The full reopening of Auckland’s Harbour Bridge provides the opportunity for a considered and independent examination of all Waitematā Harbour crossing options, says Infrastructure New Zealand Policy Director Hamish Glenn
“That a steel strut some 6 storeys high could be manufactured, transported and installed into one of New Zealand’s most heavily utilised and critical infrastructure assets in such a short period is something to celebrate.
“It buys the Upper North Island some time – time which must be spent wisely if Auckland is to limit future disruptions to travel and the national economy is to be supported into the future.
“A review into the transport and wider infrastructure demands of the Upper North Island will need to be initiated by the incoming Government with some urgency.
“Current expectations are that some form of loading restriction will need to be placed on heavy vehicles using the bridge by around 2030 as the structure reaches its maximum safe weight limit. By 2046, some 27,000 trucks are anticipated to want to cross the harbour every day. The additional time and cost to use the Western Ring Route is estimated at $40 per trip, or around $400 million per annum.
“To have a new crossing operational by 2030, critical decisions on that crossing’s form and alignment will need to be made within the term of the next Government.
“If a harbour crossing solution is required by 2030, as available evidence suggests, this will impact imminent decisions on the Northern Pathway project. We may be better off bundling the pathway project into a comprehensive multi-modal option and providing for active modes on either the new structure or, as proposed in 2010, repurposing a lane of the existing bridge
“These are ‘now’ decisions, not future decisions. They will impact not just transport, but infrastructure and development across Auckland and wider economic activity in the Upper North Island.
“They need to be coordinated with a long term plan for the economy, society and the environment.
“It is appropriate that the Government’s specialised infrastructure advisor Te Waihanga – the Infrastructure Commission evaluates the options for a new crossing to ensure the best long term decision is made for all New Zealand.
“Should the crossing be just rail, just road or both? We will need to understand how we move across the harbour, particularly in a new post-COVID world.
“What solution will unlock developable land and help address Auckland’s housing crisis? The last detailed published analysis of harbour crossing demand was in 2010, in the midst of the GFC. Since then, we’ve seen record population growth, a new district plan and now a National Policy Statement on Urban Development.
“What form should that crossing take and where should it land? Recent analysis has shown that an additional crossing which does not address the issue of constraints at the northern and southern approaches to the bridge will have a limited impact on network flow and resilience. Are there other alignments which could remove or reduce the dependency on these corridors and could they help achieve wider transport and economic objectives for the region?
“The Infrastructure Commission has the experience and independence required to answer these questions – which are bigger than Auckland, bigger than transport and bigger than any single Government – with the best available information.
“The next Government should instruct the Commission to rigorously analyse options which will best meet the needs of New Zealanders now and into the future.”