Auckland Harbour Bridge crash spurs SkyPath cycleway design review

The design of the SkyPath cycleway across the Waitematā Harbour is being reviewed in light of structural damage to the Auckland Harbour Bridge.

In September, a freak 127km/h gust of wind blew a truck against its superstructure, damaging a span and closing its central lanes. After repairs, it was restored to 100 per cent capacity.

Transport Minister Michael Wood said the bridge strike highlighted how important it was to take care of the bridge – the main transport lifeline between the North Shore and Auckland isthmus.

He said Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency was working with the builders and taking a look at the design of the cycle and walking shared pathway across the bridge to ensure it was fit for purpose.

Neither Wood or NZTA would say if the SkyPath project would meet the Government’s commitment to start construction early next year.

Since SkyPath was conceived 16 years ago, the project has been plagued by controversy, delays and rising costs.

In the past three years, the project has been taken over by NZTA from the SkyPath Trust and redesigned.

In February, the Government included SkyPath in a $6.8 billion New Zealand Upgrade Programme of transport projects and said construction would start in early 2021.

SkyPath is expected to cost $240 million and $120m for a shared pathway extension to Esmonde Rd, rebranded the Northern Pathway by NZTA.

NZTA senior manager service delivery Andrew Thackwray said the alliance of builders was carefully considering the current design to ensure the bridge was “protected as best we can to keep it fully operational”.

“It is a critical section of Auckland’s transport system and there are huge impacts on people and the wider transport system when it’s not operating at full capacity,” he said.

The design envisages the shared pathway attached to the bridge piles rather than the clip-ons to avoid load restrictions. However, the business case said building off the piles was complex, challenging and had risks.

Thackwray would not comment on a column in the Herald by a former senior editor, John Roughan, of a new bridge proposal submitted to NZTA.

Roughan said the proposal involved a new bridge alongside the existing one standing on its own piles for the Northern Busway, a cycleway and walkway.

Bevan Woodward, who came up with the idea for SkyPath, said a busway bridge would be a real threat to making progress.

He said the trust’s lightweight and consented design was “shovel ready” and could be an interim solution.

Wood said Auckland Transport was working on a business case for improvements to the Northern Busway.

“My understanding is a new bridge with a busway and shared path is not planned as part of this work,” Wood said.

As well as SkyPath and improving the Northern Busway at a cost of between $500m and $600m, a new business case from NZTA last month recommended a $5 billion rail tunnel for a new harbour crossing within the next 20 years.

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