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More on the Auckland Harbour Crossing Issue

Given recent discussions on future options for crossings of the Waitemata Harbour, it’s quite amusing to note that on Friday NZTA announced a further study into considering whether a bridge or a tunnel should be considered as the preferred option for an additional harbour crossing. This new study is effectively a sop to proponents of the ANZAC Bridge idea – as NZTA has done this exact same thing previously: and came to the conclusion that there should be road and rail tunnels built as the preferred future option.

There are some interesting elements to the NZTA media release that deserve some further mention, and I’ll work through these bit by bit.

The NZ Transport Agency (NZTA), in partnership with KiwiRail, has appointed professional advisers who will carry out an independent evaluation of options for an additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing.

Three separate evaluations will assess the business case for either a bridge or tunnels between the Wynyard Quarter west of Auckland’s CBD and Esmonde Road on the North Shore, says the NZTA’s State Highways Manager for Auckland, Tommy Parker.

“They are the next important step in preparing for the additional harbour crossing,” says Mr Parker. “When completed, they will provide more exact information so that the NZTA, KiwiRail and the Government can make decisions about the options and timing of the crossing with more certainty.”

Interesting that the word additional has been used here again and again. The ANZAC bridge idea promotes a replacement crossing, but it seems that NZTA are pretty much rejecting that possibility straight away.

The evaluations have been commissioned under three separate contracts:
1. Engineering and Planning: includes the type of crossing – bridge, tunnel or tunnels; connections with North Shore and Auckland; timing of construction. [awarded to Beca and AECOM]
2. Transportation Modelling: includes what types of transport can use the crossing; travel times; tolling [awarded to Sinclair Knight Merz and Flow Transportation Specialists]
3. Economic Justification: includes timing of project; funding; economic benefits for Auckland/New Zealand [awarded to PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER)]

Let’s hope that the traffic modelling is based on reality (declining traffic flows over the past five years) rather than some ten years out of date belief that traffic flows will always keep growing and growing.

Mr Parker says an additional crossing is not included in the NZTA’s current 10-year State Highways Programme for funding.

“However, it is important to plan for the future and use the opportunity we have now to evaluate and select the best option – whether it is tunnels or a bridge. We need another crossing that together with the Auckland Harbour Bridge will meet increasing volumes of traffic that are inevitable as Auckland continues to grow,” he says.

There we see that Mr Parker has fallen into that trap once again of thinking that traffic flows will keep growing and growing and growing and growing. Please explain the past five years then Tommy.

Mr Parker says it is expected that the additional crossing will be the direct motorway link across the harbour, and the harbour bridge could serve local traffic, with dedicated lanes for public transport, cyclists and walkers.

“These are the issues we will be evaluating over the coming months,” he adds. “The development of a robust business case is critical so that the best decision can be made to deliver a transport project that Aucklanders can be proud of, and help their city grow.”

Here we see further mentions of the word additional and the continuing acknowledgement that one crossing will be used for traffic travelling through the CBD (southbound) while the other crossing will be used for more local traffic going to the CBD. I am concerned that there’s no mention of the railway tunnels here though. I guess that’s not really NZTA’s business, which means that probably nothing will happen as KiwiRail don’t give a damn about this kind of stuff, and only consider themselves to be a glorified freight company. Sigh.

Mr Parker says that together, the additional crossing and the harbour bridge will improve transport security for Aucklanders. The risk of a shutdown because of an emergency like a crash is reduced with the two links, and people also have a greater transport choice to get across the harbour.

The NZTA recently moved to protect a route for the additional crossing with the lodgement of Notices of Requirement with Auckland and North Shore City Councils. The Notices refer specifically to tunnels, but a bridge is not precluded from that move to protect the route.

Once again we see the emphasis on the benefits of an additional crossing. I highly doubt that we’d contemplate having two bridges across the harbour (unless they were right next to each other and of the same design). Furthermore, the existing notice of requirement is for a tunnel and I certainly don’t think changing it to a bridge would be a simple matter.

The evaluation studies are due for completion by the end of the year.

