This post was going to be about Auckland Unleashed which is being released today, but has been somewhat, er, derailed, by the bridge vs tunnel report that’s come out.
Steven Joyce wants a bridge, to link with his beloved roads. His shiny new report leaves the options open; but he has managed – through getting a bridge contractor to estimate tunnel costs – to push out the cost for a tunnel by $1.2-$1.6 billion, making it markedly more expensive than a bridge. In these parsimonious times, he’ll no doubt be confident that the public will now fall behind him.
A tunnel will cost $5.3 billion according to Joyce’s new figures, where previous estimates had all put it between $3.7 and $4.1 billion. A bridge will cost $3.9 billion. This is intriguing as elsewhere in the world recently tunnels have been costing marginally less than bridges.
The newly approved Denmark – Germany crossing was switched from a bridge to a tunnel. This was partly because a tunnel was cheaper, but also because of the reduced long-term environmental impact and reduced danger to shipping.
These are some of the reasons a tunnel has long been the preferred option of the NZTA and Auckland’s old local-bodies. There are considerable difficulties as to where the bridge would go to and from as well.
Looking at a proposed new bridge route we’d have problems on the city side with the iconic Westhaven marina split in two or destroyed, and the millions that are currently going into the Victoria tunnel wasted. If we replace the current bridge we’d not only have problems with the historic and culturally significant pa site at Stokes Point, we’d have years of traffic chaos and the North Shore essentially cut off – doing untold damage to the northern economy.
There is also no rail on the bridge. It would be possible to put light rail on it, but this would be incompatible with the rest of Auckland and New Zealand’s network. The only serious public transport option with a bridge is bus lanes.
A tunnel would be much faster to get approval for, would slot easily into Auckland’s rail network, would reduce fuel costs (and environmental impact) for heavy vehicles (less up-and-down), and would cause far less disruption to traffic. It would also introduce network redundancy, leaving the current Harbour Bridge as an alternate route. As an added bonus it could be built in stages as there would be multiple (2+) tunnels, and would allow for some pedestrian/cycle access on the current Harbour Bridge.
For all these reasons a tunnel is the much preferred option of those living north of the bridge. Wayne Mapp and Jonathan Coleman will be nervous about the push for a bridge, and are probably the reason the rail option has been kept on the table. Both have previously supported a tunnel.
But Steven Joyce keeps pushing for roads, and maybe the bridge is a way of locking that in. In parliamentary debate foreshadowing today’s Auckland Unleashed, yesterday John Key and Bill English were pushing that the Christchurch earthquake wouldn’t hold up Auckland’s roads. There was a marked lack of mention of any rail, despite the biggest project on the books, with by far the best return on investment (ROI), being the CBD rail tunnel. Anyone who has been on an Auckland commuter train in peak time knows how necessary this is – every bit as necessary as Waterview is to linking up Auckland’s road network.
The truth is roads are far less significant than public transport in our future. With petrol over $2/litre and rising, bus companies in Auckland are reporting a 10% increase in passengers. Rail is growing even faster. In fact road traffic is declining, and has been for a few years.
I expect today’s Auckland Unleashed will reflect that, with a strong focus on public transport. What National do with that will be interesting. Aucklanders, all 1.4 million of them, have a mayor that was elected on a strong public transport program. Can National continue to deny them? The leaked reports so far suggest they’ll try.
Update: I should have mentioned that this study was done because Joyce refused to accept the outcome of NZTA’s previous $1million study when he received it in 2009, and insisted on a new report that had a bridge option. That report concluded with a $3.7-$4.1 million 4 lane tunnel, 2 motorway, 2 rail. The $5.3 million number in the new study only refers to the 2 motorway lanes, with a suggested $1.6 billion extra to add rail at a future date. That’s a remarkable increase in cost.
Also, The Herald’s lead today is on this. I note that Len Brown quotes the report as saying that it is “improbable” a bridge would be able to get planning permission. Steven Joyce makes it clear that if Auckland wants tunnels (instead of a bridge that couldn’t be approved) they’ll have to make up the $1.4 billion difference themselves – so maybe this is just a way of adding $1.4 billion to the share Aucklanders have to pay. At any rate it’s a way of making sure that rail is no longer part of the equation.