As regular readers will know, we’re not exactly big fans of another road-based harbour crossing being a priority. We believe that after Skypath, the next crossing should be a rapid-transit-only crossing, providing those travelling to and from the North Shore with a complete and attractive alternative to the current bridge. It could be designed to leave space so that a future road crossing could be built if still needed.
Instead, the current most likely outcome is that we’ll spend $4-6 billion on a tunnel and massive interchanges at each end. And yet, because of changes they’ll make to how the existing bridge is used, it’s likely the extra crossing won’t even provide any additional capacity to the road network. About the best we’ll get is some bus lanes – AT and the NZTA have been suggesting that light rail could possibly go over the existing bridge, but my understanding based on conversations with various staff is that this is unlikely to be a realistic option.
So if we’re going to build a road crossing that doesn’t actually do much, perhaps it’s time to reconsider a cheaper bridge option. According to the last study by NZTA in 2010, a bridge option would be around $1.4 billion cheaper. That level of saving is nothing to be sneezed at, after all the entire cost of the Waterview tunnels project is $1.4 billion!
A bridge would also be considerably cheaper to operate and maintain – about $4m per year vs $20m per year (in 2010 $). Again $16m a year, every year, is significant. That’s roughly how much public subsidy is paid each year to top up fare revenue on the North Shore bus network.
The main reason for selecting a tunnel rather than a bridge was the result of public feedback around 5 years ago on the council’s Auckland Plan, and I’d say most of that feedback took place without considering the huge cost impact of their decision. One of the main reasons for this is the view it would obviously represent a dramatic visual change, which many people would be fearful of.
But would a bridge option be all that bad? Bridges all over the world can be some of the most stunning and iconic features of cities. Designed well they are more than just function.
Below are some of the renders from the NZTA study, so take a look for yourself. We were reminded of these when leafing through some of the obscure old reports so I wonder if most people even knew this was an option?
We quite like the design, the triangular cable towers are vaguely reminiscent of volcanic cones or perhaps sails on the harbour. In any case they have a monumental look. Cable stayed bridges are quite popular these days, as they are strong, stable and self-supporting during construction, which makes them fast and cheap to build. Of course there would be other types of bridges that could work: a grand suspension bridge like the famous Golden Gate, another steel arch bridge, a very simple concrete girder or maybe something wild and unusual.
Thinking about this, we think there are some other potential benefits of a second bridge, beyond the big construction cost saving and the cheaper operations and maintenance over time.
Firstly, it would be easy to provide road and rail on the same bridge, something that is difficult and expensive to do in a tunnel. We know that Auckland Transport are currently looking at rapid transit options to the North Shore. Given they are considering light rail across the isthmus and the airport, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine that they would consider it here too? And why not, light rail only takes up as much room as a traffic lane each way, and it can handle almost any grade you would want on a motorway bridge. So for the minimal cost of adding two lanes for light rail to the six lanes of motorway you could literally double the people carrying capacity of the crossing. It would also tie in nicely with the current plans for the isthmus which would see light rail along Fanshawe St to Wynyard.
There is also the possibility that you don’t need to add much at all. The NZTA designs below show a box section holding up the road deck. With a little tweaking to the design it could probably be big enough to run a rail line through each way. A rail deck inside the bridge structure is pretty common in bridges around the world, perhaps a double deck bridge is an efficient solution for Auckland?
Secondly, a new bridge would give a nice and more direct walking and cycling link, as we can see in the picture below. While we agree the Skypath is an excellent value retrofit and should proceed asap, having separate walking and cycling links on a more direct alignment would be even better in the long term. We would obviously expect walking and cycling connections to be a little wider than shown in the image below though.
Thirdly, bridges avoid a lot of the problems that tunnels can have with things like vehicle fires, water leaks and dangerous goods spills. Melbourne has had a pair of under-river tunnels since the early 2000s and it has experienced all three kinds of incidents, with many lives lost in one bad fire down in the tunnel.
So, could a relatively cheap and efficient new bridge with a mix of traffic lanes, light rail, walking and cycling be the right answer for the North Shore? Such a crossing might come in under $3 billion, less than half some of the recent estimates for doing motorway and rail in tunnels. But there might be some further savings to be had too. In the renders below we can see that the bridge itself is a fairly slender and graceful structure. But the real impact, and much of the cost, of the harbour crossing plans come from the connections either side, including what amounts to a new Spaghetti Junction in St Mary’s Bay complete with three additional tunnels under Victoria Park and a similar tangle of ramps and reclamation at Northcote Point though to Akoranga.
If the crazy plan to dump six lanes of bridge traffic onto Cook St was dropped, they could drop the duplicate Victoria Park tunnel and a mess of associated ramps and structures approaching it. The existing Victoria Park tunnel could be reconfigured into one lane each way to Cook St by adding a central fire wall, instead of building a second one next to it to get three lanes each way to the middle of town. This would improve connectivity to midtown while providing a reasonable, rather than insane, amount of vehicular capacity. Not only would this save the city from drowning in traffic that has nowhere to go from Cook St, it would also save a further half billion or so from the cost and reduce the amount of structures and reclamation on the waterfront.
A second advantage of new bridge with light rail would be the ability to drop the proposed busway additions on the old bridge. That sounds crazy coming from this blog, but you have to ask why you would need both a busway and railway next to each other when rail alone can do the job well. If you dig through the plans you can see NZTA have designed an elaborate series of busway lanes and flyovers either side of the harbour bridge, in addition to the rail designation (clearly they didn’t put much faith in rail ever actually happening). Dropping the busway links in favour of light rail only would likewise cut out a lot of concrete, and hundreds of millions of costs.
There are some further benefits of value engineering out the spurious ramps and links. With less linkages you need to reclaim less harbour and build fewer flyovers, but you’d also get to detune some of the worst bits we already have. Do the crossing right and St Marys Bay could be turned from eleven lanes of motorway into a six lane waterfront boulevard through to Fanshawe St and Cook St. It might have more in common with Tamaki Drive than Spaghetti Junction.
So what about it Auckland? Would we be happy with a new bridge if it meant traffic, rail and people could be accommodated together while saving billions of dollars and reducing the impacts on the waterfront areas? Is there a “lean and mean” road solution that could be funded and built earlier while also giving people the rapid transit crossing they want?
To finish we just have to ask, why was this option dropped so readily? Given the potential to save billions and get better outcomes shouldn’t we at least have a thorough discussion?
