Well I’m in Wellington for most of this week, at the New Zealand Planning Institute conference for the next three days and then staying on at the weekend to check out the city a bit. It should give me the opportunity to ride a suburban Wellington train on the weekend, which I haven’t ever done before (I wonder if I can try to catch one of the new Matangi trains).

It’s interesting to discuss with a few other planners some of the transport situation in Wellington, and in particular matters related to the Wellington Northern Corridor Road of National Significance. While I’ve certainly not been keen on a few of the Auckland based “RoNS” – in particular the Puhoi-Wellsford “holiday highway”, but the more I learn about the Wellington Northern Corridor RoNS the more I think that this is the worst of the lot. Let’s have a look at the map of the route: The route has many of the typical problems associated with many of Auckland’s RoNS: like the poor economics of parts of the route (such as Transmission Gully, which has a cost-benefit ratio of 0.6) and the huge amount of money that could be better spent on other projects. However, in addition to those problems there’s also the massive issue of the environmental effects of many of the parts of the RoNS – such as the “improvements” around the Basin Reserve and the effect of the motorway on local communities as it passes through the Kapiti Coast.

Obviously many similar issues have been raised with the Waterview Connection project, and it would seem as though the Board of Inquiry for that project seeming to still have a number of big problems – and it will be interesting to see whether they’re willing to grant it consent. However, the Waterview project is still largely in a tunnel, which means that its effects are vastly less than they would otherwise have been. The same for the Victoria Park Tunnel – another Auckland based RoNS.

It seems, from what is admittedly a rather brief look, that Wellington is getting a a pretty raw deal with the urban effects of this particular road. The mitigation details might be further expanded upon compared to what I currently know, but at the moment it sounds pretty horrible. This reinforces my general feeling that there’s simply no room to build more motorways through our urban areas anymore, that we need to use our existing transport infrastructure more effectively and efficiently – rather than spending vast sums of money on more urban motorways, and in the process destroying the value of our urban areas. It will be interesting to see whether Wellington accepts the impact of this road on the city’s urban structure.

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  1. Transmission Gully is pointless. All its going to do is cost a lot of money to increase congestion in Wellington.
    What they are basically doing is similar to the “Waikato Expressway” all the way from Porirua to Levin.

  2. You’re wrong about central Wellington, but Transmission Gully is an expensive way to resolve a fairly minor problem. A Pukerua Bay Bypass and grade separated interchange at Paekakariki would by and large resolve the biggest issues between Paremata and Raumati, since the 4-laning through Mana and Plimmerton has addressed congestion there.

    However, the Basin Reserve improvements are planned on land that has been designated for motorway purposes since the 1960s. Sue Kedgley of course will lie about it, as she constantly called the Inner City Bypass a “motorway extension” when it was just a one-way system completion between Kent Tce and the motorway.

    The Basin Reserve has two big issues:
    – Heavy pedestrian flows to three medium to large schools at the southeastern corner;
    – Heavy east-west traffic flows (basically airport/eastern suburbs to city and to the north;
    – Moderate north-south traffic flows (city to southern suburbs/hospital – and two major bus routes (Island Bay/Seatoun)).

    Separating these has long made sense and the logical solution is a flyover from Mt Victoria Tunnel to Buckle Street. It wouldn’t destroy the Basin Reserve as a bit of research on the 80s and 90s would show plenty of drawings and designs for grade separation at this point which would do nothing beyond skirt the edge. This would remove the east-west traffic, halving traffic around the Basin, allowing the north-south traffic to move freely and greatly reduce the conflicts with pedestrians and cyclists. The issue is blending it back to Buckle Street. What it should be is a precursor to the proper underground tunnellink plan with a trenched highway to the motorway. If that was done it would remove the through traffic from Te Aro, and could free up Vivian St from being a major thoroughfare. Te Aro would be transformed, as would the waterfront because it would no longer carry the spillover traffic from the existing route. Duplicating the Terrace and Mt Victoria Tunnels would finish it off and give Wellington adequate roads to link the airport to the region.

    Beyond that pricing should be used to manage demand, and bear in mind there already is dedicated public transport infrastructure parallel to Mt Victoria Tunnel in the one-way bus tunnel.

