A freak gust of wind that tipped two trucks on their sides, damaging a steel strut and causing traffic chaos on the Auckland Harbour Bridge is the latest reminder of the fragility of the city's ageing infrastructure.
From the 1998 power crisis that crippled the central city for five weeks to this year's drought and the urgent repair job on 100km of rail tracks, Auckland's infrastructure has a history of breaking down and causing mayhem. Reporter Bernard Orsman asks the question. Is Auckland the "City of Fails"?
Auckland Harbour Bridge
A freak gust of wind and a truck crash on the Auckland Harbour Bridge brings traffic around the city to a standstill.
Soon after the Auckland Harbour Bridge was built in 1959, it was clear the four-lane bridge would not cope with the traffic and, nine years later, two lanes were clipped to either side of the bridge.
A new harbour crossing has been pushed since the 1980s with talk of a new bridge, tunnels under the Waitematā Harbour, a rail crossing and a radical idea of replacing the existing bridge for a new arching structure supporting a splay of cables in the shape of a sail.
After engineers warned in 2007 of a potential for a "catastrophic failure" in a worst-case scenario, 920 tonnes of extra steel was bolted and welded to the clip-ons to extend the life of the bridge.
Today, the clip-on lanes are open to 50-tonne maximum permitted heavy vehicles and heavier vehicles can use only the truss bridge.
Last year the Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency narrowed down three options for a new crossing - a tunnel for light rail, a combined road and light rail tunnel, and doing nothing - to a combination of a light-rail tunnel plus roading pricing.
The report said truck restrictions would be needed by 2030, noting the daily number of truck movements is due to rise by the current 11,000 to 26,000 by 2046. The Northern Busway will also be at capacity by 2030.
Plans are progressing to build the SkyPath cycleway and walkway over the bridge costing about $240 million.
There is no clear solution in sight, just the usual political bickering that blights big infrastructure projects across the city.
Transport Minister Phil Twyford has said the planning and approvals process for a new crossing will take "no less than a decade" and five to seven years to build.
The Government and Auckland Council's transport plan for Auckland says construction "is not anticipated to commence until at least the late 2030s". The current Government has no plans to fast-track the process. Instead, it is focused on expanding the Northern Busway to ease pressure on the bridge.
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has said there is no case for an early start.
National, under Judith Collins, has promised to start construction in 2028 for a double-decker tunnel with road and rail on separate levels - likely to be running from Esmonde Rd on the North Shore to under the Auckland CBD to connect with Britomart.
Collins said "this will be New Zealand's biggest ever infrastructure project", but has not costed the work.
The Automobile Association said a big problem was the amount of congestion at either end of the bridge and that adding a flash new crossing would make the bottlenecks only worse.
The AA has suggested the transport agency reconsider options for the road part of a new crossing to the east or west of the harbour bridge. It wants a new crossing to be a mix of road and public transport.
Aucklanders face the Third-World prospect of lining up with buckets at water pumps over summer after one of the worst droughts in the city's history.
Every year the skies dump 1.2m of rain on Auckland, but the city is facing a severe water crisis because of a lack of rain and, some would say, a lack of foresight on the part of politicians and the executives and unelected directors at Watercare.
Between January 20 and April 6, Auckland went 78 days with less than 1mm of rain, Watercare reported a "record-smashing" 561 million litres of water being used on February 10, and the city's dam levels plummeted to 42 per cent full.
It was the second drought in two years in a city growing by 40,000 people a year.
Auckland gets 80 per cent of its water from dams in the Hūnua Ranges (60 per cent) and Waitākere Ranges (20 per cent). The other 20 per cent comes from the Waikato River and other sources.
The last time Auckland built a new dam - Mangatangi in the Hūnua Ranges - was in 1977 when the population was 750,000. Since then, the population has doubled to 1.6 million.
After a severe drought in 2004, a $100m water treatment plant and 37km pipeline was built to deliver 150 million litres of water a day (MLD) from the Waikato River to handle a one in 200-year drought.
In 2013, acting on expert advice that demand for water could exceed supply between 2020 and 2023, Watercare lodged a resource consent application to take a further 200MLD from the Waikato River. The consent is in a long queue still waiting to be heard.
Watercare has defended its drought response, saying it has been operating to the one in 200-year standard and said if Aucklanders want a more resilient system, they need to be prepared to stump up more money.
