One Question Quiz
The Waitematā, with just the one crossing (Photo: Getty Images)
The Waitematā, with just the one crossing (Photo: Getty Images)

PoliticsMarch 31, 2023

The five Auckland harbour crossing proposals, explained

The Waitematā, with just the one crossing (Photo: Getty Images)
The Waitematā, with just the one crossing (Photo: Getty Images)

Aucklanders, would you like a tunnel, two tunnels or a tunnel and a bridge?

My nana was one of the first people ever to cross Te Waitematā on foot. In 1959, as a schoolgirl, she walked across the newly constructed Auckland Harbour Bridge before it opened to traffic.

Back then, Auckland’s population was 430,000. Just 10 years later, when four clip-on lanes were added, the need for a second crossing was already being discussed. More than half a century on we’ve still got just the one crossing, and it’s abundantly clear it’s struggling to keep up with the demands of a city that’s almost quadrupled in size since 1959.

So yesterday, Michael Wood, minister for Auckland and transport minister, presented five options for a second crossing over – or under – Te Waitematā. Promising spades would be in the ground by 2029, prime minister Chris Hipkins said the project would future-proof Auckland’s transport network. Whichever option is chosen, it will cater to more than just cars/trucks driving across the harbour, with increased capacity for public transport and, in contrast to the current harbour bridge, room for active modes (biking, scooting, skating, walking and so on). The aim is to reduce emissions from our biggest city’s largest source of greenhouse gases – transport.

Government officials are seeking Auckland residents’ feedback on the proposal through several community events in April and online right now. The consultation will end in May, and an option will be chosen by June, but there has been much kōrero already. 

Chris Hipkins and Michael Wood stand in front of Auckland's Harbour Bridge.
Prime minister Chris Hipkins and minister for Auckland and transport Michael Wood announcing the five proposals, with the existing crossing in the background. (Photo: Tommy de Silva)

Following yesterday’s announcement, both Act and National suggested the project was a distraction from the government’s failures. In a press release, National’s transport spokesperson Simeon Brown said while the party supported a second Auckland harbour crossing, it questioned Labour’s capability to deliver big infrastructure projects. Even the Greens weren’t happy, saying that including car/truck traffic in a new crossing would only further worsen traffic and emissions woes.  

Other concerns were raised by Gary Brown, the Hibiscus and Bays Local Board chairperson, who said he was keen for the new crossing to inspire further infrastructure improvements northward towards his rohe – for example, extending the northern busway to Silverdale. Fiáin d’Leafy, an advocate with Bike Auckland, questioned why active mode users would have to wait until 2029 for the privilege to get across the harbour. At the plan’s launch, Herald journalist Simon Wilson pointed out the hypocrisy of reducing emissions by an act as carbon-intensive as building an underwater tunnel.

It’s clear, then, that the government’s five Te Waitematā crossing options haven’t won over everyone – so what do they entail?

Option one – two tunnels

This proposal includes two tunnels east of the existing Harbour Bridge, the first being a tunnel for light rail from Wynyard Quarter to Smales Farm via Belmont and Takapuna. The second tunnel would be for traffic, creating a new section of state highway one from Saint Mary’s Bay to Akoranga Drive. Active modes and buses would travel along reallocated roadspace on the existing bridge, to be built after the tunnels. At about $25 billion, this is the priciest option and would take the longest to complete – 15 years – meaning active modes wouldn’t be able to cross Te Waitematā until well into the 2040s. 

An illustration showing option one.
Option one, a light rail tunnel and a road tunnel. (Image: NZTA)

Option two – a second bridge

Option two is the only proposal to solely suggest a new bridge – adjacent to the current one – which would be used for all modes: public transport, active modes and general traffic. Light rail would again leave the isthmus from Wynyard, but this time the destination would be Takapuna via Akoranga. This option would add three more general traffic lanes across the harbour, meaning together with the existing bridge, there would be five general traffic lanes in each direction across the harbour at all times. The infrastructure for all modes would be built at the same time, taking the least amount of time (10 years) and money ($15bn) out of all the options to complete, but, according to the proposal released yesterday, it would be the least resilient option as it relies on a single transport corridor. 

An illustration showing option two.
Option two, a second bridge running alongside the current one (Image: NZTA)

Option three – a light rail tunnel plus a second bridge 

Combining the bridge and tunnel proposals, this option would have one of each. A light rail tunnel west of the Harbour Bridge would connect Wynyard to Takapuna through Birkenhead, Northcote and Akoranga Station. A second bridge would accommodate cars and active modes from Westhaven to Sulphur Beach at Northcote Point, allowing local traffic and buses to stay on the old bridge. It is currently undecided which would be built first, but they would be delivered separately. A light rail tunnel plus a new bridge would take 15 years to complete and would be the least efficient option when it comes to transporting people and freight.  

An illustration showing option three.
Option three, a second bridge and a tunnel for light rail (Image: NZTA)

Option four – a light rail and active modes bridge plus a traffic tunnel 

Again this option suggests a bridge-tunnel hybrid. A second bridge east of the old one would be used by light rail and active modes (bikes, pedestrians etc), dumping travellers out at Sulphur Beach. Light rail would leave Wynyard and reach Takapuna via Akoranga Station. General traffic would be provided with a new tunnelled section of state highway one from Saint Mary’s Bay to Akoranga Drive. Whether the tunnel or bridge would be built first is still being determined, but they wouldn’t be built simultaneously. Although this proposal would take 15 years to build, it would be the equal most transport-efficient option, tied with option five. 

An illustration showing option four.
Option four, a road tunnel and a new bridge for light rail and active modes (Image: NZTA)

Option five – option four with a different bridge entrance

Once more, this option combines a bridge with a tunnel. A new bridge would be constructed for light rail and active modes arriving at Sulphur Beach, but where it differentiates from the last bridge is its start point – this time being Wynyard Quarter instead of Saint Mary’s Bay. Light rail would go from Wynyard to Takapuna through Akoranga Station. Much like option four, a tunnelled road solution is being offered from Saint Mary’s Bay to Akoranga. Again, it is currently undecided what would be built first, but they would not be constructed concurrently. As with option four, this would take 15 years to build and would be equally as efficient. 

An illustration showing option five.
Option five, a bridge starting at Wynyard Quarter for light rail and active modes, and a road tunnel (Image: NZTA)

The options relative to one another

The following graph shows how the different options compare on multiple metrics, a handy tool if you are an Aucklander wanting to have your say. Each money symbol represents roughly $5bn and each clock symbol equates to approximately five years.

A table comparing the five options.
The five options, compared (Image: NZTA)

Whatever form the Waitematā Harbour Connections project takes, there’s no doubt it will be an intergenerationally significant piece of infrastructure that will cost bucket-loads of cash and take a very long time to build. Aucklanders can have their say on their preferred option here.

Keep going!