Government pledges $67m to build SkyPath cycleway

Cyclists and pro-walking groups are celebrating the Government's pledge of $67 million to build the SkyPath cycleway across the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford and Green Party co-leader James Shaw have revealed a $390 million investment into cycling and walking, of which about a quarter will be spent on SkyPath and SeaPath.

Minister Twyford has described the project as "transformational". 

"SkyPath has been talked about for over a decade, but it now has the funding certainty to move ahead," he says.

The $390m funding package as part of the 2018/21 National Land Transport Programme (NLTP) will be New Zealand's single largest investment ever in walking and cycling infrastructure, says Acting Associate Transport Minister Shaw.

He says it's also a $96m increase on the previous three years.

"More and more Kiwis want the freedom to cycle safely around their towns and cities, and this investment in safe cycle infrastructure is needed to making that possible," he says.

"SkyPath is the obvious, critical missing link in Auckland's cycle network and will become an iconic feature of Auckland’s Harbour Bridge."

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has echoed Minister Twyford's comment that the decision will be "transformational" for the city.

"Cycling in Auckland is growing at a significant rate," he said in a statement.

"By building the most obvious gap in the walk and cycleway network there will be a huge incentive for more people to use active modes of transportation in place of our reliance on cars."

The SkyPath Trust says the project has only been made possible by last year's change in Government.

"We commend the Government's announcement to fully fund SkyPath on the Auckland Harbour Bridge" says spokesperson Bevan Woodward. 

"Some people ask why has it taken so long, however if it wasn't for the change in Government then SkyPath would still be drifting along as an unfunded project. 

"Now we are consented, funded and ready to commence the final design work for a project completion in time for the Americas Cup."

The Trust says they're excited to work with NZTA to deliver the "transformation project" to Auckland.

"[SkyPath] is the lower-cost win/win approach that is proving its success around the world. And most importantly, it will help keep our region special, popular and liveable."

The announcement has been welcomed by public transport groups.

"We're all better off with less congestion, lower transport bills, cleaner air and better health - that's why the AA supports cycling," said Patrick Morgan of the Cycling Action Network.

"SkyPath will be a wonderful connection for Auckland's walkers, runners and wheelchair users as well as cyclists," said Living Streets Aotearoa president Andy Smith.

"Investment in cycleways has created a bike boom in Auckland, with uptake of the bike network rising year on year," said Barb Cuthbert of Bike Auckland. "We're delighted to see the Government's massive boost to investing in the city's new high-quality cycle network and safer local streets."

The combined cost of SkyPath - passageway that'll clip onto the Auckland Harbour Bridge - and SeaPath - a three-kilometre cycle and walkway on the North Shore that will link up to SkyPath - is estimated around $99 million. They're expected to be completed by 2021.

Labour promised ahead of last year's election to put at least $30 million into SkyPath, rather than rely on private funding or rates.

"People on both sides of the harbour have long shown overwhelming enthusiasm for being able to walk and bike over the Harbour Bridge," said Ms Cuthbert.

"It's now realistic to give this project the urgency required for it to be in place for the America's Cup."

The next America's Cup regatta will be held in 2021 in Auckland.

"Combined with a strong focus on public transport and safer travel on local roads, the Government's increased support for walking and cycling will free Aucklanders from car dependence, and free up the city's streets for healthy, reliable, congestion-free journeys," said Ms Cuthbert.

Some North Shore locals opposed the construction of the SkyPath.

"The roads and access in Northcote Point were not designed to handle these numbers, just as the roads in Mecca were not designed to handle this year's Hajj," the Northcote Residents Association claimed last year.

The full 2018/21 NLTP, including details on specific transport projects, will be announced on Friday 31 August.