Mayor Phil Goff says the council has to bear some responsibility, but accused Watercare of not having a "fit for purpose" drought management plan and called for a more resilient system.
The drought has resulted in short-term measures to prop up the city's water supplies heading into summer and the need remains for long-term solutions.
The city will have an extra 25MLD from the Waikato River and 15MLD from other sources, as well as saving 40MLD, heading into summer, but as Goff pointed out last week, the dam levels are not rising. They are currently about 67 per cent full, compared to 90 per cent at this time of year.
By the middle of next year, the city will have an extra 50MLD from the Waikato River.
In the longer term, Watercare should get its hearing for an extra 200MLD from the Waikato River and is considering desalination plants and recycling water. Another long-term solution is to follow cities such as Sydney and insist on making rainwater tanks compulsory in new builds. There are no plans by Watercare to build any more dams.
Much of Auckland's rail tracks are substandard and will take six months to replace. In the meantime, commuter trains must slow down from 80km/h to 40km/h.
The problem with public transport in Auckland is there is not enough of it.
Up until the 1950s, the city's trams carried up to 120 million passengers a year before the network was removed, motorways built, cars became king and suburban sprawl took hold.
Fast-forward to today and Auckland has made some good progress to building a half-decent public transport system serving a growing city.
The first big step came in 2003 when the Britomart train station opened in the heart of the city, sparking a revival in commuter rail. This was followed by the hugely successful Northern Busway in 2008 - now being extended to Albany - and electrification of the rail network.
Other improvements to the PT network have included the introduction of electric trains in 2014 and the AT HOP card.
By the middle of last year, public transport trips topped 100 million and work is well underway on the $4.4 billion City Rail Link, which will double the capacity of the rail network.
But compared to other international cities, Auckland is still in nappies when it comes to public transport. The buses, trains and ferries are struggling to keep up with soaring demand, and breakdowns and congestion on the roads are a daily headache for commuters.
KiwiRail is undertaking urgent work to replace 100km of track in six months because of wear on the network. Train speeds have been lowered from 80km/h to 40km/h.
There is a joint Government and Auckland Council transport plan for the city costed at $28 billion over 10 years, but progress is painfully slow and the council, in particular, is short of money. Rising costs and population growth make matters worse.
Auckland's public transport is hampered by geography, politics, bureaucracy and, most of all, a shortage of money.
When the city gets a new piece of public transport, such as the Northern Busway, people flock to it. It will be the same when the Eastern Busway, linking Panmure to Botany, is built at a cost of $1.4b.
People in the West are crying out for rapid buses to the city after the last National Government ignored a busway when it widened the Northwestern Motorway.
There's a debate about the best form of rapid transit (fast public transport that doesn't mix with cars) for the city. The debate is between heavy rail, light rail and rapid buses.
If Labour and the Greens get back into government, they have pledged to continue with a plan for light rail from the CBD to the airport and West Auckland. Light rail, or modern-day trams, will cost billions of dollars and cause years of disruption.
A National government would scrap "light rail ghost trains" and replace them with rapid buses from the CBD to Onehunga and down the Northwestern Motorway.
Large chunks of concrete breaking off Auckland Airport's runway earlier this year led to the cancellation of flights.
Auckland Airport is New Zealand's major gateway, where 21 million passengers a year passed through before Covid-19.
But abrupt runway closures within a fortnight because of a deteriorating runway earlier this year and the fuel pipeline rupture, which crippled aviation, exposed brittle infrastructure and harmed Brand NZ.
The unexpected incident of a digger working in a Northland swamp and rupturing a pipeline carrying fuel from Marsden Point to Auckland Airport cut the airport's fuel supply for 10 days and led to the cancellation of more than 100 flights.
A Government inquiry into the 2017 incident found Auckland's jet fuel supply was not sufficiently resilient and immediate investment was needed into fuel supply infrastructure as well as a new national fuel emergency plan.
Dr Nirmal Nair, from the University of Auckland's Department of Electrical, Computer, Software Engineering, said the fuel rupture incident "brought into focus the relative blase and unprepared attitude of successive New Zealand governments towards formulating a serious national fuel emergency policy".
Fast-forward a few years and chunks of concrete began falling off the 50-year-old runway earlier this year.
A document seen by the Herald detailed problems on the runway and showed 14 patch-ups were needed since September 2018 with most needing "quick-stick repairs to prevent deterioration".
