Waitematā Harbour crossings

Opened in 1959, the Auckland Harbour Bridge is a distinctive and crucial piece of infrastructure. The incident in September 2020 when a truck was tipped over by a strong wind gust, causing damage to the bridge structure and creating traffic chaos, showed how reliant we are on our main harbour crossing. Currently, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency and Auckland Transport are looking at alternative harbour crossings. Some of the suggestions mentioned in the media, including a proposal for a tunnel under the harbour are not exactly new ideas. Auckland’s traffic woes and the debate about how efficiently to move people across the Waitematā Harbour is an age-old issue which can be seen in various documents held in the Archives.

Image: St Mary’s Bay looking towards Auckland Harbour Bridge, 1981 (Auckland Council Archives, Auckland City Council photographic department, ACC 497/1bl)

For instance, the idea of a harbour bridge was raised at a meeting of the Birkenhead Borough Council on 16 April 1919. Councillor Ernest Skeates mentioned many local authorities were discussing the idea of suitable memorials to commemorate World War I. He thought it would be wasteful spending money on building a useless object and suggested Birkenhead Borough Council should try to enlist the support of Auckland City Council and other local bodies in erecting a permanent and useful monument. Councillor Skeates thought a bridge across the Waitematā Harbour would be a fitting memorial as it would be both permanent and useful. He proposed the pillars of the bridge could be named after the principal battles of the Great War. It was resolved the Council would suggest a bridge as a peace memorial and other local bodies be asked to join in progressing the matter. [BCC 111/8/p.44]. This idea fell flat with Auckland City Council and other local authorities eventually committing to building a museum in Auckland Domain.

Image: Birkenhead Borough Council, 1915–1917, (Auckland Council Archives, Photographs of mayors, councillors and staff of Birkenhead Borough and City Council, BCC 485/8)

We also have plans showing a proposed traffic tunnel under Waitematā Harbour dating from 1929. The plan below shows the cross section and longitudinal section of a tunnel and is traced from a plan submitted by Mr R D Stuart to the Waitematā Harbour Transit Facilities Commission which was established by the Government to investigate Waitematā Harbour transport requirements. The Commission considered various options for bridges and tunnels but eventually rejected a trans-harbour tunnel as being out of the question due to practical and financial reasons. [New Zealand Herald, 7 December 1929, p.15].

Image: Plan of proposed traffic tunnel under Auckland Harbour, traced from a plan submitted by Mr R D Stuart and signed by J R Marks, 1929 (Auckland Council Archives, Auckland City Council Town Planning maps, ACC 005/63)

As well, we have a drawing dating from 1937 produced by Dr J J C Bradfield and Son. This drawing for a proposed harbour bridge includes lanes for trams. Dr J J C Bradfield was the chief engineer who prepared the design and supervised the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Dr Bradfield visited Auckland in 1937 to speak at the conference of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science. He brought with him plans and specifications that he intended to use to illustrate his address. [Auckland Star, 12 January 1937, p.3].

Image: Proposed layout for bridge over Waitematā Harbour by Dr J J C Bradfield & Son, Sydney, 18 May 1937 (Auckland Council Archives, Auckland City Council Engineer's Department plans, ACC 015/7853-2)

In 1939 the Auckland Provincial Centennial Committee was receiving and considering various proposals for centennial memorials. Some of the suggestions received were a Waitākere Ranges Park, an art gallery, a municipal theatre, statue of Governor Hobson, a trans-harbour tunnel, a traffic bridge over Wyndham Street and a maternity hospital. The trans-harbour tunnel suggestion was put forward by Mr R D Stewart, however the Committee eliminated both the Wyndham Street bridge and harbour tunnel on the grounds of financial impracticality. [Minutes of the Auckland Provincial Centennial Council special sub-committee, 17 February 1939, ACC 275/174-38 pt 1].

While a trans-harbour centennial memorial tunnel may have been discounted in 1939, tunnels continued to pop up in discussions regarding harbour crossings. For example, a tunnel appears on a locality plan produced by the Auckland Trans-Harbour Facilities Commission Board in 1946. The plan shows the proposed bridge site, former proposed bridge site, suggested waterfront road, suggested northern highway outlet and a tunnel route. The Commission Board considered 1,271 pages of evidence and concluded that a bridge would be needed within 15 years. They also investigated whether a tunnel under the Waitematā Harbour would be feasible, but again it was rejected on the basis of cost. [Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1946 Wātū I, D-06].

Image: Locality plan showing site of Auckland harbour bridge, 1946, (Auckland Council Archives, Auckland City Council Town Planning map, ACC 005/697)

Author: Vicky Spalding, Senior Archivist, Auckland Council Archives