Harbour Crossing Move
The next step has been taken today to progress whether we get another harbour bridge across the Waitemata – or a tunnel, as Auckland local body leaders collectively chose last year.
NZTA has appointed professional advisers who will carry out an “independent evaluation of options for an additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing.”
Three separate evaluations will assess the business case for either a bridge or tunnels between the Wynyard Quarter west of Auckland’s CBD and Esmonde Road on the North Shore.
The hopeful news for rail users with an eye to an eventual North Shore train service is that it’s a joint NZTA and KiwiRail project but there continue to be very fuzzy signals as to whether rail would be guaranteed a place in the new crossing.
When completed, the advisers are tasked with providing “more exact information so that the NZTA, KiwiRail and the Government can make decisions about the options and timing of the crossing with more certainty,” , says the NZTA’s State Highways Manager for Auckland, Tommy Parker.
The evaluations have been commissioned under three separate contracts:
- Engineering and Planning: includes the type of crossing – bridge, tunnel or tunnels; connections with North Shore and Auckland; timing of construction. [awarded to Beca and AECOM]
- Transportation Modelling: includes what types of transport can use the crossing; travel times; tolling [awarded to Sinclair Knight Merz and Flow Transportation Specialists]
- Economic Justification: includes timing of project; funding; economic benefits for Auckland/New Zealand [awarded to PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER)]
In a consensus unusual for Auckland, mayors and local body leaders had all opted for the tunnel option after examining a multitude of options discussed with the NZTA – but when transport minister Steven Joyce came into office, he has refused to buy into the tunnel option without further pursuing whether another bridge should be built instead.
The NZTA recently moved to protect a route for the additional crossing with the lodgement of Notices of Requirement with Auckland and North Shore City Councils.
Those Notices refer specifically to tunnels – because that was what the previous Transit Agency, Auckand, North Shore councils, ARC and ARTA had agreed.
However, if this changes to a bridge, a bridge is not precluded from that move to protect the route.
A newspaper article this week claimed the minister was now favouring the proposal put forward by lobbyists wanting a bridge to commemorate Anzac - a two-tier, multi-modal harbour bridge to be opened in 2015.
That new, 3.3 kilometre-long bridge between Onewa Rd on the northern side of the harbour and Wynyard Point on the southern side would include a two-tiered deck, with general and heavy traffic lanes, space for rail lanes, as well as pedestrian and cycle access. It was proposed the bridge would use a cable-stayed design, principally due to proven economic and construction advantages.
Whatever happens, a new crossing is at least a decade away from starting construction.
NZTA’s Tommy Parker today confirmed that an additional crossing is not included in the NZTA’s current 10-year State Highways Programme for funding.
“However, it is important to plan for the future and use the opportunity we have now to evaluate and select the best option – whether it is tunnels or a bridge. We need another crossing that together with the Auckland Harbour Bridge will meet increasing volumes of traffic that are inevitable as Auckland continues to grow,” he says.
In December, Mr Joyce said: “It is my current expectation that construction will largely occur in the second half of the twenty year period.” In other words after 2020. And he has stuck to that.
He’s satisfied that the NZTA is monitoring the situation closely to ensure the existing harbour bridge remains a strong, safe and viable link into the future. “Regular and routine maintenance will ensure this continues to be the case.”
The transport minister says building a third harbour crossing will be a key transport priority for the government in the to-be-released 20-year infrastructure plan. (Mr Parker confirmed today that the options for the additional crossing will indeed be included in the Government’s National Infrastructure Plan.)
“It’s my expectation that the third harbour crossing will increase the number of lanes across the harbour and also allow for public transport corridors and walking and cycling,” said the minister, yet to make it clear whether public transport means rail as well as buses.”
So what would happen to the present bridge?
Mr Parker says he expects that that a new crossing will be the direct motorway link across the harbour, and the present harbour bridge could serve local traffic, with dedicated lanes for public transport, cyclists and walkers.
“These are the issues we will be evaluating over the coming months,” he adds. “The development of a robust business case is critical so that the best decision can be made to deliver a transport project that Aucklanders can be proud of, and help their city grow.”
Mr Parker says that together, the additional crossing and the harbour bridge will improve transport security for Aucklanders. The risk of a shutdown because of an emergency like a crash is reduced with the two links, and people also have a greater transport choice to get across the harbour.
The evaluation studies are due for completion by the end of the year.
A team of international specialists will also be appointed over the coming month to peer-review and test the findings and recommendations of the evaluations.