Motorways a higher priority than replacing Auckland Harbour Bridge - Govt

The Government says replacing the ailing Auckland Harbor Bridge isn't a priority at present, despite warnings further restrictions on heavy vehicles might soon be needed. 

The bridge, which opened in 1959 and was last upgraded about a decade ago, was damaged last year when a wind gust blew trucks over, holding up traffic for days afterwards. 

Waka Kotahi/The NZ Transport Agency said on Friday no more strengthening work on the aging crossing could be done, because the sheer weight of the steel required.

"We believe we've strengthened it as much as we possibly can and we can't add more steel into it," Waka Kotahi general transport service manager Brett Gliddon told a parliamentary select committee this week, NZ Herald reports.

Instead heavy vehicles' use of the bridge might need to be restricted - probably not in the next 18 months, but sometime in the next 20 years.

Road Transport Forum chief executive Nick Leggett told The AM Show on Friday that would be an "absolute disaster" for the economy.

"That's the kind of thing that grinds an economy to a halt. We can't afford it basically, as we recover from COVID."

He wants money currently being spent elsewhere to instead go towards planning for a new crossing.

"We're building cycleways with reckless abandon around the country, spending billions on those - we do have his major piece of infrastructure - State Highway 1 through our largest economy in Auckland - that needs replacing.

"People would expect to see there's some thinking, some planning about how that's going to happen." 

Nick Leggett.
Nick Leggett. Photo credit: The AM Show

Auckland Council's Auckland Transport Alignment Project, which began in 2018, actually only allocates about $65 million a year to cycling. The long-planned Skypath - a clip-on cycleway for the existing bridge - is "dead and buried", National MP Simon Bridges told The AM Show on Friday.

"When I was Transport Minister, we approved where a tunnel would go. The advice at the time was that that was the best option. 

"I have heard - I've got no advice - that a better scenario is just to have a new bridge, do it once and for all. I think we'd have to see what the answer is - there's no doubt something big needs to happen."

"Could we look at a tunnel?" asked Leggett. "People might scream and say that's far too expensive and invasive. We couldn't expect to go around the harbour. I think too many people have got used to travelling across the harbour bridge."

Labour MP David Parker, appearing on The AM Show with Bridges, said it was too soon to be catastrophising about what might happen.

"No Government is going to let Auckland be without a harbour bridge, end of story. You don't do it earlier than you have to - you do have to start planning. 

"Simon said he started some planning, didn't put any money with it."

He said the bridge's failure isn't imminent, saying it would likely be another decade before heavy traffic would need to be kept off it. 

"If this was imminent it would be top of the queue. But it's not imminent. It is a problem, it has to be fixed, but not tomorrow." 

Instead, he said the priority right now was spending more money on Auckland's motorways.

In 2019, Auckland mayoral candidate John Tamihere proposed building a monster 18-lane bridge across the harbour, that could have ample room for trains, bikes, pedestrians and motor vehicles. The plan, which he estimated would cost $10 billion, was ridiculed by incumbent Mayor Phil Goff, who said it was "dumb" and would bankrupt the city

Tamihere admitted he hadn't run the ambitious plan by Waka Kotahi, saying they'd "do as they're told" if he won the election - but he was defeated in a landslide.