'Worth the wait': Downtown Auckland's construction near finished

The end is in sight for one of Auckland's most important, but disruptive, construction projects.

Centered around Quay St, the Downtown Programme has caused congestion and noise since 2018, but with seismic strengthening of the seawall being completed today, the rest of the jigsaw can quickly fall into place.

By the end of April, the road cones and wire fences downtown Aucklanders have grown used to will be just a memory.

"It’s going to be worth the wait. There’s a significant transformation that’s about to be unveiled shortly,” says Henry Crothers, landscape architect and urban designer at LandLAB.

Led by Auckland Council and Auckland Transport, the six-part Downtown Programme will open more of the waterfront up to the public.

"I think historically we haven’t really celebrated our waterfront location, particularly in this part of Auckland," says Crothers.

"Over the next ten years we’re expecting eight times as many people into this part of Auckland. This very much gives the place back to people," says Mieszko Iwaskow, Auckland Transport’s strategic programmes portfolio director 

Two projects have already been completed but on Friday the biggest milestone was reached: Quay Street's seawall has been seismically strengthened.

The first sections of the seawall were built nearly 150 years ago with the last major upgrades coming at the beginning of the 20th century.

The strengthening will secure the site for the next hundred years, and without the work, parts of downtown Auckland risked going underwater.

"The seawall underpins everything we're doing across the different projects. Sometimes it's the things you don't see that actually make a really big difference, and the seawall holds everything else up," explains Iwaskow.

With the seawall strengthening complete underneath it, one large construction site near the Ferry Building can now be transformed into a native tree-filled public space.

"You'll gradually start to see things move away, and the area comes to life as you get planting in, you’ll start to see some of the street furniture," Iwaskow says.

Planned to be completed for the America's Cup, the $350m programme's progress was halted by Covid-19.

But a lack of international visitors provided an opportunity in the usually busy space.

“There was definitely a reduction in the amount of people that were in Quay St post-Covid, and that allowed us to have more construction areas open at any one time,” says Downtown JV project director Bruce Cullen.

Although half of the six projects have been finished, around 85 percent of the total work is now complete.

The final project will be turning Quay Street from a five lane road into a shared public space like Britomart.

"This range of projects is about changing that from a place that people move through to a place people come to," says Crothers.

And hopefully consigning memories of Quay Street traffic to history.