Labour announced their five preferred options for an Auckland Harbour crossing in March 2023. Apparently, this is the 13th such announcement by governments over the 35 years. According to the Prime Minister, the project is now on a “fast track” and construction will start within 6 years.
I met a former Mayor of the old North Shore City Council recently, who told me that the latest options were essentially the same as the old options.
In 2009 the New Zealand Transport Agency, Auckland City and North Shore City councils agreed to construct three cross harbour tunnels to complement the existing bridge. This would allow two lanes on the existing bridge to be converted for walking and cycling, and limit bridge traffic to light vehicles only.
Two tunnels would serve northbound and southbound truck and car traffic, while the third tunnel was dedicated to public transport. Buses initially, and trains at some point in the future. The Northern Busway was designed to carry trains at some point.
Both NZTA and Kiwirail issued designation notices under the RMA to protect the road and rail corridors around the approaches to a new crossing. In 2010 a Business Case was approved by NZTA. This indicated that the ideal timing for construction would be in the 2020’s, because the existing bridge would not be able to carry heavy vehicles beyond 2030.
The new crossings would allow more land to be opened up for high density housing in Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter and the North Shore.
At some point in the last 13 years, the project was put on the back burner. Now, in March 2023, a Labour Government under pressure on inflation and cost of living, crime, and co-governance is trying to sneak back into voters’ hearts with yet another infrastructure promise.
Such an important project could well have been a priority for Labour when first elected in 2017, or even when re-elected in 2020. Instead they promised Auckland Light Rail to the airport. They have yet to decide a route, let alone start construction.
The last six years has been a huge waste of time, money and opportunity for Aucklanders. People living in the North West can spend 45 minutes in their cars crawling through Kumeu to get to the motorway at Westgate, and then face the same delays at the end of the day. This leads to frustration, which leads to anger and a feeling of deep unfairness.
Unfair, because we have known for at least thirteen years that State Highway 16 should be directed past Kumeu and Huapai, which are not just gridlocked, but frozen in time. The traffic means these lovely country towns are simply unable to develop to their full potential.
Unfair, because when land was developed for new suburbs and lifestyles in the North West, we assumed that roads and rail would be upgraded to match population growth. And unlucky, because under the previous National Government, even having a Prime Minister as your local MP for six of the last 13 years meant so little.
That is why ACT would take the politics out of infrastructure, and hand over the decision making to an independent Highways state-owned enterprise, Highways New Zealand, which would own and operate New Zealand’s state highway network.
It would also construct any new state highways and conduct maintenance and improvements on existing highways. Highways New Zealand would be expected to be operationally self-funding out of
user fees, including delivering a return on invested capital to the Government. It would be incentivised to deliver projects promptly and affordably, because delays and cost-overruns would harm underlying profitability and, executive compensation.
Under a Government with ACT, if the roads we need aren’t delivered on time, that would be very unlucky for management, not just the poor people stuck in traffic.