The issue of another road crossing of the harbour has been one we’ve discussed for quite some time. It’s a project that many Aucklanders like to think makes sense but that when you look deeply at the details it’s not so clear it’s a good idea. Without going over everything again – you can read some of our old posts on the subject – the project is hugely expensive and yet doesn’t actually appear to provide that much benefit.
In fact the impact seems to range from actually make some key things worse – to at best not actually changing all that much. It is expected that any road tunnel would plug in directly to the Central Motorway Junction and therefore only be used by those travelling through the city or to the connections with Grafton Gully or West Auckland. That would leave the existing Harbour Bridge as a giant off-ramp.
In fact it is actually likely to undermine many of the goals the council have been striving to achieve such as increased use of public transport and a more people friendly city centre. Both will be much more difficult to achieve if a firehose of traffic is turned on to the CBD.
From Sydney but appropriate here too
If spending $4-6 billion to undermine your city’s goals seems stupid, equally so is the more likely alternative version from the NZTA.
One thing that is widely accepted is the need to improve the rapid transit options across the harbour. The Northern Busway is fantastic however it’s missing any priority across the bridge despite buses carrying around 40% of the people going over it AM peak. They would use AWHC to finally dedicate some space on the bridge for PT but the actual number of vehicle lanes across the harbour will be about the same as they are now. In that case we end up spending a huge amount of money to add no vehicle capacity and just to add some bus lanes. It begs the question of why bother, why not just leave the bridge as is and build a better and cheaper dedicated PT crossing.
Because of the need to improve rapid transit options we’ve long advocated for a rail first option to be considered. This doesn’t mean we can’t build road tunnels in the future should they be needed but along with Skypath, rail tunnels more cheaply, directly and immediately address the modes missing across the harbour.
And we’re not the only ones. The Campaign for Better Transport have created a petition calling for a rail only option to be considered. It’s managed to pick up a good amount of media coverage and forced some interesting statements from the NZTA and the mayor. Reading between the lines and combined with what we’ve heard it highlights a concerning situation.
First up from the North Shore times
But NZTA Auckland regional director Ernst Zollner says Pitches is “misleading” people.
Rail hasn’t been ruled-out, he says.
Although harbour crossing route protection work is underway, NZTA doesn’t know precisely when it will be needed or what form it will take, Zollner says.
Previous proposed plans include twin vehicle tunnels future-proofed for rail.
An Auckland Transport spokesman says a public transport study anticipating future growth will be completed mid next year.
The agency which manages local roading connected to NZTA’s motorway network, says it’s investigating how public transport options would integrate into future connections.
Auckland Mayor Len Brown says central government has committed to starting a second harbour crossing within seven years.
Rail will either be part of the second crossing or complementary to it, Brown says.
Another proposal would see harbour bridge lanes repurposed to carry light rail to and from the North Shore.
The NZTA are intending to lodge designation documents for the crossing this year. That means there is no way they can be intending to include rail options within their plans. This matches with what we’ve heard elsewhere that they intend on building their road tunnels and leave the rail options to AT/council to sort out as a separate project. Despite what the mayor or AT say there is no way they’ll be able to justify spending huge sums of money on a rail crossing to the shore if we’ve just spent $4-6 billion on a road crossing.
The second piece is from the Central Leader
“At that point in time they either will build the capability for rail within the tunnels or as correlative part of it,” Brown said.
But the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) which constructs state highways says no decisions have been made.
Auckland regional director Ernst Zollner said NZTA and local agency Auckland Transport were currently working to protect a future route for an additional harbour crossing.
“While we don’t yet know when it will be required, and precisely what form it will take, in a rapidly growing region it’s essential that we protect and keep our future options open,” he said.
The northern busway serving the suburbs north of the bridge had been a huge success, and one of the benefits of a second crossing would be to continue it across the harbour.
“(It) could then also be used for rail or other innovative public transport options in future,” Zollner said.
Again this all but confirms there is no intention to build rail as part of the next harbour crossing. At best it is happening as an afterthought and only once we’ve sunk billions into some road tunnels and massively upgrading the motorways either side – something the NZTA are being very quiet about. I suspect the only reason they’ll even consider having light rail on the bridge is that after they’ve built the road tunnels they’ll revoke the state highway designation and hang the bridge asking with its expensive maintenance costs over to AT.
The AWHC appears to be a classic case of the same gung-ho roads first approach that has left Auckland in such a mess for so many decades. So let’s build a great PT crossing first and then see if we still need more traffic lanes across the harbour.
There are many reasons to be concerned about the plan to add more road lanes across Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour: from the extreme cost of building such big tunnels and interchanges [$5-$6 billion and four times as much as just building rail tunnels], to the undesirable flooding of city streets and North Shore local roads with even more cars, to the increase in air pollution and carbon emission this will create, the loss of valuable city land to expanded on and off ramps and parking structures, to the impact on the harbour of exhaust stacks and a supersized motorway on the Shore, to the pressure this will put on the rest of the motorway system particularly through the narrow throat of Spaghetti Junction. It is both the most expensive and least efficient way to add capacity across this route, and if resilience is the aim then the double-down on reliance the motorway system rather works against this. This one project will simply crowd out any other changes we could make of scale in Auckland or the country for years; yet it changes almost nothing; it simply enables more vehicles to travel across a short point in the middle of the city, yet this is by no means an obviously good thing: The list of unwanted outcomes from the current proposal is so extensive that the benefits had better be so extraordinary and so absolutely certain in order to balance them all.
But perhaps there is no greater reason to not do it than that it simply won’t improve things for drivers.
Really? How can this be? As well the obvious problem with this project that it will add super capacity for a short stretch of the motorway network and therefore just shifts any bottleneck to the next constriction, particularly the extremely difficult to expand CMJ or Spaghetti Junction, there’s also a bigger structural problem with building more roads to fight traffic congestion. It can’t work. We all have experienced being stuck in traffic on a motorway and sat there wishing if only the authorities had just built an extra lane all would be sweet, well it would, wouldn’t it? However the evidence from all round the world shows that while that may help for a little while it never lasts, especially in a thriving city and especially if these extension starve the alternatives of funding, condemning ever more people to vehicle trips on our roads. Soon we’re stuck again wishing for another few billions worth of extra lanes all over again.
