A guest post by Wellington City East Ward Councillor, Sean Rush:
During the Wellington City Council election campaign it became very clear to me that the number one priority for the Eastern Ward was for Mt Vic to be de-congested. So I did quite a bit of research on the Duplicate Mt. Vic tunnel project in preparation for the Wellington City Council meet held last week. There we approved funding of the indicative business cases which will report back to us the optimal sequencing of the projects. The National party petition was launched a day or so before this meeting and is a simplified call to get on with it and extend the motorway to the airport.
But the project is more than roading. It will also include enhanced walking and cycling paths, consistent with our objectives to make our city ‘walkable’ and deliver options for ‘mode shift.’ The evening traffic bottleneck would be pushed back to the Miramar cutting but will be significantly reduced by the traffic exiting to the airport, the businesses in Rongotai/Lyall Bay and residents in Kilbirnie and Strathmore. The waterfront traffic along Aotea Quay and all around to Evans Bay will also be thinned as will the morning traffic that is now coming over Roseneath. The morning bottleneck might disappear, and permanently once the proposed mass rapid transit system is up and running.
So it is hard to fathom why extending the motorway further is such an emotive subject – motorways the world over go to the airport, why not in New Zealand? The airport opened in 1959 and an extension was first mooted in the 1960s when consultants, De Leuw Cather from San Francisco, recommended extending the motorway via a second Mt Victoria tunnel. De Leuw Cather also recommended a rail option from the Ferry Terminal through the city and out to Newtown, noting that the cost would be mitigated by the uplift in land value expected along the proposed route. So the issues and themes are not new, but have been exacerbated by the increase in population since the 1960s and that is going to get worse as the airport’s business expands and we find homes for 80,000 more residents. We can no longer dither.
Over the decades, NZTA has quietly acquired properties all along the proposed route. Parents of kids at the Hataitai kindergarten by the tunnel were told in 1971 that construction might mean they would have to move. The Basin Bridge decision set the project back. In the meantime roading became political as a consequence of the left leaning Coalition Government’s new focus on trains and budget cuts for the roads that the previous, right leaning, Government had planned. This politicisation is apparent now at the local body level. I called for a resolution that officials communicate early opportunities by which we could consider expediting the Mt Vic work, a fairly innocuous plea for my constituents in the East. But I was voted down by what is regarded as the ‘left leaning’ block. A subsequent motion similarly called on officials to signal opportunities for early action on bus priorities passed unanimously.
The petition is not calling for a binary outcome – a road or a train, just that the road be prioritised. LGWM includes mass rapid transit, ultimately to Miramar. The question is what comes first? The Treasury and MoT both point out that addressing congestion first at Mt Vic and the Basin will relieve the disruption caused when the train/tram is rolled out – I can’t fault the common sense there. Already the limited capacity of the Terrace Tunnel increases the traffic volumes along the waterfront. Are we seriously going to leave the current congestion, and close off lanes along the waterfront and along Adelaide Road? We will be queuing back to Petone.
Ultimately we will get the indicative business cases back in 2021 but my fear (and expectation) is that the politics will rule in which sequence these projects are undertaken, not common sense. Whoever holds the Treasury benches in early 2021 will determine what happens. If National, the tunnel goes first, then mass rapid transit; if the Coalition Government, then mass rapid transit goes first and I expect the second tunnel will likely be shelved past 2030 and possibly indefinitely.
It presents very clear options for voters in the Eastern Ward and for Wellingtonians.
As Sean says, having the motorway extend all the way to the airport is hardly revolutionary. It’s common sense, and is what almost every other capital city in the world has.
The other key point is that if you try and build mass transit out East before you extend or double the Mt Vic tunnel, then construction works will grind the eastern suburbs to a halt. By doing the Mt Vic tunnel first, you make it easier to build the mass transit.