Grafton Bridge, built nearly a century ago, will be closed next year for the equivalent of a joint replacement and when it reopens it will be used only by buses, motorcycles, bikes and emergency vehicles during weekdays.
After years of planning, the Auckland City Council finally has a start date of August for a rapid bus corridor connecting the city to Newmarket which has risen in cost from $21 million to more than $32 million.
The historic bridge will be strengthened to take up to 2600 buses a day with the option of carrying light rail in the future.
New anchors under the two main piers and carbon-fibre stronger than steel beneath its beams will make it earthquake-resistant and allow it to carry vehicles of up to 40 tonnes.
Council project manager Graham Long said yesterday the bridge would take about 12 months to repair but he did not know how much of that time it would be closed to traffic.
The repairs would not affect pedestrians using the bridge, he said.
Once the project, described by Mayor Dick Hubbard as "a continual bus travelator between the city and Newmarket", opens in early 2008, the bridge will remain closed to day-time general traffic.
Only buses, emergency vehicles, motorcycles, bikes and pedestrians will be allowed to use it between 7am and 7pm Monday to Friday.
Cars will be allowed on the bridge at night and weekends, as will trucks, which are now banned because of a 13-tonne weight limit.
Auckland District Health Board chairman Wayne Brown has welcomed the new measures but one taxi company owner is outraged. He said it would lead to higher fares from the city to Auckland Hospital.
Mr Brown said the bridge divided the country’s largest emergency hospital from the main city population and limiting traffic on weekdays would improve access for ambulances.
It would also improve public transport access for the hospital’s 5000 staff and one million visitors a year.
Mr Hubbard said the project would cut 14 minutes off bus travel times between the city and Newmarket for more than 65,000 people a day.
But Paul Cafferkey, part-owner of Alert Taxis, said it was "mad and ludicrous" to exclude taxis from the bridge on weekdays. It would increase the cost of a fare from the city from $10 to $18 for hospital passengers, many of whom were elderly and disabled.
The New Zealand Taxi Federation has had a long-running battle with councils, including Auckland City, for taxis to be allowed to use bus lanes, but without success.
City council transport general manager Stephen Rainbow said the cost of the project had risen about $5 million from earlier estimates of $21 million to $25 million to the upper end of $27 million to $32 million.
This was because of rising construction costs and and increases in the cost of strengthening the bridge.
Most of the money is coming from the funding agencies Land Transport New Zealand and the Auckland Regional Transport Authority.
The cost to Auckland City ratepayers is $900,000 but that may increase depending on how much of the $5 million extra costs are met from the two funding agencies.
The project has also been expanded to improve access to the Vector Arena and to allow Alfred St, which bisects the university, to be used by buses only. Alfred St is not part of the central transit corridor, but it is used by Link Buses which turn right into the corridor and travel up Symonds St.
Mr Hubbard said the clear message from the debate on road pricing was that public transport was inadequate.
"This is one of the initiatives to improve public transport," said Mr Hubbard.
The council does not need a resource consent to build the busway but will be applying for consents to remove trees, work in the dripline of 35 scheduled trees on Symonds St and strengthen the bridge.
The city to Newmarket bus project includes:
* 4km of dedicated bus lanes on either side of the road between Britomart and Khyber Pass Rd operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
* Six main bus stops, including stops outside Auckland University, AUT and Auckland City Hospital.
* New bus shelters, wider footpaths and cycleways.
* Grafton Bridge closed to traffic except buses, bikes, motorcycles and emergency vehicles from 7am to 7pm Monday to Friday.
* 56 trees to go in Beach Rd, Anzac Ave and Park Rd.
* 126 new trees planted along the route.
* Loss of 197 carparks.
* Cost: $32 million.