It’s been 17 years since the Government’s Transport and Infrastructure Select Committee asked Transit (predecessor to the NZ Transport Agency) to find a solution to walking and cycling across the Auckland Harbour Bridge. Four years later, Transit advised in this letter dated 19 May 2008 that it had ensured structural elements would be incorporated into a strengthening project to “future-proof the clip-on lanes and allow for future walking and cycling options” on the bridge.
So why hasn’t it happened yet?
Unfortunately NZTA‘s approach has since ranged from reluctant cooperation to outright obstruction. Some examples:
In February this year, NZTA senior management advised the Government’s Transport and Infrastructure Select Committee that the AHB can no longer be strengthened but failed to mention the Holmes Consulting strengthening solution prepared for NZTA.
In May 2019, NZTA senior management declined the consented and funded SkyPath design by choosing what was promised as a superior design – the Northern Pathway. NZTA management said the Northern Pathway gave certainty to Aucklanders, it would cost approximately $120M and that construction could start in 2020. However NZTA failed to disclose they hadn’t designed the pylons (supporting legs) nor the landings at each end. One year later the cost had increased to $240M, and major issues remain unresolved.
We understand that NZTA’s latest plan for the Northern Pathway is to build an entirely new bridge across the Waitemata Harbour, this will be prohibitively expensive eg: circa $500M and not something the Government should allow to be fast-track consented.
Despite NZTA’s advice to the contrary, we don’t really know if the bridge is at capacity.. The truss bridge (the centre 4 lanes) certainly are not. For the clip-ons, NZTA assumes a significant capacity loss is due to the differential temperature effect (when the top and bottom plates of the clip-ons have different temperatures). NZTA uses the theoretical maximum loss of capacity, NZTA have refused to take the advice of their peer reviewers Hyder to carry out the actual testing to see whether such a large allowance is necessary.
Why have we seen this behaviour from NZTA?
NZTA is not comfortable with a low-cost solution for walking & cycling on the Auckland Harbour Bridge because this doesn’t fit their narrative that we regularly see in the media:… ‘the Bridge is at capacity and can’t be strengthened, hence a new crossing will soon be needed’.”
NZTA’’s approach is at odds with the Government’s Policy Statement on Transport (GPS 2021 – 2030) that requires reduced private vehicles and trucks in favour of the more sustainable modes.
Time for a review:
After 17 years, it’s time for an independent panel to review the situation, this should consider:
the options for walking & cycling across the bridge,
determining the actual capacity of the AHB and the options for strengthening it,
review the Beca/NZTA relationship to ensure best-practice management of the bridge, given its vital role,
the merits of a short trial of one traffic lane for active transport.
NZTA are now progressing with their new design called Northern Pathway - which is a separate bridge to be built alongside the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
The new bridge has pro's and con's... it's slightly wider (5 metres) and would have no limit of the number of users, however it's a lot more expensive (circa $400 - $500 million), needs a new resource consent and requires an anchorage buttress in Te Onewa Pa Reserve along with the removal of houses and scheduled (protected) pohutukawa.
Unfortunately it also introduces delay and risks. The project's delivery timeframe has been slipping while costs increase significantly.
The SkyPath proposal
The SkyPath Trust worked from 2010 to 2019 to create an innovative new solution - with a viable engineering design and approved business case. The SkyPath design challenged NZTA’s position that it couldn’t be done with an innovative private engineering solution - a composite structure (lightweight yet stronger than steel) attached to the eastern clip-ons. In 2010, NZTA agreed that this new design was structurally possible, and collaborated with the SkyPath Trust in extensive engineering works to check feasibility. A public launch of the new SkyPath design in 2011 was led by then Mayor Len Brown and welcomed by many supporters as an exciting new way to unlock an achievable pathway solution.
Funding remained a sticking point, with NZTA declining to provide funds, but agreeing that they would consider a licence for a private facility to operate. Their refusal to provide funding led to the development of the Trust’s proposal for a partnership with a private investor, which would have meant a small fee for users of SkyPath. Getacross wanted to see a facility that was free for all pedestrians and cyclists to use - but supporters agreed that this private investment seemed like the only viable method of funding the facility, given NZTA's refusal to do so, prior to the 2019 funding announcement.
SkyPath and their investor developed a design and business case which gained Auckland Council support following 2014. Auckland Council Resource Consent was granted in 2015, and confirmed in 2016 following appeals to the Environment Court.