Here’s how it works; each new lane or route simply incentivises new vehicle journeys that weren’t made before; a well known phenomenon called induced demand. Road building is also traffic building, the more we invest in roads the more traffic and driving we get, and not just on the new road; everywhere. Traffic congestion is, of course, simply too much traffic, too much driving. Take for example the I-10 in Houston, the Katy Freeway. In that famously auto-dependent city they freely spent Federal money and local taxes disproportionately on just one way to try to beat traffic congestion, the supply side: ever more tarmac [Houstonians can boast the greatest spend per capita on freeways in the US]. The I-10 which began at six to eight lanes has just had its latest ‘upgrade’ to no fewer than 26 lanes! That ought to be more than enough in a flat city with multiple routes and only half the population Los Angeles. So what happened? According to recent analysis it has made driving this route significantly worse.
Traveling out I-10 is now 33% worse – almost 18 more minutes of your time – than it was before we spent $2.8 billion to subsidize land speculation and encourage more driving.
But hang on, those trips must need to be made, right, or people wouldn’t make them. Well in the absence of direct pricing it is hard to know exactly how valuable these new trips are. So first they really ought to price routes like the I-10 properly to reduce unnecessary journeys clogging up the valuable ones, like the truckies and trades [it is partially tolled now]. But the real problem in cities like Houston is the absence of any useful alternatives to driving [an earlier extension of I-10 took out an existing rail line!]. Providing those alternatives is how congestion is best dealt with. Not completely solved of course, that can only happen by collapse of the city economy like in Detroit, and no-one wants that solution. But traffic congestion can be made both manageable and, for many, no longer an issue, by providing them with attractive alternative options. And in turn this frees up the roads sufficiently for those who have to or prefer to drive. Especially when this is done in conjunction with direct price signals- road pricing; tolls or network or cordon charges.
Houston may be forever too far gone down this hopeless road but that doesn’t mean we have to follow it. Here is a description of the same problem in Sydney, with the solution:
Most people will take whichever transport option is fastest. They don’t care about the mode. If public transport is quicker they’ll catch a train or a bus, freeing up road space. If driving is quicker, they’ll jump in their car, adding to road congestion. In this way, public transport speeds determine road speeds. The upshot is that increasing public transport speeds is one of the best options available to governments and communities wanting to reduce road traffic congestion.
This is called the Nash Equilibrium [I would rather say better than faster; there are a number of variables including speed that inform our choices];
This relationship is one of the key mechanisms that make city systems tick. It is basic microeconomics, people shifting between two different options until there is no advantage in shifting and equilibrium is found. We can see this relationship in data sets that make comparisons between international cities. Cities with faster public transport speeds generally have faster road speeds.
Which brings us to the Waitemata Harbour. It currently has 13 general traffic lanes across two bridges, one walking and cycling lane on the upper harbour bridge, and some ferry services generally not competing with these crossings. The Harbour Bridge carries increasing numbers of buses from the hugely successful Northern Busway, the very success of which exactly proves the theory of the equilibrium described by Dr Ziebots above. In the morning peak the buses carry around 40% of the people without even a single dedicated lane on the bridge itself. And it is all the people using the busway that allow the traffic lanes to move at all. In fact NZTA argue that one of the main reasons for building a new crossing is the numbers and the size of the buses now using the current one.
The Upper Harbour Bridge is about become significantly busier because of the multiple billions being spent on the Waterview connection between SH20 and SH16, the widening of SH16, and the bigger interchange between SH81 and SH1 on the Shore. These huge motorway expansions will generate more traffic of course, but also will provide an alternative to driving across the lower Harbour Bridge.
What is missing anywhere between the North Shore and the city is a Rapid Transit alternative to these road lanes. Like Sydney always has had.
It is its [Sydney Harbour Bridge] multi-modality that makes it truly impressive, some 73% of the people entering Sydney on the Bridge from the Shore at this time are doing so on just one of the train lines and one bus lane; a fraction of the width of the whole structure. So not only does it shame our Harbour bridge aesthetically it completely kills it for efficiency too.
Auckland’s bridge was always only ever designed for road traffic, and should be left that way, the clear way forward is to add the missing Rapid Transit route as the next major additional crossing [after adding the SkyPath to the existing bridge].
In 1992 it [Sydney Harbour Bridge] was supplemented by a pair of two lane road tunnels that up the cross harbour tally for this mode to match the number coming over by train [bridge plus tunnels = 12 traffic lanes], but that wasn’t done until the population of the city had hit 3.7 million. The high capacity systems on the bridge saved the people of Sydney and Australia from spending huge sums on additional crossings and delayed the date they were deemed necessary by many decades. But anyway, because the additional crossing is just road lanes it only adds around 10% extra capacity to the bridge. To think that the government here and NZTA are seriously proposing to spend multiple billions in building a third Harbour Crossing in Auckland with the population only at 1.5m, but not only that but they are planning to build more capacity for the least efficient mode; more traffic lanes.
The good people at NZTA of course know this, but we just seem stuck in a bad habit of road building in a similar way as Houston is, because the money for motorway building comes from central government some people believe this makes it free, in a similar way that the highways in the US are largely funded by the Federal government, unlike public transport, which is more locally funded [Known as ‘path dependency’ and is well covered in the academic literature: Imran, Pearce 2014]. This means the pressure to evaluate the effectiveness of motorways over the alternatives is much weaker. Here is a slide from an NZTA presentation proudly proclaiming how much more traffic this massive project will generate:
Of course this growth can be met by a parallel Rapid Transit system instead. The success of the Busway here and the enormous uptake of the recently improved Rail Network show that Aucklanders are the same as city dwellers everywhere and will use good Transit systems when they get the chance. And two much smaller and therefore cheaper train tunnels have much greater capacity than the proposed six traffic tunnels. Twice as much in fact: the equivalent of twelve lanes and without adding a single car to city streets. Furthermore converting the Busway to a rail system, which is entirely possible, and depending on the system may even be quick and easy, means that buses can be completely removed from bridge freeing up more capacity there for general traffic; cars and trucks:
- Removing buses from the existing bridge would free up some capacity. 200 buses per peak hour ~= 1,000 cars ~= 60% capacity of a traffic lane. So a dedicated PT crossing provides car users with an extra lane (once you account for reverse direction). Not huge, but not negligible either.
- Mode shift: by providing a fast and more direct alternative route you will get mode shift, providing more space to the cars that remain. So you have more vehicle capacity and less demand = a real congestion benefit.
So compared to a new road tunnel where both crossings would need to be tolled, and simply generate more competing traffic for drivers through the whole city, the dedicated PT option would seem to be better even for motorists. The better, faster, and more attractive the Rapid Transit route the freer the driving route will remain; with more people choosing the car-free option: The higher the Transit utility; the higher the driving utility.
