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traffic modelling is based on reality (declining traffic flows over the past five years) rather than some ten years out of date belief that traffic flows will always keep growing and growing.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