Someone at the Herald must have let John Roughan back at the typewriter because today’s editorial on another harbour crossing appears to have his fingerprints all over it.
No one seems to doubt Auckland will need another harbour crossing to the North Shore within a generation. The chances of it being another bridge are dwindling but plans for a tunnel under the Waitemata are cautiously being progressed. Too cautiously, in the view of former North Shore mayor and current Auckland Council member George Wood. He has half a point.
Mr Wood believes transport planners ought to be engaging now with community groups as they move to protect a likely route for a tunnel or tunnels east of the harbour bridge. The Auckland Council 30-year plan favours the tunnel option with provision for a rail line to future-proof its capacity. Since that plan’s publication, the Transport Agency has said it would base any application to the council next year for route protection on that premise, despite its judgment that no crossing would be required until 2030.
So it starts out innocently enough and was obviously driven by the article last week where the NZTA confirmed there was no immediate need for another crossing. I’ll start by saying that I think a new crossing will be needed at some point, just not one for cars but I will talk more about that shortly. It then goes on to talk for a bit about how Georges fears of the project being left to drift are probably not needed as the NZTA has proven that they are able to get big projects pushed through both consenting and construction phases. But it is after this that things go down hill pretty quickly suggesting that the biggest threat to the project is the talk of future proofing it for a rail line.
The bigger threat to timing or funding for a tunnel might be any requirement that it include rail, even if it is only on paper to “future-proof” the project. The rail option would work only if the tunnel project was preceded by Auckland mayor Len Brown’s push for a CBD rail link, the multi-billion-dollar tunnel pushing through Britomart station and up-town to Mt Eden. In current conditions it is unlikely both can be funded in the next decade or two even if Auckland ratepayers and motorists accept high tolling and regional charges to carry much of the burden themselves.
Aucklanders and their elected leaders need to prioritise these projects and de-couple them so that at least one is digestible. Development and liveability of the North Shore could well be harmed if the second crossing is tied to the more politically controversial CBD rail link and delayed. The National-led Government believes no such rail link is justified for 30 years: the Auckland Council sees it as a cornerstone for the city’s transport, housing and economic progress.
Which is the more efficient and vital recipient of the nation’s economic resources? The case is clear for a harbour crossing, only timing is in dispute. The case for the CBD rail link is persuasive but unconvincing, a costly, nice-to-have project which in theory would relieve traffic congestion and alter residential development.
Does the North Shore want or need rail in any case? The Northern Busway has been a successful public transport option and would presumably be more effective if the harbour bridge is decongested by a parallel road tunnel.
About the only think I agree with is that it is unlikely both can realistically be funded in the next two decades and that we need to prioritise both our funds and focus on the one that will have the most impact. To even suggest that the most important project is another harbour crossing is the most important is laughable. For starters it is a duplication of a route that already exists and who’s only purpose is to increase capacity to allow more people to drive to the city centre, flooding it with cars when we are trying to make it a more pedestrian friendly place. The CCFAS also confirms that it is expected to absolutely destroy patronage on the busway undermining the investment made in it so far. The CRL by comparison provides a new route that speeds up trips to the city centre without putting any extra cars on the road and that helps to maximise the otherwise underutilised rail corridors. At $2.2 billion all up including things like new trains, it is also considerably cheaper than $5.3 billion harbour tunnel which is the one that more and more looks like “a costly, nice to have project”.
Lets also not forget that due to the sheer cost of another crossing both the new and existing routes would need to be tolled with estimations from a few years ago suggesting that $8 per crossing would be needed.
On the topic of rail to the North Shore, there was a bit of a discussion last night on how the CRL designation docs don’t make any mention of how a North Shore line integrate with the CRL. A couple of years ago the plan was to also put the trains through Britomart with a junction under the downtown mall however thankfully that has now changed. My understanding is that the more detailed designs for the Aotea station include the provision for a connection to platforms that would be under Wellesley St. As that would be under a road anyway, it would probably only serve to complicate things with the designation so as long as the station is designed and built in a way that enables it to happen in the future, there is likely no point addressing it now (although it would be nice if AT were to officially confirm this).