Of course while a rail crossing will be considerably cheaper to build than a road crossing it still needs a network either side of the harbour to make it useful. Are there good options for this? In fact there are a number of very good options, all with varying advantages and disadvantages that need serious investigation. And it is important to remember by the time this project is being built the public transit networks in Auckland will be considerably more mature. The City Rail Link will have transformed the newly electrified rail network to a central role in the city, it will quickly have doubled from 2015’s 15 million annual trips to 30 million and more. The New Bus Network will be functioning and with the new integrated zonal fare system meaning people will be used to transferring across routes and modes to speed through the city. The increase in bus numbers and population will make driving in the city less functional. There will certainly many tens of thousands more people in the city without their car, many with business or other reasons to travel across to the Shore. And importantly there will almost certainly be a new Light Rail system running from the central isthmus down Queen St and terminating downtown.
The quickest and cheapest to build will probably be to take the city Light Rail system through Wynyard Quarter and across the harbour, as outlined by Matt here. The busway can be most easily converted for this technology, as it is already designed for it. Furthermore being the only rail system that can run on streets it can also most easily include branches to Takapuna and even Milford to the east, and from Onewa up to Glenfield. This also has the advantage of balancing the existing city-side routes, unlocking a downtown terminus, not unlike the CRL does for the rail network.
What a North Shore light metro network map might look like.
Higher capacity and with the great advantage of cheaper to run driverless systems are is Light Metro like the massively successful SkyTrain in Vancouver. As described for Auckland here. However like extending our current rail system to the harbour it would require a more expensive city-side tunnel to Aotea Station for connection to city network. We know work has been done to prepare Aotea station for this possibility. Matt has also explored other variations here.
Perhaps the best answer for both the near term and the long term is to build tunnels that can take our new Light Rail vehicles for the years ahead but are also capable of being converted to the higher capacity Light Metro when the demand builds so much to justify the further investment of the city tunnel between Wynyard and Aotea Station. Bearing in mind the LR vehicles AT are planning for are high capacity [450pax ] and they can run in the cross harbour tunnels and the busway at very high frequencies. And that Light Metro systems can use track geometries much closer to LR than can conventional rail systems.
So in summary, the bane of the motorist and the commercial driver, traffic congestion, is best dealt with on the demand-side as well as the supply-side. We have spent 60 years just supplying more tarmac, and now it is time to get on with addressing the demand side: Building quality alternatives and providing clear incentives to fine-tune peoples choices.
And, just like road building, investing in quality Rapid Transit will grow the demand for more of it. It will also shift land use, incentivising agglomeration economies and greater intensification around transport nodes, as well as individual habits to suit this option more. What we feed, with infrastructure investment, grows. And vitally, inducing this sort of movement instead of driving is entirely consistent with other the demands of this century; especially our country’s new commitments to reduce our carbon emissions, and the use of our own abundant and renewably generated energy.
This project is both so expensive and potentially so valuable or so damaging that it needs a fully informed public debate about the possibilities. Gone are the days that NZTA can just keep building what its used to without real analysis of all alternatives, or that a politically expedient option sails by without serious evaluation. Because it can be transformed into a truly great asset for the city and the nation on this important route from the eye-wateringly expensive and clearly dubious idea from last century that it is now.
What’s clearly missing from this picture, especially once Light Rail fills ‘The Void’, and some form of rail goes to the airport?:
Body without a head: Official post CRL rail running pattern
Parking, parking, parking! In many places in many cities – even eco-friendly German cities – the price of parking is distorted by minimum parking requirements (MPRs). In these places, local governments regulate an over-supply of parking, which in turn holds down prices.
The Auckland city centre is not one of those places, as MPRs were removed from the area inside the motorway cordon in the late 1990s. As a consequence:
- New developments provide a lot less parking. For example, the new Commercial Bay building would have had to provide over 2000 carparks if it was subject to the same MPRs as the rest of the Auckland isthmus. It’s actually providing 278 carparks – 85% less.
- The price of parking is higher, as new parking garages must “compete” with other land uses, such as valuable commercial, retail, and residential space. If parking doesn’t pay its way, it doesn’t get built.
Furthermore, the price of parking will tend to rise over time as a result of supply and demand interactions. New demand for parking will tend to be met with increased supply. However, new parking supply will tend to be costlier, as cheap surface carparks are likely to be redeveloped and new city centre parking will increasingly be provided in expensive structures.
In fact, parking fees has been rising. In November 2014, Auckland Transport announced that it would end earlybird discounts – meaning that all commuters would pay an all-day rate of $17 to park. In July 2015, AT hiked the all-day price to $24. Other operators have followed suit. For example, Sky City now charges $22 for earlybird parking – whereas it only charged $14 in 2013.
Of course, not everybody pays to park. According to a 2007 survey of city centre parking spaces summarised in a recent report, there were 22,639 public carparks in the city centre, and 22,121 private non-residential carparks attached to businesses. Here’s the table:
In the Auckland city centre, it is almost always necessary to pay to use public parking – e.g. parking garages or on-street parking. Private carparks attached to businesses may be offered as part of compensation packages, which means that people give up a bit of salary in exchange for a carpark that they don’t have to pay to use on a daily basis. Alternatively, employers may choose to rent them out for a monthly fee.
But here’s the thing. This data suggests that at most 50% of the nonresidential parking in the city centre is being offered free of charge. People using the other 50% must pay to park, either on an hourly or daily basis. The price to park for a day is now in the range of $20, and hourly prices tend to be higher.
In other words, the average price that people pay to park in the city centre could easily be $10/day or more, assuming that 50% of drivers get “free” employer-provided carparks and the remaining 50% pay market rates of around $20/day. Furthermore, the cost for the marginal parking user will tend to be higher, as the removal of MPRs means that they will be more likely to pay full market rates for parking.
This leads me on to the curious case of the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (AWHC). Or rather, the peculiar assumptions about city centre parking prices that are incorporated into the transport modelling for AWHC.
If constructed, AWHC would be New Zealand’s most expensive single transport project – coming in at a cost of $5-6 billion to bore road tunnels under the Waitemata Harbour. A project of this magnitude demands extra-special care to validate all the model inputs and workings and ensure that they are as realistic as possible. Errors on a major project can have costly ramifications.
With that in mind, here are the parking price assumptions from the 2010 business case for the project. (They can be found on page 42 of the project’s transport modelling report.) They assume that the average price to park in the city centre was $2.83 in 2006, rising to $7.72 in 2041:
It is not clear how these assumptions were chosen, but they do not seem plausible. As I discussed above, the average parking cost in the city centre today could easily be higher than the modelling is assuming for 2041. Getting parking prices back in line with the modelling assumptions would require them to fall by perhaps 30% over the next decade.
