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18 Nov 2020

Building a new harbour crossing in a post-Covid economy

The recent accident where the Waitemata Harbour Bridge was damaged by a truck hit by a wind gust has everyone talking. Though the event only took 60 seconds to unfold, it stranded hundreds of travelers for hours. The whole city of Auckland has been talking about how to design and create a second harbour crossing. 

Though most agree that the need is urgent, no one wants to make a hasty decision here. All the professionals believe it’s important to consider the long-term cultural, social, economic and environmental needs. 

Will the new tunnel meet all the needs?

At the moment, the consensus is moving toward a road and rail tunnel that would travel under the harbour and be closely aligned with the current bridge. Many believe that this would help alleviate the traffic across the bridge while providing an alternative route that could be taken by travelers. 

The new tunnel would take travelers to Spaghetti Junction connecting the northern and southern parts of the city. Some propose that the bridge be converted to a CBD connection, but that would mean that it would eventually become no more than a massive off-ramp. If that happened, then accidents in the tunnel could cause chaos; travelers would have no alternative routes to take. They might be stuck waiting for hours.

Of course, it’s important to mention that traffic levels have generally not been heavy during the Covid19 pandemic. As we all move past the Pandemic and into a new future, life will eventually return to normal. People will get back to work each day. Highways and roads will be more congested than they currently are.

When the truck accident on the bridge occurred, the western route (SH16) was used to help deal with the traffic and congestion. Once life returns to normal, SH16 and SH18 will be busier. They won’t be a viable option for emergency traffic.

How to deal with congestion

The Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency has performed its own research into the various issues here and they’ve concluded that an underwater tunnel would only provide so much relief from traffic congestion. They also looked at widening the sections of the motorway north of the bridge and building a rail-only crossing. They could not come up with any concrete solutions. There were drawbacks to every plan.

With the increase in traffic due to freight deliveries, along with the normal traffic congestion that is sure to resume in a post-covid world, it may be necessary to look at other alternatives. If the economy is truly expected to recover, a sound, dependable travel network will be necessary. A project such as is needed will be expensive and a drain on the current struggling economy.

Alternative plans

Auckland businesses are now talking about alternative plans that would connect Waterview and Grafton Gully, along with other key areas. Though these topics have been discussed for over a decade, there is now a more compelling reason to move forward.

The population of Auckland will no doubt grow. People will begin returning to normal life. By 2030, Auckland’s Unitary Plan, shows a million more Aucklanders looking for optimal transportation routes between areas like Silverdale, Kumeu and Drury.

Considering the future

Though more than half the nation’s people live in the Upper North Island area, the new transportation route should benefit all New Zealanders. With the covid threat now behind us, it may be time to think big. The city has a bright future, but it will need dependable transportation routes so that citizens can get where they need to go each day.

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