Yesterday an article in the NZ Herald suggested that the Government is having second thoughts about the Northern Pathway walking and cycling bridge across the Waitemata Harbour.
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson wants the Government to bring forward work on a second Waitematā crossing, likely to be a tunnel.
It is understood that the Government is also considering scrapping its $785 million walking and cycling bridge over the harbour.
On Tuesday, Robertson would not confirm that the walking and cycling bridge would definitely be going ahead, only that the bridge was the current proposal.
When asked whether he would renege on building the bridge, Robertson said “we continually look at the network and the programme to make sure that it works well”.
“We do want to find ways of connecting the North Shore and the isthmus for people on all different modes of transport – the exact way we do that, we’ve come up with a proposal, and we’re working that through.”
Robertson would not say whether the bridge would definitely happen, however it was the current proposal.
“That is the proposal we are working on,” he said.
Robertson said he wanted a solution that treated all modes fairly. The current plan for the bridge only serves two modes – walking and cycling. Private vehicles and public transport are not included.
“What I’m saying is it is a transport network – we need to make sure that all modes get a fair go.”
It would be hard to suggest that private vehicles haven’t had a “fair go”, they’ve had dedicated crossing to use for 60+ years. It’s also interesting to consider that comment in relation to so many other roads and projects around where particularly cycling but also walking and public transport get ignored because it might require the removal of a single carpark.
A piece from Newshub later highlighted that public support for the Northern Pathway is very low, with most people saying they do not support the project in its current form.
The latest Newshub-Reid Research Poll asked: Do you think the Government should spend $785 million on a cycle bridge?
A resounding 81.7 percent said no, while just 11.9 percent said yes. That goes for Labour voters too – 75.5 percent are opposed.
And it’s not just Labour voters – even Labour ministers think it’s daft.
The most interesting comments of the ministers interviewed was Chris Hipkins
“In any Government decision-making process there will be people who agree with something and not with others things,” said Chris Hipkins.
Cyclists protesting to have bridge lanes from the city to the North Shore need not fret – they will get something. It’s just the separate bridge looking shaky.
In many ways it’s not surprising people don’t support the project, not only is it expensive, it came somewhat out of the blue compared to previous discussions and the government have made very little attempt to try and defend or explain the rationale behind it. We’ve seen a similar issue with the Feebate scheme.
A large part of the problem is the Northern Pathway increased in cost significantly after Waka Kotahi realised they could not attach it to the existing harbour bridge – contrary to what they had been saying over the past few years. This was alongside massive cost blowouts on other parts of the NZ Upgrade Programme, like the Otaki to North of Levin project that increased in cost by $700 million, and the Mill Road project that had blown out in cost by billions – eventually resulting in it being completely cancelled. It was notable that the government let the Northern Pathway bear the brunt of the attention while there was barely any mention of the blowouts on those other projects.
As I mentioned back in June, I was actually quite surprised the government agreed to spend so much on a single walking and cycling project – especially when other options like reallocating a lane of traffic or building a ‘multi-modal bridge’ that also includes rapid transit seem so obviously better. At the time of announcing the changes to the NZ Upgrade Programme, Minister of Transport Michael Wood seemed to suggest that multi-modal options had been looked at, but oddly discounted due to their cost:
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.
A recently released Ministerial briefing paper from Waka Kotahi sheds some more light on this. In it they admit their advice on the Northern Pathway “focuses on the most efficient way of providing a walking and cycling connection across the harbour“. In other words, they focused on just how to deliver a walking and cycling option so options like a multi-modal bridge were discounted because they made the cost and scope larger.
About a combined PT and active bridge they say:
This solution does not include a public transport lane, due to the significant additional investment that would be required on either side of the proposed structure to allow for the appropriate connections. Waka Kotahi estimates an additional investment of circa $1 billion (in addition to the new bridge) would be required for the work on either side of the proposed structure and significant additional public transport investment in the corridor would still be required.
An attachment to the paper gives a further breakdown of the strategic assessment of the options the assessed which included things like using ferries or buses to get pedestrians and cyclists across the harbour and even included looking at a gondola option. The walking, cycling and PT bridged scored the same or better on the various metrics metrics including the benefit of providing “increased PT accessibility and segregation along entire trip length“. The only downside was it would a bit cost more and take a bit more time to plan and deliver.
That’s a total cost of around $1.9 billion which is an absolute bargain to sort the harbour crossing for at least decades. It could also be staged by allowing buses to use it initially but designing it to be ready for when it’s time to extend light rail to the North Shore. We think a great example of the kind of thing we need is our own version of the Tilikum Crossing in Portland.
Waka Kotahi have previously admitted the addition of the Northern Busway and the shift of many people to buses pushed back the need for another road crossing by decades. Building a PT and active mode bridge would push that road crossing back even further. It’s no wonder the Waka Kotahi managers who are so keen on a road tunnel didn’t want to push this option.
Notably the paper gives some details on the cost of that road crossing too:
While this is a significant cost, when considered in the context of the wider investment required for this corridor into the future, i.e. the Additional Waitematā Harbour Crossing (AWHC), which will be circa $15Bn
That is an absolutely massive figure and one only likely to keep going up. To put it in perspective, that could be enough to build up to 150km of light rail around the region – or about 5-6 major light rail lines.
If the public’s negative reaction to the Northern Pathway is forcing the government to think again about some of these wider options then in the long-run I think that could be a good thing.
Let’s just hope Waka Kotahi don’t use this as an opportunity to push the road tunnel some people in that organisation seem to have been lusting after for decades, despite multiple studies showing it’s a stupid idea costing $15 billion that makes congestion worse. It also means Waka Kotahi need to get on with ‘liberating a lane‘ otherwise it will be at least another decade before we can finally walk or cycle across the harbour.