30 Mar 2023

Mixed reactions to second Auckland harbour crossing proposals

2:10 pm on 30 March 2023
Auckland Harbour pedestrian/cyclist crossing depiction

The current only bridge to the North Shore is nearly 70 years old. Photo: supplied

The announcement that construction of a second crossing over Auckland's Waitematā Harbour will begin this decade - rather than the 2040s - has been warmly welcomed.

But the five proposed options have split opinion, and there are concerns a 2029 start is out of reach.

Transport Minister and Minister for Auckland Michael Wood and Prime Minister Chris Hipkins unveiled the potential plans on Thursday morning. All five options include provisions for walking, cycling and light rail connecting to the central city, but in different configurations.

"A new rapid transit connection from the city centre to the North Shore will fully integrate with other projects including Auckland Light Rail and rapid transit to the northwest to allow people to travel seamlessly across Auckland," Wood said, calling it a "city- and nation-shaping investment".

RNZ asked Auckland Mayor Wayne Brown for an interview, but was sent his deputy, Desley Simpson, instead. She told Midday Report she was "excited" by the announcement, but was yet to look at the options on offer.

"If I had my way, it would start in six months, not six years," Simpson said.

"Aucklanders are frustrated by traffic in the city, and another option to traverse the harbour for commuters, industry, recreational users, everybody, is certainly welcomed by me."

She declined to say what configuration she would prefer, saying it was up to Aucklanders to let Waka Kotahi know what they wanted.

With the mayor on a cost-slashing crusade, Simpson said - with a chuckle - that since the crossing was the "government's wonderful idea, I would welcome the government's wonderful funding to go with it".

Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Simon Bridges, a former transport minister, told Nine to Noon bringing the construction date forward more than a decade was "fantastic" news - if that indeed meant construction would start in 2029.

"What we've got here is a scenarios launch, as you say, whether it's bridge, tunnel or other sort of configuration there, we don't know yet. And I suppose the message there would be, you know what - actually, we've had a lot of reports, umpteen of them, including when I was minister of transport, and it now is the time for action, not more of that."

Waka Kotahi has set aside just one month for an 'engagement survey' on the five options, closing 1 May.

Auckland Council finance and performance Committee Chair Desley Simpson.

Desley Simpson. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

"Community engagement is key to this project's success, and before we can move to the next stage and recommend a preferred way forward, we're seeking more feedback," group general manager transport service Brett Gliddon said.

Bridges said his preference would be for a tunnel, rather than a bridge, despite the cost.

"A tunnel is in consenting terms, much easier I think, in terms of iwi, environmental considerations and the likes... But it is hugely more expensive, and that is why it seems to me the bridge is still on the table. I personally don't have a problem with the bridge, but I think those issues I've raised push us back."

Road Transport Forum chief executive Nick Leggett said he was worried officials would opt for a "shabby, cheap and nasty" option to get it done, fearful a future government might bring with it a change of plans.

"We've actually got to build for the next 100 years, and that is going to be critical to getting this right. So the government have obviously put out some scenarios. I think what we want to see is some unanimity amongst all the different communities and interest groups in Auckland around key principles.

"Let's build big, let's build big connectors, let's think about our funding and then the actual detail - which people tend to fixate on first - can come next, because of course it is likely that sometime between now and 2029 we have a change of government... we want to stop this politicisation of transport and get some really big, long-term agreement between the major political parties on what's important when it comes to infrastructure."

Options not viable for cutting climate pollution or congestion

One of the major parties was not happy with any of the options, Green Party transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter tweeting, "I can't believe how bad these additional Waitematā Harbour Crossing options are".

She said none of the five proposals "would cut climate pollution or car congestion across our transport networks in Auckland. In fact, they will likely make both worse".

Genter instead wanted a rail-only option via tunnel, and let cyclists and pedestrians walk across the harbour.

"A new road tunnel would be a climate and congestion disaster. Aucklanders deserve options that will reduce congestion, not make it worse."

Simon Bridges

Simon Bridges. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The Public Transport Users' Association was also disappointed, saying it could not understand the government's "obsession" with light rail.

"The costs of construction of light rail in a tunnel are the same as building a highly superior heavy rail system - a modern train system, said national coordinator Jon Reeves. "A modern train system can carry double, if not triple, what light rail trains can, and they can travel at far faster speeds."

Reeves said the government appeared to be justifying its proposals for light rail in other parts of the city.

Transport Minister and Minister for Auckland Michael Wood told Checkpoint the government was keen for public input.

"We want people to give their views on this, we will take those views seriously and we will make a decision by the middle of the year about how we take this project forwards.

"My message to Aucklanders is now please get engaged in this, it's a city-shaping decision."

He defended the plans against complaints by the Green Party that none of the plans would be climate-friendly or reduce emissions.

"Every single one of these options gives safe cycling and walking options across the harbour.

"These will all help to reduce our emissions, they will all help to give people choices so everyone doesn't always have to get into their car. They're all good options from a climate point of view."

Labour said it wanted cross-party support and Wood said he had reached out to National Party leader Christopher Luxon.

"We're open to ongoing conversation there. At the same time, we're not going to be held back. We need to make those decisions and show leadership, otherwise the can gets kicked down the road."

Wood also said that while it was too early to make firm plans, there may need to be compulsory land acquisitions.

"A big project like this through a residential area it is likely there will be some acquisitions that we need to do."

"At all times we'll work really closely with the community to be respectful and to minimise disruption to people's lives."

While the National Party backed a second crossing, spokesperson Simeon Brown doubted it would get started, let alone finished, under a Labour-led government.

"Labour has failed to start and complete one single major infrastructure project since they have been in government.

"National is the party of infrastructure. In Auckland, we delivered the Waterview Tunnel, upgraded the North-Western and South-Western motorways, electrified the Auckland Rail Network, and left Labour with a pipeline of Auckland infrastructure projects which they haven't completed."

ACT leader David Seymour said while a crossing would be a "great thing", he accused Hipkins of "making ad-hoc populist infrastructure decisions in the leadup to an election".

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