The NZTA posted this series of images from one of their webcams on twitter yesterday showing how quickly the driving conditions can change.
This is the first of a couple of posts looking more closely at the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing project and who we could do it differently.
Last week there was some renewed debate over the merits of the Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing (AWHC) project, due to former Local Government Minister Michael Bassett suggesting it should start nearly immediately and made a lot more sense than the City Rail Link. I outlined why that particular argument is complete rubbish previously, but I think it’s worth delving back into exactly why AWHC is an unnecessary, wasteful, counter-productive and completely stupid project. For the purposes of this post, I’m talking about the AWHC project’s roading components as proposed in quite a lot of detail here by NZTA.
This is a debate that’s going to get much more intense later this year as the NZTA is getting ready to apply for a designation for the project. This is what they have said about it.
So firstly, let’s look at the different arguments that have been proposed in favour of the additional crossing:
Let’s work through each point one at a time.
Firstly, in terms of traffic volumes we have extensively documented the number of vehicles travelling over the Harbour Bridge has been very static for a number of years now and remains below 2006/07 levels. This is significant because the NZTA’s business case for the AWHC project (which suggested a cost-benefit ratio of about 0.3) assumed significantly higher traffic levels than what’s actually occurred. Also notable is that the modelling was done two years after the 2008 starting point yet used the models results which were significantly higher than what had actually happened. A case of rewriting history.
We know that generally traffic growth has been minimal over recent years, but what makes NZTA’s analysis particularly bad is that the impact of the Waterview Connection project – completing the Western Ring Route which has the very purpose of taking pressure off State Highway 1 including the Harbour Bridge – seems to have been ignored in the projections. So therefore not only has traffic demand over the Harbour Bridge been steady for the last few years, there’s actually a project coming online in the next few years which is designed to reduce traffic across the bridge.
In the (much) longer run, traffic volumes may increase again – but then again the North Shore rejected major intensification as part of the Unitary Plan so perhaps longer term growth won’t be as significant as in other parts of Auckland. The growth that does occur is more likely to be from the upper areas for whom the WRR is a more viable option should they need it. Further as people who use the bridge daily will attest, it’s not the bridge that is congested but the approaches.
“Fixing” Congestion on the Northern Motorway
The Northern Motorway is notoriously congested at peak times and I think much of the local support for AWHC is based off the assumption that it will fix this congestion. Unfortunately for the locals, it appears unlikely that this will occur – even after spending $5.3 billion. One of the reasons for this is simply how the AWHC will connect back into the existing network. The current plan is the new crossing would hook directly from the Northern Motorway on the Shore through to the Central Motorway Junction in the City. People going to the city would use the existing bridge.
In short the AWHC doesn’t provide any extra traffic capacity for through movement however what it does do is allow for a lot more capacity to the CBD. All current plans are focused on trying to reduce traffic in the city centre so this goes against everything else we are trying to achieve. In addition any increases in capacity are also going to place additional pressure on the local roads of the North Shore. Quite how the planners and engineers plan to deal with that is is unclear.
Some like to argue that by building the AWHC it will allow for the current lanes on the bridge to be turned over to buses, walking and cycling however that means we are spending over $5 billion for little or no gain in capacity. That seems insane to me.
We can also see in the modelling from the City Centre Future Access Study – which crazily included the AWHC as a reference case project – that the new crossing will be just as congested as the existing one. The two images below are from the modelling in 2021 and 2041 and show both crossings at 80-100% of capacity during the peak so for those on trips past the CBD there is little to no difference in the amount of congestion they will experience.
The current clip-ons have a limited lifespan and need replacing
Of all the arguments for the AHWC this is one of the stronger of them however even it falls over very quickly. The NZTA have said the clip-ons could last many decades longer, especially if heavy vehicles were restricted from them like what happened a few years ago while they were being strengthened.
Now those forecasts are the same ones mentioned earlier which have assumed massive ongoing growth which simply hasn’t been happening and the NZTA don’t really have a good handle of just what impact the completion of the Western Ring Route will have.
It seems to me that we shouldn’t even be having a discussion about timing for the AWHC till about 2020 so we can see whether traffic volumes increase once again and what impact the WRR has.
Further I think there’s a way to replace the clip-ons without a new road crossing, more on that soon.
It’s necessary to ensure a resilient transport network
I think it is critical that we build resilience in our transport system however I question whether effectively duplicating existing infrastructure is the best way forward. To me that will simply shift the issue to the next weak point on the network. To explain this let’s work through a few scenarios assuming we have the AHWC as described above, these could be anything from a broken down vehicle to something catastrophic.
