Campaigners for a tolled pedestrian and cycle path across Auckland Harbour Bridge have attracted a leading coastal development company to build and operate it as a joint venture.
Orewa-based Hopper Developments - with pioneering projects such as canal housing and marina schemes at Pauanui, Whitianga and Marsden Pt under its belt - has signed a heads of agreement to work with a walking and cycling charitable trust on a $16 million pathway over the bridge.
Architects and structural engineers have already produced a concept design for a shared pathway beneath the bridge's southbound clip-on, which the Getacross Campaign presented last week to the Transport Agency as custodians of Auckland's 51-year-old transport lifeline.
The concept differs from a proposal by Transport Agency consultants, rejected by the agency's board in 2008, which was for separate paths to be cantilevered at road level off each edge of the bridge for up to $43 million.
It envisages cantilevering a single 4.8m-wide pathway off the base of the deep box girder which supports the southbound clip-on's two traffic lanes, offering partial shelter to its users without having to reduce the width of the lanes above or to build barriers to separate them from motor vehicles.
The campaigners are proposing a toll of $1.95c each way for holders of the Auckland Regional Transport Authority's proposed integrated transport smartcard, and of $5 for casual users, expected to be mainly tourists.
They say the tolls will cover security, lighting and harbour viewing platforms, among other things.
Heart of the City business association chief executive Alex Swney described the design last night as "spectacular" and "transformational".
Mr Swney is one of four trustees on a walking and cycling trust being formed to hold a half-share in the pathway with Hopper Developments for 15 years, then it could be transferred at no cost to the Transport Agency.
Although the plan has missed out on early Government funding for parts of a national cycleway, he expected it to become the country's most popular riding and walking link, providing major economic spinoffs.
"Any excuse for tourists to spend another day in Auckland is a good one as far as we are concerned," he said.
Hopper Developments had an impressive record of building high-quality long-term infrastructure.
The other trustees are Auckland Regional Council transport committee chairwoman Christine Rose, Getacross leader Bevan Woodward and Walk Auckland representative Andy Smith.
Hopper chairman Leigh Hopper said his company was attracted to the project as it was well thought-out, filled a demonstrable public need and appeared to be financially sound.
"We believe we can attract the institutional funding support needed to deliver this innovative extension to the public walk-cycleway network with co-operation from key stakeholders."
Transport Agency northern state highways manager Tommy Parker said he would be unable to make a detailed response to the proposal for several weeks, while it was being evaluated by engineering consultants.
But he acknowledged that an engineering analysis last year indicated there was spare loading capacity in the southbound clip-on, as opposed to the northbound structure, which carries heavier container traffic and may have only 10 to 20 years of full life left.