It seems even our transport agencies don’t want Labour’s harbour crossing plans.

In August the previous government and Waka Kotahi announced their absurd preferred option the new harbour crossing that at the time was estimated to cost $35-45 billion. It included both road tunnels and a wiggly light rail tunnel extending from Wynyard Quarter all the way to Albany. It followed a brief consultation on options in March.

A paper to the Council’s Transport and Infrastructure today is asking councillors to confirm their position on the project and importantly, recommending they don’t support it, and for good (and damning) reasons.

That the Transport and Infrastructure Committee

  1. confirm Auckland Council does not support the Waitematā Harbour Connections project draft Indicative Business Case recommended option because of:
    1. lack of integration with the Auckland Integrated Transport Plan
    2. significant affordability and value-for-money issues
    3. lower cost options being discarded early in the Indicative Business Case process
    4. the long wait for active mode and public transport crossings
    5. marginal improvement on mode shift, Vehicle Kilometres Travelled (VKT) and emissions, but high embodied carbon in road tunnels
    6. lack of a clear problem definition on resilience
    7. failure to consider other ways to improve resilience and freight outcomes
    8. negligible land use opportunities being unlocked
    9. lack of clarity about asset ownership and the impact on Auckland Transport’s operational expenditure.

The report says that Auckland Council staff, along with Auckland Transport and the Ministry of Transport do not support the recommended option.

It also says that the estimated cost is of the project is $56 billion. That cost is just mind boggling and it’s hard to see how any government could justify spending that kind of money on a single project, especially when you consider the challenges of funding projects like the City Rail Link which is less than 10% of that figure. To further put that figure in perspective, the report notes that the cost is “more than double the government’s total ten year investment in Auckland’s entire transport system as proposed in ATAP 2021

Importantly, they also note:

Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency is currently investigating lower-cost alternatives in response to issues raised during the WHC project review process and partner feedback. This responds to the council’s request to Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency in July 2023 to comprehensively investigate more affordable options

That they jumped ahead with the most expensive options and are only now looking at lower-cost alternatives is a massive indictment on Waka Kotahi, the wider transport industry and the previous government – and of course the same thing that happened with light rail.

The frustrating aspect to all of this is that the harbour crossing solution remains in plain sight.

A 2018 study confirmed that even the introduction of a small cost to cross the harbour from a road pricing scheme effectively removed the justification for any new road crossing. Given this government have said they would introduce road pricing. That study and also another one in 2020 showed that the best option was to build the missing modes first – public transport and active modes.

How we can build those two missing modes was highlighted back in 2021 around when the government announced a more expensive walking and cycling bridge option – before cancelling it. At that time the cost for the walking and cycling bridge was $685 million, however, the detail at the time showed Waka Kotahi it would have only cost an extra $1 billion to also make it a public transport bridge. Sure that’s still a lot of money but would have been much more publicly justifiable/acceptable and when combined with road pricing would have ‘solved’ the harbour crossing question for less than $2 billion.

It could even have been designed with both buses and light rail in mind – much like the Tilikum Crossing in Portland.

Other than a PT and active mode crossing, the only other things needed are even included in the “Emerging Preferred Option” image above.

  • Northern Busway stations to be upgraded and construction of the active mode path between Constellation Drive and Akoranga Drive.
  • Significant maintenance upgrades to the existing Auckland Habour Bridge and SH1 to be raised to protect it from seal level rise inundation.Two lanes in each direction for local CBD access
  • Dedicated busway from the Akoranga Station across the AHB to the city centre and dedicated and fully separated active mode path from Akoranga Drive across the AHB (using the eastern clipons) to the city centre.

Let’s do those things first then see if we still need $56 billion tunnels.

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  1. The best thing to do in the interim is:

    a) Add peak period congestion tolls to the bridge. Even if the congestion chokepoints are not directly on the bridge it provides a single tolling point. Start with low tolls, say $1 and ramp them up to give people time to adjust & to get to the appropriate pricing level to manage the congestion. Then review the tolls every 6 months.
    b) Remove a lane from the bridge and safely provide for cyclists and pedestrians.

    The revenue can go into improving the PT services.

    This interim solution provides revenue, defers expensive capital expenditure until a long term solution is agreed, improves PT, and provides a crossing for pedestrians and cyclists.