In either scenario traffic would also be able to use the upper harbour bridge.
But does resilience have to mean duplicating infrastructure with more of the same? I believe there is more value in providing resilience through better alternatives so that
A perfect example of this in action comes from San Francisco. In the 1989 earthquake part of the Bay Bridge collapsed cutting off an important connection between Oakland and San Francisco. Like Auckland there were other bridges available to get across the harbour but in many cases they represented a significant detour and likely experienced heavy congestion as a result of the traffic diversion. Thankfully for San Fran they also had another crossing of the harbour and one that wasn’t impacted by congestion on other parts of the road network – their BART system. That provided both a high capacity alternative to the road network and many people quickly changed their travel patterns. Interestingly after the bridge reopened a month or so later many of the new users enjoyed using the system so much they continued to keep doing so.
To me none of the arguments stack up for building another road crossing any time within the next few decades. This is exaggerated by the sheer cost of the project which at a stated $5.3 billion is far larger than any other transport project proposed in NZ to date. In comparison the current largest single project is the Waterview connection currently under construction for a price tag of $1.4 billion.
In the next post I’ll cover what I think we should do to improve connections across the harbour.
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.
Happy Birthday Auckland Harbour Bridge
I remember this from the past but didn’t realise it was on again so if you want to ride over the harbour bridge then here’s your chance. Of course at some point in the future Skypath will allow people to cross the harbour by bike every day of the year. In addition to cycling over the bridge you also get to cycle up the northern busway.
This post was largely written by good friend of the blog Warren S however I have added some parts too.
Seeing the picture recently of the 14.5 diameter tunnel boring machine to be used in the construction of the Waterview motorway connection started me thinking about the cost of infrastructure and the difference regarding tunnelling for road and tunnelling for rail. Actual costs are hard to come by but certain aspects are evident.
The cost of the Waterview TBM is given as $54 million. I suppose this cost is not great in the overall scheme of things, because the overall cost of this project is roughly $1.4 billion according to the NZTA. The original cost of $54 million will have a residual trade-in value of around $10 million when its Waterview work is done. That is a write-off of some $ 44 million.
I then thought I would compare this TBM with the ones they are using in London for Crossrail. They are all made by Herrenknecht though the U.K. ones come from Germany while our one was manufactured in China to the German design.
Right now Crossrail are using eight TBM’s all simultaneously boring away somewhere under London. These machines are less than half the size of what is being used at Waterview at 7.1m in diameter. Being smaller they also come in considerably cheaper at about $20 million compared to the $54 million for our monster. And interestingly with Crossrail 85% of excavated material is being moved by rail or barge – not by road – so eliminates messy roads during construction. Combine this with the fact that there is also less spoil to remove and less concrete needed to make up the tunnel lining and the costs for tunnelling are likely to be significantly cheaper.
Crossrail is scheduled for completion in 2018 with a capacity of 24 trains per hour or roughly one every two to three minutes, that’s similar to what we can expect from the City Rail Link. While we could probably debate all day the merits of what train technologies to use, using our new EMUs an example each train could easily accommodate 750 passengers. At 24 trains per hour that is a capacity of 18,000 people per hour per direction through a rail tunnel. By comparison if we’re lucky the Waterview tunnels – at three lanes wide – will be able to carry about 6,000 vehicles per hour per direction or about 8,000 people if vehicles were carrying a high occupancy rate.
So some of the benefits compared to a motorway sized tunnel are:
Being cheaper and having more capacity definitely raises some questions about how we deal with a future Waitemata Harbour crossing. We have seen traffic volumes on the bridge decline over recent years while at the same time more people than ever catch a bus across the harbour. Further once Waterview has been completed it is likely to take even more pressure off the bridge. At the moment the plans are to build a combined road and rail tunnel which might be similar to below however it is expected to cost roughly $5 billion.
With traffic falling – and potentially continuing to do so – it has removed the congestion/traffic growth argument from the debate and the NZTA have now shifted the discussion with them now saying that a new crossing is needed so the clip-ons can eventually be replaced. The problem is they are being hammered at constantly by heavy trucks (although replacement isn’t needed for some time yet). If the main issue is the clip-ons then we need to be asking if the problem is really worth us spending $5 billion just to avoid having to close two lanes while they are replaced. So what’s the alternative?
A rail tunnel under the harbour.
The idea is fairly simple, we build a much cheaper rail tunnel under the harbour to at least Takapuna, if not further up the busway and linking into the Aotea station on the city side. That provides a massive increase in capacity across the harbour and we use that extra capacity along with other tools like road pricing and demand management to encourage as many people as possible to use the rail services. We then close the clip-on lanes (one side at a time) and replace them. That could leave us with replaced clip-ons and with rail across to the shore without the astronomical price tag currently associated with the harbour crossing project.