A reduction in parking prices is highly unlikely without a major policy shift and a boat-load of investment in uneconomic city centre parking garages. In the absence of MPRs, parking must pay its way. It will not be built if it does not provide a competitive return to business or residential floorspace. This means that new parking will tend to be supplied at a considerably higher price than the AWHC modelling envisages.
Lastly, it is worth noting that parking prices can have a significant impact on transport outcomes. Public transport tends to be cheaper than driving if you have to pay for parking – but more expensive otherwise. Consequently, unrealistically low parking price assumptions will bias transport modelling results by inflating demand for driving and depressing demand for public transport and other non-car modes.
What do you think will happen to city centre parking prices?
As most of you are probably be aware, we’ve long suggested that we need to change our thinking about any future Waitemata Harbour Crossing. A $4-6 billion road tunnel and dramatically widened northern motorway which will only serve to flood the city centre with cars at a time when we’re trying to make it more pedestrian friendly.
Instead we’ve suggested that we need to look at completing the missing modes. These can provide a form of resilience in their own right, much like the BART tunnels in San Francisco did after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Soon Skypath will provide the missing active mode piece of the puzzle which leaves just a transit crossing as the missing component.
Given any new crossing will almost certainly be in a tunnel we believe that any dedicated transit crossing should be a rail one. This is for a number of reasons such as having greater capacity, not needing to deal with fuel emissions and from a purely political point of view, the idea of rail to the shore is a popular one. As we understand it, the current plans will see only one new crossing built – a road crossing. The NZTA have told us they will leave space in the designation for a rail crossing, either as a combined road/rail tunnel or separate tunnels next to the road ones. None of the options would include connections on either side of the harbour so regardless a rail crossing is a completely separate project and one for which the justification to build will be destroyed thanks to the new road crossing.
We believe that a rail tunnel could be built for much cheaper than a large road tunnel and that the money saved on the tunnel itself could then go to providing rail connections on the North Shore. There are actually a number of ways rail could be connected to the North Shore. I suspect many in the wider public would just see it as an extension of our existing rail network however this is our least favourite option. Other options include a Vancouver Skytrain style Light Metro system and AT’s recent infatuation with Light Rail also presents that as a potential option. I should point out that at this stage I don’t have a clear favourite but I do very much like the extra coverage that might be able to be achieved with the latter option.
To gain consent for the road tunnels the NZTA will have to show that they’ve properly investigated alternative options. This the failure to do this was one of the reasons they got tripped up over the Basin Flyover. We do not believe that the NZTA have properly investigated a transit only crossing as an option. This view was once again highlighted this week when they pointed us to a 2010 document which claimed a rail crossing would be astronomically expensive. By that I mean $11 billion+ expensive.
So how on earth would a rail crossing cost $11 billion? Here’s how it seems some of their thought process have gone.
They Say a rail alignment has to take in both Takapuna and Albany in a single alignment. The location of Takapuna being someway to east of the motorway is an issue and one of the reasons it’s not served by the busway. They also note that a rail corridor along the existing motorway would require substantial work to modify including pushing retaining walls by back 3m. In addition they note that other areas of higher density are not right next to the motorway – this is no surprise as motorways tend to push density away.
Next they dismiss high level operating patterns they effectively say buses are better because you can run them on lots of different (infrequent) patterns including express buses straight to the city. In contrast rail would require some people to use feeder buses – oh the humanity. Of course this was from all before the new network which in large part will see a lot more of the system operating like the rail diagram.
Taking the above into account they then try to join them all together in a rough alignment as is shown below, squiggling all over the North Shore. As you can see the line goes all of the place in a bid to serve various pockets of population and development.
As I’m sure you can imagine, getting consent for a project like this would be no easy task. Such an alignment would also create even more severance issues in many places on the shore. To deal with that the authors of the report state that the rail line would instead need to be underground. An entirely underground North Shore line, you can almost hear the dollar signs racking up.
Unfortunately it doesn’t stop there. Once in the city they want to send it somewhere else – ideally to link up with the existing rail network. Two options are shown for this, trains either going via Britomart then another tunnel up through the city to Newmarket or going via Aotea. The Aotea option is shown below.
So to get rail to the shore the NZTA are saying that we need a tunnel from Newmarket all the way to Albany, no wonder it will cost so much.
Lastly it briefly covers whether the project could be broken up and staged. Once again the short answer is no because it would limit the benefits available.
All up this appears almost like some kind of hatchet job deliberately designed to make rail look like a much inferior option. Given all the changes that have occurred in transport in just the last five years it seems it would be a good idea for the NZTA and AT to go back to the drawing board on this project and come up with some fresh thinking. We’ve been told that work is going on between the two agencies looking at what the future of the Rapid Transit Network on the shore is but it sounds like that is limited by not questioning whether the road tunnels happen. I also wonder if it will end up looking something like this from 2012.
The NZTA have recently published information on the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing on their website, including all of their technical reports, which are mostly from around 2010. These reports have been available elsewhere, however most people wouldn’t know they existed so it is good that NZTA have pulled them all together on the main NZTA site.
New to me are the timeframes for the project, which the NZTA have indicated are:
|2015||The Transport Minister asked the Transport Agency to take immediate steps to further develop the project. The Transport Agency will engage professional advisers to help prepare to help future proof the route.
|Mid 2016||NZ Transport Agency to serve Notices of Requirement for land required.
|2017 to 2018||Detailed business case investigations including funding options and design. Application and hearings for resource consents.
|2019 to 2022||Procurement stage including contract award, detailed design, land acquisition and preparation for works.
|2022||Estimated start of construction.
|2027 to 2030||Additional Waitematā Harbour Crossing opens.
This is a much more aggressive timeline than the NZTA indicated at their recent briefing on the National Land Transport Programme, where it was suggested that the tunnel was unlikely to progress beyond the designation point for at least a decade.
The project website claims that the Auckland Plan identifies the AWHC will be required between 2025 and 2030 however, as we covered in this post, there isn’t any rational justification for this based on the Preliminary Business Case, which calculated a BCR of just 0.4.
The project website mentions the “bigger picture”, emphasising that more than “55% of NZ’s freight travels through the Northland, Auckland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty regions”. As Matt covered in this post though, there really is only a tiny proportion of freight originating from Northland that is destined for points south, and vice-versa. It is quite misleading to include Northland in this statistic and it is certainly no justification for the AWHC . In any case, the website doesn’t mention the Western Ring Route, which is a continuous motorway linking Manukau and Albany and is due to be completed in phases in the next few years.
