According to Long’s Axiom, an elephant is a mouse built to government specifications. The saying is a corollary to the old gag about a camel being a horse designed by a committee.
Both quips are apt to describe Auckland’s ill-fated SkyPath.
The Auckland Harbour Bridge Shared Path (as it is now known) was to provide a cycleway and walkway between Westhaven and Northcote on Auckland’s harbour bridge.
When first mooted by the AHB Pathway Trust in 2011, the project was estimated to cost $40 million. A $2 toll would ensure the pathway came at no cost either to Auckland’s ratepayers or the taxpayer.
Fast forward to 2018 and that $40 million had ballooned to $67 million. And the user pays idea had been abandoned. Instead, then Transport Minister Phil Twyford announced that taxpayers would fully fund the “transformational” project. God bless them.
Just two years later the New Zealand Transport Agency announced SkyPath’s estimated costs had blown out to a staggering $360 million. And without so much as a blink of an eyelid, NZTA put the project forward as “shovel-ready,” to be fast-tracked by the Government to kick-start the post-Covid recovery. Lest anyone question SkyPath’s value for money at this elephantine price, NZTA’s cost-benefit analysis for the project concealed all its assumptions and calculations.
It’s been said that not even a shovel is shovel-ready these days. Fortunately for taxpayers, so it has proved with the SkyPath.
Despite claims by the Head of Auckland Council’s Planning Committee and SkyPath proponent Chris Darby that the project had “been put through the wringer like no other transport project has,” SkyPath turns out not even to be feasible. Just like Auckland’s commuters, the aging harbour bridge’s concrete pillars cannot bear the weight.
For the cost-conscious taxpayer, SkyPath’s belated engineering stumbling block might come as a relief. Who would bet against the SkyPath’s finished cost not breaching NZTA’s latest estimate by another $100 million or two?
But if taxpayers think the SkyPath saga is over, they need to think again. NZTA is pondering a new way for cyclists and pedestrians (and buses) to cross the harbour. A purpose-built bridge. The Automobile Association estimates the costs at $2 billion.
Now that would be some elephant.