An interesting new recycled policy just dropped in the Auckland Mayoral race: reopening the Albert Park Tunnels.

Auckland mayoral candidate Viv Beck is promising to resurrect plans for 3.5km of abandoned World War II air raid shelters under Albert Park, starting with clearing the main tunnel for pedestrians and cyclists.

Transport, heritage and tourism will converge and become an iconic landmark and attraction for Auckland, said Beck, who is chief executive of Heart of the City.

She plans to build on the work of Bill Reid, the retired butcher from Henderson Heights who has been trying to reopen the labyrinth of tunnels since 1988.

The 22-tunnel complex was started early in 1942, soon after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour, when 114 council workers began hacking through the hard papa, scoria and basalt under the park.

The resulting shelters had toilets and first-aid units, and could accommodate 22,000 people. In 1946, the plumbing and wiring were ripped out and the whole lot filled in with millions of unfired bricks.

Beck has proposed the council convert the 600m main tunnel into a walking and cycling connection between the central city and Parnell, with lift and stair access to Auckland University.

This is along the lines of a 2018 presentation to Auckland Council by a group that included Bill Reid. The plan to open the main tunnel was costed at $15 million to $25m. Beck has updated the cost of $25m to $35 to reflect inflation, saying it would be funded by the council and central government.

…..

Beck said heritage and stakeholder considerations will need to be worked through, but the work on the main tunnel itself would likely take between 12 and 24 months.

The walking and cycling tunnel, which could get up to 3500 trips a day, will be a significant link in the transport network, she said.

“Not only will it provide a much more direct route for active transport between the central city and Parnell, and through to the eastern suburbs, it will provide a seamless link between the Aotea City Rail Link station and Auckland University.

“Here’s a chance to bring Auckland’s history to life, and create a world-class urban space.”

A related story on Stuff features some urban-exploration video from inside the tunnels, and notes that they “were closed as a safety measure in 1946 when some timber supports started to show signs of deterioration. By the end of the war, they were filled in with 8.8 million unfired clay bricks.”

We’ve long been fans of the idea of reopening the tunnels. The “Underline”, the most recent proposal – and what this policy appears to be based on – came out around 5 years ago, and was presented to Council.

One of the great things about the project is it improves access to and across the central city by (effectively) removing a hill. Combined with lifts for access to the University, this would transform active travel options between Parnell and the heart of the city.

Albert Park Tunnels Cross Section

The main tunnel is about 660m long, 4.4m wide and around 3m tall, although the plan is to make it slightly wider and deeper.

The tunnel reopening was also one of the key additions to the City Centre Masterplan when it was updated in 2020. The council even included an image of what a modified entrance to the tunnels could look like.

Note that another major addition to the Masterplan was the Grafton Gully multi-way Boulevard, which ties in nicely to improve safety and transport and redevelop and revitalise the area, further enhancing the value of the tunnel project.

It’s cool to see this project back in public discussion. As I wrote back in 2017:

It would link in perfectly with existing and planned walking, cycling and PT networks. For example, it would create a new cross-town cycle link, connecting the Grafton Gully cycleway into the Victoria St Linear Park, which is also happens to be connected through Queen St where Light Rail will one day run and to the future Aotea Station. The lifts at Symonds St would also hook into the Symonds St buses.

But if I have one concern, it’s that when there’s a comprehensive and up-to-date vision for an area (say, a City Centre Masterplan), what we really need is for candidates to commit to that vision, rather than cherry-picking tidbits for their campaigns.

Even so: what other brilliant but ignored visions, plans and policy positions are out there for the taking?

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67 comments

    1. Improving the connection between what is essentially the biggest PT demand in the city, and the future busiest rail station in the country, is very valuable.

      We could joke about how walking up the hill is good for people or whatever else, but it is a barrier and makes the experience of using rail worse for a big subset of PT use. Making PT more attractive involves solving pain points.

      A flatter, weather protected waking route with lifts up the hill would be a much better solution.

      People seem to consistently undervalue this last mile walking connection. But it’s a very key component of trips worth spending some money on.

