National MP Christopher Luxon urges Transport Minister to ditch 'dumb' cycle bridge as NZTA bleeds $40m per week in lockdown

National MP Christopher Luxon is urging Transport Minister Michael Wood to ditch the $750 million Auckland cycle bridge idea, as the NZ Transport Agency bleeds $40 million per week in lockdown. 

Wood appeared before Parliament's Transport and Infrastructure Committee virtually on Wednesday to discuss the financial implications of the COVID-19 lockdown on the transport sector. 

It didn't take long for the controversial $750 million Auckland harbour cycling bridge proposal to be brought up. The latest Newshub-Reid Research poll found that 81.7 percent of voters are opposed to it, including 75.5 percent of Labour supporters. 

"Given all the pressures that are existing on the COVID budget and finances, is it now time to publicly come out and shoot and bin the $750 million cycling and walking bridge?" Luxon asked Wood. 

"I guess the reality is it's sort of a dumb idea and I wonder why we don't come out and call it for what it is and move on and announce we want to accelerate a second harbour crossing with a proper tunnel and road and rail transport."

Green MP Julie Anne Genter, a strong supporter of a cycle route across the Auckland harbour, spoke up in protest. 

"Is this a question?"

Labour MP and chairperson Greg O'Connor stepped in. 

"Mr Luxon, can I just remind you this is the opportunity to question the minister in relation to the COVID emergency."

Wood said he "thought it would come up at some stage" of questioning, but assured Luxon that the Government has "absolutely underlined its commitment to supporting people and businesses to get through the current challenging period". 

He echoed Finance Minister Grant Robertson that the Government has plenty in its coffers to pay for the wage subsidy and other aspects of financial support needed to get Kiwis through the lockdown. 

The proposed Auckland cycle bridge.
The proposed Auckland cycle bridge. Photo credit: Supplied

"We set up at the beginning of the COVID alert levels last year a significant investment in the COVID recovery fund and there is still funding available there to support New Zealanders through this period.

"From the funding that has previously been allocated from that fund, there is still funding that sits there within the system, so for example within the transport system, there still remains approximately about $20 million in essential transport connectivity. 

"We still have funding remaining that was allocated from the original spend within the maintaining international air capacity scheme, so I'm confident that we have sufficient liquidity in the system to do the things we need to do to support individuals through. 

"I do think it's an important point that we don't, having had another raise in alert levels, don't throw the baby out with the bath water, that we don't forget about the important long-term projects that we need for New Zealand, both for the transport system and more broadly."

As for the cycle bridge, Wood said: "I've been on record really clearly saying that we will receive further advice in the quite short-term and we will make final decisions within the coming weeks."

Transport Minister Michael Wood.
Transport Minister Michael Wood. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

But there's no doubt the lockdown will have an impact on the transport sector. Waka Kotahi-NZ Transport Agency chief executive Nicole Rosie revealed the organisation is bleeding $40 million per week due to the lockdown. 

Wood acknowledged that the National Land Transport Fund, the three-year investment programme which is funded through taxes and road user charges, is under pressure. Decisions around it will be announced in September. 

The latest Waka-Kotahi-NZ Transport Agency investment proposal acknowledged that COVID-19 will have a significant impact on funding.

"The COVID-19 pandemic is a having a profound and highly uncertain impact on the economic and financial system in New Zealand and around the world."

Wood revealed that Wellington's billion dollar highway Transmission Gully, which has already been delayed and had costs blown out from $850 million to $1.25 billion, will be delayed again due to the lockdown.  

"It's no particular secret that there's pressure on the National Land Transport Fund, there's a significant amount of work to be done," Wood said. 

"Across every region there are high expectations in terms of the projects that in many cases we're dealing with decades of deferred maintenance and a failure to make investment decisions and that also we're facing new challenges that in virtually every city and region we now have councils who want us to be investing in infrastructure to support the transition around the climate emergency, for example.

"Obviously an event like this will have some impact on some revenue coming into the system is something that we need to carefully consider as we move forward."