Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Wellington's Inner City Bypass Part One

I drove on the northbound section of this very modest inner city one way road the day after it opened, and I should hope that for Wellingtonians the phrase “much ado about nothing” should come to the for. Sue Kedgley always referred to it as a motorway extension - because it is more dramatic than calling it a one-way system - it is only a motorway extension in that it moves the motorway south one block, from Ghuznee St/Vivian St to Vivian St/new road.
The Greens make statements such as "“The Wellington City bypass is a controversial and expensive plan to extend the motorway through downtown Wellington by just over a kilometre saving motorists only a few seconds off their journey times, at the cost of tens of millions dollars as well as the loss of heritage buildings and a once thriving community.” It isn't a motorway extension, it isn't downtown Wellington (that is the golden mile, Abel Smith Street is downtown Wellington like Khyber Pass Rd is downtown Auckland), the new road itself is 700 metres long, it saves between 10 minutes and 90 seconds depending on the time of day and the community is hardly lost.
It continues "In Te Aro, heritage buildings are being demolished - including both listed buildings and those not listed for political reasons”. In fact NO listed buildings were demolished at all, and to imply the Historic Places Trust is politically driven in this is close to defamatory, as it implies it operates outside the law. In addition, what is an unlisted "heritage building"?
The Green alternative was to “Halt or modify the route of the Wellington inner-city 'bypass' to reduce its social and environmental impact, and address child safety and air pollution issues” which means diverting traffic along Abel Smith Street - which was rejected early on as making things worse for traffic and the local environment (there is little property access off the new route).
So if you go to Cuba Street now, notice how little of it has been lost by the bypass built so far, although you wont notice the slashing of traffic on Ghuznee Street until the project is finished - but judge for yourself whether a community has been destroyed and whether this is a motorway extension.
I wont write a lot about the history behind the project, Transit has a short summary, it essentially followed on from the decision that a motorway across the foothills of Wellington would provide the best route for distributing and collecting traffic from the Hutt/Porirua and northern suburbs to the city, southern and eastern suburbs. It would have originally seen two Terrace Tunnels (the current one was meant to be northbound only) and two Mt Victoria Tunnels (2 lanes each way) with a four lane motorway stretching across Te Aro. However, the Muldoon government cut road funding in the mid 70s and it was cut back to Willis Street. The project remained in the background for years, until the other end of the motorway was connected to Ngauranga Gorge (it originally only served traffic to/from the Hutt) doubling the traffic at the city end. The politically driven funding processes of the 80s saw it have a relatively low priority, and in the early 1990s Ruth Richardson slashed road spending as part of the overall effort to balance the budget. As a result there was no way in hell that even the scaled down motorway extension (keeping one tunnel each end) would be funded for some years.
At the same time, local authority pressure on urban design changed how road projects were viewed. Originally a 4-lane motorway type road with over and underpasses between the Terrace and Mt Victoria Tunnels, there was much pressure to put it all below ground level and ultimately it became the “covered trench” motorway. This would see a cut and cover tunnel built from Vivian St to the Basin Reserve, so that Te Aro would have no visible motorway – parks and some building could be placed on top, and with one third of traffic removed from Te Aro streets (and the Wellington waterfront) it could have helped regenerate both Te Aro and the waterfront by dramatically cutting traffic. Unfortunately that design priced it out of the funding available at the time, and Transit General Manager Robin Dunlop announced that a more modest option would need to be developed for the interim. The interim was to last till 2005!
The City Council and Transit agreed on an option, which is the one now nearly completed, but then the fun began. All of the land was held by Transit and the Council as both had bought up properties as they became available over a 25 year period. After extensive hearings, the route was confirmed under an RMA designation in 1996, but this was appealed to the Environment Court by the ecologist group Campaign for a Better City in 1999, which lost comprehensively. CBC was thoroughly fisked by those who come from a not dissimilar perspective, but believe in evidence rather than anger based analysis. Transit was awarded partial costs for this, but CBC has refused to pay this. You see it thinks that it has a right to take court cases that fail paid for by you, the motorist. Sore losers are the ecologists. You’ll notice that their still active website does not include the decision – not that interested in competing arguments either.
The Green campaign against the bypass got new impetus with the change in government. The official Transit website summarises how it got Historic Places Trust approval (phew) to dig up the site because of the “artefacts” (my old flat was older than them) and the CBC appealed it to the High Court but that was dismissed also.
Following this, Transfund granted the project full construction funding….
However, something else went on behind the scenes. With the change of government, and the Greens granting the Labour/Alliance coalition confidence and supply, they wanted to stop the project. Labour bent over backwards to do what it could to appease the Greens, but all of its best analysis, and more importantly the law – meant that the bypass was worthy to fund.
In this process the Greens would distort lie and ignore everything put in their way, even though every Wellington city and regional council elected in the 20 or so years has supported the bypass or its predecessor. You see they are not that interested in democracy when it doesn't suit their point of view. However every chance was given to review the project. This included:
- Wellington Regional Councils and Wellington City Councils elected in 1992, 1995, 1998, 2001;
- Wellington Regional Land Transport Committees over that period;
- Transit New Zealand boards over that period;
- Transfund New Zealand boards considering investigation, design and construction funding;
- Hearings Committee on the designation;
- Environment Court;
- Historic Places Trust;
- High Court;
- Parliaments elected in 1993, 1996, 1999 and 2002 (in refusing to propose or consider legislation to stop this particular project);
- Independent Peer Review of the evaluation of the project;
- Major Projects Review of major road projects in advance of entry into force of the Land Transport Management Act.
When does someone wake up and realise that the argument is lost?


uk_kiwi said...

Interesting analysis- it will be great if ghuznee becomes a pleasant, dynamic 'heritage' street rather than the polluted nightmare it currently is. That whole upper cuba area may undergo a renaissance as a result of the bypass - it has been pretty crap for decades.

Also I suspect the CBC -can't- pay rather than won't pay- but it does leave a bad taste in the mouth to read that.

Fascinating that there were such massive motorway plans for wellington, despite their being only about a quarter of the number of cars on the road back! I have even heard of an Aro motorway which would have bulldozed Aro valley for a tunnel to Karori and beyond... I wonder if Transit has an archive of these things, it would be cool to see sketches of the alternate plans.

libertyscott said...

Yes I hope it makes a positive difference, although I will wait and see what things are like after Vivian St becomes the new eastbound route.

There was a plan for the "South western connector" through Aro Valley, but it was a city council proposal so you might want to ask the council. Definitely not Transit or its predecessor. The original motorway extension proposal would also have done away with the Basin Reserve in favour of a mini spaghetti junction!