Standing sentinel across the Waitemata Harbour, the Auckland Harbour Bridge is a crucial piece of infrastructure. It connects the metropolis of the central business district to the North Shore and beyond to Northland.
Before it opened in 1959, the only way passenger vehicles could cross the harbour was by ferry; a time consuming, expensive and infrequently made journey.
Situated on the nation’s main artery State Highway 1, more than a billion cars have travelled across the steel bridge since constructed. More statistics about traffic volumes can be found in the State Highway Traffic reports.
Any delays to traffic on the bridge affect both the Southern and Northern State Highway 1 motorways, so sophisticated planning and management helps keep motorists and freight moving 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A dedicated team of traffic engineers monitors the bridge via live cameras. The cameras transmit images to the NZ Transport Agency’s traffic operations centre in Takapuna where operators can assess the traffic flow and organise emergency services and tow trucks if and when needed.
Browse the accompanying pages to learn the stories of Auckland’s bridge and how the NZ Transport Agency is looking at future crossings of the Waitemata as our population grows.
A fixture on Auckland’s visual landscape for more than fifty years, the Auckland Harbour Bridge has seen its fair share of milestones, events and protests.
Here are some of the highlights:
1920 – The Auckland Canals and Waterways Commission adds ‘consideration for a bridge across the Waitemata Harbour’ to its agenda.
1929 – A Royal Commission decides that with the present population, the expenditure of a bridge was not justified. However, it did identify that any bridge needed a navigation span of 800ft (243 metres) across the harbour.
1943 – The Waitemata Harbour Bridge Association suggests a bridge as an employment project to help rehabilitate returned servicemen from World War II.
1945 – The bridge association, with the support of the Automobile Association(external link) (AA Auckland) petitioned Parliament for another Royal Commission to investigate construction of a bridge.
1946 – The Royal Commission on Trans-Harbour Facilities considers 1,271 pages of evidence and concludes that a bridge will be needed within 15 years.
The fundamental requirements for a bridge were set out in the Commission’s report, including such critical details as the allowances for water mains underneath the bridge. A tunnel was rejected on the basis of cost.
Over the next four years, the Ministry of Works started site investigations and borings of the seabed along the proposed centre line of the bridge. British bridge designers Messrs Freeman, Fox & Partners were asked to complete preliminary designs. After twenty years of advocacy, momentum for a bridge was finally building.
1950 – Parliament passes the Auckland Harbour Bridge Act on 1 December to establish the Auckland Harbour Bridge Authority, whose sole purpose was to “construct, maintain and control a bridge across the Waitemata Harbour from Point Erin to Stokes Point”. It was expressly forbidden from operating any other trans-harbour facility (ferries or a tunnel).
1951 – 8 March – first meeting of the Auckland Harbour Bridge Authority.
1953 – At the end of long negotiations with the British Government and the Local Government Loans Board, Prime Minister Sidney Holland grants funding on the condition that the bridge, its approaches and expenses must come in under £5,000,000. The final decision was made to have a four lane traffic bridge with no provision for rail or footpaths.
1955 – Fabrication of the steel members for the bridge starts at the contractor’s yard in Britain.
1956 – January 27 – Prime Minister Holland unveils the foundation tablet to mark the official start of construction.
1958 – The famous ‘pick-a-back’ operation of November 29 saw the largest central span of the bridge at 480 feet (146 metres) long and weighing in at 2,000 tons floated across the harbour and into place. Resting on top of a pontoon 164 feet (48 metres) in the air, it was a considerable challenge to compete with harbour conditions and wind gusts of up to 30 knots.
1959 – Auckland’s bridge is officially opened on 30 May in the presence of some twelve hundred and fifty guests. The car of New Zealand’s Governor General Viscount Cobham was first to cross, followed by a further 143,389 vehicles in its first week of operation. Cars and taxis were tolled 25c (about $4.70 in today’s money), motorcycles 15c, buses 50c and 40c for commercial vehicles. Motorists could pay their toll at any one of the 14 toll booths on the northern approach to the bridge.
1960 – Popularity of the bridge shows no signs of abating as 4,924,963 vehicles cross it in its first year. The Auckland Harbour Bridge Authority lowers tolls as a result.
1961 – In its second year of operation, 5,712,540 vehicles made the trip to the North Shore, an average of 15,650 per day. Over the next forty years crossings would grow to ten times this number.
1966 – Almost 15 million vehicles cross the Auckland Harbour Bridge each year.
1966 – 1969 – Clip-ons were added to the bridge at a cost of $7.4 million, doubling the number of lanes from four to eight to increase capacity and ease congestion.
