Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Rudman: Maggie's prickly message to mayor seems a bridge too far

Maggie Barry. Photo / Supplied
Maggie Barry. Photo / Supplied

Recently departed North Shore MP Wayne Mapp used to tempt his constituents with big talk of "a second harbour crossing by 2016".

The fizz had hardly gone flat in her election night bubbles before his successor, Maggie Barry, was pushing the same cause. She sent a strong message to Auckland Mayor Len Brown, via the local paper, that there would be a CBD rail link - the mayor's pet project - before a second harbour crossing "over our dead bodies".

Now I'm not sure whose body, in addition to her own, she was referring to. Maybe, as befits her new status, she's adopting the royal "we".

Alternatively, she sees it as a deadly duel between herself and the mayor.

Whatever, her words did remind me of the advice former prime minister Sir Keith Holyoake used to give to his first-term MPs "to breathe through their noses" for the first three years. Well, until they got up to speed with the topics of the day, anyway.

With a bit of swot, the former TV garden host would have realised that even the most enthusiastic of road lobbyists admit a new harbour crossing is a good 15 to 20 years away. She might have discovered that questions are being raised about whether this $5 billion-plus project should ever go ahead.

Thanks in part at least to the success of the Northern Busway, traffic volumes on the existing bridge have been trending downwards since 2007.

NZ Transport Agency figures reveal that for October, the daily averaged traffic flow across the bridge was 151,953 - down nearly 6000 on October 2010 volumes and 14,633 down on October 2007.

Transport blogger Josh Arbury has tabulated NZTA's raw data and found the pattern varies over this five-year period, with the volume of traffic increasing in some months and dipping more in others. But overall, traffic volumes since 2007 across the bridge have dropped 4.8 per cent.

He links that to the popularity of the dedicated busway. No doubt increased petrol prices have also had an effect.

Backing up these figures is reference on the well-informed AKT transport blog to a confidential report for the NZ Transport Agency dated September 28 from Beca Infrastructure, showing that from 1960 to 2005 there was steady growth in average daily traffic, but since 2005 both traffic loadings and volumes on the bridge have declined.

The report notes that while heavy traffic volumes have picked up, numbers are still below the long-term trend of 4 per cent compound growth.

All of which suggests that in these straitened economic times, Ms Barry, instead of offering to lay her body on the line for a new $5 billion bridge or tunnel, might serve the city and country better by considering the need for a second crossing at all.

If she spoke to NZ Transport Agency officials, she'd discover it wasn't the bridge itself that was a bottleneck, but the approaches to the north and south of the crossing.

Many millions have been spent removing these choke points, the Victoria Park tunnel being the latest chapter. Then there's the western ring route to factor in. The final link in this drawn-out project, the $2 billion Waterview Connection, is due for completion in 2017, completing the highway network envisaged for Auckland more than half a century ago. This was the original State Highway 1 of the highway planners, and is expected to further reduce pressure on the existing bridge.

It means she can join Epsom MP John Banks and lobby for the cheaper CBD rail loop without upsetting her constituents. Mr Banks has been a keen advocate for the inner-city loop.

As the Act Party's sole representative in the new John Key-led government, Mr Banks says he will be seeking to have it taken off the Government's back burner.

He told the Central Leader: "It will be built. I have no doubt about that. It just makes sense. The challenge is to qualify the benefits against the cost and put in place a funding package that is affordable."

At less than half the price of the harbour crossing, it's a bargain.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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