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NZTA to update benefit-to-cost ratio of Auckland cycle bridge project

Waka Kotahi NZTA is set to update the benefit-to-cost ratio of the Northern Pathway project which involves adding a stand-alone structure to the Auckland Harbour Bridge for cyclists and pedestrians. 

The agency says the update will be released "soon" and believes the project is feasible. 

It comes as Transport Minister Michael Wood and MP for Botany, National's Christopher Luxon faced off in Parliament yesterday over the escalating costs of the $785 million project.

Adding to the debate is opposition from the Taxpayers’ Union, which today released the results of an independent poll to gage public support for and against the project.

Luxon asked Wood in Parliament yesterday how the proposed cycle bridge would “shorten commutes for tradies stuck in gridlock and help older Aucklanders get to their appointments on time?”

Wood began his reply that, “for an intelligent member and his question displays an incredible immaturity in terms of how transport policy…” before being cut off by the Speaker of the House who called for “order”.

Luxon pressed on, asking if Wood could “guarantee that the $785 million cost will not be increased further, in light of the 20-fold increase in cost since Labour candidate Michael Wood announced in 2017 that the Skypath project would cost $30 million?”

Auckland Harbour Bridge. Source: istock.com

Wood continued to jest, replying “Mr Speaker, I can give the member confidence in the robustness of the figures that have been produced”.

Wood told 1 NEWS today the benefit-to-cost ratio (BCR), which was assessed in January 2020 and currently sits at 0.4 to 0.6. - will be updated by Waka Kotahi NZTA, adding he believes the result will be “more favourable”.

Wood didn’t release the BCR following the announcement of the Northern Pathway project on June 4 but last week it was revealed the assessment by NZTA meant that there would be a loss of between 40-60 cents for every dollar spent on the bridge.

Government commits to $785m standalone cycleway bridge across Waitematā Harbour

“The Northern Pathway is a NZ Upgrade Programme (NZUP) project, which meant it had to be considered as part of our re-balancing of the programme,” Wood said today.

“NZUP is currently supporting over 1,000 jobs and to keep the programme going in the face of increased costs due to Covid, we took a balanced approach and put in extra investment and rescoped some projects. The extra investment into the Northern Pathway is less than or similar to what’s going into other projects, like Penlink and the Ōtaki to north of Levin highway.”

“Waka Kotahi have yet to update the benefit cost ratio for the new Northern Pathway and believe it will be more favourable due to the recommended option allowing improved user amenity benefits, greater resilience, and expected increased demand,” Wood says.

“The previous government had never seemed to have any problem with signing off projects with lower benefit cost ratios, like the Mackays to Peka Peka section of the Kapiti expressway at 0.2 and the Puhoi-Wellsford highway which one analysis had at 0.4.”

"A spokesperson for NZTA told 1 NEWS a new BCR will be available soon in line with its approach and processes for economic evaluation.

"The Benefit-Cost-Ratio is in the process of being recalculated for the preferred option, reflecting its form and function as part of the Northern Pathway walking and cycling route.

"The updated BCR will be available soon, in alignment with the updated Government Policy Statement on land transport (GPS)," the spokesperson said. 

"Waka Kotahi is well-placed to deliver the new bridge on time and on budget, with a design and construction alliance already in place for the project which brings together a combination of local and international designers and contractors with experience at working on the design and delivery of complex steel girder and concrete bridge projects."

'Divorced from people doing daily life' – National's Christopher Luxon slams Govt's 'billion dollar' bridge

In reponse to a written Parliamentary question in March this year by National leader Judith Collins, it was revealed that as of February 2021, $37,588,313 had already been spent on research and consultation into the Northern Parthway.

Luxon said on social media yesterday, he didn't believe the Government would even get around to building the cycle and pedestrian pathway. 

"Aucklanders are stuck in gridlock. Rural roads are in disrepair. NZTA and councils don’t even have enough to maintain our roads across the country. Our most dangerous state highways are missing out on critical safety improvements.

"Meanwhile, the Labour Government is throwing the better part of a billion dollars at an ideological vanity project that the majority of New Zealanders oppose.

"We have no confidence Labour will even be able to build the cycle bridge; it couldn’t deliver SkyPath in its first term and National isn’t convinced the latest version will even make it off the plans, wasting more taxpayer money."

All of this comes as the Taxpayers' Union released a report today revealing opposition to the bridge outweighs support by more than three to one. The poll taken just over a week ago shows 63 per cent of New Zealanders are opposed to the Auckland Harbour cycle and pedestrian bridge and 18 per cent support it.