The Harbour Bridge is arguably Auckland’s most visible and well known piece of transport infrastructure and it’s 55 years old today.
The bridge was famously built as a scaled back version of what was originally intended and for exceeding traffic projections. Instead of a 5-6 lane bridge with footpaths the government of the day scaled it back to just 4 lanes and no footpaths - something still missing to this day (although Skypath will sort that out). The decision to cut back the bridge to four lanes has often been pointed at as a massive planning failure however the addition of the clip-ons has probably resulted in the bridge having more vehicle capacity than it would have had otherwise.
Since it’s opening until the mid-2000′s traffic growth on the bridge was fairly consistent every single year but since that time vehicle volumes have dropped and then effectively flat-lined.
By my calculation based on the figures above the bridge has probably carried just shy of 2 billion vehicles over its lifetime and should carry it’s 2 billionth within the next 12 months.
And just in case you think they are going up again, the monthly data from the NZTA shows volumes are on the way back down again.
Yet while vehicle volumes have dropped in recent years the number of people crossing the bridge have continued to increase thanks to greater use of buses. During the peak trips across the bridge have increased massively from 18% in 2004 to 41% in 2012. This is in large part due to the development of the Northern Busway.
All those vehicles (and people) being moved have made the bridge probably the most transformative single project in Auckland’s history. It converted the North Shore from a series of largely sleepy seaside villages to a part of the region with over 200,000 people (although some residents seem to still think it’s a sleepy seaside village judging by their reaction to the Unitary Plan). The image below shows what the North Shore looked like from the air in 1959 when the bridge opened compared to now.
Last year my Grandmother passed away and she was the kind of person who kept almost everything. While cleaning out her house we happened to stumble across some old newspapers and that included the special editions of both the NZ Herald and the Auckland Star. It would have been great to be able to scan these for everyone to see but it would have been difficult due to the large size of them (if someone wants to do this let me know). Both papers contain a heap of articles about the history of the project and how the bridge was built, far too many to cover off in a single post however. They also each contain a huge amount of advertising as it seems everyone business wanted to be associated with it which I guess is fairly unsurprising.
Seemingly ever since the bridge was first built people have been talking about the need for an additional crossing. Amazingly despite serious discussion about another crossing popping up every few years there has yet to be a firm need for it and thankfully it seems to be one of those projects that are always needed in an ever shifting few decades. Buses have helped more and more people across the harbour while the suggestion of the bridge or its clip-ons falling into the harbour has been repeatedly dismissed by the NZTA. That is a good thing as a new crossing is expected to be hugely expensive at about $5 billion which is over twice the cost of the CRL.
By the bridges 60th birthday we will be able to finally celebrate being able to walk and cycle across the harbour thanks to Skypath.