A team of international specialists will also be appointed over the coming month to peer-review and test the findings and recommendations of the evaluations.

Together, they will help the NZTA make the best choice, Mr Parker says. The options for the additional crossing will be included in the Government’s National Infrastructure Plan.

It seems obvious to me that NZTA are simply “going through the motions” here in this new study. And I don’t blame them. As they recognise, the whole point of an additional harbour crossing is to get an additional harbour crossing – so just as the previous study didn’t even contemplate removing the existing harbour bridge, neither does this one. And I really can’t ever see us ruining the harbour by putting another bridge across it, unless they were right next to each other and of the same design (which would create problems around St Mary’s Bay in how to link up the motorways).

So really, this latest study is just a waste of money and will undoubtedly come to the same conclusions as the previous study: that a tunnel is the answer. However, I do hope that perhaps the one thing this new study will show is how we don’t actually need anything for a good while yet, and that hopefully it will show clearly the first thing built must be the rail tunnel. Hopefully it will show that 12-14 lanes of traffic across the harbour is stupid, unnecessary, extremely expensive and wouldn’t achieve much other than creating the biggest bottleneck ever around Esmonde Road.

Perhaps there will be a point to this otherwise pointless study after all?

30 comments to More on the Auckland Harbour Crossing Issue

  • Vincent

    NZTA like the minister are only thinking cars of course. However if your objection to considering a new bridge is based on the idea that a bridge is always ugly, like the current one, then I think you misunderstand the so called ‘Anzac Bridge’. Of course there can be no guarantee that a new bridge would be as stunning as recent examples by Calatrava or Foster but that is the idea of the campaign. For if you feel [like John Banks] the idea of an ‘iconic’ structure for Auckland is desirable then this is really the only project that could deliver anything like the necessary budget or appropriate site. It’s sort of infrastructure as branding. Could work too. But there are problems: would they ever get round to getting rid of the old bridge? would the new one be good enough?, and in order to get a good new one we would need a much better process than the hamfisted recent effort on the wharf. And I know that various parties including those at the Tank Farm are working hard against it. BUT it would be a wonderful opportunity to get the busway turned to rail and therefore integrated with the rest of the system [such as it is], imagine one mode from Albany to Newmarket, or Manukau City, or heaven forbid: the airport? Also tunnels are horribly expensive to run and secure especially ones with cars in them. And you’re dreaming if you think NZTA and Joyce are going to fund a rail tunnel. So I’m not sure it should be dismissed out of hand. More chance of a bridge project becoming close to our Sydney Opera House than some dicky little convention centre or cruise ship terminal.

  • Vincent, the point is that NZTA are still rejecting outright the possibility of having one bridge. In their media release the term “additional” is mentioned about 50 million times: which is certainly no accident!

    My issue with Anzac Bridge is that it doesn’t achieve an additional harbour crossing (and that it would ruin Wynyard Quarter), if the existing bridge is removed. And I certainly wouldn’t want to see Auckland’s harbour ruined by having two bridges across it: even if the new one was pretty.

  • Matt L

    I remember seeing a story in the herald a while ago when this raised its head again and someone from the NZTA, might have been Tommy Parker, said something along the lines of, building a new crossing then knocking down the existing one wouldn’t really be creating a additional crossing and that it would still have the same network resilience problems we have now. I do get the feeling that that NZTA have been much better with what they do and that they don’t necessarily think that roads are the only answer but it is just that their political masters dictate what they should do rather than let the experts sort it out.