  2. Looking at those list of reasons to not support you do wonder what Labour were smoking over the past 6 years. I’m far from a support of the right, however I don’t think i’ve ever seen a party waste as much political capital and actual dollars capital than the last Labour Government, I guess that is what winning a total majority in MMP does to you, removes any handbrakes or alternative visions.

    1. Also will add I highlty doubt we will ever see a PT/active mode only bridge from this coalition of the past. Expect nothng for 3 years.

        1. “I expect to see congestion charging.” Exactly what I was thinking. Even a right of center government would support this as someone recently pointed out in the comments as it allows for more free flow traffic with the cost not an issue for more wealthy people. Of course those with very low incomes could have some kind of discount if they wanted, or they would likely travel at non-peak times (early morning shifts?) and avoid the charge anyway.

    2. Agreed on all points. The billion dollar bike bridge, the “light rail” that was really a tunneled metro, the $56 billion harbour tunnel. They didn’t bring the public with them in any of these proposals because they were just too expensive and grandiose.

      Putting a politically pragmatic hat on, I’d like to see a multi-mode bridge with dedicated bus (light rail?) lanes, an active mode path and four lanes for cars, with the clip-ons subsequently removed from the AHB. No net loss of lanes across the harbour for those wedded to their cars, but active and PT modes well catered for.

      1. There would be no net loss of lanes to cars if you just built a PT and active mode bridge and left the current bridge as it is.

        And where would those four lanes go on the city-side, once they crossed the harbour?

        1. The problem as I understand it is that the clip-ons have a limited life due to metal fatigue. And politically, a PT-and-active-mode-only structure will never get built – the carbrain lobby is too powerful.

          Replacing the clip-ons with a new structure neuters the protestations of the carbrain lobby, and gets us the PT and active mode crossing we’ve sorely needed for so long.

        2. “I think we maybe surprised by the movement towards active only modes etc, supporting climate change.”

          Sadly, the govt* and NZTA actions imply different. There’s a large part of the electorate that sits somewhere between “climate change is a hoax / not as bad” and “climate change is not our fault” on the one hand, and also has “cyclists / PT users aren’t important” and “city folks shouldn’t get all the money” kind of delusions otherwise.

          *Both the current and the last Govt. Labour was only too happy under Hipkins to jettison transport and climate change policies they felt were unpopular with “middle NZ” (after never really making the case for them).

          I think we have a high risk of having missed the turnoff, locally and globally. Our coming decades will be bottom-of-the-cliff mitigations, like trying to shore up a rotten house. And the costs of those mitigations will be cited as to why we can’t have fundamental change improvements (see Hipkins arguments, again).

        3. The “limited lifespan” story is largely a myth and has been debunked. Sure, they won’t last forever but management and maintenance will see them useful.for many, many more decades.

          We just need to keep the really heavy stuff off them.

        4. They would connect straight onto south bound Victoria Park flyover.
          The current bridge would be just north bound, but you would loose the ability to shift lane direction.
          I guess the clip ons could stay for a bit to keep the car lobby happy, and then tell everyone there is a collapse risk and then bring in the demolition teams.

    1. Wouldn’t any bridge risk violating volcanic viewshaft E16?

      (That’s the one that protects an uninterrupted of Maungawhau from the Harbour Bridge deck, which is separate from Viewshaft E10 that protects the view of Maungawhau from the old Bridge toll booths)?

      1. So what? This ridiculous viewshafts nonsense has to be reigned. Ironically the current government may be the best option to do this since the viewshafts have been deemed sacred taonga in recent years.

      2. Why would you protect the view from a bridge? Especially a bridge where you can’t stop and look at the view.
        I can understand the protection of a view from natural land formations like hills but the view from any structure is an artificial view in the sense that the man made structure has increased your view point height.
        I also don’t agree that a man made structure can’t be built in a view shaft, provided it isn’t too close to the view point and don’t detract from the view itself.
        As much as I appreciate Auckland’s awesome landscape I don’t think Auckland can afford to prioritise things like view shafts as the only view most aucklanders see is the view of the car Infront of you stuck in traffic.

  3. A low bridge for for all the missing modes and light rail would be ideal. It needs to be low enough so people can fish off it get kai and to enable full access by people in wheel chairs. There really is no need for the headroom under the current bridge, that was for a port that was never built.

