Key Points:

Cycling and pedestrian links across Auckland Harbour have been priced at between $24 million and $43 million, heralding a difficult debate among regional and city leaders over their worth.

Consultants have given five project partners, including three Auckland councils and the Government's Transport Agency, a shortlist of options ranging from reallocating space on the bridge's clip-ons for $23.8 million to widening them by 1.2m for $42.7 million.

They say all options would leave "acceptable" widths for general traffic - ranging from 3.09m for each of two lanes for the cheapest proposal, to 3.4m and 3.1m respectively for the most expensive solution.

But their preference is for the latter option, because of the extra space left for buses and trucks.

Although every option would mean a reduction from the 3.65m now available to traffic on the clip-ons, the bridge's four centre lanes are just 3.05m wide.

The consultants recommend allocations of 2.5m to 3m for a cycleway on the bridge's western edge and a walkway on the other side.

But Auckland City officials will recommend to politicians on their transport committee tomorrow that they do not support retro-fitting the bridge with any of the options, saying even the cheapest would chew up almost a year's national funding allocation by the Government for cycling.

A staff report says although the concept is "laudable", likely demand from cyclists and pedestrians would not justify the investment.

Auckland Regional Council transport chairwoman Christine Rose says on the other hand that "crowd control" would be needed for what would become a treasured asset.

"This is a genuine legacy project - walking across the bridge will become a rite of passage for Auckland," she said yesterday.

"No other project can send a clear message about our national transport targets for getting people out of cars."

Cycle Action Auckland chairman Bevan Woodward is furious with the city council report, saying most if not all the cost would be paid by the Government, as opposed to the $51.2 million "iconic" Te Wero bridge over Viaduct Harbour for which ratepayers would carry much of the burden.

"Auckland City is proving itself to be very anti-cycling and walking," he said last night. "There have been massive budget cuts to walking and cycling in the latest [Auckland City] funding allocation."

Auckland City transport chairman Ken Baguley could not be reached for comment, but council travel demand manager Melanie Alexander said there was a limit to Government funding allocations to the region.

The council report says an expected demand of 750 to 1900 cyclists and pedestrians on average days would not be enough to justify the cost.

North Shore Mayor Andrew Williams also expressed reservations about the immediate worth, saying he would prefer cycling and walking links to be deferred until a tunnel is built to take pressure off such a vital national transport lifeline as the harbour bridge.

That is despite a resolution late last year by his council's infrastructure and environment committee supporting cycling and walking across the harbour.

Mr Woodward noted that Auckland City's transport committee passed a similar resolution then. Despite a $45 million bridge strengthening project already begun by the Transport Agency, Mr Williams said he would be nervous about adding extra weight while it remained the only direct traffic connection between his city and Auckland.

Ms Rose said although cars and trains "may one day end up in tunnels under the harbour", the bridge was the only option available for closing an unacceptable gap in regional connections for active, fuel-free modes of transport.

"It's the bridge's 50th birthday next year," she said.

"It's belonged to cars for half a century - it's time to open it up."

* Reallocate space on the outside clip-on lanes.
* Lane width for cars, buses and trucks: 3.09 metres.
* Cost: $24 million.

* Widen the clip-on lanes.
* Lane width for cars, buses and trucks: 3.4m and 3.1m.
* Cost: $43 million.

Would you walk or cycle across the bridge if you had the chance?