Yesterday Let’s Get Wellington Moving (LGWM) released four options for consultation on the future of transport in the city and it represents a change in focus from previous plans, though whether any of it will actually happen remains to be seen.
Before anyone asks why we as Aucklanders are interested in this or have a view on it. Many of us have friends and family who live in Wellington, we want the city, and all our urban areas in New Zealand, to succeed, to have better options for public transport and active modes, more and better housing choices and public spaces. Furthermore, if Wellington or other towns and cities are doing good things, it can help sharpen the focus on getting better outcomes in Auckland.
A couple of things that is notable about all the options released is there’s clearly a shift in focus away from serving the airport. This is manifested in two ways.
- There is a much stronger focus on public transport and as such, the “four lanes to the planes” thinking has been dropped. That means there are no additional traffic lanes being planned through Mt Victoria
- The primary focus for rapid transit options is now about serving the Island Bay corridor rather than the Airport and Miramar.
A big part of this appears to be that like with light rail in Auckland, a much great emphasis is being placed on using the investment to unlock housing growth and the Island Bay corridor allows for more houses.
The four options presented represent a couple of key decisions.
The Rapid Transit mode used
LGWM are looking at two potential rapid transit modes, Light Rail or Bus Rapid Transit.
- Light Rail – this would be similar to the surface option proposed in Auckland with modern low-floor vehicles. LGWM are suggesting capacity of these up to 300 people per vehicle
- Bus Rapid Transit – this would use modern electric bendy buses that can hold up to 110 people each.
The type of new Mt Victoria tunnel and how the Basin Reserve is dealt with
In two of the options a new four lane tunnel is dug through Mt Victoria with two of the lanes dedicated to buses and the other two cars. In this option the existing tunnel would also be converted for use by active modes.
The other two options would see cars continue to use the existing Mt Vic tunnel and buses using the existing Haitaitai bus tunnel and a new dedicated walking an cycling tunnel would be built
Separately but also related, three of the options would see the Arras tunnel in front of the National War Memorial extended to separate the state highway traffic from one side of the Basin Reserve. The fourth option removes rapid transit from much of the roundabout simplifying things that way.
Here are the options. In all the maps this is the legend.
At $7.4 billion this is the most expensive option of the lot and includes both light rail and the new Mt Victoria Tunnel. One concern with this is the shared lane running south of the hospital which has the potential to introduce a level of unreliability.
South coast light rail + new public transport tunnel – Moving the most people possible to and from Island Bay and surrounding suburbs, beautifying the Basin Reserve, supporting the most housing and urban development, and making our streets better for everyone
Here’s a breakdown of the costs
This option swaps the light rail for bus rapid transit and is the second most expensive option on the list at $7.0 billion. It’s hard to know if in reality there would be much of a difference in performance or in the amount of road space needed between the dedicated BRT lanes and continuous bus priority. I suspect there’s not much as they the travel time savings from the airport and Miramar are the same as on Option 1.
Bus rapid transit to the sea and skies – Moving more people to and from Island Bay and surrounding suburbs, eastern suburbs and the airport, but with less housing and urban development than option 1.
And a cost breakdown.
This option is for light rail but drops the new vehicle tunnel for a total cost of $6.6 billion. This suggests the new road tunnel that adds no extra capacity is estimated to cost about $800 million
South coast light rail – Connecting the most people between Wellington Railway Station, Island Bay and surrounding suburbs, encouraging the most housing and urban development, making our streets better for everyone, and providing some public transport improvements to Hataitai, Miramar, and the airport.
The breakdown of costs
This is the cheapest option at $5.8 billion and achieves saving over Option 3 by dropping the basin reserve tunnel by only needing minor improvements to the Basin roundabout. Going via Taranaki St also has the advantage that the land around much of it likely has more potential for change than the housing alongside Mt Victoria.
South Coast light rail via Taranaki – Light rail to Island Bay and surrounding suburbs but via Taranaki St, bypassing the Basin Reserve, beautifying streets and encouraging the most housing and urban development, for the lowest cost.
The cost breakdowns. It’s not clear why the Rapid Transit option is more expensive than in the other options
A table summarising of each of the options is below
All up these options are suggested to have the potential to enable 21,000 new homes which is a significant amount for Wellington. It’s also interesting to see how this measure is becoming more prominent in the assessment of big projects. We should be doing this kind of analysis on more urban projects.
Given they add no car private vehicle capacity, it’s hard to see how LGWM can justify spending nearly a billion dollars for new road tunnels.
Overall Option 4 seems to be the best for me. It is not only the cheapest and would allow the most housing. In fact perhaps they could use the $1.6 billion saved to build thousands of houses to lock in some of stated the benefits. However none of the options seem to stack up all that well from a BCR point of view
BCR's for LGWM options weren't published today, but are apparently 0.4-0.6 BUT that only counts the transport benefits. It doesn't include any of the urban development/housing benefits which is one of the main LGWM objectives.
Does make one think the BCR system is due a rethink.
— Thomas Coughlan (@coughlthom) November 1, 2021
Consultation on the options is open till 10 December but whatever option is chosen, don’t expect anything to happen anytime soon as LGWM suggest construction won’t start till 2028.