      1. In order for a few cyclists and fishermen, Chelsea Sugar works needs to close, the naval arsenal needs to be moved, the Northcote, Birkenhead, Beachaven and Hobsonville ferries cancelled and every yacht marina west of Westhaven closed.
        I simply don’t get why people think that cyclists are selfish fluffy bunnies.

        1. We should spend fifty thousand million dollars on a tunnel to keep the Chelsea Sugar works etc? That is $29,411 per Aucklander, about $100k per household.

        2. Sugar works should move, that area could be a proper park, clean up the disgusting pond there – try for a Hampstead heath type outdoor swimming venue?

        3. I’m not aware of any cyclists calling for a bridge that is so low that ferries and yachts can’t pass under it.

        4. There is an advantage to having tunnels rather than a bridge. The CO2 emissions from the tunnel can be captured for little cost, making the stretch of road carbon zero, or for some costs, the captured carbon can be recycled, making the infrastructure carbon negative.
          The existing bridge has a finite lifetime, we need better connections for resilience and productivity. I would definitely start with a light rail tunnel and probably road as well (for the day that the knackered old bridge falls into the harbour). The tunnels can be constructed and funded by China in return for tools and our continued neutral stance towards them at the UN

        5. “I simply don’t get why people think that cyclists are selfish fluffy bunnies.”

          I simply don’t get why people like you always reflexively blame people on bikes when someone else suggests something that may make a cycleway problematic (or even when someone makes a good point that you don’t like).

          “Cyclists” – insofar as they they have one opinion, and no group as diverse as people who ride bikes ever has just one opinion – want a usable solution, soon. That’s all.

        6. “The tunnels can be constructed and funded by China in return for tools and our continued neutral stance towards them at the UN”

          Lol. Hard no. We already sell too much of our politics via “Free Trade” agreements.

          If we don’t have the money to do something, it’s better to just enslave our future generations to a multinational funding consortium (i.e. Public Private Partnerships) than some fanciful political kow-towing for development aid (on an expensive project we don’t need nearly that much).

        7. Chelsea should have gone 50 years ago. The locals wont miss the wasps. Every sailboat owner could be given 10 years notice to leave or get stuck. The navy hasn’t needed their ‘arsenal’ since WWII back when they actually had cruisers. The bridge height could be set to allow launches and single level ferries under at the mid point. Honestly the needs of the many outweigh the wants of a few here.

        8. I’m sure the land used by the defence force would be better developed into housing, there are better places to store ammunition and better places for a navy base also.
          The bridge is 43m heigh but 30m would still be plenty of height for vessels to transport goods and still plenty of room for ferry’s.
          You could still fish from the lower ends of the bridge, don’t want to fish with a line 30 metres to the water in the middle of a shipping lane.

        9. Chelsea Sugar factory is fantastic. There is a lovely park, nice cafe and it actually provides the shore with a beautiful and pleasant green oasis. Go there.

          The navy should move to Picton. Who on earth reckons its a good idea to have a navy base right smack in the middle of the biggest city of the country. The navy is a defense force and should we be involved in a war it means that Auckland CBD is a legitimate military target. keeping the navy in Auckland is madness.

          While at it lets move Whenuapai to Whangarei too. Northland needs to jobs and our commercial airliners needs a reliever airport.

        10. There are very few yachts out there with masts taller than 15m or so. Nothing that can berth in any of the standard marinas. Taller than that and you’re a superyacht down at Wynyard anyway.

        11. A big part of our internationally,rated, and economically important. superyacht refit business is located on the western side of Wynhard.
          And a lot of this business is on boats with masts a lot higher then 20m .
          This business is here because of the rare combination anywhere in the world of suitable berthage, haulout facilities, services, skills, and an attractive destination for owners.

  4. Its the kind of project a city with 20 million residents would struggle to justify.
    In their 6 years Labour could have completed Dominion Road surface LR and started an LR harbour crossing, North West LR, Mangere LR, and/or other Isthmus LR. That would have been transformative. Instead they spent 6 years thinking up crazy solutions that could never be built. How can you get re-elected when you disappoint your voters to that extent? The fact that Michael Wood lost his safe Mt Roskill seat says it all really…

  5. Make the most of existing infrastructure first. Making better use of the existing Auckland transport network is key. Pricing mechanisms such as congestion charges can improve road-network & invest the funds in continuous improvements in public transport.

