) Add congestion tolls either on the bridge or north of it, whatever works best technically

    3) Add the PT to the PT bridge.

    1. SOLUTION: Build cycle/walking bridge. Add $5.00 toll each way for cyclists and pedestrians to help pay for it. According to the cyclist lobby 5000 people per day will use it.

      5000x 2 trips =10,000 trips per day x $5.00 per trip = $50,000 revenue per day contribution towards the bridge from the cycling lobby.

  19. Just build a new bridge away from the current bridge for cycling and Busway with the ability to upgrade to light metro rail.
    Just build it, and tell anyone complaining about the environment or loss of view to bigger off, after all Auckland is an environmental mess and views and sun light are being blocked every day by the current construction boom not to mention the crap in our harbour after it rains.
    People know current bridge won’t last forever, as I was sitting in traffic heading over the bridge with a NEX and a Bayview Glenfield sitting side by side and a 3rd bus ahead on the clip on I noticed a guy a few cars behind them was pulling back 20-30 metres holding back traffic, I was paranoid myself with slow moving tightly bunched up traffic plus buses, and thinking cars today are much heavier today then 60 years ago, would I survive if it collapsed, would the air bags work if the car hit water would the cars or road deck land on me in the water.

    1. I think NZTA are still being very economical on the facts around the state of the bridge, the real intention of a cycle lane and any plans for an AWHC.
      All we have today is yet another artist’s impression. What makes this bridge any more likely to be built than the pretty image that was the northern pathway?

      1. Daniel, like you I wonder where the truth lies. It is absolutely bizarre that WK designed plans for the cycle way and then months later discovered that the load was too heavy.

        Surely that don’t create an artist’s impression and then see whether it will work?

        1. Very likely they did renders of a concept plan while still working on the engineering. Happens all the time, like the render of the six lane motorway bridge they did a few years back.

          There are plans and there are plans. Often they don’t even design the construction plans, they leave that to the company that will build it under a design and build contract.

  20. Locals of City can easily block the traffic over the bridge with a leadership of Chloe.

    Untill their demands will be fulfilled

  21. Deja vu – future bridge blah blah blah
    Waka Kotahi dont want it, and couldn’t make it happen if they did or told to.

    1. WK want a motorway tunnel. They absolutely will not do a design for a transit bridge because it will completely sink any sliver of a business case for a third motorway across the Harbour. Would take a lot of political leadership to make that happen.

  22. The Garth Falconer design suggestion looks like a good solution for all with a clever idea to interface to existing paths on either shore. I saw little constructive criticism when published a few weeks ago, one way or the other, for this design but I think this would be a cheaper option of the tunnel being vaguely suggested for the long term. Who knows. But how about fast-tracking this if it is feasible.

    https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/opinion-garth-falconer-mending-bridges-with-an-alternative-waitemata-crossing/IDQETEFOJ4GF6WL3USDIR5SAZI/

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