    I do like that Kiwirail are involved and hopefully they will actually push for a rail link, perhaps they could find a way to eventually put freight on the line (providing it doesn’t interfere with PT operations)

    Lastly the biggest selling point the ANZAC group have suggested is the selling off of prime land around St Marys Bay to fund the thing, the only way they will get any decent money for it is if they allow lots of apartment buildings around there. I personally don’t think the existing local residents will let that happen and would want a nice big public park there. That would kill off one of the only benefits that idea has

  • Vincent

    I guess we just disagree that a bridge always causes ‘ruin’, mind you I think wind turbines are beautiful and the pylons make the view from the desert road. No need to ruin Wynyard Quarter; just push the tunnel/bridge transition out a little; could be a fantastic engineering moment, a bridge emerging from the harbour. Yes I know NZTA are only pretending to look at it and the constant repetition of the word additional proves that, but I just don’t get the need. Their position, as you point out, is based on blind faith in constant growth, especially in car traffic. The security gained by having two similar crossings is, frankly, an absurd luxury for a place of AK’s size, we have got by OK up till now, what’s the big problem? A few billion dollars with nowhere to go? Like watching them duplicate the Newmarket Viaduct: it’s heart breaking. There are issues with local traffic I accept, Herne Bay to Northcote is extraordinarily well served at the moment, if you have a car…. but in the larger scheme of things that doesn’t seem like a big cost to pay for the return of Northcote point and St Mary’s Bay to humanity. And think of how much better Shelly Beach Road and Curran St would be. Or drop the clip-ons and run the light rail and cyclists over the old coat hanger…?

    • Vincent, I’m not saying that any bridge would ruin the harbour, I’m saying that having two bridges would ruin the harbour.

      I think if you’re going to spend billions on doing something to the crossing of the Waitemata, then it’d be stupid to not come out of that investment with an additional crossing.

    • Matt L

      The problem is the bridge needs to clear the shipping channel so to get it high enough it needs to start from further back, a bridge emerging from a tunnel would have to have pretty steep approaches.

      I personally think build the rail tunnels first and then convert the busway, that should be pretty popular with people from the shore as the trip under the harbour to the heart of town would be pretty quick. That also gives us some back up capability should anything happen to the bridge. At a later point we could build the car tunnels if needed.

      • I fully agree Matt, and yes you make a good point that because of the new bridge’s required clearance you would need a huge viaduct over Wynyard Quarter. Ouch.

        Also, I struggle to see how we’d get a railway line up onto a high-level bridge. A slowly elevating railway line down the middle of Fanshawe Street doesn’t seem like a particularly attractive option.

  • Jeremy Harris

    You’d have to bring a heavy rail line from the Western line as it needs 2 kms to get to 42 m, i.e. not happening, a new bridge gets light rail or nothing… The only reason Kiwirail is involved I reckon is to let everyone know exactly that…

  • If it was light-rail would KiwiRail necessarily even be involved? I mean it wouldn’t technically be “rail” as per the rest of KiwiRail’s business – so the tracks could theoretically be owned and operated by NZTA?

    (Just a random thought).

  • Luke

    Would much rather it was owned by Auckland Transport. Especially considering recent events NZTA seems very easy to manipulate by the govt, even when the govt is out of step with Auckland’s opinion.

  • I would too Luke, however NZTA’s pockets are a lot deeper than Auckland Transport’s ;)

  • Light rail would fall under NZTA as I guess it’s in their designation…

    Certainly not Kiwirail…

  • rtc

    In the end isn’t this all really a non-issue? National in its current form and Steven Joyce will not be in power in 10 years, or 20 years, or whenever this gets built (if it gets built) and by that time I think we’ll have some slightly more sane people transport wise in power. Furthermore, hasn’t a road + rail tunnel been designated? I’d love to see the price of oil in 2020 and I’m betting these electric cars that Joyce is betting on are no closer than they are today. It really doesn’t take a genius to realise that a train connection would be immensely popular – it would be what a 10 min trip from Britomart out to Smales? Try beating that in a car in traffic.

  • rtc

    I also can’t imagine Joyce getting away from ramming a motorway through Wynward Quarter especially after people see what a fantastic space it is, the silo open day in the weekend showed me a side of Auckland that I’ve never seen before and the public spaces will not be given up without a fight. This more or less rules out the Anzac bridge or similar (where else would it land? Herne Bay, the CBD? – not likely!), not surprisingly the images for this bridge never show what its effect would be on the city side, they always show it lit up at night reflected in the harbour.

