After waiting nearly two months, I finally received some papers from NZTA today that I had requested under the Official Information Act. My basic reason for requesting this information is that I find it annoying that an agency which spends so much public money doesn’t actually publish much of what it gets up to on its website, so I thought I’d develop a habit of requesting information on whatever might vaguely be of interest to me. Hopefully in the longer run I might annoy them enough that they’d think about putting the board papers online, much like how ARTA puts its monthly business report online for all of us to look at. I also hoped that occasionally I would find a really interesting nugget of information – as well as advancing my own knowledge of what goes on at NZTA.
Interestingly enough, buried within the March 2010 Chief Executive’s Report to the Board (in Attachment 1: Major business issues update) there is what I would call a quite interesting little nugget of information – about the Victoria Park Tunnel project. It reads as follows:
Southbound Tunnel Proposal
The VPT Alliance have put forward a proposal to construct a VPT Southbound Tunnel, replacing the existing viaduct, as part of the current Victoria Park Tunnel works. Their justification implies that due to the safety egresses required for a northbound tunnel only, a full southbound tunnel could be constructed now for only an additional $70 to 80 million. This would also remove the requirement to spend any money retro-fitting the existing Viaduct, for which $69 million is currently allocated in the NLTP, as it would be completely removed and replaced by the southbound tunnel.
A review of the proposal has been undertaken by the Auckland Transport Planning Team and has concluded that a southbound tunnel cannot be justified at this stage. The major advantage of this proposal is the aesthetic value of restoring the park once the viaduct is removed. However, the viaduct can be maintained for the next 20 years with approximately $8-10 million of mitigation, hence there is little justification for spending $70 to 80 million now to replace it. Beyond this timeframe it is expected that this part of the park will form part of the Additonal Waitemata Harbour Crossing. As reported to the Board in November 2009 a designation is being sought for a future crossing. Investigation is ongoing on the final form and function of the crossing. Provision of a southbound tunnel at this stage could restrict options and potentially remove the possibility of a bridge option.
Progressing a southbound tunnel now would also lead to a reduction in functionality. The viaduct will be reconfigured to provide 4 lanes southbound, where as a new southbound tunnel would provide 3 lanes southbound.
In conclusion, there is no compelling case to constructing a southbound tunnel now, and as a result this proposal should not be progressed any further. The additional tunnel would be in the order of $70-80 million, where as the Viaduct can be maintained for another 20 years with $8-10 million of mitigation, prior to being replaced by an AWHC project.
Now first things first, I’m a little confused by these numbers. It would seem as though $69 million has been allocated to retro-fitting the existing viaduct as part of the VPT project, so if you were to spend the $70-80 million on the tunnel, really the cost of that tunnel would be around $10 million over and above what you need to spend anyway. Well, that’s how the first paragraph reads to me anyway, although subsequent paragraphs tend to overlook this or contradict it. If it takes $80 million to turn Victoria Park back into a proper park, then I would say the case is fairly marginal, although I would love to see it happen. If it only costs $10 million extra to do it then I reckon it’s a no-brainer – come on, we want the park back! (that’s a catchy phrase actually).
The other thing that’s interesting is to hear how seriously NZTA are considering a bridge proposal for their next harbour crossing project. I had thought myself that the Anzac Bridge idea was a bit of a joke, but it would seem that’s not the case – unfortunately in this situation as that seems a pretty key reason why NZTA have rejected the southbound tunnel idea. In terms of it being three lanes rather than four lanes, well I’m sure if you add another few million onto the price tag (let’s say $16-18 million instead of $10 million over and above what needs to be spent on the viaduct anyway) it still seems like a pretty good deal to me.
Victoria Park is an utterly precious resource, being an inner city green space. As shown in the image below, it has been unfortunately rather ruined over the past 30-40 years by the presence of the Victoria Park viaduct. If it really only costs $10-20 million to bring the park back to its former glory, then surely that’s worth it? Wouldn’t it be nice to see the park back as a whole?