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Regional councillors criticise LGWM traffic plan, but vote to endorse it

Report from RNZ by Michael Cropp
Wellington’s regional councillors yesterday criticised the multibillion-dollar plan to fix Wellington’s congestion woes as not doing enough to reduce emissions or clear congestion. But despite their misgivings, the councillors endorsed the Let’s Get Wellington Moving (LGWM) plan and agreed to stump up about a fifth of the $6.4 billion it is expected to cost.

Funding is to be split roughly 60-40 between central government and the Wellington city and regional councils.

Detailed funding arrangements are sketchy, and it is expected the two councils will negotiate which should pay for what part of the overall package. Officers say that sort of information is at least two years away.

State Highway 1 runs through the central city, and the Basin Reserve and the two-lane Mount Victoria tunnel are major traffic choke points. The airport and eastern suburbs are on one side, the CBD and rest of the region on the other.

Regional councillor Ian McKinnon said unblocking congestion around the Basin Reserve and digging a second Mount Victoria tunnel was overdue but councillors were essentially being asked to vote for more reports.

“So it’s the vision, it’s further investigations, it’s a business case – and people are saying ‘Let’s Get Wellington Moving?’. Let’s just get it moving,” he said.

Regional councillor Daran Ponter said the tunnel and Basin Reserve projects were the most important ones for residents who lived outside the city and needed to get across town to the airport.

A majority of councillors asked their chief executive to work with the LGWM partners – Wellington City Council and the Transport Agency – to see if those two projects could be fast-tracked.

LGWM director Barry Mein said expediting the projects was possible but they were not ready to be built yet.

“The next phase is the business case process and what that’s going to need to do is identify what we need to do, but also the sequence,” he said.

Outgoing councillor Sue Kedgley said sorting out public transport, walking and cycling routes so people could actually get around the city without their cars was more important.

“If you look at all the international evidence around the world, you build one more motorway and quickly the law of supply and demand kicks in – that [motorway] fills up and you’ve got the same congestion,” she said.

Councillors also wanted to know why putting State Highway 1 underground through Te Aro along Karo Drive was recommended, but not funded.

Mr Mein said it was too expensive.

“Discussions with the minister around affordability made it clear that we couldn’t fit all of these projects in within the [funding] envelope that was available, particularly from the central government side,” he said.

The regional council’s sustainable transport committee chair Barbara Donaldson, who is on the programme’s governance group, said it was easy to criticise such decisions as short-term.

“It’s a matter of funding. And at least this government has funded most of the package,” she said. “I think the most transformative thing would’ve been to underground Karo Drive. You’d have had a wonderful city park [above Karo Drive] where you have lots of walking, cycling, recreation – it would’ve transformed the city, so that’s really sad that can’t happen.”

In the context of New Zealand’s commitment to being carbon neutral by 2050, Ms Kedgley and Roger Blakeley were very critical that the three-decade plan would only reduce emissions in the CBD by 18 percent.

“And at the end of all of that, there will be 6000 fewer cars [coming into the central city every day] after spending $6.4 billion,” she said.

One of the twelve guiding principles for the programme is to “improve environmental outcomes for the city and the region”.

Despite councillors’ concerns, they voted unanimously to push on with LGWM and begin detailed investigations.

News from Greater Wellington Regional Council
The Regional Council yesterday endorsed a $6.5 billion Let’s get Wellington Moving transport funding package designed to free up congestion in Wellington city, which was followed today by a matching endorsement from Wellington City Council. The move follows the announcement of the package last month by Transport Minister Phil Twyford, Regional Council Chair Chris Laidlaw and Wellington Mayor Justin Lester, which was hailed as breakthrough for transport in the Wellington region.

“I’m pleased to say we’re on our way to building a transport system which has public transport, walking and cycling at its centre while reducing spiralling congestion for motorists,” says Cr Barbara Donaldson, Chair of Greater Wellington’s Sustainable Transport Committee. “The vital process of shifting travel habits will take years, but change starts now. We’ll work closely with our local and central government partners to advance the programme’s early delivery projects.

“We’re already working with the Wellington City Council on introducing the bus priority measures we need to underpin performance on our new bus network and improve services to customers. We will also strongly support other initiatives such as walking and cycling infrastructure and lower speeds in central Wellington City.”

Ms Donaldson added that the most significant gains will be made in the longer term through the introduction of mass public transit and fixing congestion issues around the Basin Reserve.

“It’s fair to say that Greater Wellington is ambitious for the region and wants to progress these two keystone projects as fast as possible.

“That’s why we’ve requested that Greater Wellington’s chief executive Greg Campbell work with the LGWM Programme Team to find ways of shortening the projects’ timeframes.”

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