Cost estimates for the Memorial Park to city centre walkway have jumped up by millions, with a decision on the on-again, off-again project's future due today.
The new estimates come as an official information request reveals the Tauranga City Council has spent $538,000 investigating the concept since it was first mooted 15 years ago.
The current iteration proposes a 900m coastal cycle/walkway - either a rock revetment or timber boardwalk - from Memorial Park to the city centre via The Strand.
In a meeting today the council is expected to make a call on whether to sign off the start of work on the next phase of the project: Creating concept plans.
It faced the same decision last month but the vote was split and Mayor Greg Brownless - who voted against continuing the project - refused to use his casting vote to tip the balance.
Brownless told the Bay of Plenty Times he had not decided how he would vote if put in the same position today.
As at the July meeting, the most updated cost estimates put the project at between $5m and $7m - figures first reported to the council in August last year. That covered construction of a 3m to 5m wide timber boardwalk plus a 10 to 15 per cent contingency.
New estimates sent to elected members this week by public spaces team leader Doug Spittle, however, put the cost for the 900m stretch as high as $14m.
According to the estimates, the total cost of the project, if built in 2022, would be $8.7m for a timber boardwalk or $14m for a rock revetment.
If the walkway were to be extended to include additional work on The Strand extension section (around the Harbourside Restaurant building), as has been proposed, the total costs could hit $11.8m for a boardwalk and $17.1m with rock.
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That would include $118,600 for steps from adjoining properties to the harbour and $116,000 for boat ramps.
With no concept plans - and therefore a lot of unknowns - the new estimates were compiled based on experience from other projects and the earlier report on construction costs, Spittle said.
Asked for more information about the cost increases, Spittle said that topic would be discussed in today's meeting.
As the updated estimates had been requested by the elected members, they should have the first opportunity to question the information, he said.
In a report to be presented at today's meeting, council staff urged the elected members to sign off the next phase of work so "robust information" would be available for a future decision about whether or not to construct the pathway. The concept designs would cost $200,000 to $300,000.
Chris Ingram, a cyclist and supporter of the project, also hoped the council would get on with it.
Asked about the new cost estimates, he said he believed the council would be able to get funding from "outside sources" such as the New Zealand Transport Agency, Provincial Growth Fund, and charitable trusts to help pay for the project.
He pointed to 2016 research on the NZ Cycle Trail that found a cost-benefit of $3.55 for every dollar spent as evidence the city would benefit from the pathway.
Most of the 16 private landowners who have riparian rights to the foreshore the pathway would follow, however, remained opposed to the pathway. The council was anticipating a potential legal battle.
Another opposing group - the Tauranga Harbour Protection Society, which included some landowners as well as others - said the council could not afford the project, even at the earlier cost estimates.
In a letter to elected members, the society said it would be "irresponsible" for the council to continue the "non-essential" project with increasing council debt and more critical projects to fund - including many other city cycleways and roads.
"Councillors that support this project can only be recognised as not being good stewards of our community's hard-earned rates."
The society also raised concerns about the environmental impact of the structure, the quality of the council's consultation and whether the structure could withstand rising sea levels.
The group has commissioned preliminary drawings of an alternative to the pathway, which would see a cycleway added to Devonport Rd.
Ingram said Devonport Rd was "narrow, hilly and dangerous" and not suited to more foot and cycle traffic, especially if that involved the loss of on-street parking.
The council's report noted the coastal pathway would be a safer, flatter and healthier alternative for cyclists and walkers to Devonport Rd.
Sunk costs: Half a million spent already
The pathway project has a long history. From the first serious investigations in 2004 to now, it has been raised every three years during Long-Term Plan talks.
According to figures provided to the Bay of Plenty Times under official information legislation, the council has spent $538,000 looking into pathway concepts since 2004.
That covered community engagement, consultation with residents, legal advice and other project costs.
Most of it - $481,000 - was spent between 2007 and 2009, when a proposal to build the pathway as part of the Southern Pipeline project was investigated.
The council dropped that idea - which would have seen the pathway run along the foreshore and cross the harbour to Matapihi - in 2009 after cost estimates hit $12m.
The remaining $58,000 was spent in the last three financial years.
The project was revived in 2015 and then again in 2018 during Long-Term Plan discussions, with the council taking the idea to the community for consultation earlier this year.
The vast majority of the responses supported the project progressing.