22 Mar 2021

Skypath project likely cancelled over technical problems

6:52 pm on 22 March 2021

The brakes might be on the long-awaited walking and cycling path across the Auckland Harbour Bridge due to fundamental technical issues.

The Auckland Harbour Bridge after reopening on 29 September.

Waka Kotahi's proposed Skypath project may prove a bridge too far. Photo: RNZ/ Katie Todd

Waka Kotahi has refused to divulge details of the technical issue, only saying more information will be revealed when available.

RNZ understands there are problems with the bridge piers.

After years of discussion, a new plan for what's popularly known as the Skypath - a shared path over the Auckland Harbour Bridge - was announced in 2019. The design was to provide a five-metre-wide path flanking the southbound traffic side, attached to the bridge piers.

The transport agency said last year that construction was expected to start this year, but nothing much physical has happened apart from acquiring a few houses adjacent to where part of the pathway is going to be.

Not-for-profit organisation Bike Auckland chairperson Barb Cuthbert told RNZ she was now doubting the Transport Agency's capability and accountability.

"That was 2019. It's now 2021. Two years later, we're hearing they can't do it. What I do want to say is that this is completely shaking any confidence I had in Waka Kotahi," she said.

She said the plan was likely not going ahead due to fundamental "technical issues" she had been made aware of.

Cuthbert said the city was developing fast with lots of apartments being built in the North Shore and ferries could not cope with the demand going south into the city centre. She said the only solution was converting one of the existing lanes to a dedicated cycling and pedestrian path.

"We've been driven to this solution because Waka Kotahi have let Auckland down so badly. This was never our first solution. We ask them formally in writing and they haven't been able to answer. They say they are considering it, but there's no answer."

Many Aucklanders have been looking forward to the project for a long time and Mike James, who was riding a bike near the Harbour Bridge with friends, was one of them.

He said Auckland was becoming a cycling city and building the path would produce an even bigger massive cycling city. He said if it was not going ahead as originally planned, he would be unhappy.

"I think it should happen just as soon as possible because that would reduce all the cars coming and going over the bridge. A lot of people would prefer to cycle to work ... more people on bikes reduce pollution... it's a no-brainer," he said.

A few houses on Princes Street near the Harbour Bridge have been acquired or are in the process of being acquired by the transport agency to give way to a ramp for the proposed Skypath.

An owner said there has been scant communication about what was going on.

"We don't know yet because we haven't been told anything whether they are going to proceed with it in some other form or not. We have no idea," he said.

He said he did not understand why the transport agency acquired the houses people had lived in for decades without having a clear practical plan first.

"The disruption and the stress... we farewelled our neighbours the other day and there were lots of tears ... and the stress that people have been under is unbelievable for something that may never happen," he said.

Waka Kotahi Transport Agency general manager transport services Brett Gliddon said in a statement that a walking and cycling connection over the Waitematā Harbour was a priority for the government and Waka Kotahi.

"In September, Waka Kotahi appointed an alliance to deliver the project and the alliance is working on examining and optimising the design to ensure that the connection is fit for purpose and will meet the needs of current and future users. We will provide more information on our revised programme when this work is complete," he said.

The agency declined to comment when asked whether or not the current design was still an option.

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