8 Dec 2023

Auckland's second harbour crossing should prioritise public transport, councillor says

9:55 am on 8 December 2023

Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Auckland's second harbour crossing project is "about-face" and should have public transport as the top priority, North Shore ward councillor Chris Darby says.

Auckland Council's Transport and Infrastructure Committee on Thursday rejected the previous government's $56 billion plan for transport tunnels underneath Waitematā Harbour.

The preferred option listed in the indicative business case for the Waitematā Harbour Connections project involved two underwater tunnels, one for traffic and one for light rail, to run alongside the Harbour Bridge.

Mayor Wayne Brown said there was no possible way the $56b plan would survive a cost-benefit analysis. "With the size of our economy, it's a wonder that grown up people who can feed themselves and walk could come up with such a stupid number."

Darby, who seconded mayor Wayne Brown's opposition to the plan, told Morning Report busway improvements should come first.

"One of the problems that we identify is that [the project] has six additional traffic lanes under the harbour at the first stage.

"We would like to see that reversed and look at the public transport priority [being] put forward first."

Chris Darby at a Council meeting about the Unitary Plan. 10 August 2016.

Chris Darby says Auckland's northern busway will reach capacity in the mid-2030s. Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

The current businesses case was for is 10 lanes of general traffic - six new lanes in the road tunnel and four on the bridge - along with two busway and two walking and cycling lanes, and two light rail lanes in a tunnel, he said.

"We're looking at a world where we're staring at the issue of climate. We've got to build in climate resilience. Climate resilience doesn't come with more road tunnels and more driving. That is not the problem we have at the moment. We have a massive uptake of bus transport, the northern busway is reaching its life capacity in the middle [2030s]. It's about moving people more sustainably, that's where the public demand is.

"This project is about-face. It puts the road tunnels first and the public transport benefits in the second stage, largely."

He said some of the rejected options, such as a bridge to possibly take light rail and walking and cycling, should be looked at again.

"A bridge comes with a much lower operation cost," he said. "Within these recommendations there are some discarded options and the council is asking for some of these very recently discarded options, these lower-cost alternatives, to be daylighted. There's not a transparency for us on the reasons for the discarding of the bridge options as opposed for the tunnel options."

Local Government Minister Simeon Brown said he and the mayor would meet on a regular basis, and stay in touch on important issues.

Brown told Checkpoint the numbers did not add up with the tunnel project.

"The reality with this plan the government put forward, $56b, it was unfunded."

Brown said the new government agreed there was still a need for a second harbour crossing.

"What we've said consistently for a number of years is that resilience for that corridor is the top priority. The bridge is ageing, we're seeing the effects when it's windy."

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon said before the election that his government would have a preference for a tunnel crossing, but Brown said it was currently seeking advice from the Ministry of Transport and NZTA on options.

Brown said the government was looking at other funding models and setting up a national infrastructure agency to attract finance to projects.

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