    1. Ahh Liberty, because they’ve been wanting to do it from the 1960s makes it a good idea? Almost proof that it should be binned. Please. Well that explains why the area is underdeveloped, the great ruining hand of the motorway designation. Again I still hope you live under the Westway as you seem to so enjoy the sublime beauty and grace of urban flyovers.

      The recent works in Te Aro have yielded so little benefit for the amount of urban form destroyed. And guess what, it’ll only work if they do more, and more, and more…… Every motorway plan is merely leverage to push through the next one.

      How about they invest in real rapid transit linking the railway station to the airport and see how the congestion looks after that. Of course that’s no solution for cabinet ministers BMWs

      1. A quick note Patrick: the original design concept of trenching and/or cut & cover tunnel urban motorway through Te Aro was watered down by greenies.
        They shot themselves in the foot with that one, as now Te Aro is essentially cut in two and has a stonking great asphalt scar right in front of your face, breaking up the pleasant walk from the top of Cuba to town.

        Buckle should be either trenched or cut & cover. Anything else will be a waste and a shame.

        1. Madness! How did that happen? Greenies want highways at street level? Fools.

          OK, I’m all for burying ugly roads, but please not flyovers. And the users of this grade separated amenity can pay for the time saving.

        2. I hear from rumours that the issues caused by not having the bypass trenched in the first place was raised by the traffic/road engineers who designed it but because of the difference in cost and that the mayor of the time wanted a quick political win the project was watered down. But it was probably just another contributing factor to the finished project outcomes.

        3. There is a long story about the Wellington urban motorway extension that comes down to this:
          – Original project was a mixture of underpasses (under Willis St, Victoria St extension, Tory St, Kent Tce) and overpasses (over Taranaki Street and Basin Reserve). All property to build it was owned, but consultation came back and said an overpass at Taranaki St would be a blight, and it would cut off Cuba St so…
          – Relocated to underpasses the whole length to the Basin Reserve, restoring Cuba St… price had trebled though due to inflation and the need to relocate utilities. Nascent Green Party completely opposed project. City and Regional Councils strongly in favour. However, government embarked on serious austerity programme one year of virtually no new highway spending at all (1991)
          – Redesigned to deal with issues of urban impact, Tunnellink proposal emerged. Cut and cover trenched highway from Vivian St onramp (as it was then) to Victoria St on and off ramps, then tunnelled again through to Basin Reserve. Cost lifted another 40-50%, benefit cost ratio dropped dramatically to an average 2.3. Funding threshold was 5, so Wellington told little chance this would be built for 10-15 years (how things change).
          – Decision made to pursue a three stage approach. First stage was to convert Vivian and Buckle Sts into a partial one way system, second was what is now called the Inner City Bypass, a cheap one way extension of Buckle St to a new motorway one ramp. Land would be protected for the Tunnellink when funding came available.
          – Greens opposed the one way extension of Buckle Street, it went to the Environment Court twice and the government changed. Labour needed Greens for a majority after 1999 so project held up by administrative procedures twice until Transfund made it clear it was now a fundable project (BCR of 3). Transit capitulated to pressure and permanently shelved the Tunnellink focusing on the one way extension – which finally got built after much wrangling and protest.

          So the Green Party effectively ensured Wellington didn’t get a proper inner city bypass, but an el cheapo one by opposing the covered trenched highway. The covered trenched was ever meant to have scrubbers on tunnel vents to remove toxins from emissions, but new roads are bad – always – according to the Greens, so that was stopped.

      2. Patrick, such a glib empty response. Who has ever said there should be more than building tunnellink and duplicating the tunnels? You may be completely blinded to the benefit of urban motorway bypasses, but other cities are not. Oslo is a prime example. Much of its downtown has been returned to pedestrian and local use because of a network of motorway tunnels that have removed through traffic. It did this with tolling. The roadphobic mob stopped Wellington getting the Tunnellink which would have removed one third of the traffic from Te Aro and made an enormous difference to that whole area that they purported to give a damn about, instead they wanted to retain trucks and car roaring through ill designed surface streets cross-cutting buses, cyclists and pedestrians (and other traffic) entering the city. Today Wellington could have had all that through traffic UNDER Te Aro from Vivian Street through to the Basin Reserve.

