The Missing Voice in New Harbour Crossing
The Missing Voice in New Harbour
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Voices of discontent are emanating from some quarters concerning the proposed new Waitemata harbour crossing. They say millions and billions of public dollars are at stake and there seems to be surreptitiousness in the way things are being presented and options hurried through with no public involvement.
There is a $1.3 million study to look for viable harbour crossing option commissioned by Transit NZ, Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA), North Shore City Council and Auckland City Council. It is spearheaded by study director Richard Hancy, former Transit NZ Regional Manager.
The Auckland Regional Council asked Transit to investigate the need for new crossing options as early as 1987. Ten years later, Transit began narrowing down its preferred crossing options from a field of 48 and in 1998 conducted public consultation. A further 10 years down the line, with no public consultation the study team has narrowed its choice to three options. Ever since the formation of the study team or a little before that, there has been no public consultation. The will of the paying people and the need for differential of opinion to surface has been sidelined.
With the population of Auckland region standing well over 1,394,000 and expected to reach 1, 483,300 by 2011 Auckland has the highest car ownership rates in New Zealand and surpasses even Los Angeles, California. With 22,000 cars being added to the Auckland region roads every year and by 2011 a further addition of 87,600 will be compounding the problem.
The Regional Land Transport Strategy prepared in 2005 noted Auckland’s population is growing very quickly in fact faster than any region in the country according to Statistics NZ. This strong growth is expected to continue, and the population was at that time expected to increase by around 20,000 per annum, to reach two million by 2050. If car ownership remained similar to now, this implies an increase in traffic of nearly 25% by 2016.
The RLTS concluded that the region must invest more heavily in public transport, starting immediately.
The ARC’s latest population projection expects the region to have 50 million people about 15 years earlier than had been expected.
ARC Chairman Mike Lee admits that there has been no conduct of formal public consultation since 1998 and observed “I believe that the public needs to be aware and involved in the harbour crossing debate because a little common sense from the public can be very, very helpful in these matters.”
While acknowledging that the last round of public consultation may be out of date he called for an addition of a new provision that will facilitate public engagement and noted “however the public involvement in my experience is always helpful in adding value to the project.”
Referring to harbour crossing partnership Mr. Lee sounded an air of sarcasm “this is Auckland and there are lots of organisations involved.” Pointing out the absence of Ontrack he stressed “one organisation that hasn’t been involved and should be involved, it’s been overlooked, is Ontrack the national railway agency. It should be involved sooner rather than later.”
“It’s short on vision, short on ground realities and environmental impact. Its lack of planning for future,” says the former chair Transport & Urban Linkages Committee of Auckland City Council Richard Simpson.
He added “its’ the perpetuation of being car-centric and we have to move away from car culture if Auckland were to become truly world class.”
Transit’s Regional Manager Peter Spies confirmed that there has not been a single round of formal consultations with the public and believes strongly along with Study Director Richard Hancy that the whole exercise of narrowing down on choices attributes to route protection mechanism.
Auckland City Mayor John Banks says the second Waitemata harbour crossing “will never happen in my lifetime unless I live for another 40 years. I would like to speak on issues and this is not an issue for me.” This amply sums up the apathy towards understanding transportation needs and indicative of lack of will on the leadership front.
Mr. Simpson says the regional entity ARC is as much to be blamed as the local governing bodies in not adopting corrective measures to make public transportation a conducive and viable option. He adds since 20 years the slogan has been proliferation of public transport but the policies have done little to contribute to creating infrastructure.
Councillor Ken Baguley Chair Auckland City Transport Committee is not happy either. He points out that more than 50% of ARC rates are paid by Aucklanders. There are a myriad of organisations all saying they want to address Auckland problems.
“There’s not a rush for people to produce the Cheque book…Transit I realise there’s a bit of history to Transit, Auckland City ARC relationship and I guess you can understand it from their point of view there’s competition for the dollars that are spent and Auckland always has been difficult and I think the people down in Wellington would frighten the head out of them if all the councils and the ARC went to Wellington and said we have agreed to… this is what we want…because of the very, very powerful political lobby and at the moment you get very much differing signals coming forward…you have ARC screwing up Rodney District with some land designations being imposed on them...you can have some sympathy for that. I mean you have got all these layers of beauracracy and one would hope that out of the Royal Commission that eliminating some of those layers would be an absolute top priority and this would surely make for a far more efficient set up and also far more efficient decision-making.”