    2. we need to stop having our heads in the sand and think positive. could even implement a small charge for using

    3. From Victoria Street to the top of Albert Park is 5 stories high, accessible only by a steep winding path and not conducive to the elderly, the disabled, parents with push chairs etc, and open to the elements of Auckland’s weather 24.7. To access Albert Park through the main tunnel by way of a strategically placed lift positioned in Princess Street would be an asset to all. The same from Constitution Hill which is 10 stories high to the top of Albert Park accessed only through a steep hill, roads and traffic lights. There would be a lift positioned on the corner of Symond Street.

    1. “what other brilliant but ignored visions, plans and policy positions are out there for the taking?”
      Now that nobody cares about villas we could build the Central Motorway. We already have the interchange at Dominion Road/New North Road and with light rail as dead in the water as Robbie’s rapid rail, we just need some men with (1974) vision to step forward and give us our next round of urban motorway expansion.

    2. For Avondale-Southdown, you could much of the benefit, in much less time and for much less cost, by implementing a busway between the Waterview stop on the Northern Busway and Onehunga train station.

      A stop on New North Rd would link up with feeder buses, which would give you a 5min ride to Avondale (going west) or Mount Albert (east) stations on the Western Line. That would bridge a big gap in connectivity on the isthmus.

      Later – patronage permitting – it could be converted to LRT as part of an airport line, or up to Ellerslie to link up with A2B.

      1. Avondale-southdown as heavy rail please. To create one isthmus circle line and one through line from Swanson to papakura. Just two lines. Nice and simple and clean.

        1. The only way I could see a justification for HR would be for freight.

          Otherwise, let’s call an end to overloading the current HR network and reducing frequency everywhere else. Implement complimentary lines. Get the line through to Southdown and then those going south can transfer. Can’t be one seat rides everywhere.

        2. “Can’t be one seat rides everywhere”. Why would you want to complicate it? We have existing heavy rail on one side and existing heavy rail on the other side. So put heavy rail in between. Easy.

        3. doesn’t work for freight, new lynn trench restricts the line westward anyway. And with the way the zoning is laid out, we will need high passenger capacity out to Henderson. The same sized bottleneck remains.

          I think extend the eastern busway on A-S + replace the onehunga line. Make a mega crosstown busway line.

        4. Ah whoops, for the ismuth circle line. How do I get from Newmarket to Puhinui?
          Or Penrose to Otahuhu?

        5. In reply to Jack.
          How does the new Lynn trench restrict the line? There are freight trains every mon to Fri that go through the new Lynn trench. The passenger trains only have high frequencies for 2 hours in the morning peak and 2 hours in the evening peak. Plenty of time left each day to run freight Trains in between suburban trains.
          As for Newmarket to puhunui you can take the southern line. I reckon Just two lines are needed for the full heavy rail system that provides great coverage.
          1) papakura to Ellerslie to parnell to crl to western line to Swanson. Some can short run between manukau – henderson.
          2) isthmus circle line which is eastern to a-s to inner west.
          Big grade separated transfer Station between circle line and southern line around Penrose somewhere with redevelopment and big transfer Station in Avondale.

  1. Do it! These are the transformational tunnels AKL needs next.

    But please do it as a transport (active mode) project with usual funding source. The private sector model either will never work or lead to a horrible themepark outcome. Do it properly, explore commercial opprtunities but keep public control.

    Super useful link and fantastic quirky addition to AKL’s identity.

    1. I agree. Public funds can be reallocated from loads of bad transport projects that are making our transport system worse.

  2. The Wynyard historic tram should have gone across the water and into the Viaduct. We had years to make it something worth keeping, turn it into something worth keeping – dining cars, an inner city loop, all the stuff other cities do as a given.

    We have chosen to complain about how useless it is and then double down on keeping it useless by using the fact no one uses it to argue against making it useful, when it could have been something really special.

    1. So good it was worth keeping twice, apparently. Point still stands. It’s a a curio on a table-top trainset in its current form, but our inability to dream just a little bigger was outweighed by our desire to pinch-pennies to the point where it became a joke.

      1. Please god no. Have you been to Christchurch? Their quaint noddy trams prevent actually useful transit from reaching the centre, to the intense detriment of their hopeless ‘square’ (yes i know, has other problems too, but that it is not served by real transit contributes).