  6. Hadn’t heard of the Tilikum Crossing before, it’s beautiful. I’ve long thought we shouldn’t be scared of buses and light rail sharing a corridor with some thoughtful design. You get all the capacity benefits of light rail plus the flexibility of buses branching off to suburbs, using the shared corridor as a rapid-transit trunk.

    1. I’m not sure why you would duplicate the transit corridor with trains and a busway.
      You would be better transferring passengers from buses at the nearest station and freeing up buses and driver’s to run a more frequent reliable local bus service

  7. Every time I see the map above it makes my head spin. It’s taken years to tunnel a short loop under the CBD, so I can’t even imagine the efforts involved in tunneling from Wynyard Qtr to Albany (via the longest route possible).

    1. At least you wouldn’t have to steer the tunnelling machine. Just set it going and see where it ends up. If Epsom was a problem for ALR, demolishing North Shore to rebuild around some off-the-motorway new transit centres would be “problematic”. How much of Belmont would have to disappear to make a (deep hilltop) station?

    What happens when politicians know best,and of course there is always an engineering solution to every problem,induced demand notwithstanding.
    Continuing to ignore,measures that reduce VKT,because they are politically unpopular,does not reflect what the next generation want or need. Monument building is over,eventually the power brokers will catch on.

    1. The amount of money poured into holes in Sydney is bonkers. Tens of billions of dollars to move the traffic chokepoint to a new location. Sydney has agreat public transport as it it is…but think what they could have built Tram and Metro-wise with those extra billions.

      1. Yes but NSW is at least building it,
        It seams like I’m getting news articles about new stations and new driverless lines opening every other week from Sydney.
        New Zealanders over there must be looking back over the ditch and laughing.

        1. Australia spends shitloads of money and gets massively overpriced projects in the end.

          NZ spends shitloads of money and gets massively overpriced plans in the end.

        2. To be fair, if your BCR is negative, then not building a billions of dollars project after spending some hundreds of millions of dollars on design and consultancy fees is still a net (comparative) benefit for New Zealand, lol.

          Plus, some of the money spent gets circulated back into the economy. After all, consultants like to buy goods and services, both as companies and individuals, lol.

        3. This is slightly off topic but I always find Australian comparisons interesting because politicians and media commentators alike always talk about how much better it is in Australia, often tying that into how they’re doing things differently there.

          Yet they only ever talk about the stuff they’re doing different that they support and completely ignore anything they do different that they don’t support. PT is an obvious issue. Yet there’s a lot of other stuff e.g. their higher minimum wage. (To be fair, it doesn’t that far anymore compared to when I was first thinking of this back in the Don Brash 2005 era, however I sort of expect the gap is going to widen again.) Even their industrial relations, collective bargaining and union laws (like their Fair Work Commission) barely get mention.

          Their CGT is about the only thing that even opponents at least acknowledge. I mean heck, there’s was a lot of talk about how they’re stealing our doctors, nurses and teachers with only limited talk about their higher wages and definitely no commitment from any party to deal with that. (ACT did do their ‘pay our best teachers more’ which seems to ignore the fact that even if we keep all our “best teachers”, we still need a lot of other teachers.) At most, lower taxes was supposed to magically cover for the often significant differences in wages.

          I mean obviously saying Australia is doing better doesn’t mean you have to agree everything they’re doing is right or smart. But just like we can say they do quite a bit better on PT but are also still crazy with roads and explain why we think so etc, the same thing should happen whenever people are arguing about how we need to be more like Australia. (Or Taiwan etc.)

          But instead of Australia’s idea in this specific area is better but it isn’t in this other area, and so us doing A that Australia is doing but not B would be good, and here’s why; which would be the healthy way to discuss things. We get Australia is doing A. We should do A too and we’d be closer to Australia. Let’s not talk about B (or C, D, E) that they’re also doing at all.

    2. Great example. This is what would be achieved by building more traffic lanes into the central city. Like widening the wide part of a funnel and leaving the smaller part the same size.

      PT, active modes, demand management; these work to reduce congestion, and provide options that are more pleasant to use (including the existing infrastructure as usage decreases when people switch to other viable options).

      For so much less money. With far fewer environmental impacts.

  9. The most absurd plan ever – one station in Glenfield – what to serve the whole western side?

    Really need a northbound bus lane from Fanshawe to the northern busway – it’s getting so clogged in the afternoons now. I suppose you close Curran st? Herne bay will hate it

  10. The sad thing is the result of pricing hugely expensive options like this is it puts the idea to the public (and ministers/councils) that PT is too expensive. Tunneling all the PT underground should be seen for what it is. Car infrastructure. There is enough room to move people around on the surface, you just have to take some back from the private car.