  • Quintin

    Dont forget that there is already a second harbour crossing at Greenhithe.
    Also dont forget all the fuss about potentially knocking down a couple of wharf sheds. Imagine what would be said about destroying Aucklands built heritage if the harbour bridge was up for demolition.

  • I agree that the harbour bridge is an icon and should be retained for that reason among others.

  • Jeremy Harris

    I think it really is a case of Joycey thinking it’s a good idea, so is happy to waste a few million more of our dollars…

    He can’t have been such a spendthrift with his radio stations…

  • Andrew

    An “additional” crossing would have to be built before an existing crossing could be demolished.
    The clipons may need to be demolished in 15-20 years, so something needs to be planned to replace them at least.
    The centre span is good for 50+ years, it won’t be demolished any time soon.
    If the motorway around St Mary’s Bay became surplus, the residents may also push for the beach to be restored as it was before the motorway.
    I see this latest round of studies as an attempt at cost cutting. What is the cheapest option that can be gotten away with for replacing 4 lanes?

  • obi

    “And I really can’t ever see us ruining the harbour by putting another bridge across it, unless they were right next to each other and of the same design”

    I lean towards tunnels, but I really don’t understand why you think the harbour would be ruined by having two bridges. Both New York and San Francisco have multiple harbour bridges and they’re two of the best looking cities in the world.

  • ingolfson

    I agree with obi that two bridges would not necessarily ruin anything. I think the height over Wynyard Quarter WILL ruin stuff there pretty heavily though. Kiss your pleasant afternoons goodbye, the bridge will overshadow that!

    Re the clip-ons – geez, what is the problem with simply replacing them? Yes, I know, they would probably (but not necessarily) have to close 2 out of 8 lanes while they do it, but if the alternative is to losing them totally, there is really no question. And if done very smartly, they could probably get crane ships to lift out the old clip-ons and place into position the new ones over a period of just a few weeks. If Auckland cannot survive a few weeks with 75% of the AHB capacity, then I would be very disappointed in us.

    Totally rebuilt clip-ons would have a new lifespan of another 50-100 years minimum, and would provide for walking and cycling too. Then build a rail tunnel to take up the “Growth of Auckland” traffic gain slack, and presto, you’re set for the next 50+ years.

    The Anzac bridge study is just a time and money waster.

  • Disclaimer: The “Andrew” above is not the usual Andrew (me)!

    However I completely agree with me/him/that guy.

  • obi

    Ingolfson: “I think the height over Wynyard Quarter WILL ruin stuff there pretty heavily though. Kiss your pleasant afternoons goodbye, the bridge will overshadow that!”

    Probably, but not necessarily. Both ends of the Sydney Harbour Bridge are reasonably civilised with well-used public areas. There is a public swimming pool just a few meters from the landing on the Milson’s end. It’s the motorway approaches that are ugly no matter what you do.

    In terms of the tank farm, how contaminated is the land? Because I’ve seen other examples where areas used in petrochemical handling haven’t been useful for general development due to contamination. The old tank farm in Darwin, for one. Or North Greenwich, where paving the area and building the Millenium Dome was about the only option.

  • Nick R

    My ideal option would be this:

    1) Build the proposed motorway ‘bypass’ tunnel from Esmonde to the CMJ (six lanes). Have tolls to help fund construction, plus have a variable toll structure to manage demand.

    2) Use the central four lanes of the existing bridge as the main road link from the North Shore to the CBD. Downgrade this section to ‘expressway standard’ (a la the Story Bridge in Brisbane). Use the existing clip ons for a dedicated busway lane each way plus a bidirectional footpath on the eastern side and a cycleway on the western side.

    3) Rehabilitate the corridor through St Marys Bay as a six lane boulavard with trees, planted median etc (four general lanes plus two busway lanes). Open up a pedestrian boardwalk and cycleway to the bridge and fix Westhaven Drive as a sort of promenade, i.e. turn St Mary’s Bay from a motorway into a boulavard and public space, maybe even rebuild a section of beach!