The Waterview motorway connection would appear to be a high cost ‘gold-plated’ project but it is the last link in that chain. After that I believe we have a strong chance of achieving long term value for Auckland with the CRL and ultimately a rail tunnel link to the North Shore.
I was looking at the herald this morning and I came across this piece titled Troubled bridge over San Fran waters by the Herald on Sunday sports editor who is currently in San Francisco covering the America’s Cup.
Now I agree that single best reason for an additional harbour crossing – remember we already have a second one in the upper harbour – is to provide resilience in the situation where the bridge is damaged or being upgraded. The herald writer makes it appear that the bridge has been out of action for 24 years but that is simply untrue so let’s look at the story in a bit more detail.
The bridge was opened in 1936 and as mentioned is actually two separate bridges. The first from San Francisco to Yerba Buena Island where it tunnels through the hill before continuing across to Oakland. The bridge has two decks for vehicles, one in each direction and is 5 lanes wide – although when originally built the lower deck was for trucks and trains but the tracks were ripped out in the 1960′s. As mentioned in the Herald piece, it carries a lot of traffic and connects right into the heart of San Francisco so like our harbour bridge is a key piece of infrastructure. In the 1989 earthquake it was damaged with one section collapsing however importantly engineers had the bridge fixed working again within a month.
As mentioned the writer makes it sound like the eastern bridge has been under repair for 24 years but this isn’t the case. The bridge is being replaced by a new version that is being built alongside the existing bridge, much like we saw when the Newmarket viaduct was replaced. Sometimes that means the existing bridge needs to be closed to enable the various changes related to construction to happen. We would see the same thing happen if we built a new harbour crossing as we would still need to connect it into the existing system somehow.
But the interesting thing is how the city copes with such a key bridge being out of action for a long period of time. Sure vehicles can divert to one of the other bridges but that introduces a fairly length detour and one that is much longer than equivalent detour in Auckland via the upper harbour. In that situation I also imagine that the other routes become pretty busy so while it might get you to your destination, it might not be fast. So how did the San Fran area cope both immediately after the 1989 quake and during the shut downs for repair and replacement of the existing bridge. Well there was of one mode of transport that was completely unaffected and able to move huge amounts of people, the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, otherwise known as BART.
The system was opened in 1972 and like the Bay bridge connects the suburbs on the eastern side of the bay with San Francisco itself. It does this in a pair of tunnels under the harbour and through the city and actually travels under the western span of the bay bridge. Since it opened it has been extended to the network it is today and which includes a connection into the San Francisco International Airport. Further expansion is already under way or being planned.
Importantly in the aftermath of the quake and during closures of the bay bridge people have flocked to use the network as a means of getting across the bay however perhaps even more importantly while some people would have gone back to driving, a lot of people kept using the system and patronage has continued to expand.
But perhaps the most important point and the one most relevant to Auckland in all of this is that San Francisco has an alternative. While the closures to the bay bridge have obviously been a pain for residents, there has at least been another option that has the capacity to handle a lot of extra people. Even if there was another road based crossing, if something went wrong it would immediately be clogged up with all of the diverted traffic. Buses would provide no respite as would be stuck along with the rest of the vehicles. If one of the key reasons to create another harbour crossing is to provide resilience to the network in case something goes wrong then the absolute best thing we could do is to build that crossing as a mode that is not affected by the traffic mayhem that would ensue from a problem with the bridge. It would also need to be one that has the capacity to suddenly handle a lot more people.
This is one of the reasons we propose building a rail only crossing as part of the Congestion Free Network. In the future if demand eventually exists we could then look at another road based crossing but for now the focus should be on completing the missing modes and providing some real alternatives.
Campbell Live did an excellent piece last night about the Skypath. If you haven’t seen it yet it is well worth a watch.
We have done a number of posts about the project in recent months, you can see them here.
Note to our commenter who is a part time resident of Northcote: Yes we know you don’t like the project and if you want to comment on this post then please remain respectful that other people are allowed to have different opinions (well that goes for everyone).
One of the most exciting potential projects at the moment has to be the Skypath. The project that hopefully will finally provide access across the harbour for the two key missing modes, walking and cycling.
Since they hit the news again earlier this year, the trust behind the project have been conducting consultation with the local residents associations and local board on either side of the harbour as well as the West Haven Marina users to work through any potential issues. Almost straight away we saw both the St Marys Bay Residents Association (SMBA) and the Northcote Residents Association (NRA) started complaining so I thought I would look at how things have been progressing since then.
