Allowing people to walk or cycle across the harbour bridge is an aspiration that has been a long time coming. When the harbour bridge was originally proposed it included walkways, like Sydney’s harbour bridge, but the government of the time was concerned about ballooning costs and in the end all we ended up with was a four lane traffic bridge. Then when the clip-ons were added in the late 1960s we ended up with an eight lane harbour bridge but once again no ability to walk or cycle across the Waitemata Harbour.
While in recent times there have been concerted efforts to push for a walk/cycle connection across the harbour, I must say that most of the time I thought it was more aspirational than having a real chance. Particularly as NZTA continue to have a measly budget for walking and cycling projects in Auckland. However, a report to Wednesday’s Transport Committee meeting suggests that there’s actually a feasible and viable plan for making this project become a reality – a plan which doesn’t have to cost ratepayers and taxpayers a single cent: it only requires a commitment in terms of taking on revenue risk liability.
The report begins by outlining updates to the project since it was last brought to the Committee’s attention – back in August 2011. The updates are:
- The AHB Pathway Trust (the Trust) has developed a lighter structure by using aluminium in the central span;
- Auckland Transport (AT) has undertaken a review of the SkyPath’s business case and referred it back to the Council to consider funding sources;
- A range of capital costs for the project has been identified between $28 and $41 million.
- There is still uncertainty about the capital costs, however for the purpose of the financial analysis in this report a cost of $31 million has been assumed (as outlined in paragraph k) in Attachment A);
- Update of information in the Trust’s business case and public private partnership (PPP) proposal;
- Comparison of the SkyPath to the rest of the transport and cycling and walking programme;
- Quantification of the Council’s contribution to the SkyPath; and
- Initial identification of project risks (outlined below in paragraph 20).
Oh, and the Trust also created a pretty cool image of what the Skypath could look like at Christmas time:As I understand it, the proposal for constructing the project is through a PPP between the public agencies involved (Auckland Council, Auckland Transport & NZTA) and what’s referred to as the “PIP Fund” – a private company willing to take on the 25% highest level of revenue risk and to fund the project up front. Payments for crossing the bridge – in the form of a HOP Card or cash – would raise the revenue required to cover capital repayments for the project and operating costs.
Here’s the proposed toll levels:While the report goes to painful lengths to note that this is just the beginning of the process for making the project a reality – in terms of getting official Council support and for Council to take on the revenue risk of the project (not to mention the possible long term requirement for maintaining the structure) – this is a really exciting step forward. And while the PPP structure isn’t perfect (why should we pay a toll to walk across the bridge when we don’t have to pay one to drive across it) I think it’s highly likely in the future that things will change and perhaps NZTA will realise it’s a transport agency rather than just a roading agency – and they’ll take on ownership and responsibility for the structure.
Plus the case for the project is pretty compelling – particularly if all logic and sense tells us that an Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (in motorway form at least) should be a lot more than 20 years away. In a nutshell, the report makes a really good argument for the suggested approach:I sincerely hope that at Wednesday’s meeting the Transport Committee at least gives this approach a go. I think that not only would the pathway be a great transport connection and tourist attraction – but I also can think of it as an incredibly fun thing to wander across on a sunny summer’s day.
Here is a Cycling Auckland’s call for support for the project [thanks Max]: