Wellington Scoop

Andy Foster wants a second Mt Vic tunnel, and better buses, rather than light rail

Report from RNZ
Wellington’s new mayor Andy Foster says he will push for a better bus service, rather than the light rail which defeated mayor Justin Lester had wanted.

He said transport was a big priority, and he wanted to get on with the city’s Let’s Get Wellington Moving project announced by the government in May.

The plan is to introduce mass rapid transit in the form of light rail or trackless trams first, but Mr Foster said a new Mt Victoria tunnel was the priority. He said the region’s mayors, the chamber of commerce, and other players would help push the government for it.

“The idea of doing the mass transit – whether it’s light rail or trackless tram – I’m happy to do a business case to see whether it stacks up or not.

“On the numbers we’ve got at the moment it’s going to be very difficult for us to afford it – it’s putting an extra billion dollars on the council’s debt line.”

He wanted to make sense of the Let’s Get Wellington Moving, and to improve the relationship with the regional council.

Mr Foster campaigned on keeping rates down, and said yesterday the cost of light rail, and many other projects in the city, would make that impossible.

But the spokesperson of transport lobby group Fair Intelligent Transport Wellington, John Rankin, said adding road capacity and not rapid mass transit will lead to a city of more cars.

“We will be encouraging more of the car dependent development that we’ve seen for the past 50 years and it’s not really clear that that’s a sustainable future,” he said.

Mr Rankin said the narrowness of Mr Foster’s win shows there is an even split amongst residents about how the city should grow.

“I think his challenge as mayor is actually going to be to build a consensus across all of the council, including some of the very interesting new council members to actually take the city forward and forge a common path that people can agree on,” he said.

On the controversial Shelly Bay development, Andy Foster said he wanted to see a development plan created for the area on the Miramar Peninsula, with input of the community.

He said the scale of the proposed development was too big, and the consultation had not been thorough enough.

“It’s an issue of scale, and process, the process has been terrible on many counts.

“I think people want something to happen, it’s just the scale proposed is too much.”

Mr Foster said his main financial backers – Sir Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh – who oppose the proposed development would not influence his policy in any way, but he did say he had been a fan of Sir Peter’s movie museum plan a long time. Plans were scrapped in August 2018 for a combined museum and convention centre in the CBD after the city council and Sir Peter’s team were unable to come to a decision.

Read also
Too early for a tunnel decision


  1. TrevorH, 14. October 2019, 7:46

    Andy Foster is absolutely right. A second Mt Victoria Tunnel is desperately needed, especially for the burgeoning Eastern Suburbs. Then fix the Basin, maybe with another underpass like the Arras Tunnel. Perhaps we will finally see some progress for the neglected East which generates so much of the City’s prosperity, for the first time in some 80 years since the current tunnel was built.

  2. Newtown, 14. October 2019, 7:50

    Yikes, not looking forward to Andy’s narrow-minded approach… Then again, more greenies made it into the council, hopefully they’ll be able to control him.

  3. Jouer, 14. October 2019, 7:54

    Another tunnel is my priority too.

  4. Yorrike, 14. October 2019, 8:32

    On day one, in his first interview, Andy Foster starts talking about the movie museum. And a second Mt Vic tunnel. Just knock the city down and turn it into a giant road with a giant Peter Jackson statue in the middle, and get it over with. [via twitter]

  5. Dave B, 14. October 2019, 10:53

    Andy Foster, surely you have been around long enough to know that Wellington needs policies to reduce traffic and car-dependency, not increase it.
    I will fully support your calls for a second Mt Vic Tunnel and cut-and-cover trenching through Te Aro, but only if it is for the long-overdue extension of Wellington’s rail system to the Eastern suburbs. A viable alternative to cars is what this area seriously lacks, and prioritising more roads for more cars is just kicking the can down the road.
    The world has moved on Andy, and so should you.

  6. Joseph, 14. October 2019, 12:14

    He can want whatever he likes but without agreement across the Council table he won’t be getting it. That being said yes, a tunnel is most desperately needed and mass rapid transport, not to mention working intensely with the regional council to get that god damn bus system up and functioning again. No major route should be waiting more than 15mins for anything.

  7. Ralf, 14. October 2019, 13:15

    So there are three options

    1) a 21st century tunnel for PT, walking and biking: costs a lot and gets Wellington moving
    2) do nothing: costs nothing, keeps Wellington stuck
    3) a 20th century tunnel for more cars: costs a lot and keeps Wellington stuck

    Seems Andy has chosen option 3), despite his goal of keeping rates down (which surely should make him choose option 2) ).

    Though by putting up the Movie Museum again (this time will PJ get the WCC to take on the financial risks while he gets the profits?) it seems that all that talk about rates was just for show.

  8. Alana, 14. October 2019, 13:57

    Most capital cities around the world have a light rail to their airports, and so should Wellington. Most cars at the Basin are single occupier and taxis from the airport. The best option is to build light rail to the airport and Eastern suburbs and only then determine whether a second tunnel is needed. And especially true if Shelly Bay isn’t developed into a large housing project.

  9. Chris Horne, 14. October 2019, 14:06

    Dave B: Your message to our new mayor is 100% Pure Common Sense!

    For anyone to advocate for yet more road space, therefore more use of motor vehicles and more burning of finite-fossil fuels, and thus mounting emissions of climate-change inducing greenhouse-gases, is to support the utterly antediluvian 100% Pure 20th-Century Failed Dogma.

    Wellington will never achieve its aim of becoming a carbon-neutral capital unless we accept that the world faces the prospect of catastrophic climate change caused by ever-increasing emissions of carbon dioxide. Advocates for road capacity are in effect advocating for rising sea levels and more frequent devastating storms.

  10. Gordon Somerville, 14. October 2019, 14:27

    Good One Andy
    Second tunnel – long overdue.
    More important: Honour the promises the Council made when the Western Forests Key Native Ecosystems were created.
    Control the threats from Human Activities. In particular, the threat posed by uncontrolled and unregulated Mountain Bikes being ridden night and day in sensitive, endangered ecosystems that are critical to regeneration.

  11. Ben Schrader, 14. October 2019, 14:48

    I agree with Dave B. Andy has a real opportunity to leave a lasting legacy in Wellington by putting in steps that will gradually reduce our reliance on private motor cars to traverse the city. It may be that it’s appropriate to build a second Mt Vic Tunnel – especially if it provides better room for pedestrians and cyclists than the present one – and to cut and cover Te Aro. But this should only be done on the understanding that the provision of private car-centric infrastructure in the city will no longer be privileged. These initiatives could also be done such a way that some of some of the space along their route could one day be given over to light or heavy rail as private car reliance is reduced.

  12. Pseudopanax, 14. October 2019, 15:27

    “The region’s mayors and the Chamber of Commerce” … a natural constituency for better Public Transport? Yeah Right!

  13. John Rankin, 14. October 2019, 18:21

    It seems to me that we don’t know enough right now to make the decisions Mayor Foster is making:

    1. About the only thing we know for certain is that a second Mt Victoria tunnel is desperately needed for walkers and cyclists.

    2. If LGWM’s proposed rapid transit route survives the next round of design (and that’s a big if), we will need a rapid transit tunnel through Mt Albert to Kilbirnie.

    3. If on the other hand the next round of design favours a different route, we may need a rapid transit tunnel through Mt Victoria, either instead or as well, either in combination with a road tunnel or not.

    4. We don’t know what form of rapid transit, if any, is best, so it could be a rapid bus tunnel, a trackless tram tunnel (ie light rail vehicles running on virtual tracks), a light rail tunnel, or possibly a heavy rail tunnel.

    5. If it’s heavy rail, the only feasible route is probably via a Mt Victoria tunnel.

    I’d have thought it would be a prudent use of rate-payer and tax-payer money to work out what sort of Mt Victoria tunnel we need before committing to build one. And that in turn means deciding what we want the future city to look like. If we want to build up not out, with medium density housing along transit-oriented corridors, then the desired location of the development areas will determine the areas a rapid transit network needs to serve.

    On the other hand, if we go ahead now with a second Mt Victoria road tunnel, and kick rapid transit down the road because it’s “too expensive” (as if somehow it’s going to be more affordable in future), we will lock in Wellington as a congested, car-dependent city for the next 50 years.

    Mayor Foster’s position is a call for the Wellington region to build out not up, whether he intends this or not. Is this the future he wants?

    Rapid transit need a business case, yet Mayor Foster is not seeking a business case for a second Mt Victoria road tunnel. Why the difference? Perhaps he could also explain how adding road capacity but not building a rapid transit alternative will achieve LGWM’s goal of “moving more people with fewer vehicles”.

    We can build what we need for the 21st century or we can stay behind as the world moves on.

  14. John Morrison, 14. October 2019, 21:30

    Spot on Andy – get on with it – you campaigned for a second Mt Victoria tunnel and a second Terrace tunnel, both desperately needed and you won! Well done! Why people think being stuck in a traffic jam in a city this size will save the planet I don’t know. As for those who are wanting to leap back to 1860’s mentality and build a railway line through the middle of our city – it really is extraordinary nonsense. Years of hopeless disruption, billions of ratepayers and taxpayers dollars, guaranteed to lose huge money and does anyone actually want to go to the airport on a train?…..We are a city of around 350,000 people not 5-10 million. The “stop everything” brigade have become so incredibly tiresome, they’re suffocating the life out of the city, it’s high time to get on with a sensible, affordable, balanced and achievable transport plan!

  15. Ellen, 14. October 2019, 22:53

    Enough with the second (third) Mt Victoria tunnel – none is needed if we get cars off the roads, bikes can go on a 30km hour road through the tunnel and pedestrians get the tiny footpath back. About time we made some improvements to get more people walking the 30% of trips that are under 2 kilometres, and more on to buses for the other trips.

    Sarah Free’s idea of a free bus trip through the Pirie St bus tunnel is spot on – innovative ideas can be effective instead of spending big.

    The first quick wins from LGWM included delaying pedestrians for longer than cars at the Cable St – Oriental Parade intersection, fix that now, prioritise walking just for a change before all the expensive vanity projects.

  16. Glen Smith, 14. October 2019, 23:15

    John. This is a excellent summary. As you say we need to “work out what sort of Mt Victoria tunnel we need before committing to build one”. This is exactly what NZTA hasn’t done in their current road only Mt Victoria Tunnel proposal (the one that Andy seems to now be blindly supporting, just as he did the road only flyover), despite projections clearly showing this plan is not a long term solution to transport capacity to the Eastern suburbs and will likely lead to the whole issue having to be revisited by mid century (when retrofitting a proper long term solution with be exponentially more difficult).

    We need increased tunnel capacity across the Mt Victoria to Mt Albert hill range for 4 modes. Cycling and pedestrian (as you point out) but also rapid transit (for the necessary long term capacity that road can’t provide) AND increased road capacity (for the extra trips that can only be feasibly undertaken by car). The majority of extra capacity should be non-road due to the higher capacity and lower carbon footprint of these alternative modes. Rapid transit should be rail on the ‘heavier’ side of the spectrum due to capacity, attractiveness to discretionary riders, but most importantly for compatibility with our existing rail network by ‘track-sharing’ to produce a seamless regional PT network. As you point out this ‘heavier’ rail can only feasibly go via Mt Victoria. This is just one if the many reasons for not taking rail via Newtown.

    Almost certainly the best way of getting all 4 of these modes to the east is by a large bore stacked multipurpose second Mt Victoria Tunnel. This was proposed by international tunneling expert Alun Thomas and nobody has produced any evidence to disprove his conclusion that this would be substantially cheaper and far less destructive than separate tunnel bores. If the NZTA had been able to undertake proper long term transport planning, it is possible they could have got Alice (the affectionately named tunnel boring machine that produced the Waterview Tunnels) to bore the second Mt Victoria Tunnel at a discounted price while it was in the country. Another opportunity might arise since the new tunnel-based second harbour crossing in Auckland will likely need a large bore TBM. Don’t hold your breath that NZTA are competent enough to co-ordinate that.

  17. CC, 15. October 2019, 9:02

    Clearly John Morrison hasn’t moved on from the 1960s and shows why his days as a Councillor were terminated.

  18. John Morrison, 15. October 2019, 10:47

    That’s really visionary CC “attacking the man not the ball”! ….and nasty, and of course hiding behind anonymity.

  19. glenn, 15. October 2019, 14:23

    Andy Foster campaigned on getting roading/tunnels built for the Wgtn region. Unless all you lefty’s have missed the point……he won the majority of votes, and guess what?, is now the mayor. One would naturally assume the people who voted for him want the same thing.

  20. Dave B, 15. October 2019, 15:23

    @ John Rankin: You sum up perfectly the half-baked nature of any ‘plans’ for mass-transit in Wellington. The 4-lanes-to-the-planes brigade, if they envisage any public transport development at all, propose it as nothing more than an unspecified afterthought, to be tacked-on as cheaply as possible to the motorway-based solution they have by-then already built and spent all the funding on.
    Clearly if mass transit is to be done properly, it needs to studied, defined, planned and designed just as much as any road scheme. And yes, the outcome of this process would inevitably impact on what road developments are done or not-done. A master-plan for the city including road, mass-transit, cycling and walking should be agreed and planned as an integrated entity without giving arbitrary priority to road-elements ahead of the plan. It is doing this that has caused our transport system to become so unbalanced and inadequate in the first place.

    @ John Morrison. Your comment above was pretty disparaging of those who have a different view to yours. You invited the ‘bite back’ that you received.

  21. Neil Douglas, 15. October 2019, 21:06

    Here is a paper on Light Rail with cost comparisons of Bus Rapid Transit and Heavy Rail for Australasian cities. Auckland Cross City Rail Tunnel comes top in terms of cost per km (not a first place you’d want!) Disruption’s been bad too.

    Indeed, LRT costs look quite cheap in comparison! Watch out cyclists though. Edinburgh LRT tracks have injured a few and killed one. And a Newcastle NSW cyclist has died after his bike wheel got stuck in the new tram tracks.

  22. Sam Donald, 15. October 2019, 22:13

    @glenn: Foster had a pretty slim majority over Lester, certainly not a resounding enough one that he can rightfully claim that he has a clear mandate to prioritise a tunnel for cars over rapid mass transit. If you wanted to claim that people were voting on this transport issue more than others then it’s a fairly clear vote for pushing ahead with rapid mass transit as on 1st preferences Lester, Condie and Hill totalled 30,060 vs Foster and Calvert’s 27,045. The reality is that there were a number of issues influencing voters and Foster would do well to let the LGWM process run its course and await the business cases.

    Hopefully the potential transit-oriented development (and land value capture) opportunities of a rapid mass transit route to the airport via Te Aro and Newtown show just how valuable it will be for this city.

    I would expect that a majority of the elected Councillors recognise that more road space is just an invitation for more cars (ICE or electric) and that it would never be an answer to congestion. They will therefore vote for a 21st century approach that moves more people with fewer vehicles, despite what Mayor Foster says he wants.

  23. Corey, 15. October 2019, 23:06

    Really happy they are focusing on the tunnel. State highways are meant to be fast transit ways in and out of a city for vehicles, glad they are focusing on what matters.

  24. Neil Douglas, 16. October 2019, 7:14

    I forgot to put the link in for the presentation slides to our Aus LRT and Lessons for NZ paper. For those of you who need information ‘rapidly’ and don’t have the time to wade through 40 pages of detail – this one’s for you!

  25. Barbara S, 16. October 2019, 16:14

    I agree with Andy Foster getting the Mt Vic tunnel done asap.
    The people who are opposing it just want to see the flyover and Basin Reserve concept back again. Please get the tunnel done Andy.
    Why can’t people see that is a very good start. We are starting to sound like Brexit. No decisions are ever made.

  26. Barbara S, 16. October 2019, 16:18

    I have seen the presentation Neil Douglas did and it is excellent. A lot of good research done there.