I haven’t reviewed all of the technical documents, but there are a couple of things about the transport modelling report that stand out. The emphasis in the snippet below is contained in the report – it isn’t mine:
The transport model also has this table of car parking costs as an input assumption for the BCR, on p.42 of the report:
I asked the NZTA what the highlighted text meant, and if the parking costs were daily or hourly rates, and they had this to say:
- The Transport and Traffic Model Report (2010) analysis used costs that are 50th percentile costs which was appropriate for that stage of the investigation.
- This report was one of the outputs of the Preliminary Business Case which was developed to assess the bridge and tunnel options. The focus was a fair “like for like comparison” between these two options, and as such the BCRs were tailored to the level of assessment appropriate to the decisions that were required to be made at that stage.
- Currently, no further benefit cost analysis has been completed since 2010. Several years have passed since the benefit cost analysis was completed and we anticipate the BCR will be higher now.
- Should a designation be secured for the Additional Waitematā Harbour Crossing, the Transport Agency will move forward with a Detailed Business Case in approximately 2017-2018. This will include further investigation to evaluate the preferred option and a detailed analysis of current costs and benefits.
- The parking costs referred to in the report reflect average daily costs and were accurate at the time the modelling was undertaken.
So it looks like the mysterious Appendix M doesn’t actually exist, and any further analysis of costs and benefits won’t take place until the six lane tunnel for general traffic has been designated. The BCR of a rail only crossing to the North Shore, which will be billions of dollars cheaper than a road crossing primarily for single occupant cars, has not been calculated. The modelled costs of parking for the CBD seem woefully underestimated, compared to current earlybird rates of $24 a day.
This is completely the wrong way to go about a project which the Minister of Transport estimates will cost between $4 billion and $6 billion. Public consultation has been pretty much non-existent. I doubt many North Shore residents realise that if the new crossing is tolled, it is likely to be a toll on both the existing bridge and the new crossing.
There has been a complete lack of analysis of the impact of the fire-hose of single occupant cars which will flood the CBD as a result of the project, and neither has the full cost of increasing the capacity of the CMJ and approaches been considered. The NZTA already have in the scope of the designation work widening the motorway from Esmonde to Northcote, but it is likely that the motorway will have to be widened further north as well. The space required for this motorway widening work will undoubtedly take precedence over any future design for mass rapid transit.
Luke did a post last year on the environmental impacts of the toll road tunnel, including ventilation stacks for exhaust fumes that will be up to 35m (10 storeys) high on both sides of the crossing and the massive amounts of reclamation required. I’m not sure why the residents of Northcote Point haven’t formed an action group yet over the impending loss of Sulphur Beach and the marina. They seem oblivious to their neighbourhood becoming a construction site for at least five years too.
And of course the fact that the tunnels might be “future-proofed” for rail means nothing in practice. The designation process should not be going ahead without a clear understanding of what the mass transit network will look like on the North Shore.
There is no urgency for the crossing either – actual traffic volumes are well below the trend envisaged in the 2010 reports:
I wrote to Auckland City Councillors and asked them to stand up for what Aucklanders actually want, rather than simply acquiesce to this ill thought-out plan. The only response I got was from Cllr George Wood, who said that “I must say that Simon Bridges is committed to the AWHC” and “people north of the Waitemata want the additional crossing. We certainly don’t want wish it to be stalled.”
Does George speak for everyone on the North Shore? Does Simon Bridges? What do you think?
Prompted by the news that the NZTA is tendering work for route protection of the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (AWHC), I initiated an OIA request to the NZTA which has now been responded to.
I requested, on behalf of the Campaign for Better Transport:
1. A statement defining the land transport problem or issue that the proposed AWHC solution is attempting to address.
2. The studies and comparative assessments of alternative solutions that the NZTA has conducted, including, but not restricted to, an electrified rail only crossing of the Waitemata Harbour between the Auckland isthmus and the North Shore.
The NZTA responded with the following PDF documents:
- Attachment A: Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing Preliminary Business Case, January 2011. The business case includes a statement outlining the problem which the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing project is attempting to address (refer to ‘Description of Service Need’ on page 9)
- Attachment B: Waitemata Harbour Crossing Study Phase 1: summary report option short listing, November 2007
- Attachment C: Waitemata Harbour Crossing Study 2008: Study Summary Report, April 2008
Question 1: What Problem Are We Trying to Solve?
The Description of Service Need is this:
What stands out here is the statement that the “AHB currently provides the only direct, cross-harbour vehicle link between the CBD and the North Shore.” Resiliency seems to be a major driver behind a solution which supports six lanes of general traffic in a tunnel, with the possibility of rail at some indeterminate point in the future. What is odd is that there is no mention in any of the supplied documents of the Western Ring Route, a $2bn project adding resiliency and reducing demand on the existing Harbour Bridge which, in the NZTA’s own words, will “create a seamless motorway between Manukau and Albany”. This is due for completion in phases in the next few years.
There are also the usual predictions of increasing traffic volumes, which threaten to “adversely impact on the length and reliability of travel times”. Quite why it is vital to minimise the travel times of single occupant cars isn’t explained. Regardless, the Business Case uses traffic volumes in 2008 as the basis of forecasting, before the Northern Busway had a chance to make much of an impact.
However, as Matt pointed out in this post, traffic volumes across the bridge have stubbornly stayed at 2008 levels, at least up until 2014.
And that pretty much sums up the statement of need. As far as analysis of the need for mass rapid transit goes, there’s this analysis of the Busway:
Forecast demand for the Busway indicates that the morning peak hour flows into the CBD could increase to 250 buses per hour in 2041, representing a 138% increase over the 2009 volumes. This figure is the recommended target capacity for the Busway system, representing 12,000 passenger movements per hour6. However, achieving the target capacity is currently hindered by capacity constraints close to the CBD where the provision of dedicated bus facilities is more expensive and bus volumes are at their highest. One of the advantages of a new crossing would be the ability to have dedicated bus lanes across the AHB which would maintain a high level of trip reliability for passenger transport users.