        The “rail based rapid transit to the airport” idea for Wellington could only really appeal to the economically illiterate because the catchment for airport traffic is so wide that it would never deliver what is needed. On top of that freight is routinely ignored. Wellington Airport can barely sustain a quarter hourly bus service, a rail service could only be noticeably faster if it was underground the whole way at huge expense and you’d be lucky to get two carriage loads every quarter hour.

        1. All good Lib, but please don’t put words in quotation marks unless they are exactly that, quotations, if your petulance can calm for a minute you see that I said: “real rapid transit” not rail based rapid transit. Which means something separate and therfor not stuck in the traffic, but I am not suggesting heavy rail to the airport, no one is, I am fully aware of the geography and the demography, neither of which support such a plan, which as I say no one has.

          You will also note that I completely agree with the undergrounding of motorway traffic through Te Aro instead of the near useless and over pretty-fied but destroying new roads forced through this old neighbourhood, and am baffled as to why it would be opposed by anyone except cost cutters. What concerns me is the prospect of flyovers at all in urban contexts, not because of some belief in the sanctity of sports grounds but because they are always vile and do violence to their surroundings.

          And thanks for the information about Oslo- I’m sure they’ve done a better job, like they have with their North Sea Oil compared to the British.

        2. “Wellington Airport can barely sustain a quarter hourly bus service, a rail service could only be noticeably faster if it was underground the whole way at huge expense and you’d be lucky to get two carriage loads every quarter hour.”

          I’m a fairly regular user of the 91 bus. It’s a perfectly good service. I have no idea why you’d spend hundreds of millions of dollars to replace it for no benefit that I can perceive.

        3. Concur, having used it a fair bit when I was in Wellington.

          The best way to develop the #91 would be to hike the frequency. I have done a mockup timetable that showed that with five extra buses an additional 15m frequency service to Lambton bus station alone could be added, allowing an 8 buses/hour frequency within Wellington City proper. If you wish to improve the service to the user, frequency is the way to go.

          While it is not quite comparable, the situation of the equivalent service in Edinburgh (where I am) is worth noting, to show what is possible. The airport handles nearly 9m pax/year, roughly split between UK and international traffic. The bus service (every 8 minutes) has over a quarter of the landside access market; 2.4m passengers/year, over 6,500 pax per day.

        4. I’ve just used the 91 four times in a week and a half. It’s a pain alright. $8.50 for a long and circituitous bus that essentially tries to serve both regular and airport passengers. When it was just a little more than a regular bus you could justify that, but it’s hard to now.

          It takes a terribly long time to go a short distance with passengers getting on and off everywhere, and once you add in the time spent waiting in a fairly unsheltered stop at the airport, it can take most of an hour to get to Lambton Quay. The airport appears to be abusing its monopoly position to keep out a service which would take away from taxis or $15 shuttles.

          If I wasn’t completely broke right now I would have taxied it.

        5. “Wellington Airport can barely sustain a quarter hourly bus service, a rail service could only be noticeably faster if it was underground the whole way at huge expense and you’d be lucky to get two carriage loads every quarter hour” is complete nonsense. The 91 Airport Flyer is the most successful single bus route in the Wellington region, entirely unsubsidised, every 15 minutes all day every day, and charging fares at a substantial premium. But a rail service with appropriate priority would not just serve the airport, it would be the core public transport service to the eastern suburbs. At the peaks there is currently on average a bus every couple of minutes to the Miramar Peninsula, all except the Flyer funneled along just one road round the airport, so the public transport demand is already substantial and focussed, and services are under pressure.

          Investing in public trasnsport makes much more sense than for example doubling Mt Victoria Tunnel and Ruahine St, which has a BCR of 0.6 – ie, money down the drain. An opinion piece in Wednesday’s Dominion Post makes intersting reading – http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/opinion/4825016/Think-Big-expressway-projects-questionable .

        6. My thinking is its silly to duplicate the Terrace and Mt Vic tunnels, and leave the inner city area alone.
          However they should be doing the BCR as one project that includes the 2 tunnels and tunnel-link.
          Looking at the cost of the short New Lynn trench the tunnel link would surely cost $500 million plus, not to mention the horrendous disruption for several years. This tells me that the project is not viable, so the all three projects should be scrapped.
          As for the Basin, for me it depends on what urban effects are. if it was in an industrial area, I would agree, however it is in the middle of an urban area, and anyone who knows the Dominion/New North intersection knows these flyovers can have terrible consequences.
          Surely Liberty according to your rational thinking these should all be funded by tolls, and thus they would never go ahead as they wouldn’t pay?

