Have you ever stalled on the Auckland Harbour Bridge? It doesn't happen very often because the bridge with its tidal lanes is the most reliable free-flowing stretch of the Northern Motorway. But if you have to stop up there it is a most unpleasant place to be.
The traffic in other lanes is rushing past, it's noisy and it shakes. The structure is made to flex with the weight of traffic. I don't know why anyone would want to stop up there. I don't know why anyone would want to walk or bike over it either. It wouldn't be pleasant.
We may soon find out. Construction of a shared path, separated for walking and cycling within a translucent tube below the traffic, was programmed to start next year under the Government's $8 billion infrastructure announcement last week.
I doubt I will want to walk across the bridge more than once. A million curious Aucklanders will probably want to experience it, once. Tourists might use it more but it won't be much like Sydney's popular bridge walk. Auckland's harbour is much wider. It will be a long walk for a view of the city waterfront and harbourside suburbs that tourists can get more easily and quickly from buses that cross the bridge for it.
I suspect commercial investors in the Skypath came to these conclusions long ago. Way back when it was first mooted, if anyone remembers, it was expected to be so popular it would pay for itself with a toll, the same way motorists paid for the bridge.
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The people who dreamed up the Skypath were not alone in thinking it would be a success. Residents of Northcote Point campaigned unsuccessfully against it, fearing the number of cars that might clog their streets at the walking and cycling portal.
Back then, the project was a public-private partnership. There is no better way to test the economic worth of a proposed public asset than a partnership with a private investor, provided the private partner risks losing money if it miscalculates the asset's likely use.
The Skypath ceased to be a public-private partnership three years ago. The construction partner, Downer, pulled out saying it disagreed with the fixed price set for the contract the year before. Bevan Woodward, project director of the Skypath Trust, said Downer's role had been valuable "because they've had checked the feasibility of the design work and reviewed the whole project".
Precisely, and they were pulling out.
Auckland councillor Chris Darby said Downer had simply found more lucrative investments in the building boom, which is the point. It's fairly important for an economy that all investment is made for the best return.
Undeterred by the project's failure to pass an economic test, the trust and the council looked to the new Government. Labour and the Greens were naturally keen. Walkways and bikeways loom large in their conception of a climate-friendly future.
Once a public project is relieved of a commercial check, there is no limit to its cost. When the Government picked up the Skypath in 2018 it was promised $67 million. In last week's announcement, the project had been combined with a 3km sea path alongside the motorway to Takapuna and the total provision was, wait for it, $360 million.
The NZ Transport Agency blamed the complexity of engineering required on the bridge. The agency has never seemed enthusiastic about a bikeway on the bridge, probably for good reason. It is charged with maintaining the 50-year-old structure along with the rest of the national highway network.
When the Government passed the Skypath project to the NZTA, the agency quickly got into a dispute with the Skypath Trust over the rights to the trust's designs. The trust wanted $1.6 million for its "intellectual property", explaining that it needed to pay consultants, who had worked for a deferred payment. That would have been when the project was going to pay off.
Consultants who work on that basis are taking a commercial risk and there should be no obligation on the taxpayer to bail them out. But last year the Government put a more compliant board in charge of the NZTA and in December the agency paid the Skypath Trust $1.8 million.
It did this despite not being satisfied with the trust's designs anyway. The trust had conceived its bridge addition as a clip-on to the existing southbound clip-on. The NZTA has designed a revised structure attached to the piers under the bridge.
It's going to cost the best part of $360 million, just some of the money the Government has been urged to throw around because interest rates are low and business likes constant stimulation. But white elephants live for a long time.
A little-used footpath and bikeway on the Harbour Bridge may be a soft Government's lasting monument.