On rail, the Business Case assumes a rail link between Gaunt Street Station in the Wynyard Quarter (underground) and Akoranga Station (at grade). The basis for modelling the tunnel is this diagram:
Construction cost alone of the combined tunnel is $4.6bn in 2010 dollars, with a total nominal cost over a 30 year period calculated as $12bn for the tunnel, including all capital expenditure and operating costs, with a risk factor as well:
The Business Case document comes up with a BCR of 0.4 for the combined tunnel option, including wider economic benefits and not including tolling. Not so much a Business Case for the proposed AWHC then, but more a massive red flag suggesting that not building the proposed tunnel is actually more economically beneficial for Auckland. Even more worryingly, even though there is an assumption that the motorway will be widened to four lanes between Esmonde and Northcote road, there doesn’t seem to be any explanation of how the capacity of the Central Motorway Junction will be increased to cope with the additional three lanes of traffic each way that a new tunnel crossing will provide for.
Incidentally, transport modelling and the Cost Benefit Analysis excluded rail (p.25)
A parallel work stream to this study — The Network Plan — undertook an assessment of the longterm capacity of the existing Busway and concluded that a rail crossing was not required within the timeframes considered for the CBA. As such, the transport modelling excluded the modelling of rail, and the CBA includes costs for the roading component of the crossings only (i.e. the cost for the rail tunnel is excluded).
There is an interesting discussion on tolling (up to $8 each way modelled), but perhaps that is best left for another post.
Question 2: What alternatives have been evaluated?
The Business Case takes it as a given that capacity for additional vehicles is required. This stems from the earlier options papers, which do indeed include an examination of a rail only crossing, which is the second question of the OIA request. Attachment C covers three short-listed options, with variations for each:
The study concludes (p.43) that a combined road / rail tunnel option is best – Option 2C.
So although a rail tunnel was the best passenger transport option, the study recommends a combined road / rail tunnel. The option evaluation process appears not to have used a CBA / Economic Evaluation Manual approach, and it is difficult to tell exactly why option 2C is favoured over a rail only crossing. There is no comparison of BCRs between the rail only and combined tunnel options. Presumably there is a strong weighting for resilience, but again discussion about the Western Ring Route is non-existent. However, the study also carries this warning on p.45:
Limited spare capacity on the strategic and regional arterial networks on both sides of the Harbour, together with the need to move towards a more sustainable transport system, mean it will be neither practical nor desirable to provide sufficient cross harbour road capacity to match demand. Any additional connectivity should therefore be provided to the best practicable standard, that is, in balance with the remainder of the Auckland road network, and in a cost effective manner.
And cost should probably be one of the most important factors. Page 36 has a table of costs for the different options.
A rail only tunnel was costed at about a quarter of the cost of a road / rail tunnel.
In summary, I don’t really think NZTA’s solution is going to work. By design, it will increase the number of single occupant cars in the CBD and surrounding motorway networks and, according to their own analysis, make the economy of Auckland worse than if the project doesn’t proceed. (And that isn’t even considering the impact of tolls on the economy.)
I don’t accept claims that the tunnel will be “future proofed” for rail either. You only need to look at the history of future-proofing in Auckland (think Te Iririrangi Drive or the Manukau Harbour Crossing) to know that most likely it will never happen.
The taxation and expenditure of over $4bn dollars could make a real difference to Auckland if it was spent on the right things. I think Aucklanders should get a say on this. Allowing the AWHC route protection to proceed in its current form, at a cost of tens of millions, is the thin edge of the wedge. If planning starts for a tunnel for single occupant cars, then that is what we’ll end up with.
This isn’t urgent. We’ve got time to get it right.
Regular readers will be well aware that we strongly believe our transport agencies need to rethink the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing. It appears to us that the price tag of $4-$6 billion is way out of proportion to the benefits another road crossing would provide. This view only strengthens the more we see the changes that are occurring, for example just last week we learned that the NZTA’s own post implementation reviews highlighted that traffic volumes weren’t living up to projections on a number of motorway projects. We also found out that one again that vehicle kilometres travelled in Auckland had fallen in both real and per capita measures despite strong population growth.
In Patrick’s letter to the NZTA he said:
It is our view that both a driverless Light Metro system, or a continuation of AT’s proposed Light Rail network across the Harbour, to Takapuna and up the Busway, need to be properly explored as the next possible crossing over the harbour. As they are likely to achieve all of the aims NZTA and AT are charged with delivering for the city much more completely and at a lower cost than any additional traffic lanes and without any of the disbenefits.
– the economic benefits of true spatially efficient urban transport system linking the Shore to city and the isthmus RTN
– make a massive transformational shift to public transport
– real carbon and other pollution reductions of scale from a 100% electric system
– huge place benefits, including a real reduction in city car and bus numbers
– no additional massive costs on approach roads
– resilience of additional systems as well as route
With this post I want to look at the idea of extending AT’s proposed light rail (LRT) across the harbour. So far we know that AT are looking at very high capacity LRT vehicles – up to 66m long and capable of holding around 450 people.
They would run on at four LRT routes on the isthmus on Sandringham Rd, Dominion Rd, Mt Eden Rd and Manukau Rd, combining into two corridors through the CBD – Queen St and Symonds St – before terminating at Wynyard. These are shown below.
So what if we didn’t terminate them in Wynyard and instead extended them via a new crossing to the North Shore. As we know one of the features of LRT is that it can run at street level allowing for the network to reach past the expensive grade separated infrastructure like we see on the busway. Of course that can also be a curse if it is run mixed in with general traffic. Outside of the busway a good compromise is like what appears to be proposed for the isthmus with dedicated lanes and signal priority.
We know that the busiest bus routes on the North Shore are the Northern Busway, to Takapuna and up Onewa Rd. Those areas/routes also happen to be where some of the highest levels of development is allowed for on the North Shore as part of the proposed Unitary Plan – although I think a lot more should be allowed.
Combining the routes for the Isthmus with those corridors on the shore could deliver us something like the network below. You can see it features one route to Takapuna, one to Glenfield and two routes combine to serve the Northern Busway – one of which goes via the Universities, the Hospital and Newmarket
The immediate question many of you might have is about capacity and whether LRT would have enough to serve the shore. Assuming a frequency on each route of roughly one service every 5 minutes that would combine for a capacity across the harbour of over 21,000 people per hour. To put that in perspective, currently over the two hour morning peak around 9,000 people cross the harbour bridge on buses. As such LRT would allow for more than a fourfold increase compared to what we have now and assuming they could do around 80km/h – which is the speed of the busway and seems fairly common on many overseas LRT systems – it would remain time competitive with driving at most times.
The biggest issue with any proposal will always be the cost however this is where LRT could prove a winner. In the last harbour crossing study a rail only tunnel was estimated at ~$1.6 billion – far cheaper than a road crossing. Add in converting the busway and the routes to Takapuna and Glenfield and I suspect we’d be looking at $3-3.5 billion. It’s worth noting that a high level study in 2012 estimated a similar network – but with the Takapuna branch extending all the way up East Coast Rd and to Browns Bay at around $4.5 billion.
