A new cycle and walking bridge across the Waitematā Harbour estimated to cost $685 million has sparked celebration, disbelief and anger across Auckland.
On Friday, the Government sent Auckland into a spin by announcing cyclists and pedestrians would get their own bridge across the harbour and two big road projects would be axed.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Finance Minister Grant Robertson promised Aucklanders 16 months ago to deliver the $1.3 billion Mill Rd highway and $423 million of work along SH1 in South Auckland.
“We are funding them and we are delivering them,” Ardern said at the time.
Transport Minister Michael Wood said on Friday that in light of the increased costs and climate commitment, the New Zealand Upgrade Programme was being rebalanced to increase investment in rail, public transport, walking and cycling.
He said the cost of Mill Rd had risen from $1.3b to $3.5b and was being scaled back from a four-lane highway to two lanes with a focus on safety improvements.
The $423m of works on SH1 have soared in cost to $1.165b, bringing the Government to scuttle the second stage of the works.
Other Auckland projects in the upgrade programme are going ahead, including the Penlink road between Whangaparaoa and SH1, which has doubled in cost from $411m to $830m.
Robertson said Covid-19 has increased construction costs around the world, saying the original upgrade programme had nearly doubled in cost from $6.8b to $12.8b. The Government was putting an additional $1.9b into the programme, he said.
Auckland mayor Phil Goff welcomed the latest walking and cycling connection, which is now more than 900 per cent more expensive than the $67m SkyPath project talked up by former Transport Minister Phil Twyford in 2018.
He said the standalone bridge is significantly more costly but is a sustainable and enduring solution that will benefit the city for generations.
Goff said the changes would not please everyone, but praised Wood for having to deal with massive cost increases in construction after Covid-19.
“The new package locks in nearly $4b worth of important transport projects for Auckland and I welcome that,” said the mayor.
Pro-cycling and climate change councillors Pippa Coom, Chris Darby and Richard Hills were delighted at the prospect of the “missing link” in Auckland’s walking and cycling network being completed and at the possibility of closing a lane or two on the existing harbour for a cycling trial.
“Yay! A trial is still on the table,” said Coom on social media.
Meanwhile, councillors from South Auckland are fuming at the axing of Mill Rd and the full upgrade of SH1 between Papakura and Drury.
Deputy mayor and Franklin councillor Bill Cashmore said Mill Rd had been near the top of three successive transport plans for the Super City, a key transport corridor for aggregate and other essential goods and needed to service Drury, which will become the size of Napier over the next 30 years.
“Aggregate will get more expensive because of truck congestion, which will make every project more expensive and there will be more carbon because of the same slow vehicle movements,” said Cashmore.
Manurewa-Papakura councillor Angela Dalton said: “What a disaster of a decision for the south.”
Auckland Business Forum chairman Michael Barnett said it was outrageous to cut some parts of the programme at the same time as proposing to spend close to $1b on a cycleway across the harbour.
“There comes a point where the cost can’t be justified and most Aucklanders would agree that at $800m we’ve well and truly reached that.
“Downsizing Mill Rd is going to have massive implications for congestion and the ability to unlock land for affordable housing,” he said.
Modelling in the latest draft Regional Land Transport Plan shows congestion is forecast to increase by about 10 per cent in the morning peak by 2031.
Over the same period, cars trips are forecast to keep rising in line with population growth andAuckland Council has set a goal of increasing the share of bike trips from 0.9 per cent to 7 per cent.
The Government’s update transport package for Auckland
A new walking and cycling bridge alongside the Auckland Harbour Bridge
Estimated cost: $685m
The SkyPath project over the Harbour Bridge was priced at $67m by former Transport Minister and Green co-leader James Shaw in 2018.
A year later the NZ Transport agency priced a design for SkyPath at about $240m.
Since Labour came to office, SkyPath has risen in cost by more than 900 per cent.
Transport Minister Michael Wood says SkyPath is expected to take five years to consent and build.
Penlink road linking Whangaparaoa Peninsula and SH1
Cost: $830m, up from $411m last year
The 7km road, on the books since the mid 2000s, will be a two-lane tolled highway to support a population expected to grow by 106,000 during the next 30 years.
Start of construction has been pushed out from late 2021 to 2022 and expected to take four years.
Wiri to Quay Park third main rail line
Cost: $318m (unchanged)
The 5.2km track will ease congestion between freight and passenger lines.
Under construction and due to be completed in 2024.
Papakura to Pukekohe electrification and new stations
Cost: Electrification $375m (unchanged) and stations $495m, up from $247m for two stations.
This long-awaited project means passengers will no longer have to change from diesel to electric trains at Papakura.
A new station has been added at Paerata to two new stations at Drury. The previous station costs excluded road connections, which are now included.
Mill Rd highway
Cost: Risen from $1.354b to up to $3.5b
The Government has scrapped the 21.5km four-lane highway designed to offer an alternative to SH1 for existing South Auckland residents and a further 120,000-plus new residents over 30 years.
It will upgrade the existing two-lane road at the northern end with a focus on safety improvements and a cycleway/walkway. Work on the southern section has been deferred.
Papakura to Drury motorway improvements stage 2
Cost: Risen from $423m for both stages to $655m for stage 1 and $510m for stage 2
Stage 1 widening 6km of SH1 to provide a third lane in each direction between Papakura and Drury started in March this year and is expected to take five years.
The Government has scrapped stage 2 for a new interchange at Drury South and interchange improvements at Papakura and Drury.
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