Transport officials are believed to be secretly planning a new bridge alongside the Auckland Harbour Bridge for the Northern Busway, a cycleway and walkway.
The Herald understands work on evaluating a new bridge has been under way for some time but is being kept under wraps for the Government to make an announcement.
Last night, the Automobile Association's infrastructure spokesman Barney Irvine said he had also heard murmurings about a new bridge with two lanes for the busway, plus purpose-built walking and cycling lanes.
This week, the Herald revealed that the walking and cycling path over the bridge, popularly known as SkyPath, has run into "significant and complex engineering issues" and the current design will be scrapped.
Transport Minister Michael Wood would not say if he was aware of plans for a new bridge, but said the Government is still committed to walking and cycling across the Waitematā.
"Building a walking and cycling connection across the harbour is a complex engineering challenge, and the recent damage to the Auckland Harbour Bridge reinforces the need to ensure we maintain it to the best of our ability," Wood said.
"Waka Kotahi (NZ Transport Agency) is working with the alliance appointed to deliver the project to make sure the design is fit for purpose and I'm looking forward to being updated when that work is complete."
When asked if Waka Kotahi is evaluating a parallel bridge to the Auckland Harbour Bridge, a spokesman said: "I cannot confirm that."
The first hint of a new harbour bridge for public transport, walking and cycling came in a column in the Herald by former senior editor John Roughan in November.
He said the parallel bridge would be a completely independent structure standing on its own piles. As proposed, it would be a busway, completing the Northern Busway that stops just short of the bridge on both sides at present. The design also includes a footpath and bikeway.
Under this proposal, buses would no longer travel across the Auckland Harbour Bridge and all eight lanes would be available for cars, commercial vehicles and trucks.
Irvine said the proposal, which could cost less than $2 billion, was certainly worth looking at and could achieve a lot of benefits faster and cheaper than a proposed $5 billion rail tunnel not set to begin construction until the late 2030s.
"It might buy us a bit of time before we need the full Monty."
Irvine said the new bridge could potentially add three traffic lanes - two for buses and another for motor vehicles - which would help with alleviate Auckland's worsening congestion.
Waka Kotahi said the existing bridge is able to operate indefinitely as a key strategic asset in Auckland, although there could be some loading restrictions in future from growth in the number of heavy vehicles using the bridge.
In May 2019, Waka Kotahi announced plans for the $360m Northern Pathway, including $240m for SkyPath and $120m to extend the path to Esmonde Rd.
The design envisaged the pathway attached to the bridge piles, rather than the clip-ons, to avoid load restrictions.
In September last year, a freak 127km/h gust of wind blew a truck against the bridge superstructure, damaging a span and closing its central lanes.
Last month, Waka Kotahi's general manager of transport services Brett Gliddon and board chairman Sir Brian Roche appeared before a parliamentary select committee where Gliddon said it was no longer possible to strengthen the bridge.
"We believe we've strengthened it as much as we possibly can and we can't add more steel into it. It's counter-productive."
Bike Auckland chairwoman Barb Cuthbert was unaware of plans for a new bridge, but wanted to know how it would function, how long it would take to build and the cost.
"What we have seen is endless delays. The longer it goes the less credibility the public authorities deserve. They are just like Father Christmas with never a Christmas coming," said Cuthbert, who has lost confidence in Waka Kotahi to deliver the project.