Before I get into the progress though, I want to highlight the comments that the chair of the SMBA – Tony Skelton (TS)- made in October last year in the Ponsonby News. You can see it here, page 20.
I’m pretty sure that most of our readers would severely disagree that cycling is not a form of commuter transport. I also know that even a few of my fellow bloggers commute mostly by bike. Moving back to the Skypath, the trust have been publishing detailed minutes of their meetings with the various groups which provides a lot of information. The first set of minutes I’m going to look at is from 7 March where a meeting was held with both of the resident associations. What is interesting is that both organisations appear to started out challenging the projected patronage numbers.
Moving through the document I won’t cover every point but this next one did grab my attention. We know from earlier comments that one of the key concerns from the NRA was to do with parking. The trust asked about the trial parking scheme. (RR is Richard Reid who is working with the Trust)
Next we get to one of the more interesting comments where it appears that Tony brings up similar comments as he did in the October 2012 article above. BW is Bevan Woodward who is the project director, KC is a member of the NRA.
I guess one small positive is that Tony the barges have been upgraded to ferries. This also shows that both of the residents associations really don’t want this. As the document goes on it lays out the key concerns. The issue of the Westhaven Marina Users are raised, Tony has this to say.
Westhaven Dr appears to be an interesting situation, it is a private road however one of the later documents shows that it was purchased by the council in 2004. Does anyone know why it has not been vested to AT like the rest of the road network? But the part that shocked me the most was that he is trying to get cycling banned from a public reserve. It really makes you wonder why he hates cyclists so much. The trust also notes that the 1 in 5 gradient is wrong as it is actually 1 in 20.
A week later, the trust met with the Westhaven Users Association (WMU) as well Waterfront Auckland and the Council. The main concerns appear to how the pathway would connect with the waterfront as well as the impact on parking and traffic. The minutes seem less emotional which is not unexpected however there was this interesting note from the chair of the WMU
To me this really shows that the SMBA don’t really care about consultation, they simply don’t want the project full stop and are going to do everything in their power to stop it.
At a later meeting with the Waitemata local board, many of the same points raised by the SMBA were raised again however I found this answer to question by a member of the public interesting. The person asked why the NZTA won’t fund the project. Stephen Town who is the NZTA’s Regional Director for Northland and Auckland said this:
Sounds to me like we need to get the policy changed so that the NZTA can build cycle facilities separate from other state highway works.
And the last of the meetings that I will look at is another one between the trust and the Westhaven Users Association around a month and a half ago. There are a few interesting comments:
And this, which along with a couple others suggest that within the Westhaven users group, there are plenty of differing views.
However it is the first of the comments that was particularly concerning and since then more details have emerged through an update sent out by the trust.
It seems to me that unfortunately we are still a long way off getting agreement from the locals on this issue but I know that the people behind Skypath are incredibly dedicated to getting this project built so hopefully they keep pushing on.
Last week we moved a step closer to finally gaining walking and cycling access over the harbour bridge with the councils transport committee giving it’s support to the Skypath proposal. There are still a number of official hurdles to jump through before there is any talk of actually building it, but no good project gets the go ahead that easily. As sure as night follows day, there are always bound to be a number of NIMBYs that have something to complain about. Some NIMBYs are just so opposed to any change that I am surprised they manage to change their underwear every day without getting into an argument with themselves. Sure enough the NIMBYs have started to raise their heads on this project.
In this story yesterday groups on both sides of the bridge have piped up.
The project is being privately funded and the numbers have been independently checked by Ernst & Young. So what business is it of a local residents association to oppose the project? Clearly the members of the association do not see the value in the project, likely because they personally don’t intend on using it so believe it will be underutilised.
That contrasts quite highly with the stance of the well known NIMBY group – the Northcote Residents Association. This group has a history of NIMBYism having stopped the initial proposal to have a busway station that serves their area. The arguments these people come up with can really be quite comical. In this case:
Right … So it will be so successful that people will drive from all over the North Shore, park in their streets, then get out their bikes and ride to town? Give me a break. Everyone I talk to from the Shore tells me that the problem is never the bridge itself, but actually getting close to it. By the time you get close to Northcote point in your car, you might as well carry on all the way to town. The majority of cyclists that will use the bridge will get there by … cycling. If local parking does become a problem then perhaps they could get Auckland Transport to implement a special parking zone, like they are currently trialling across the water in St Marys Bay. These people can really be frustrating at times.
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:
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]:
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