        7. A figure I saw for the Tunnellink more recently was around $200 million. I’m happy for tolls if you scrap fuel tax and have everyone paying by a form of RUC (tolls on one route and not those benefiting from freed capacity is not particularly efficient). Building Tunnellink would be about a massive positive change to the urban form in Wellington, it removes the airport/hospital-wider region through traffic once and for all, it could enable one lane each way to be removed from the waterfront route – it wouldn’t be primarily about serving trips to and from the CBD, but trips bypassing it (not something public transport could ever adequately address). A Basin flyover would be on land long designated for it, it isn’t infringing on anyone’s property rights and in actuality would only be an overpass over Dufferin St (Sussex St would be an overpass towards Cambridge Tce). Indeed a congestion charge for downtown Wellington could have as its boundary such a route and the urban motorway.

    2. It was the people of Te Aro who put up the real resistance to the motorway extension, not the Greens. Given L S’s oft stated abhorrence of central planning I would have that he would have applauded their efforts.

  3. I’ve been following this project, in one way or another, since the late 1980s. Why people are still promoting it is beyond me, even though all it would do in the am. peak is shift a lot of congestion from south of Paekakariki to south of Linden.

    There was/is also an issue of local politics involved. Prior to the 1989 local government changes, the Kapiti area was part of a ‘Uniting Council’ which included Horowhenua, and there was a fair bit of resentment that it was handed to a newly- expanded Wellington Regional Council. The attempts in the 1990s by Warren Cooper to weaken the new regional councils gave the Kapiti Council the excuse to argue for the area to be separated from the WRC. So (as I read things at the time) the quid pro quo from the WRC was to push for Transmission Gully, in order to keep Kapiti onboard, though I know that at least some of its officials thought the idea was bonkers. I was working for Transit NZ at the time, and I was never left with the impression that its officials thought it was a good idea either.

  4. My take on it all:

    Doubling Ruahine Street and Wellington Rd between Cobham Drive and the Mt Victoria Tunnel – good idea
    Duplicating the Vic Tunnel – good idea, but noise and pollution screens for the existing ped and cyclists part of the tunnel, long, long overdue.

    (After the 2 lane each way route is complete bypassing the Wellington CBD, then traffic calming measures can be introduced onto the Quays and Wakefield Street, enforcing slower limits, including the light rail lines and wide cycleways, where the Quay cycle lanes are for fast cycling, and the nearby Waterfront is for cruising)

    Undergrounding of the motorway under Buckle Street – essential (without undergrounding it is driving a motorway through Te Aro. With it it is giving Te Aro a new park infront of the National war Memorial, so could be a new urban park of national significance)

    Aotea Quay to Ngauranga -It’s already triple lanes each way. If there is congestion it needs to be dealt with by congestion charging or other means rather than building more lanes to be clogged. In parallel the waterfront cycleway, the Great Harbour Way, needs to be built instead.

    Transmission Gully – absolute waste of money. Better to be dealt with by an overpass (and new train station) at Aotea on Whitford Brown Ave, and a Pukerua Bay Bypass.

    Kapiti Expressway – needed, and will improve Paraparaumu and especially Waikanae town centres and having only one clogged lane between Otaihanga and Waikanae with no alternatives is not working very well at the moment. New train stations are needed at Raumati and Lindale.

    Peka Peka to Levin. All is unnecessary for 30 years, except for the Otaki Bypass which will improve Otaki’s railway shopping area, which will cut out a lot of delay, and is long overdue. If two lanes each way is needed it should be widened on it’s present alignment. A Levin Bypass would also be good for it’s main street which at the moment has too many vehicles through it to make it pleasant.

    1. Matt that all makes sense… should the light rail use the bus tunnel? Should it be widened? How about the residential street it uses cityside, can that be OK for those residents?

      1. The bus route on the city-side of the bus tunnel runs through narrow Mt Victoria residential streets, perhaps not best for light rail. I imagine a new tunnel from Newtown to Kilbirne would be built for a light rail alignment.

