Everyone knows that the price tag for a future harbour crossing is eye-watering. For a tunnel option (which really is the only option in my opinion) we’re looking at something north of $5 billion – which is significantly more expensive than any other project we’ve ever seriously considered (over twice the price of the City Rail Link, for example). Normal funding mechanisms won’t come close to paying for the additional crossing – so different options will need to be looked at. My suggestion is to simply not build another crossing, of course.
One funding option that seems to have found a bit of limelight in recent days is the suggestion that the crossing could be tolled – but not only the new crossing, also the existing harbour bridge. The NZ Herald reported on this yesterday:
The spectre of tolls on the Auckland Harbour Bridge to help to pay for a new traffic crossing has re-emerged in a council report, days before the election.
Auckland Council staff say, in a report prepared for a transport committee meeting tomorrow, that a proposed law change would allow an application for a toll on the existing bridge as well as a new harbour crossing to be considered by the Government.
Legislation prohibits tolling existing infrastructure unless it is near or integral to a proposed new road.
Neither can a new toll road be built unless a feasible alternative route is available to those who cannot or do not want to pay extra for trips.
Somewhat unsurprisingly North Shore politicians are jumping up and down, yelling and screaming:
The suggestion that tolls may be reintroduced to the existing bridge to raise money for a new harbour crossing expected to cost up to $5.3 billion within the next 20 years raised hackles yesterday among North Shore members of the Auckland Council.
Ann Hartley, a former Labour MP and Deputy Speaker of Parliament, said she could not understand why tolls were being contemplated for certain sections of Auckland’s transport network rather than more widespread and fairer revenue streams.
Fellow North Shore councillor George Wood said he did not see why Aucklanders should have to pay for a new harbour crossing when the Transport Agency was about to spend up to $3 billion on completing the western ring route, including the Waterview motorway.
But Steven Joyce says that this simply isn’t the case – and the “toll free alternative” (which obviously wouldn’t exist if both crossings were tolled) will remain in legislation:
But Transport Minister Steven Joyce said last night that proposed changes to the Land Transport Management Act would not alter the legal test of whether a toll could be charged for using an existing road.
He said the council was “completely wrong” to say legislative changes were needed to enable him to consider an application to impose tolls on the harbour bridge.
A Cabinet paper covering various other changes to transport legislation included an agreement to retain current tolling requirements, including that tolls could be charged on an existing road only if it was near and integral to a new road.
A toll-free alternative route must also still be available.
So what does the Council report actually say on the matter: The immediately adjacent road issue seems to have popped up a bit out of nowhere, as the Question and Answer section on the Ministry of Transport website about the LTMA changes seems fairly concrete about the requirement for a toll-free alternative route.
I’m not opposed to tolls in principle, just as I think that congestion charging is – in principle – a good idea. Tolling has a few issues though, including distorting traffic patterns away from the tolled route and towards the untolled one, unless there’s a pretty compelling reason to pay for the tolled route. This would make it difficult to only toll the new crossing, as you may struggle to attract enough traffic to the new crossing (away from the old harbour bridge) for the project to be worth it.
But in my opinion, that more calls into question the economics of the new crossing rather than making a case for tolling both the new and the existing routes. In the end, tolling arises as a necessity because the whole crossing project is something we really can’t afford – and perhaps we’re better off simply realising that and looking for cheaper alternatives.