        1. …Which is my point. Something which is designed to be bollocks will only ever be bollocks at best. We’ve doubled down on bollocks and then wondered why it was no bloody good and no one cared about it.

    2. I tried to get across town recently in Auckland – to get public transport from Symonds St over to the Wynyard Quarter. It’s like they are on different planets, and never shall the two collide. I really don’t care if the answer is a historic Wynyard tram, or a bus, or a train – but at present there is nothing. Or if there is, neither I nor the crap AT app could figure it out. In the end I grabbed an e-scooter and thrashed the hell out of that. So, my vote: joined-up thinking in the Auckland Transport system!

      1. Doesn’t the 75 go this way these days?

        The main barrier for these trips is the lack of through-routed bus lines *. It is extremely cumbersome to move east to west through the city centre. When I was living on Hobson Street the easiest way to reach Wynyard Quarter was to drive my car.

        * the link buses do not count as through-routed due to their very long timed waits on Victoria Park or Queen Street.

      2. The 75 goes directly from Symonds Street to Wynyard Quarter every 15 minutes. It’s a really great service.

    3. The Wynyard Historic Tram was a costly vanity project dreamt up by a previous Councillor who was looking for a project to keep his name in the news. It was a failure and was not fit for purpose.

  3. Does the existing tunnel mean it will cost more or cost less. My uneducated guess is it would be cheaper to run a TBM along side this thing rather than remove piles of probably wet clay, remove rotting timbers, dig the thing to a larger diameter that actually has the headroom and width to work as a walkway and cycle way and prop it all up and line in with concrete.

    1. Yes. My thoughts precisely. When people say things like “the plan is to make it slightly wider and deeper” I shudder. How, exactly?

      1. It’s much easier. They can muck out the tunnel with a simple skid loader, and enlarge it with a road header. Then spray with fibre reinforced shotcrete.

      2. There is a wishing well in Albert Park that claims to be the site of the well that supplied Auckland’s garrison. It isn’t. In the 70s when they did the project they found the old well and looked down into the unsupported saturated clay. Seeing it was too dangerous to line, they dug a new well nearby and used the spoil to fill in the original one.

  4. How does this tunnel improve access to Beach Road compared to the existing flat cycle path along Beach Road? Access from where? No cycle paths on Queen St. Aotea Station to Beach Road via Queen to Quay St cycleway is slightly longer than the proposed tunnel route and relatively flat; why walk to Parnell when link bus every 10min? So hard to justify a flash project that is likely to cost $70M by the time it gets done for marginal local mobility benefit. It takes me 7 mins to walk from Symonds St to Aotea Station going across Albert Park and 10 mins to walk back. Surely a more pleasant walk than waiting for a lift then walking in a tunnel. Like the recent separate habour bike path this project looks good but doesn’t make sense.

    1. The primary intent would be for pedestrians anyway – I’m not confident it will be wide enough for authorities to ever allow people on bikes to ride through, sadly.

      But to your question: There is (going to be) a cycleway at the west end too. It’s called the Victoria Street Linear Park, which has a two-way separated bikeway, and enabling works are underway already (I think it is supposed to be completed in time for CRL opening). So there is a west-east bike link through this part of town, but without the tunnel, the continuation will have to go through Lorne and then the eastern part of Wellesley Street up to the university and then Grafton Gully (that eastern part of the bikeway link has been talked about a lot, but still isn’t designed or funded though).

      1. Presumably the major selling point of this is not so much the level tunnels through from one side and out the other, but instead it is the interaction in the middle. A lift shaft or two suddenly takes this thing from being an amusing WWII anachronism, into being a hugely useful part of Auckland student infrastructure. Yes, sure, students get to burn up some energy and earn great thigh muscles with the current set up, but to be honest, as we all know, that walk up from Queen St up through Albert Park is a killer if you have to do it twice a day. Auckland needs a connected transport network – and this project would really make the net, work.