Lisa Prager who unsuccessfully ran for Auckland City mayoralty and a public watchdog is bitter about consultants taking control of public oriented projects and changing them to suit their needs. She said “my concern really is these huge public infrastructure projects should be undertaken with the public’s involvement and in a timely manner. 20 years is ridiculous…everything in Auckland has changed over 20 years. The lack of investment in capital infrastructure is really a crime. We have all been paying our rates in, well, 100 years but 30 and 20 years and the progress in these big infrastructure projects have not really occurred and I think it’s time now the public were told why and the beauracracy is held accountable.”
Referring to ARC’s role in meeting Auckland region’s transport needs, she said “I don’t think ARC is lacking in vision. I think the beauracratic system of reports and consultations and private contractors and vested interests is what is hamstringing the system. I have seen some of these transport reports, basically on the bus system, and they are written by beauracrats with very biased political perspectives. I think it’s time confidentiality in Auckland City Council and the ARC was taken off all business operations and so that private companies don’t have an opportunity to milk the public for huge profits.”
She added “I don’t just blame the ARC for lack of vision, I say, the beauracrats within those structures politically must not be in a position to manipulate the system for their own political persuasion.”
The Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA) was established on 1 July 2004, and officially began operations on Wednesday 1 December 2004 to help find solutions to the traffic challenges facing the rapidly growing Auckland region.
ARTA's formation signalled a shift in how Auckland regional transport is governed, and was created when the Local Government (Auckland) Amendment Act 2004 was passed. At the time this legislative change was made, the Government also committed $1.62 billion to Auckland transport over the next decade.
ARTA is a subsidiary organisation of the ARC and is responsible for implementing the goals set out in the regional Land Transport Strategy. ARTA is partly funded by the ARC, Transfund and by its own internal revenues, which largely come from Auckland's passenger rail operations.
Another public watchdog Penny Bright echoed Lisa’s thoughts and questioned “where is the public voice? Where are we, the public, in the scheme of things? We have had enough.”
“Whatever public transport we had, the private money hungry contractors have killed it. We don’t have any. Before the amalgamation of local bodies, publicly owned public transport was better off. Everything is private now and in shambles. ARC is subsidizing the private contractors to the tune of $86 million. For what? Why the ratepayer’s money is handed out to private entities which the public no longer owns?” rued Ms. Bright.
ARC owned Ports of Auckland are the largest of the country, and a large part of both inbound and outbound New Zealand commerce travels through them, mostly via the facilities located to the northeast of the Auckland City CBD. Freight usually arrives and is distributed from the port via road, though the port facilities also have rail access.
Research at Griffith University has indicated that in the last 50 years, Auckland has engaged in some of the most pro-automobile transport policies anywhere in the world. With public transport declining heavily in usage and provision during the second half of the 20th century (a trend mirrored in most Western countries such as the US), and increased spending on roads and cars, New Zealand and specifically Auckland now has the second-highest vehicle ownership rate in the world, with around 578 vehicles per 1000 people.
With 964229 registered vehicles as at 29th February 2008 already on Auckland region’s pressured roads and this figure expected to breach the 1 million mark by 2011, the authorities particularly ARC have come under flak for what Richard Simpson terms it as “petty politics and an organisation lacking in vision to solving Auckland region’s much delayed transport problems.”
With 80 percent of the Auckland region’s air pollution created by motor vehicles and with only around 5% of all journeys in the Auckland region being undertaken by bus, it has effectively become number one dump yard in the world for used cars.
Mr. Simpson charged Transit of seeking to fast track the decision on the crossing as they want to get a Notice of Requirement out before March to ensure they protect options over Wynyard Point. To meet this deadline the choice of three will come down to the final option by the end of March or early April.
He says “to do this they will not be doing new consultation, but they will be seeking to leverage off old consultation. Back then the City was tranced by a rather bogan 'roads, roads, roads' mantra, the eastern motorway was on the books, may well be again now; climate change was not on the lips of thinking Aucklanders, we did not have commitments towards electrification of rail, and we thought the old harbour bridge would be standing up forever. Times have clearly changed, but Transit has not.”
He further adds “it is important to get the public vocal on this matter - the crossing decision will have huge ramifications for the future of Auckland, and could potentially have very negative implications if the current myopic stance is taken. The past few months period has gagged public concerns and ability to respond to this critical factor in the shaping of future Auckland.
Transit has responded saying that NOR has been deferred until the five parties, which include Transit, have completed their investigation into the third harbour crossing. It said towards the end of April there should be more clarity about the preferred option for a crossing.
Meanwhile, Mr. Simpson is worried about Transit’s alleged presentations behind closed doors to Auckland City and North Shore City councillors and ARTA. He says Auckland City Councillors are block voting for Option 3 - the mechanics bay tunnel.
