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Design: Archi Banal. Image: Getty Images.
Design: Archi Banal. Image: Getty Images.

OPINIONPoliticsAugust 9, 2023

I can’t believe Labour has made me side with Wayne Brown

Design: Archi Banal. Image: Getty Images.
Design: Archi Banal. Image: Getty Images.

Labour’s second harbour crossing proposal favours Aucklanders being locked up in air-conditioned boxes instead of onboard sustainable transport.

In a showing of intergenerational consensus, I (a 22-year-old Gen Zer) and Wayne Brown (a 77-year-old baby boomer) have found something we can agree on: Labour’s second harbour crossing decision sucks.

The choice to tunnel under Te Waitematā from downtown to the inner North Shore will take decades to complete and have a $35bn-$45bn price tag (which Bernard Hickey argues might inflate to $65bn). It’s not just climate-anxious rangatahi and strongmen politicians who reject Labour’s proposal – opposition exists across political affiliations, inside the media, and within the communities this project would serve. Sustainable transport advocate Matt Lowrie said out of the five options, the selected one is “by far the most expensive, would take the longest time to build, and also had the highest C02 emissions from construction.”

“Why would you build tunnels? Our grandfathers knew bridges were cheaper. Have we forgotten that?” Wayne Brown asked BusinessDesk. Labour’s underground Auckland railway obsession has led to gold-plated, uber-expensive transport proposals that may never even turn sod if National gets elected. Auckland’s (underground) tram plan prices at almost $15bn, nearly three times the City Rail Link’s cost – whose problematic, ever-expanding budget has served as a cautionary tale this past decade. Not only does the CRL budget keep inflating but its completion date is constantly delayed. If that precedent of delays continues for the construction of the second harbour crossing, I’ll be Wayne Brown’s age by the time it opens. Nevertheless, Labour has decided to expand its fanciful subway dream across the harbour and under the North Shore. 

A cross section mockup of Labour's proposal.
A cross-section mockup of Labour’s proposal. (Image: Waka Kotahi)

Labour’s lacklustre light rail plans have given trams – famously an efficient and pleasant form of transport – a bad reputation. According to Lowrie, for the combined cost of this harbour crossing and Auckland light rail, “you could build about 300km of surface-running light rail” – a network the size of London’s renowned tube and more extensive than the globe’s biggest tram network in Melbourne (250km).

My brother recently moved to Melbourne, instantly becoming a tram convert after religiously driving around Tāmaki Makaurau. Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington all have light rail aspirations, but Labour’s latest proposal will spend the money that could hypothetically fund the foundations of a comprehensive tram network, all on one (largely underground) Albany to airport route. 

In the face of the ever-worsening climate crisis, this project’s timing priorities are also out of whack. Labour has committed to building the roading infrastructure first, which would increase emissions at a time when we need to reduce them. How? Firstly, because of how carbon-intensive tunnelling is and secondly, when you build roads, cars – which are overwhelmingly gas-guzzlers, not clean cars – naturally fill them. New roads are counterproductive when we need to restrict our greenhouse gas emissions, unless every car magically becomes an EV or PHEV overnight. To meet our climate targets, we must significantly transition to public transport, walking and cycling, it’s that simple.

Unsurprisingly, as a climate-anxious rangatahi, I prefer the Greens’ ideas over Labour’s, which would divert the second crossing funds to develop Auckland’s rapid transit network, invest into regional rail and put a shared (cycling/walking) path across the existing bridge. A recent report found that liberating an Auckland Harbour Bridge lane for cycling, scooting, skating, and walking can be done cheaply and quickly.

Chartered engineer Richard Young discovered that enabling Aucklanders to walk or bike across the bridge would cost less than $30m and take eight months to construct. Yet the government’s crossing proposal would build cycling and walking provisions last, despite urban planning professor Timothy Welch saying “quick and easy wins will be what it takes” to cause mode shift. 

An artists interpretation of a shared path on Auckland's harbour bridge.
An artists interpretation of a shared path on Auckland’s harbour bridge. (Image: Bike Auckland)

I wrote about liberating a harbour bridge lane recently and as someone who relishes the opportunity to piss off car drivers on my bike, I fully support the proposal. My partner cycles from our flat in the city to the downtown ferry terminal, parks her bike and ferries to the North Shore for work. Even with her under-25 discount, the ferry fare is still a steep $27 a week. After she found out about the shared path proposal, she said she’d happily cross Te Waitematā under her own steam. She’s not alone, as Waka Kotahi found that 66% of Aucklanders would walk or bike across the harbour if they could.

66% of Auckkanders would walk or cycle across the harbour.
Image: Bike Auckland.

But Labour’s harbour crossing proposal won’t allow any Aucklanders to bike or walk across the harbour until my age has nearly doubled – frankly that’s absurd given the fast-approaching 2030 date. If we don’t make significant progress on reducing emissions by 2030 then my young peers and I are in for an uncomfortably hot future. 

Under National it wouldn’t be any better though. National has pledged that if they’re elected they would only build the road tunnels. Even if the full project is eventually constructed, it will have delayed necessary mode shift by decades. Just one more delay of necessary sustainable solutions to add to an already long list of postponements or cancellations.

When I attended the launch of the second Waitematā crossing in March, I optimistically believed I was privy to a future-focused, transformative transport project. But Labour’s decision is a fever dream stolen straight from a 1960s American urban planner: a deprioritisation of social, sustainable and sexy transport in favour of being locked up in an air-conditioned box that ironically warms the planet. 

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