NZ Airport Pilots Association president Andrew Ridling accused the airport company of taking its eye off the ball, spending lots of money on terminals and car parks and forgetting about the major issue of making sure plans can land and take off.
Airlines for Australia and NZ said the airport company was not spending enough on the "crumbling asset".
The airport company hit back, saying it had spent $48 million on pavement replacement and airfield maintenance.
The two incidents have raised questions about the balance between aeronautical and diversification priorities, with critics accusing the airport company of being more interested in being a mega-mall and car park operator.
Auckland Airport says it completed its runway maintenance programme on August 17 when the strip of tarmac was reduced by 1100 metres to replace 280 concrete slabs while working with airlines on a plan that did not disrupt flights.
The onset of Covid-19 that has brought international travel to its knees has forced Auckland Airport to review its development plans and defer $2 billion worth of projects. They include a second runway, expanding the international arrivals area and upgrading the domestic terminal.
These projects will be looked at again when there is more certainty about future market conditions.
Before the Government inquiry into the ruptured pipeline, Auckland Airport updated its long-range jet fuel demand forecast and convened a supply co-ordination forum, which includes airlines, airport and fuel company representatives.
The country's three biggest airports come under the watch of the Commerce Commission when it comes to setting prices for many of their activities.
The commission's powers do not extend to taking action on shabby services at the airport - unlike setting specific standards for power companies.
Who can forget the Auckland power crisis in 1998 or the simple shackle that blacked out half of Auckland in 2006?
Twenty-two years ago, a glorious summer had a crippling effect on central Auckland's ageing power supply. A series of faults in the city's electrical arteries left the heart of the city nearly powerless for five weeks in February and March 1998.
The CBD, dependent on its lifeblood of electricity for commerce, government and a growing number of apartment dwellers, was left with the comparatively feeble pulse of one underground cable and generators plonked on city streets.
The CBD was fed by four 110 kilo-volt underground main cables - one pair that were gas-filled and dated from the 1940s and another pair of oil-filled cables from the 1970s - and a solo 22kV cable from Kingsland.
Hot, dry ground and heat changes in the cables caused movement and instability. Faults in the gas cables put more demand on the oil ones, which overheated and failed.
A power supply tunnel, containing new cables, from Penrose to the CBD, was completed in 2001.
One of the results of the 1998 ministerial inquiry was that lines companies were required to publish their asset management plans.
Eight years later, in June 2006, it was the turn of half of the city to lose power.
Ageing infrastructure and the weather were again at fault, but this time, rather than a complex, multi-layered cable, it was ridiculously simple: two rusted steel shackles on overhead earth wires.
The D-shaped connector shackles had broken in a 90km/h wind, allowing the wires to fall and make contact with a 220kV and 110kV conductors at the Ōtāhuhu substation.
Power was cut to 230,000 customers - more than 700,000 people - in the CBD and in central and southern suburbs for six hours after the morning failure.
The disruption included people being trapped in lifts. About 300 traffic signals failed, trains stopped, and Auckland University of Technology closed its city campus.
Mother Nature whipped up another big power outage in 2018 when winds of up to more than 200km/h battered the city, bringing trees crashing on to homes and leaving 180,000 Auckland customers without power. It was several days before power was restored to many homes.
In the past 10 to 15 years, the national grid operator Transpower and local lines company Vector have spent $1.3 billion and $2.3b respectively to upgrade the city's power supply and meet the region's growth.
Transpower has built a major enhancement to Auckland's power supply with a 400kV line between the Waikato River hydro station to take the load off the existing 220kV lines.
New underground 220kV lines have also been installed from Whitford to Pakuranga, and a new underground 220kV line between Pakuranga and Albany. A new outdoor switching facility opened at the Otahuhu in 2010 to duplicate the original substation and reduce the risk of another 2006 power outage.
Transpower has released a strategy for Auckland looking out to 2050, including plans for a new cross-harbour cable between 2030 and 2050.
Vector is focused on meeting Auckland's needs into the future, investing in smart meters to understand consumption and growth trends and technology solutions like large-scale solutions and the uptake of electric vehicles.
Local solutions have included a microgrid in Kawakawa Bay and investments at Piha, where strong winds and falling trees cause outages. The company has worked on keeping trees clear of power lines, and accepts climate change will bring more strong wind events. Another challenge for the company is rising traffic volumes causing more cars to hit power poles and cause outages.