  11. Labour seemed terrified of surface disruption but ended up losing far more support with these crazy underground schemes.

  12. Sounds like Treasury weren’t too keen either

    “Treasury warned the Government had already “signalled many other unfunded transport projects” and that adding more unfunded projects to this list would add to “risks around long-term credibility”.

    Treasury said Labour had “around $43b” worth of transport projects that sat outside of Waka Kotahi’s regular funding, which had uncertain funding attached to them, listing Auckland Light Rail, Waitematā Harbour Connections, and Let’s Get Wellington Moving.

    Officials said that announcing even more unfunded projects “could result in the perception of unsustainable funding demands across the long-run pipeline that may also add to risks around long-term credibility”.

    It warned actually building the projects would be “extremely challenging, requiring an additional 100,000 workers.

    “Without substantial increases in capacity and capability, the Government would struggle to deliver these investments on time and within budget,” officials said.”

    1. A combination of a Tilikum crossing and congestion charging would solve most of the issues. But I highly doubt Simeon Brown will agree to cars not being invited to the spending party on this one.

      As Minister for Transport and Auckland, he holds all the cards.

      1. He may hold all the cards, but he looks about 12 years old. Are you sure he is grown up enough to be given all that power and responsibility?

        I’m seriously concerned that he simply does not have enough knowledge and experience to be in the position that he is. Anyone know anything about him?

        1. There’s a lot to criticise in National’s plans without resorting to tedious childishness like this.

          And we’ve had plenty of non-technical ministers before; including an Attorney General with no legal training, a Finance Minister without an accounting qualification and Health Ministers who aren’t doctors. The reality is these are governance and leadership roles, not technical ones.

        2. He’s been brought in because he’ll do whatever the boss says. At law school he was happy to defend any position he was presented with. No moral compass or appetite to understand complex issues. Perfect National politician for transport.

  13. Even more ludicrous was the fact that we had to wait until the road tunnels were complete in the 2040s (haha, right) before getting an active modes crossing or starting on the PT tunnel which was supposed to be finished in the 2060s!

  14. But on par with past “promises”. Before the big bridge protest back in the 2010s, the then National Minister said we’d have to wait for a new crossing in the 30s before getting to GetAcross. It’s just being “updated” (i.e. it will always be “just wait 20 more years” with some people).

  15. I believe it was once called Yakity yak, now mostly blah blah blah.

    A good song might be that Polipolipolitician, can you make the right decision? To which the answer is rather obviously, errrrrrrrrr not even ow.

    Until then let us just keep dancing in the Zombie Zoo commonly known as Auckland!

  16. A double track electrified rail tunnel under the harbour would minimise the the amount if dirt to be extracted and concrete lining to be placed.
    Steel rails are a very simple robust guidance system and manufacturers current standard vehicles are readily available, and can be mixed and matched on the same track as done in Adelaide.

    Ventilation and fire suppression systems in tunnels are modest once internal combustion engines are eliminated.

    And yet the ultimate passenger carrying capacity of light rail is huge, much larger then multiple motorway lanes.

  17. At the meeting today, IMSB Member Billy Brown abstained due to his involvement in the project, but the Councillors all supported the Council report of not supporting the project. There was general disbelief that a project of this size, cost and climate stupidity is even a thing. (Refreshing, I guess, for all the Councillors to finally be open about this.)

    Mayor Brown: “$56 billion is like five years of Fonterra, to disappear in a tunnel to go in a harbour. In the size of our economy, it’s a wonder that grownup people who can feed themselves and walk could come up with such a stupid number… Our grandfathers knew that tunnels were way more expensive than bridges… What about demand management?… We’ve got catastrophic mispricing in the sector… We have a small country with a small economy. We can’t let these big projects wreck the rest of the economy.”

    So it was surprising to hear a Council officer withdraw the statement in the report that “Auckland Transport does not support the recommended option”, and noting that Auckland Transport has “not determined its position in relation to the recommended option”.

    Really, AT?

    1. Yes, lol just watched on delay that vote a few mins ago. Been some good presentation on safety and health related issues around transport but I’m sure that’s more of a topic in itself or for the weekly roundup tomorrow.

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