1970s – The Auckland Harbour Bridge Authority publishes a book telling the history of the bridge 1951 – 1961. It states “A closed-circuit television system covering the whole facility is envisaged for the future.”
1975 – 23 September: Dame Whina Cooper and Joe Hawke (Ngati Whatua) led a hikoi across the Auckland Harbour Bridge. The hikoi started in Northland and headed for Parliament in Wellington to present a petition to halt the alienation of Maori land.
1979 – Crossings reach 26 million vehicles per year.
1984 – Tolls were officially abolished on 31 March.
1985 – Inspections reveal cracking of the box girder clip-ons. A two-year programme of work ensued with bans on heavy vehicles and a review of the concrete asphalt used on the bridge.
1990 – A moveable lane barrier system (MLB) that includes a barrier and two machines is installed to prevent head-on collisions and manage traffic flows in the ‘tidal’ morning and evening peak system.
1992 – The Auckland Marathon(external link), first held in 1936, becomes the first sports event to cross the Auckland Harbour Bridge. Today the bridge crossing is one of the draw cards for the 10,000 participants in the event.
1995 – The first annual resurfacing of the bridge takes place over the Christmas and New Year holidays avoiding disrupting commuters. A new Dutch surfacing product is used to give better corrosion protection to the steel deck plates.
2001 – Tourists and locals get the opportunity to view Auckland from the top of the truss bridge with the opening of the Auckland Bridge Climb(external link). Established by world renowned AJ Hackett Bungy the operation cost $7 million to set up and also offers a bungy jump from the underneath of the bridge clip-on.
2002 – A new facility to monitor the bridge and Auckland’s motorways and to control the traffic lights at major intersections is opened. The Traffic Management Unit (TMU) is run by Transit New Zealand (NZ Transport Agency’s predecessor) in a collaborative agreement with the region’s local councils and uses closed circuit television and fibre optics to manage traffic. It also ensures the safety of drivers who break down by alerting the relevant authorities to provide immediate assistance, enabling drivers to remain in the safety of their car.
2007 – More than 60 million cars cross the bridge each year (approximately 165,000 per day).
2008 – A two and a half year project to strengthen the bridge’s clip-ons starts in August 2008.
2009 – A new MLB is installed in February with two new machines that work twice as fast as the old machine taking around 20 minutes to change lane configurations.
2009 – Walkers and cyclists illegally cross the bridge in protest about the lack of walking and cycling facilities (24 May).
2009 – The Auckland Harbour Bridge turns 50.
2010 – A new and expanded Traffic Operations Centre (TOC) is opened to replace the TMU. NZ Transport Agency’s Regional Director Wayne McDonald says "The centre will be better able to deliver information that all drivers can use – safety, speed and travel time updates – to the places where they need it most – their cars, vans and trucks."
2010 – Truck restrictions are lifted on the Auckland Harbour Bridge following the successful completion of a two-and-a half year-long programme of works to strengthen both box girders. The restrictions were put in place to reduce vibration, and to help keep the bridge stable during precision welding of steel inside the box girders.
2015 – 2Degrees lights up the Auckland Harbour Bridge for the first time, to celebrate the city’s 175th anniversary. 51,000 lights transformed the bridge into a giant LED music amplifier. The interactive art, music and light show was put on by 2Degrees, with the support of Samsung, NZ Transport Agency and ATEED (Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development). The dynamic light show was synced to music chosen by the public and could be watched from several vantage spots around the harbour or via live stream on mobiles or laptops. ‘Play the Bridge’ celebrated the 175th anniversary of the city, and was the first time the bridge has ever been used as part of a display in its 56-year history.
2015 – Resource consent is granted to the SkyPath Trust for a walking and cycling connection across the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
2016 – Community engagement starts on SeaPath, a 3km proposed shared walking and cycling connection between Esmonde Road in Takapuna and Northcote Point.
2018 – A partnership between Auckland Council and Vector Limited establishes Vector Lights, a ten-year lighting installation on the Harbour Bridge. 90,000 LEDs are carefully installed and the initiative, in collaboration with the NZ Transport Agency, is officially launched by the Prime Minister on Auckland Anniversary Weekend.
2019 – The NZ Transport Agency releases a new design for a walking and cycling connection across the Waitemata Harbour, which will provide a five-metre-wide path flanking the Harbour Bridge’s southbound traffic side, directly linking Westhaven to Northcote Point and connecting with the future SeaPath route.
2021 – On 2 October 2021 the Government announced that it would not proceed with the standalone bridge component of the Northern Pathway project and instead investigate an alternative way for people to walk and cycle across the Waitematā Harbour.