Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: $25m dream a bridge too far

‘Temporary’ Te Wero structure at Viaduct Basin is a popular pedestrian promenade

The Te Wero drawbridge was only meant to be temporary, but it's working well. Photo / Doug Sherring
The Te Wero drawbridge was only meant to be temporary, but it's working well. Photo / Doug Sherring

It's true the $3.7 million Te Wero drawbridge across the Viaduct Harbour was not built with longevity in mind. In 2010, with the Rugby World Cup looming and no money for the $51 million "aesthetically world class" winner of a 2007 Auckland City Council design competition in sight, the modest pedestrian-cycle bridge we now enjoy was rushed up as a temporary solution.

To save face, the political champions of the "legacy" project said the new structure would be replaced, in 2016, by the prize-winner. This had twin sail-like arms which would "carry cyclists, pedestrians, passenger transport and possibly light rail".

But as of now, the only things replaced have been the political dreamers who were cheerleading the project, like councillors Sam Lotu-Iiga and Aaron Bhatnagar.

This week, as Auckland councillors sharpen their hatchets to trim $4.4 billion of capital spending from the mayor's 10-year wishlist, the council's development agency, Waterfront Auckland, made a desperate bid to keep the legacy dream alive.

Ever the optimist, chief executive John Dalzell called for a start by year's end to fit in with the construction of a new hotel and apartment blocks. If we don't have "the right infrastructure at the right time we won't receive an optimal uplift in land value", he told councillors.

But who wants to shell out a king's ransom for "optimal uplift" when we already have the right infrastructure in place.

The existing bridge is certainly more modest in size and appearance than the prize-winning design, but it's both eminently functional and popular. That it was born a "temporary" structure seems irrelevant. It's in good company.

The London Eye went up with a temporary planning permit for the first five years of the new millennium. The Eiffel Tower, built as entrance-way to the 1889 Paris World's Fair, was built to remain just 20 years.

Mr Dalzell is now pushing for a $25 million replacement with provision for light rail. Exactly what he has in mind he hasn't said, but the 2007 contest for "a striking, sculptural" lifting bridge attracted 150 entries, so he has plenty of options to play with. Except, it seems, the winning entry which was costed at more than double Mr Dalzell's budget.

To me, the time to come seeking funds for a replacement bridge is not now, but when the idea of light rail along the waterfront to Britomart and beyond is more than just an unfunded pipe dream. Until then, it is surplus to requirements.

Lurking in the background is a bigger fear. If Mr Dalzell gets his wider, stronger bridge, all future-proofed for light rail, the bus planners, taxi drivers and bus operators will be lobbying from day one to take advantage of the new infrastructure - at least until light rail comes along. Which might be never.

That's a scary prospect. Since Te Wero Bridge opened, the area has rapidly become one of Auckland's most popular promenades, for locals and tourists alike. If buses, taxis and delivery vans get a foothold, it will just as rapidly slip down-market into the no-man's-land of shared spacedom. I'll concede that where inner-city lanes have been reborn as "shared spaces", pedestrians of the braver ilk have ventured out to play "dare" with passing cars. But the thought of our new waterfront promenade having to be shared with cars, or worse, large buses, is appalling. Scaremongering? Unfortunately not. I well recall a transport planning document of June 2008 just oozing with excitement at the uses the planned new bridge could be put to. It would be a traffic bypass, funnelling North Shore and Ponsonby buses through the upgraded Wynyard Quarter to avoid the Fanshawe St bottleneck. A bus every two minutes during peak hours, every three minutes for the rest of the day.

While the temporary bridge remains, the Viaduct Basin is safe from the traffic planners. This will be vital, in 10 or 20 years, and with Fanshawe St gridlocked for much of the day. Then, the only thing protecting Wynyard Quarter from becoming a diesel fume hell is the existing "temporary" bridge.

The whole ethos of the waterfront revival is to turn the water's edge from Queens Wharf to the harbour bridge into a playground for all ages.

It's working. If, at some stage, we can afford light rail access, that's when to build a new bridge. Not before.

- 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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