In early 1974, Wellington City Council completed an exploratory tunnel for a second Mt Victoria road tunnel. As the workers emerged into the daylight, they were given cold beers by Mayor Frank Kitts who said Wellingtonians were “keeping our fingers crossed” that the new tunnel would be built soon.
The Ministry of Works’s official was less optimistic: he reckoned construction was years away. There has been little progress since then.
It may end up taking longer than Transmission Gully.
Wellingtonians expect their rates and taxes to deliver infrastructure that makes it quick to get to work and efficient to do business; instead, we’ve had decades of transport paralysis, where optimism has not been matched by action.
And last month saw a double whammy of transport setbacks in Wellington, with Wellington City Council voting for the heavily watered-down “marginally improved bus” scheme (little more than a few tarted-up bus lanes), and the New Zealand Transport Agency’s Basin flyover appeal thrown out of court.
And there is no Plan B.
Top of the list is a replacement for our trolley buses, which are theoretically being retired in 22 months. The regional council’s latest suggestion is for double decker buses that can “kneel” to get through our tunnels, but these would be too heavy for our roads, which are the city council’s responsibility. These kneeling buses haven’t actually been designed yet – but never mind.
That isn’t a plan, or even a hope. More wishful thinking.
Also on the wing-and-a-prayer list is a replacement solution for the Basin flyover, with a tunnel ruled out by engineers as geologically complex and extortionately expensive. Sorting this out is important because real “bus rapid transit” is undeliverable with the Basin in its current state, as last week’s announcement from NZTA made clear.
No flyover, and no tunnel. So what is the plan?
Some of the areas where we have scored poorly are due to Celia Wade-Brown’s failures as Wellington’s mayor. “Quality of roads” is a particular weakness of our competitiveness ranking, yet in March the mayor made a tactical “no show” for the crucial vote on spending central government money to build the connector roads that will plug the Transmission Gully highway into our neighbouring cities.
We let down our regional partners, who consider the roads critical in addressing their transport problems, improving resilience and boosting their economies – an important point given that Wellington’s growth rates have been some of the lowest in New Zealand in the past decade. And we’ll need solidarity from our neighbours if the business case for extending our airport runway stacks up.
The larger problem is the maelstrom of transport agencies and elected bodies working against each other. “Voting for more information” is a favourite political delaying wheeze, but it’s something we’ve been doing for decades – and it has to stop if we’re to have a step-change in our roads, buses and trains.
New South Wales (population 7.6 million) and Auckland (1.4 million) have unitary transport authorities, while metropolitan Wellington (400,000) has a fudge of four territorial authorities, a regional council, NZTA and some input from KiwiRail.
We absolutely need a unified approach to regional transport.
A single transport authority would end the muddled thinking and procrastination, get people onto public transport, and help deliver the growth Wellington desperately needs. Not the false growth promised by the mayor’s pet projects like “Sealandia”, the Ocean Exploration Centre in Lyall Bay, butgrowth built on the ideas and energy of Wellingtonians able to travel around the city quickly and seamlessly. And this needs decisions – not crossed fingers and a hope that somehow we’ll muddle through.
I support there being a single transport authority for Wellington. And it may not even need legislation – just leadership from our local mayors and chair.