Labour’s plan for a new $56 billion Waitematā Harbour crossing is heading for the rocks.
Eight months after then-Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and then-Transport Minister Michael Wood unveiled options for a second harbour crossing, two transport bodies have opposed the preferred option and work has started on cheaper alternatives.
In August, Labour chose to go with two three-lane tunnels for vehicles and a 21km light rail tunnel between the CBD and Albany that would take decades to build and was priced at an eye-watering $56 billion in a newly released council report.
Former Transport Minister Michael Woods and former Prime Minister Chris Hipkins in front of the Auckland Harbour Bridge ahead of an announcement about new Waitematā Harbour crossing options in March. Photo / Michael Craig
The Ministry of Transport and Auckland Transport do not support the road/light rail tunnel plan, and Auckland councillors are expected to join them at Thursday’s transport and infrastructure committee meeting.
What’s more, the new Government will almost certainly kill the plan for light rail to Albany, but could adopt some of the work for a revised crossing.
Transport Minister Simeon Brown said during the election, National campaigned on the importance of a second crossing for Auckland’s Waitematā Harbour to reduce congestion, provide additional options for commuters on both sides of the harbour and address capacity pressures on the ageing Auckland Harbour Bridge.
National anticipated starting work on a new crossing by the end of the decade that, at a minimum, would provide more road connections between the North Shore and the CBD.
“I am currently receiving advice on where this project is at and considering that advice,” Brown said.
In a report for the transport committee on Thursday, council officers said there are “significant value-for-money issues” with the project and the $56b price tag is more than double the Government’s 10-year investment in Auckland’s transport network. Labour also planned to spend $14.6b building light rail from the CBD to the airport.
A draft indicative business case for Labour’s option is also to be considered by Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency in February next year.
In the meantime, Waka Kotahi has started work with the council and AT on more affordable options, which could include improvements to stations along the Northern Busway, a cycleway alongside the Northern Motorway between Constellation and Akoranga Stations, and walking and cycling improvements to busway stations and ferry terminals.
Improvements are being planned for the Northern Busway. Photo / Jason Oxenham
“Improvements could be started immediately and completed in the coming decade but would need specific project funding,” said council principal transport adviser Elise Webster, who noted there is no funding for this in the council’s proposed new 10-year budget.
Martin Glynn, the Automobile Association’s spokesman for Auckland, said after seemingly getting clarity on the direction the project will take just four months ago, Aucklanders will be frustrated to find out those tasked with planning the project cannot agree among themselves.
He said the road tunnel option favoured by both the previous government and National in Opposition made the most sense when going on the limited information available.
“The AA favoured the most direct light rail, walking and cycling crossing option put forward because it would provide the shortest travel times for commuters.
There have been nine studies into a new harbour crossing since 1998. Photo / Michael Craig
“Completion of the project is many years away. In the meantime, there is a strong case for proceeding with other improvements, like the planned Northern Busway enhancements, where they will support demand to cross the harbour,” said Glynn.
Labour’s plan is the ninth study into a new harbour crossing since 1998.
Waka Kotahi chief executive Nicole Rosie noted this year there have been several iterations of plans for a second crossing, saying “we’re making the same decisions they would have made seven to 10 years ago”.
“All that’s happened in the meantime is the population has grown, the issue has become more urgent and the cost has gone up,” she said.
Bernard Orsman is an Auckland-based reporter who has been covering local government and transport since 1998. He joined the Herald in 1990 and worked in the parliamentary press gallery for six years.
Take your Radio, Podcasts and Music with you