Greens skewer Government's 'irresponsible' Auckland harbour crossing road tunnels

The Green Party has skewered the Government over its "irresponsible" plans to build two new tunnels under the Waitematā Harbour in Auckland.

Earlier on Sunday, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins announced the two three-lane tunnels would be five to six kilometres long and construction would start in 2029.

The two road tunnels would be for vehicles between the central Auckland motorway junction and Akoranga on the North Shore, with the estimated cost expected to be $12 to $15 billion.

Separately, a light rail tunnel is also proposed from Wynyard Quarter, under the harbour east of the Auckland Harbour Bridge and on to six new stations on the North Shore. 

The light rail tunnel would be a phased project, with construction not expected to begin until at least the first of the two road tunnels is completed.

But the Green Party said putting tens of billions of dollars towards another six lanes of traffic won't solve Auckland's congestion problem and it is "grossly irresponsible" in the middle of a climate crisis.

Transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter said Aucklanders deserve a 21st-century transport network with rapid transit connecting people where they want to go, without having to sit around in gridlock on clogged motorways

"The Government's preferred approach to the Waitematā crossing shows they're not serious about climate or congestion. Two new three-lane urban motorway tunnels in a climate crisis is pouring fuel on the fire of an already overheating planet," she said.

"These road tunnels are carbon-intensive to build, and they would cost tens of billions of dollars that should instead be invested in low carbon transport options like regional rail.

"At the very least, the Government should have prioritised the light rail first."

Hipkins said a second harbour crossing is needed as soon as possible after recent closures of the Harbour Bridge caused a nightmare for Auckland motorists. 

"The recent wind-related bridge closures of the Harbour Bridge, and the increasing frequency of flooding on the approaches north of the bridge, illustrate the city's vulnerability to interruptions. These new tunnels future-proof the city's transport network by reducing reliance on the Harbour Bridge while creating fast new options for getting in and out of the city," he said. 

"We could afford the Harbour Bridge in 1959, when Auckland's population was only 430,000, so we can afford a second crossing that will modernise transport for the city's residents and the millions of people who visit every year." 

The Prime Minister said there would be a reallocation of space on the existing Auckland Harbour Bridge. Four lanes would remain open for general traffic and two lanes would become dedicated bus lanes to extend the Northern Busway to the CBD. There would also be some clip-on lanes, which would become cycling and walkways, and an elevated walkway would be built above the cycle lanes to provide separate lanes for pedestrians.

The Government's transport plans.
The Government's transport plans. Photo credit: Supplied

Earlier this week, the National Party unveiled a $24 billion transport package where, among other priorities, it promised to deliver 13 new roads of national significance, many of which include four-lane roads.

The Greens accused both Labour and National of being "in a road race to come up with the worst possible transport plan".

"Induced demand is a real thing - more urban roads, equals more cars, equals more congestion. People deserve better," Genter said.

"Green Ministers in Cabinet to speak up for the climate in every decision has never been more essential."

She added the Green Party is committed to transforming rail in Auckland with a new harbour connection and making space for walking and cycling over the current Harbour Bridge immediately. Genter said this will save billions of dollars that could be used to upgrade other rail links in the region and beyond.

The National Party also hit out at Labour's "light rail dreams", the cost of which is now approaching $60 billion.

Transport spokesperson Simeon Brown said the new plan of building light rail to the North Shore, as well as plans to link the central city to the airport, will balloon the costs of light rail plans.

"This is yet another desperate announcement by a Labour Government that has failed to deliver one major new transport project in their entire six years in office," Brown said.

"Labour promised light rail to Mt Roskill by 2021 but has yet to deliver a single metre of track, even after spending more than $140 million on consultants.

"After six years of reports, promises, studies, consultations and announcements, Labour admitted this week it hasn't even finished a business case for light rail to the airport. Transport Minister David Parker has no idea which route it will take. Aucklanders cannot ride on your ghost train, Mr Parker."

National would take a close look at the proposed tunnels across the Waitematā Harbour as a second harbour crossing is a critical part of Auckland's future if it formed the next Government.

Greens skewer Government's 'irresponsible' Auckland harbour crossing road tunnels
Photo credit: Supplied

Transport Minister David Parker welcomed Sunday's announcement of the extension of the Northern Busway across the bridge into the city centre.

"The Northern Busway is among New Zealand's most successful public transport projects - it has vastly improved the daily commute made by thousands of North Shore residents into the city centre each day. Without it the northern motorway and the bridge would already be completely clogged at peak times," he said. 

"The twin-tunnel connection would allow the busway to be extended across dedicated lanes on the Harbour Bridge into the CBD. This is essential to maximising the value of other important investments such as City Rail Link currently under construction." 

Waka Kotahi's recommended option also included raising State Highway 1 north of the Harbour Bridge to protect it from flooding caused by storm surges and sea level rise, Parker said. 

"In my opinion, one of the problems in Auckland transport planning has been too much uncertainty. All harbour crossing options land in the same area south of the bridge, near to Victoria Park. This is the anchor point for everything," Parker said. 

"It is clear to me that the critical connections between the new tunnels, the Auckland Harbour Bridge, SH1 (south and north), SH16 (to the port and to the west), the City Rail Link, the Northern Busway, the much needed North Western busway, and any light rail options should be secured now. 

"Much of the land is already owned by the Crown. Securing the remaining land is important for all future options. The draft Government Policy Statement of Transport to be released in the coming weeks will prioritise and fund this."

The overall cost of all the projects is estimated to be $35 to 45 billion. Breaking this down, the two road tunnels are estimated to cost $12 to $15 billion, the light rail tunnel from Takapuna to the CBD will cost $11 billion, and it will cost up to $16 billion from Takapuna to Albany.