The government yesterday announced a consultation on the options for a new harbour crossing.
Aucklanders are being asked to have their say on one of the most significant city-shaping projects for Tāmaki Makaurau in coming decades, the Waitematā Harbour crossing, Transport Minister Michael Wood has announced.
“The Government is upgrading New Zealand’s transport infrastructure to future proof the system for future generations to come, securing New Zealand’s economy and supporting our largest city to thrive,” Michael Wood said.
“As part of the development of options for future transport connections across the Waitematā Harbour, the project team wants to understand Aucklanders’ aspirations for a future crossing.
“This study will look at future options for people wanting to drive, walk, cycle, transport freight, take the bus or perhaps travel by light rail across the Waitematā Harbour. This will support us to confirm what new infrastructure is needed to cater for these modes, where it will go, and how to make the best use of our existing infrastructure, including the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
“Sharing information, talking and listening to our communities in Tāmaki Makaurau is a key part of this planning phase that will establish the future vision for this transformational transport programme,” Michael Wood said.
The project is a key part of expanding Auckland’s future rapid transit network.
“Where previous governments failed to plan for the long term, we are committed to preparing for and safeguarding our country’s economic future, which is why we have brought forward planning for the crossing to ensure a fully integrated transport network for Auckland,” Michael Wood said.
“Rapid transit is already moving thousands of people every day around the city using existing infrastructure like the Northern Busway, Eastern Busway and existing rail network. The Alternative Waitematā Harbour Connection, alongside the Auckland Light Rail project, will form the spine of a first class, efficient and truly integrated transport network serving Aucklanders for today and future generations.
“Our largest city needs a linked-up rapid transit transport network that will serve Aucklanders into the future, making it faster to move through the city, connecting communities, providing greater access to businesses, all while reducing congestion.
“I look forward to hearing what Aucklanders expect from a second crossing, and look forward to celebrating more milestones over the coming months,” Michael Wood said.
Firstly, it’s absurd that the government is pushing ahead with another harbour crossing to the Shore when the Northern Busway, with a few improvements, has plenty of capacity over the medium term.
Of course, the missing modes matter – the fresh air options of walking, cycling and scooting – as we enter another year in the most critical decade for climate action. But for those, a ready interim solution exists in the form of reallocating space on the existing bridge, which Waka Kotahi steadfastly refuses to consider even trialling.
But more importantly: what about the rest of the city? There’s been almost no progress on rolling out the rapid transit network for the other parts of the city.
The Northwest is soaking up much of the new housing in the city, and right now has a way more pressing case for action than both this project and the City Centre to Mangere light rail project (CC2M). The “bus improvements” currently underway along SH16, while better than what currently exists, don’t even come close to being proper rapid transit.
Likewise, there’s been only a small amount of progress on the Airport to Botany corridor, and nothing on long-signalled corridors across Upper Harbour or in the southern isthmus. And don’t even get us started on Connected Communities, which promised to de-clog the city’s arterials and after 4 years and tens of millions of dollars, have literally nothing to show for it.
As the minister notes, Auckland needs a linked-up rapid transit network. That should be what the government focuses on delivering as soon as possible, via a thought-out and prioritised programme, rather than putting this much effort into scoping out a single ‘legacy-making’ project to serve the one part of Auckland that already has a functioning rapid transit line.
This latest project isn’t the first time we’ve seen a serious effort put into another harbour crossing. In 2019 I highlighted the history of harbour crossing options from in studies in 1988, 1997/98, 2003, 2008, 2010 and the private proposal in 2009. Subsequent to that post, more work was done on the project in 2020, and last year also saw the bike bridge die.
Based on that history, here are a few key things we’ve learnt.
A road crossing is hugely expensive and will make congestion worse
The most recent figures we’ve seen suggest a road crossing as a tunnel could now cost up to $15 billion and return just $0.20 in economic benefits for ever $1 spent – and that was before inflation rocketed up. Worse, without putting in place road pricing to reduce car travel, modelling from 2018 suggested any new road crossing would just make congestion and travel times worse.
Why would we spend $15 billion to increase congestion, emissions and undermine goals for a more people focused city centre by pumping more cars into it. Alternatively, why would we spend $15 billion to add no capacity.
A combined active mode and public transport crossing is affordable
By comparison to the road crossing above, work done as part of the now cancelled Northern Pathway bridge suggested it would have only cost about $1.8 billion to build a combined PT and active mode bridge and the approaches to it. A combined PT and active bridge would send a strong statement about the future of transport in Auckland and one that is in line with goals to reduce car use and emissions.
Decouple adding the missing modes from the roads
Despite the information above, there remains a strong push by Waka Kotahi for a combined tunnel solution, such as this shown on past work.
While it might seem good at first glance, the reality is that both road and public transport crossings get compromised by being lumped together. Separating them allows for infrastructure to be optimised for the modes they’re serving and staged when they’re actually needed.
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 and implementing road pricing would push the need for that road crossing back even further saving taxpayers billions.
Bridge or Tunnel
A bridge is preferable to a tunnel as it is cheaper to build, maintain and operate than a tunnel. It also gives us a chance to build something, ideally in co-operation with local iwi, to help make it a unique and truly iconic design.
For public transport users, a bridge is also preferable as when you’re on a bus/train you actually get a chance to enjoy the view as you cross the harbour, something you simply won’t get in a tunnel.
If a dedicated PT and active mode bridge was built it would enable the option for it to be connected directly to Wynyard Quarter. That is not only closer to where most people are travelling to but gets pedestrians and cyclists away from the noise and emissions of the current bridge and allows for walking and cycling to be given an optimal design from the start rather than having to be shoehorned onto the existing bridge which was designed with only cars and trucks in mind.
The survey on a new harbour crossing can be found here. It only takes a few minutes to complete. In addition there will be a couple of community events:
- Saturday 19 November from 8am – 2pm at Britomart community market
- Sunday 27 November from 4:30pm – 11pm at Highbury Night Markets
- Saturday 3 December from 10am – 3pm at Takapuna Christmas Carnival
- Sunday 11 December from 8:30pm – 12pm at Grey Lynn Farmers Market
However, this consultation work does feel more like a box-ticking exercise by only really asking about whether people would cycle or use public transport to cross the harbour. Like with CC2M, I find this kind of consultation, with no real information on the costs and trade-offs, at best meaningless, at worst somewhat malicious. In the case of CC2M they showed some pretty pictures of one option, which people liked, now use that to claim they have to build that option because that’s what people said they wanted.
In this case there’s more than enough previous work on the costs and impacts of the various components that they could give some informed options for people to consider. It would be far more interesting to know how many people would pick an option that costs $15 billion and increases congestion over one that costs $1.8 billion and reduces it?