Of all of it, it seems that the biggest challenge would end up being the section on the city side from the crossing to where the Queen St and Symonds St routes separate as that would have a high frequency of LRT vehicles through an area with a lot of intersections and conflicting movements. In saying that I’m sure it’s something our talented engineers are capable of solving.
Overall the thing I like the most about the idea is that it allows for through routed connections, removing any need for large terminals from the CBD/Wynyard which is what we would have with the current LRT proposal and/or if we decided to do a light metro or heavy rail option. Compared to other options that have been presented in the past it is also the only one that also looks at serving the western North Shore. Both the western and eastern routes could also be extended if needed. The biggest downside compared to the other rail based options is that LRT would still need a driver which would have an impact on the operational costs.
Lastly it’s worth noting that I’m fully aware that this may not be the best solution. A different solution might turn out to be better however the point of the post is to highlight that options other than the default of a new motorway tunnel exist. We want to see the NZTA and others assess any future crossing from a fresh perspective – much like what happened with the City Centre Future Access Study.
I was recently sent a briefing from late May that the NZTA gave to the transport industry on the three large projects in Auckland that will be procuring work for. In all cases the work relates to designation and planning work and the projects are the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (AWHC), the Northern Corridor works and the East-West link. The most interesting of them and the one I’ll cover here is the AWHC.
The NZTA intend on restarting the process to get protect the route that they put on hold in 2009. This was actually announced back in in 2013 the government launched their programme of ‘accelerating’ a number of motorway projects. Interestingly they say here it will cost around $4 billion. This is just another in the long list of wild estimates for this project and of course won’t include any works necessary to widen the Northern Motorway to be able to handle the extra traffic or increase the capacity of the CMJ – which I’m told is all built out.
That cost also won’t include any costs to connect the rail tunnels at each end shown in the image (closer look below) meaning that it’s likely any idea of rail to the shore will be dependent on a separate project and one that will likely fail any business case for some time thanks to the presence of the recently built motorway.
Perhaps the most interesting part is this slide showing that building the tunnels induces a lot more demand. It would be interesting to know if they are talking about all trips or just vehicle trips. If the latter the increase is probably because it would undermine the busway therefore seeing people moving back to driving.
It’s also still not clear that vehicle demand is going to increase by that level. For a start no one knows just what impact the completion of the Waterview and the Western Ring Route will have and even without that traffic volumes haven’t been increasing like they were predicted to. I most recently looked at volumes here.
This slide shows the next steps in the process
And here’s the scope of the current works planned
Interestingly this just went public yesterday
The NZ Transport Agency invites Registrations of Interest (ROI) from suitably experienced consultants and advisors who have the right people with the necessary vision, experience, capacity, understanding and commitment to deliver outstanding outcomes for the Additional Waitematā Harbour Crossing (AWHC).
The professional services for route protection will be procured using the staged delivery model. The contract will be finalised through a negotiation phase, which will develop an agreed methodology, effort, target fee and pain/gain approach.
The high level objective of the project is to complete the route protection and secure designations for the AWHC; by updating and confirming the existing Notices of Requirement (NoRs), and serving new NoR(s), as required to designate the land at either end of the additional crossing. This project is to be publicly notified and a public hearing is likely to occur.
The team will generally provide the following expertise, but not be limited to:
- Statutory planning and resource management
- Engineering, including tunnelling, highway, rail, civil engineering and geology/geotechnical
- Traffic modelling and transport planning
- Environmental and social management, technical expertise and assessment
- Provision of evidence at hearings and expert witness
Request for Proposals Overview
The Request for Proposal (RFP) will use the quality based supplier selection method. The contract scope will be reasonably broad and focused on key outcomes with the approach and related scope to be further defined by respondents.
A RFP interactive presentation, for all respondents, is proposed to be held after the RFP closes, and will be assessed as part of the evaluation.
RFP documents will only be issued to those applicants who have submitted an ROI.
Prospective respondents to this ROI are invited to attend an Industry Briefing on Thursday 2 July 2015. Respondents wishing to attend this briefing are requested to confirm their interest in attending before 4:00pm on Tuesday 30 June 2015. Attendees will be limited to two per company.
The ROI will be open for three weeks and will close at 4:00pm on Thursday 9 July 2015.
In my view, before we build any more road crossings our transport agencies should be prioritising their focus on getting the missing modes across the harbour. That means Skypath needs to be built as soon as possible (we should hear the results of the resource consent within 2 weeks) and then the focus needs to be on a dedicated PT route. That would provide much greater additional capacity and resilience for less cost than a the huge road tunnels planned and could happen sooner. In face it could even possible link in with the light rail plans for the isthmus – more on that in another post. Route protection wouldn’t stop that outcome but our agencies need to have a serious rethink of the project in its current form.
Digging around online the other day I came across an Auckland Council Archives webpage with a series of old plans and charts on early Auckland harbour bridge and tunnel concepts. I do recommend having a poke around for fans of this sort of thing.
The one plan that really caught my eye was the one below, a 1930s concept for a suspension bridge from Devonport to Parnell. Click this link for the full size version.
Look at that: tall towers with graceful parabolas of cable holding up a long spanning slender deck. Boy I do love a good suspension bridge! And check the engineers stamp in the bottom right corner. None other than J.J. Bradfield himself, designer of both the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the connected City Circle underground rail system.
With 175 feet (54m) clearance above the water this would have had more room under it than our existing bridge, however it would have ended up on the wrong side of the modern container port. If they had built this perhaps the port would have been forced to move out by now.
The four lanes and two tram tracks sounds like just what we need today, if you could squeeze in a footpath and cycleway. Having said that, you can presume the trams would have been ripped out and the bridge converted to a six lanes all for traffic like so many bridges from that era.
I also wonder what would have become of the motorway system without the harbour bridge to Northcote Point, presumably spaghetti junction would have ended up further east and Parnell would be sliced in half by a motorway. Would we lament the swathe carved through Devonport and Bayswater the way we lament the long gone villas of Newton gully and the lost beaches at St Marys Bay, or would we simply forget like we have the City of Cork Beach? Perhaps the Eastern Motorway would have been built, perhaps instead of the Southern?
In any case, the shape of our city would have been considerably different. A reminder that new transport infrastructure shapes our future city as much as it responds to our existing one.
…and doesn’t it make our actual bridge look like an ugly bugger in comparison?