        1. I think there was a tourism aspect to this too.

          Not saying people would bypass Sydney on account of these, but that it would add to things to do. The suggestion was that the tunnels could house other offerings like wine and cheese venues, perhaps as part of small events spaces (smaller, dead-end tunnels that splinter off)

  5. WW2 tunnel, how sexy. Low risk, low impact, very limited impact on cars, modest cost, poor affected residents. Looks like this is almost certainly going to happen. I think there are some arterial roads that need sorting first.

  6. I would personally never feel safe using one of these tunnels as a woman. I would always choose to stay above ground. There is literally no escape path if you encountered someone dodgy. I never even set foot in the underpasses at uni years ago. Any other women feel the same? Genuinely interested if it is only me.

    1. 100% agree. Although I did use the ones at university because they were pretty short, I don’t think I’m comfortable with walking under the whole of Albert Park underground!! Yikes!

    2. Security would be the major problem. With the current state of Auckland’s CBD, anyone should be afraid, not just women.

    3. It would presumably be behind HOP gates. The primary use case would be free with a transfer, Aotea station to Symonds street unis, and casual uses can pay.
      Would you use other underground infra behind HOP gates? like Britomart or the future Aotea, K-road stations and their associated passages / entrances

      1. Being behind HOP gates would mean absolutely nothing to me – people jump gates all the time. And being a HOP user doesn’t guarantee someone isn’t an opportunistic creep.

        Stations such as K-Rd or Aotea will hopefully be busy and spacious enough to prevent entrapment zones. But I did campaign against tunneled light rail (in favour of street level) for the very reason that building underground stations automatically compromises womens’ safety…

        1. You don’t think that the direct connection between the busiest rail station and the largest PT demand center in the city will be busy?

          The station designs have been out for years.
          Aotea: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6IF96IiSS0
          K-rd: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KXqko7pcVXM

          And ~half of britomart has (at least what I would consider) “narrow” walkways. Every single platform, The entire eastern end of connecting passageways. The ceilings are high and there is natural light which makes the place feel spacious. But the reality is different. Do you feel personally safe using Britomart?

          I’m curious, do you have concerns about public transport vehicles in general? Every platform and passageway is multiple times wider than the vehicles themselves. And trains / trams spend multiple minutes with doors closed and zero escape routes….. To me it seems far more of an entrapment risk because, by definition, you are entrapped in the vehicle between stations. This is true of any PT vehicle, above or below ground, the fabled above ground LR, or underground metro.

  7. There used to be another lunatic who would ring the Auckland City Council in the late 1980s who claimed we could have a rail system running on the shop verandas on Queen Street.

    Then there was Fletchers who wanted to build Quay Street in a tunnel with them getting the rights to all the land above to build buildings on. Project 90 or some crap.

    I can’t remember which company wanted to build a tunnel under Ponsonby at the southern end of the Harbour Bridge with them getting to charge tolls on both the new road and existing.

    The world is full of chancers and nutjobs with ‘solutions’ to transport.

      1. Gondolas under the Harbour isn’t impossible. See link I posted above.

        IMHO the big problem is that there is nothing right near the harbour that is a decent destination. If Northcote Pt looked like Takapuna instead of just houses then it would be plausible.

        Instead the actual destinations are another 3km or so further. Thats 10 minutes at Gondola-speed of 20km/h.

  8. They should get onto this tunnel, be great asset for the city. Interesting it’s slightly downhill from the Victoria St end.
    I used to drive up the Constitutional Hill winding road, great fun, not sure you can now, or even could then?

  9. Unfired clay bricks & backfilled to keep people out – then it started to collapse above ( remember ). Have you see the video’s from Stanley Street?
    What about the planned ( and canned ) tunnel with existing entry on Beach Rd that was supposed to head to the University and beyond – and sea levels are rising.

  10. The Albert Park Tunnels complement a lot of other initiatives in the Auckland City Centre Masterplan (CCMP). These interactive maps give a good idea of what this looks like in practice. Take a look!

    – East City: https://www.aucklandccmp.co.nz/explore-the-city-centre-masterplan-area/east-city
    – Learning Quarter: https://www.aucklandccmp.co.nz/explore-the-city-centre-masterplan-area/learning-quarter/
    – Waihorotiu / Queen St Valley: https://www.aucklandccmp.co.nz/explore-the-city-centre-masterplan-area/waihorotiu-queen-street-valley/

  11. The Govt spent $51m on designers and consultants for a bike/ pedestrian crossing of the harbour….so $35m for a wonderful tunnel upgrade is great value….don’t let Govt get involved.

