The NZ Transport Agency has released plans for its preferred option for a shared path over the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
The new design for the long-awaited cycleway and walkway will provide a 5m-wide path flanking the Harbour Bridge's southbound traffic side, directly linking Westhaven to Northcote Pt and connecting with the future SeaPath route to Takapuna.
The decision comes after the concept for the path was created more than a decade ago - causing turmoil between NZTA and with the original concept developer, the SkyPath Trust.
It wasn't until February this year that NZTA announced that construction on the shared path could start as early as next year, but it was still reviewing design options for the mega project.
However, SkyPath Trust said the design review was a "ploy to delay" its construction even further.
The trust has since planned a protest march across the bridge, on May 26, as it believes it is being sabotaged by the NZTA after it has been pushing for the project for more than a decade.
But in a release today, NZTA said an independent investigation by legal firm Simpson Grierson had found no wrongdoing by the agency in its dealings with the trust.
However, the report did say there could have been better communication between the two organisations.
NZTA interim chief executive Mark Ratcliffe said the agency was committed to improving its relationship with the SkyPath Trust.
Brett Gliddon, GM of system design and delivery, also acknowledged the "tireless work and dedication of those who have campaigned for a walking and cycling connection across the bridge, in particular the SkyPath Trust".
"While recognising their vision and legacy the Transport Agency is also mindful of its role to ensure that we deliver the best outcomes and value for money for all New Zealanders," he said.
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has welcomed confirmation by the NZTA that construction of the walk and cycle path will start next year.
"Being able to walk and bike between the North Shore and the city centre for the first time will be exciting and transformative for the city," he said.
"It allows choice of travel for commuters, recreational users and tourists, and will take pressure off the congested roadway.
"The best news, however, is that we now have a time frame with the announcement that construction will start next year. Like most Aucklanders, I want to see this happen as soon as possible."
Asked how he felt about NZTA's qualified commitment, that construction "could start as early as next year", Goff said, "You don't mention a start date unless you have every intention of achieving it."
Gliddon said he was delighted to be able to give more detailed information and certainty about the walking and cycling path.
The selected design allows for separation between people on foot and on bikes, making it safer and more enjoyable for all users.
"We're confident this will deliver the safest, most enduring solution not only for people now but also for future generations, and that it will become much more than just a transport connection," he said.
"We are committed to transforming walking and cycling in Auckland and this design offers the most far-reaching and enduring benefits."
The design would see the path attached to the bridge piers rather than the clip on, so there will be no load restrictions - meaning there will not be restrictions on the number of people able to access the path at one time, and it is designed to cater for future demands.
It will allow for different active modes to share the space, as well as the ability for people to access and exit the path from the existing bridge in an emergency.
The path will also include wide viewing galleries where people can gather to enjoy views without impeding the travel of pedestrians and cyclists.
"The route includes areas to pause and sit and it will have three generous viewing galleries. These galleries are terraced down from the pathway to create a natural seating area, distinct from the cycleway.
"About 100 metres long and more than 2 metres wide, they provide plenty of places for people to rest and enjoy the beautiful views from the iconic bridge," Gliddon said.
One matter still unresolved is the name of the project. "SkyPath" is the name used by the SkyPath Trust", and NZTA has avoided using it in the publicity about the new proposal.
NZTA is also continuing to work on SeaPath, a 4km shared path between Northcote Pt and Esmonde Rd, Takapuna to ensure the design coordinates with plans for the Harbour Bridge Shared Path.
Mayor, community welcome new design:
North Shore Ward councillors Chris Darby and Richard Hills also said they were pleased to see renewed progress.
"It's been 12 long years for me, steering this project towards fruition, so I'm relieved to see genuine progress being made," Darby said.
"The walking and cycle way over the Harbour Bridge will be a beacon for biking, a call to Aucklanders to get active and get connected. It will be a 'what took you so long' success story."
Barb Cuthbert of Bike Auckland said ever since the bridge was built, people have wanted to walk and bike across it.
"Today, at long last, the Transport Agency is demonstrating to the public that it has the capacity to add a walking and cycling path to the Harbour Bridge," she said.
"This can't come soon enough for the people of Auckland and the millions of tourists who delight in our city's spectacular harbour and volcanic skyline.
"We're especially relieved to learn the agency has committed to a design that captures the stunning essence of SkyPath, adds extra width, and works well with the existing structure."
Cuthbert said the pressure is now on NZTA to give the public a clear idea of the timeline, and to identify and resolve any roadblocks.
"Aucklanders are tired of delays, and deserve certainty. That certainty will come as we see details of the landings at each end of the bridge, and get clarity around whether the existing resource consent can be leveraged to ensure rapid delivery."
She also strongly encouraged NZTA and the SkyPath Trust to work together to resolve any outstanding issues.
"Let's acknowledge that this design ultimately rests on the inspirational leadership and momentum generated by thousands of dedicated volunteer hours of energy, expertise and public spirit, thanks to the GetAcross campaign and the SkyPath Trust.
"Their vision and tenacity has spurred NZTA to action. We also credit the unflagging support of the people of Auckland, and this Government's commitment to delivering a harbour crossing as a proud legacy for our city."
The original proposal was for the construction of a 1km-long, 4m-wide path attached to the bottom of the bridge between Northcote Pt and Westhaven.
It was to be connected with SeaPath, a 3km cycle and walkway from Northcote Pt and along the motorway to Esmonde Rd in Takapuna - at a combined cost of $99m.
Both projects were initially forecast to be completed by 2021.
While the plans have been mooted for more than a decade, the Government announced last August it would fully fund the $67m project.
The project suffered a series of setbacks since it received resource consent in November 2016, including Downer Construction pulling out from building it and the SkyPath Trust withdrawing support from the public-private partnership (PPP) formed to build and toll it.
Then in February, NZTA announced it was reviewing SkyPath's design options and that a business case was well under way with construction possibly beginning early next year.