'Accessibility is vital': Harbour bridge lane closures 'another blow' for Auckland CBD businesses

Fewer workers travelling into Auckland's CBD due to harbour bridge disruption represents another blow for city businesses already struggling during COVID-19.

It comes after two trucks crashed in close succession in heavy winds near the centre of Auckland's harbour bridge on Friday, causing damage to a steel strut. With four lanes now closed, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency (NZTA)  has advised commuters to plan their travel, forcing many to work from home.

Heart of the City CEO Viv Beck said during COVID-19 alert level 2.5, spending in Auckland's CBD was down an average of $1 million per day on the same time last year.

Although numbers on commuter losses due to harbour bridge delays are not yet available, foot traffic during alert level 2.5 was 40 percent down.

"It's another blow for businesses: accessibility is vital for the city...it doesn't help having a restriction on access like this," Beck said.

Businesses in hospitality, events, arts and retail were already grappling with single server requirements, social distancing and group restrictions. Many had also faced disruption due to rail link construction and loss of students due to border closures.  

"Businesses have shown they've been resilient and doing everything to survive through this, but when your revenue is seriously down and you've got bills to pay, that's a very difficult situation."

A further drop in foot traffic would particularly impact those set up to service office blocks, including physiotherapists and dentists.

"It's a relatively small percentage of businesses are bearing the brunt of this," she said.

Last weekend, pedestrian numbers around the waterfront area were "quite pleasing". 

Due to congestion, venturing into the city will be a challenge for some, but Beck wants to see the wheels keep turning. 

"When it was announced [by Treasury on September 15] that card spending was close to that of alert level 1, we knew that wasn't the case in the city centre.

"We're hoping people can take up the opportunity to [use] public transport and travel off-peak if they can," she added.

Former mayor of North Shore City and Auckland Council deputy chairperson George Wood, told The AM Show on Monday not to count on a second harbour crossing within the next ten years.

But Friday's incident is likely to mean it's delivered earlier than 2035.

"That bridge has got inherent structural problems, especially on the clip-on going north where heavy trucks carrying aggregate to the North Shore and further afield.

"It was supposed to be restricted with regards to heavy vehicles by 2018, Wood said.  NZTA needs to front up and give Aucklanders some confidence that things are happening."

Speaking to Newshub after the show, Wood said while he doesn't expect the cost to be huge, the repair job won't be a quick fix.  The bridge is a particular type of steel girder structure which had been up there 60 years.

"When the whole job's done, [the cost] is likely to be more than the average layperson would think," Wood said.

A plan would need to be drafted and an operation put in place. He expects consultants' fees to be reasonably substantial.  Certification may need to come from overseas.

"It needs to be worked on in a way to make sure having to replace that particular girder doesn't impact on the actual structural integrity of the whole bridge," Wood said.

That cost would be funded out of Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency (NZTA)'s budget for road maintenance, which includes road user charges and petrol tax.