    1. was that Waka Kotahi – im not sure the govt has any input into WK.
      Its more an output department.

  12. “What’s required is for the tunnel to be cleared and the ceilings reinforced, for a little more excavation to make the tunnel wider and deeper, and for a lift shaft and stairwell to be built to provide the University connection.”

    Oh, so basically build a whole new thing? Like, it’s one thing if this truely was a case of reopening some existing thing, but it sounds like it’s far from that.

  13. Climate damaging activities should pay for these potentially emission reducing pieces of infrastructure. The continued financial opposition to things that need to be done, is odd. There is plenty of money to made in improving public transport networks. Why are so many candidates defending parking for cars? We need parks with trees to help filter the noxious gas that is emitted from fossil fuel powered machines, carparks are not often full of trees so a tunnel is great, because if you feel like walking up the art gallery stairs, you still can. But on the way home, when the last Onehunga train vaporises, a flatter route home is very appreciated. Also is AT allowed to disappear a train from the AT APP and the Ellerslie electronic sign, when the train just had an *? I would make an official complaint, but we know they officially don’t care about us poor types that use public transport so as long Efeso Collins or worst case scenario Viv Beck become mayor, we have an outside chance of undoing some of Rodney Hides evil empire CCO creation!

  14. can i vote for Efeso, and have a side ordering of Viv’s tunnels ?

    He Viv – Efeso is going to be next Mayor – can you use your talents to promote these tunnels anyway. Looks like they would be a great addition to Aucklands non-car transport.

  15. Would an Albert Park tunnel really be so unsafe for women? The Mt Vic traffic tunnel in Wellington (600m) has a narrow walkway used by many. It is thoroughly unpleasant but that is due to traffic noise, fumes etc, not muggers and rapists. It is high above the road and any attacker forcing someone to the ground would be completely invisible to vehicle-users. I suspect however, that there are many cameras monitoring it. The only foul play I heave ever heard of is the alleged murder of a woman by her construction-worker-boyfriend who reportedly buried her body in the tunnel while it was being built in 1931.
    https://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/capital-life/67699197/wellingtons-mt-victoria-tooting-tunnel-a-tribute-to-murdered-teen

    There is another lengthy pedestrian tunnel (250m) under the Wellington Airport runway. In the past it has looked a bit forbidding with dim lighting and sometimes groups of youths congregating but hundred of pedestrians and cyclists pass through it every day and as far as I know there have been no security problems. It has recently been brightened-up with better lighting and locally-painted murals.
    https://wellington.govt.nz/news-and-events/news-and-information/our-wellington/2018/10/rongotai-subway-mural-launch

    I see no reason why the Albert Park tunnel in Auckland couldn’t be turned into a similar safe and popular walkway/cycleway.

    1. I think so too, and the devil will be in the detail. I think it’s quite legitimate to provide a single underground link, in addition to other surface links. This is a very different situation from the choice about surface or underground light rail, which fundamentally bakes in the accessibility of the core transit network. Choosing to do this project would need to be in the context of being committed to ensuring the surface routes, as well as the tunnel itself, are designed with crime prevention through environmental design, which should be happening anyway.

  16. Boring and lining tunnels is super cheap, fitting them out is the expensive bit. It feels like it would be far cheaper to actually bore new tunnels than to widen, deepen, and reinforce the existing ones. By boring them, you could also allow them to be perfectly straight with a completely even gradient. This would allow really good intervisibility, which reduces actual and perceived risk of crime. You could then dig into the existing tunnel to create a landing space for the elevators, allow for some activation/observation at each end, and to visually open up the entryway.

    If we really want to just reuse the existing tunnels, then we should just be strengthening and relining the existing tunnels and opening up the portals.

  17. Most of underpasses and pedestrian places in Auckland are really sad places, I believe this one won’t be an exception. I’d personally prefer to climb up the hill or maybe to walk the Beach road.

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