Cyclists want to see construction begin before getting excited about new harbour crossing

Cyclists are welcoming Friday's announcement of a dedicated harbour crossing, but keeping the brakes on their enthusiasm until construction actually begins. 

Transport Minister Michael Wood says the $685 million project will take five or six years to complete, with some "some detailed planning" still to be done.

"It's going to be the missing link in Auckland's walking and cycling network. It will be an iconic piece of infrastructure for Auckland that will put us on the international map."

The announcement comes less than a week after thousands of cyclists and pedestrians took over a lane of the existing Harbour Bridge, demanding more options for getting between the city and the North Shore without having to get in a motor vehicle. 

Duncan Laidlaw, deputy chair of Bike Auckland, said the group knew a plan was being worked on, but weren't sure exactly what Wood had in mind. 

"While five years is being bandied about... there's no details for the public yet on when they should expect to see plans available," he told Newshub.

"We don't have it consented yet. Those steps need to come in before we actually get to sod-turning and actually building this bridge. 

"To be blunt, we've been here before - in 2019 Waka Kotahi released a fantastic-looking plan for a walking/cycling connection attached to the Harbour Bridge, and of course earlier this year the public's been made aware that was not actually able to be built, and we've gone back to another five years to get this bridge."

That plan, the Skypath, had been in the works for almost a decade - but it was cancelled after "geotechnical investigations and testing" found the current bridge can't handle any more weight "without considerable modifications to counterbalance the increased load", Wood said on Friday. 

"We need this transport connection to move ahead but it isn't technically possible to attach it to the existing bridge without putting the whole structure at risk."

Michael Wood.
Michael Wood. Photo credit: Newshub.

If construction isn't underway by 2023, there's a chance it could be scrapped altogether. That's an election year, and National's Simon Bridges - a former Transport Minister - thinks it's too expensive and there are more pressing concerns. 

"I started the investigations into this. I'm interested in it. But I just suggest now it's become a near billion-dollar baby, it's something much larger? Why wouldn't you put it with the second harbour crossing?"

He doubts it'll be underway by then.

"Is there a single deadline on any transport project these guys have met in any way, shape or form? They cancelled a whole lot, nothing is happening. I just look at this and say, okay, we've now got a promise of a cycle lane over the harbour. That's really nice, but it's fiddling while Rome burns. People are stuck in traffic in their hundreds of thousands."

Local Labour Northcote MP Shannan Halbert says his community wants it, and that it will boost business. 

"It's had significant support. People have been really frustrated with how long it's taken... We see great examples in Sydney, the Golden Gate Bridge... the benefits for our local people, our local businesses."

Interim options 

Laidlaw said while cyclists wait "for something physical to actually start happening on the ground", the minister should consider interim options - such as opening up a lane on the Harbour Bridge. 

"We had confirmation at the beginning of May at the chief executive level in Waka Kotahi that there was no chance of interim options being available to allow people to cross in the meantime. In the release form the minister, it's clear he is keen to see interim options available. We're open to anything that would provide connections for the demand that we see available for people walking and cycling across the bridge. 

"You saw the numbers of people out there on Sunday, therefore it needs to be substantial. Something like taking one of the lanes on the Harbour Bridge is what we would see as being quite a good solution. 

"If there were other solutions presented to us, we would evaluate those of course. The action on Sunday helped promote that message, that we need a connection in the meantime."

Wood said it wasn't as simple as just handing over an entire lane, full-time.

"It is more complicated than it might look at first, but I have asked Waka Kotahi to look very carefully at whether the possibility of a trial of that is feasible in the short-term. That might look like... opening up a lane on Sunday perhaps, when other traffic volumes are not so high."

The Government is also working on a business case for a second vehicle crossing, this one a tunnel. Wood said it would be "public transport-centred".