Voicing his concern he observed “note the rail does a tight bend to rejoin the tunnel in the middle of the harbour - this is a farce. It is highly unlikely rail could be practically retrofitted into a road tunnel at a later stage. The tight turn on a steep gradient into the depths of the harbour would be a danger. This option 3 is clearly the Eastern Motorway. C&R's Cr Baguley and Cr Millar are the two Auckland City representatives on the Crossing steering committee - they are the ones voting for this 'eastern motorway' crossing.”
This charge is ridiculed by Mr. Baguley “we don’t even know if we are talking about a tunnel (tunnels) or a bridge. This will no doubt become a discussion point once a preferred option is finalized and there will be any amount of public consultation. At this stage we are just focusing on whether we need to protect a route through Wynyard Point or not.”
He pointed out that Transit’s preferred harbour crossing alignment and the proposed redevelopment of Wynyard Quarter were potentially in conflict with each other. If redevelopment of Wynyard Quarter were to occur without corridor protection in place for a harbour crossing, Transit’s preferred option could have been precluded due to construction difficulties. Similarly if an appropriate option for a new crossing was not established this could have significant adverse impacts on any redevelopment proposals and the timing of them.
But Mr. Simpson insists “joining the direct dots to AMETI you have the Eastern Motorway back in place with Option 3. C & R is working for interests of the powerful NZ road lobby.”
Mr. Simpson is proposing a replacement bridge option that would connect the Wynyard Point (Tank Farm) with Onewa Road interchange. The bridge would support the same 8 lanes of traffic, a cycleway, a walkway, and dual rail tracks in its centre. The rail tracks could be initially a dedicated busway and enable evolution of the Northern Busway to rail. The replacement bridge is twice the length of the current bridge, this will enable the same height to be reached (allowing ship passage underneath) but provide a softer gradient to enable future electrified rail crossings. It is critical this crossing is on the western side of Britomart as a western hole punched through Britomart will enable it to become a through station rather than the current cul-de-sac increasing its capacity by 300%.
This replacement bridge will be funded by the release and redevelopment of 3.4 km of waterfront land in St Mary's Bay and Northcote. Transit's motorways sit on more prime waterfront land than the Ports of Auckland. It is critical for Auckland to better connect with the Waitemata. The St Mary's Bay motorway and current location of the harbour crossing would have been seen as ludicrously senseless if proposed today.
He says one should be using this opportunity to remove it finally. The 1.1 km St. Mary's Bay dogleg most of the 80 million annual trips across the bridge is costing Aucklanders 100 million km in additional travel. This extra travel is producing 12,000 tonnes of toxic emissions into St Mary's Bay and Northcote homes annually.
The ARC and North Shore City Council are in favour of a tunnel option. Andrew Williams mayor North Shore City said he will have environmental concerns if there was a second over bridge over the harbour.
He said “we already have one going through our city and with the second one the impact on our local environment would be exacerbated. It will be huge impact on our communities and hundreds and hundreds of hours affected by that. We are certainly looking only for the tunnel option and insisting on public transportation like rail.”
The ARC Chairman also echoing the tunnel option noted “our next harbour crossing should include public transportation, should include rail. We are looking at around 2020 …by that time our thinking should be far more radical than it is now. Rail will be absolutely an essential component of the next harbour crossing. I can see I might be conservative when I say …when I envisage a bus rail transfer station on the North Shore. It may be at Orewa (Rodney) at that time. The Northern Busway might have been converted to the rail corridor. Who knows…I hope it is. I think by that time there will be a much greater emphasis on public transportation.”
Mr. Lee further added that regardless of the direction of the crossing to either the West or East of Britomart, “there is however a consensus on the tunnel option.”
But Mr. Simpson ridicules the idea of a tunnel. He emphasizes the cost of a tunnel is similar to a bridge but the operational cost of a tunnel is 5 times that of a bridge. “You cannot walk or cycle through a tunnel.”
“The Western Ring route (SH20) will carry most of the through Auckland traffic so the next crossing will only be delivering people to central Auckland. Any additional lanes for traffic will add greater pressures on the Auckland CBD dramatically increasing congestion and demands for more car parking buildings. This will not enable Auckland to evolve into a great city; it will make it a ghetto,” he noted.
“All growth should be taken up with public transport. Rail carries 50 times the number of people as a motorway does for the same amount of land. Public Transport delivers pedestrians to the cities; great cities are built around its people not cars.”
Syed Akbar Kamal is
producer/director for current affairs television programme
Darpan-The Mirror on the satellite feed Stratos & Triangle