    2. Er guys, the Hataitai tunnel was designed and used for trams so light rail shouldn’t be an issue. At 500m long running it as a gauntlet track should be fine as it would take less than a minute for a LRV to clear the tunnel. That would allow for headways of around 3 minutes before you get issues, which is plenty for a light rail route.

      However I would suggest that a light rail route would be better via Newton (to service the hospital and Massey Uni campus) and probably the zoo before crossing the town belt to Kilburne and the airport, although that would probably require a new tunnel or system of cuts and viaducts to negotiate the steep change in altitude.

      1. Yes, I wasn’t questioning the ability of the bus tunnel itself to serve light rail, more the location of the route. Thus we seem to agree on the Newton > Kilbirne route.

        1. I like the idea of splitting the tram route at COurtney place with one line heading down Cambridge Tce past the basin and hospital terminating at Newtown Park or Zoo. With the other line using the bus tunnel and going through Hataitai and Kilbirnie to the Airport. This has the advantage of increasing the catchment area for the tram network, not requiring a massivly expensive new tunnel from Newtown to Kilbirnie.
          This would also give double frequency along the golden mile, say every 3 minutes on the golden mile and every 6 minutes on the 2 spurs.

  5. How about another tunnel under Mt Victoria, but this one just for public transport? This would help buses cut through the congestion around both Ruahine St, the current Mt Vic tunnel, and Newtown. If it was run as a peak flow tunnel, it would only have to be a single lane (as per the existing bus tunnel, which dates back to the trams).

  6. The previous times when I used the Wellington trains, which was many years ago, the thing that I noticed was that the trains did not have the extremely loud and annoying door alarms that the Auckland system has. Can you confirm if this is still the case while you are in wellington?

  7. I reckon the environmental impacts of Puhoi to WEllsford, if you include the urban sprawl along the coast, would well outweigh the effects of Northern Corridor. But hopefully we can push Puhoi to Wellsford start date back so far that we can get rid of this crazy govt before they actually start to build it!

    1. Please don’t give the Nats any excuse to push the start date of Puhoi to Wellsford back any further. The completion date to Wellsford is already projected to be 2032, that’s 21 years at least and another 100 lives lost. Scrap the project and start doing the safety work NOW.

      1. Bob I think the point of trying to delay Puford is that a delay will almost certainly kill it. Another couple of years of oil price rises and what that will do to our ability to pay for anything will be enough, and then given another year that should be the end of SJ too. And this is his road. Must get those improvements to SH1 done asap, and of course these two are connected.

  8. I’m in two halves about this. Transmission Gully, as a project, to me while it would be lovely to have is unnecessary. However, the Kapiti Expressway is a crucial link – it HAS to be built – there’s no other reasonable alternative. Through traffic can’t bypass Waikanae, Paraparaumu, or Otaki. That’d be fine if local traffic, and commuter traffic wasn’t so ridiculously high. The train services are already exceptionally well used. In terms of the project at the basin reserve, again, I think this is an option born out of necessity – the basin is the crossroads of the southern suburbs, and the eastern suburbs, it’s on the most direct link to the airport – and in peak traffic it’s a nightmare. Again, PT frequencies are reasonable and well used.

    However, there are aspects of the Wellington RONS that can be eliminated – another terrace tunnel, and another Mount Vic. tunnel are probably the first that should go (I still think they need to take another look at making the terrace tunnel use a tidal flow system), Transmission Gully can probably go (although speaking as someone who lives 90km to the north, I wish it wouldn’t). But the Kapiti Expressway project, and the basin reserve improvements are crucial. No other reasonable alternatives.

    1. And of course, the Otaki to Levin segment is probably unnecessary. I live in Levin, so it’d be nice – but Levin isn’t as large a bottleneck in holiday traffic as Otaki is – but the time you get to Levin, there’s roads available to by-pass, whereas there’s only the one Otaki River crossing, and the one Waikanae river crossing.

  9. @James Fluker wouldn’t the Western Link route deliver most of the benefits of the full motorway bypass? Note this would have been under construction now if the RONS hadn’t got in the way. Over time this road could be upgraded to handle increased traffic volumes as required.
    As for north of Waikane I agree no motorway is needed here yet, and same for the section to Levin. What should be done is a future proofed for motorway bypass of Otaki, and then start planning a Levin bypass. The remainder of the motorway should be on the 10 – 15 year plan but is not urgent.

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