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A brief history of doomed proposals for a second harbor crossing for Auckland – and a faster, cheaper option


New Zealand is a small country that suddenly has big ideas about public transport projects for its largest city. In February, the physical work began for a partially tunneled light rail line under Auckland’s CBD that will eventually connect to the airport. The project could eventually have a price tag of nearly NZ$30 billion.

Last week it went big again with the release of five options for a second harbor crossing. Four of the five will cost at least $20 billion and involve the construction of another bridge and one or more tunnels for light rail and automobiles.

While the project is reportedly gaining momentum with construction set to begin in six years, Aucklanders would be forgiven for not stepping into this timeline. The new options are just the latest in a long line of proposals that are at least 35 years old.

It’s worth checking out the long and tumultuous history of the proposals for Auckland’s second harbor crossing. In addition, we can ask ourselves whether a sixth option is the best: applying congestion charges to the Auckland CBD, and better access to public transport, walking and cycling on the existing bridge.

The bridge is the main link between Auckland’s CBD and the growing North Shore.
Getty Images

Bridges and tunnels

The Auckland Harbor Bridge was officially opened on May 30, 1959. Build took four years and cost nearly $250 million (in today’s money), but the structure was already too narrow for traffic volumes. Within a decade, additional Japanese-built lanes were bolted to the bridge—the so-calledNippon clip ons”.

From 1988 to 2010, several second crossing options were studied and presented, including:

  • 1988: a plan is developed for public transport under tunnels or a second bridge

  • 1997: 11 options for a second crossing were studied and sent for public consultation, including several tunnel or bridge alignments, with the most expensive option being a tunnel at about $2.6 billion in today’s dollars

  • 2003: A follow-up to the 1997 study suggested a second bridge and tunnel combination, costing about $4.5 billion in current dollars

  • 2008: A study of 159 crossing options was reduced to three optionsincluding a new bridge or two possibilities for tunnels

  • 2010: one business case developed for three crossing options, including a second bridge, heavy track under tunnels, and road under tunnels, with the highest cost estimate at just under $6 billion.

Walking and cycling

The original plans for the bridge also had toll-charged bike lanes, but these were ultimately rejected due to cost. The idea was revived in 2011, when the New Zealand Transport Agency (now Waka Kotahi) launched a “SkyPathplan to add hiking and biking trails to the clip-ons. This was added to Auckland Transport’s strategic priority list the same year.

Funding permission for the SkyPath was submitted in 2015 and approved in 2016. The new Labour-led government said in 2017 it would fund the project, with a revised design for the path to sit on its own piers unveiled in 2019 .

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In 2021, Waka Kotahi pulled the plug on the SkyPath plan, citing technical complexity. In the same year, a $685 million standalone bike and walkway bridge was announced. The cost estimate quickly escalated to $785 million before it got to that point cancelled just four months later – but not before the government spent $51 million on designs, consultants and fees for engineering plans.

Since then it’s been a story of stop-start (but mostly stop) initiatives, including:

November 2021: Waka Kotahi decided against a cycling and walking trial across the bridge, but supported a series of events for cyclists and walkers in December.

August 2022: Waka Kotahi announced that a planned $700,000 one-day trial of walking and cycling would be scrapped, primarily citing concerns over the bridge’s 6% incline that would allow cyclists to reach speeds of 60 km/h and the possibility of collisions with pedestrians. (Ironically one of the new bike bridge options”would have a similar gradient” to the current bridge.)

December 2022: Waka Kotahi announced a series of “Walk, driveevents for three Sundays in March for up to 60,000 Aucklanders to cross the bridge on foot or bicycle. But this was postponed to early 2023, with no future date announced.

Read more: Electric cars alone won’t save the planet. We will have to design cities in such a way that people can walk and cycle safely

Back to the future

The five new harbor crossing options are now available public consultationwith a decision to be taken mid-year and construction to begin in 2029. But given the long history of studying, gathering feedback, and then doing nothing about a second crossing (or improving public and active transit options on the existing bridge), some skepticism is warranted.

With expected completion dates ranging from 2039 to 2044, and costs of up to $25 billion (assuming no delays or budget overruns), the options also ensure that only a few years before the Emission reduction plan‘s 2050 net-zero emissions target.

Read more: To get New Zealanders out of their cars we need to start charging real driving costs

A more sustainable solution would certainly be to establish the long-discussed Auckland Congestion charge CBD and repurposing some lanes on the existing bridge for public transport, cycling and walking.

This would reduce the number of CBD car trips and help meet those climate goals. If a second crossing is nevertheless necessary, taking this more direct action in the meantime would at least provide additional – and more climate-friendly – ​​travel options.

Future-proofing part of Auckland’s transport network may not require billions of dollars and decades of planning and construction. It could simply mean finally embracing a version of what was envisioned for the Auckland Harbor Bridge nearly 65 years ago.

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