    4) Demolish the Victoria Park viaduct and use the Victoria park tunnel as a bidirectional link (one lane each way) to the Cook St/Wellington St ramps.

    I like this option becuase it fairly cheaply provides a tolled motorway bypass of the CBD, extends the dedicated busway right into the CBD, allows cycle and ped crossing of the harbour, improves St Marys Bay and gets rid of the Victoria Park viaduct. The existing clip-ons should survive a lot longer if they are only carrying buses on the inside lane and almost negligible load on the outside lanes.

    This does keep options open for a rail tunnel to the Shore once the busway approaches capacity. Furthermore I would like to see the Harbour Bridge returned to something like its original state in the long term. This could mean removing the clip ons completely once a rail tunnel was built, or perhaps more likely rebuilding them with lighter, lower profile structures more sympathetic to the original bridge, as they need only carry a bus lane and cycle/pedway on each side rather than two motorway lanes.

    At any point the bridge could be enhanced with a decent paint job (a light bronze colour perhaps?), some feature lighting, bluestone treatment around the foundations, etc. Admin, do you know if they bridge has ever been painted any colour except boring industrial grey?

    • Nick, I struggle to see how building the road tunnels is fairly cheap. They’re the bulk of the construction cost: around $2.5 billion by NZTA’s estimates I think.

      • Ok sure cheap probably isn’t the right word when we are talking about $2.5 billion! What I mean is it is (probably) the cheapest way to achieve a full set of good outcomes (I am assuming that a motorway crossing will be built, the cheapest option would be to do nothing of course, followed by a public transport only crossing).

        Like you get the motorway bypass route, the functionally separate local road connection to the CBD, the fully rapid transit link (albeit by bus) and cycling and foot crossings of the harbour. Furthermore this is achieved by reducing the amount of structure and improving the urban design (i.e. getting rid of the Victoria Park viaduct and reducing the lanes in St Marys Bay), rather than adding structure (a new or second bridge at Tank Farm and the associated approach roads).

  • Obi, just bear in mind how tall the Sydney Harbour Bridge is above its landing points. On the other hand the proposal for Tank Farm has the bridge passing into a tunnel on Wynyard Wharf, this means a bridge coming in very low and a large portal area as it goes underground. The transition area from overhead bridge to underground tunnel would turn half the tank farm into a giant no-go zone.

  • obi

    Nick… I have been trying to work out why wandering around under the SHB piers is an adventure, even tho it is essentially a giant elevated motorway across water. Like, I can’t think of even a single reason why I’d want to walk around under the Victoria Park viaduct or the elevated motorway in Wellington. I think it is due to: Firstly, the Harbour itself. It is absolutely gorgeous on a sunny day, which is the only type of day I’m likely to be out and about playing tourist. And secondly, the whole engineering wonder thing. The bridge isn’t a bit of 1960s concrete but a marvel of the 1930s. It has history and style (even if I don’t think it is particularly pretty) and have you seen the size of the bolts holding that thing down?

    The lesson? What ever ends up being built, do it with a bit of style because we’re probably going to have to live with it for the next 100 years.

  • ingolfson

    Build it underground, the existing AHB has enough style.

    Obi, I do believe I read that the contamination is well-known about, and figured into the plans. This was after all a petrochemicals storage area. And I see little issue (except more cost, obviously) with a contaminated site being used for office or residential – you just have to remove more top layers and possibly cap the base?

  • Anon

    Hmm, ANZAC Bridge is taken from Sydney’s bridge of the same name!. We don’t want a copy of Sydney again!.

    I like the name “South Pacific Bridge”, but it needs to be redesigned cause the current proposal for rail is pretty ridiculous. Build the tunnels first. And in the looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong term, the present bridge could be replaced with this bridge.

    It should include one lane each way for Buses & Trucks (cars must use the tunnels), HEAVY Rail lines (which would lead to some deconstruction of the motorway along St. Mary’s Bay and replaced with rail lines connecting to Britomart & the CBD Tunnel) & of course, walk & cycleways.

    Pretty simple really but it probably wouldn’t be affordable for the next lightyear lol.

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