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Too early for a tunnel decision

by John Rankin
We don’t know enough right now to make the decision that Mayor Foster has made about another Mt Victoria Tunnel. About the only thing we know for certain is that a second tunnel is desperately needed for walkers and cyclists.

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.

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.

We haven’t yet decided 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 a heavy rail tunnel.

If it’s heavy rail, the only feasible route is probably via a Mt Victoria tunnel. The option most likely to be future-proof is a multi-modal tunnel: walking, cycling, rapid transit and road.

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, as the new mayor has done. 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 needs a business case, yet Mayor Foster is not seeking a business case for a second Mt Victoria road tunnel.

Why the difference? If induced traffic is properly allowed for, the business case for a road-only Mt Victoria tunnel could be marginal; adding road capacity will not “fix” congestion.

Perhaps Mayor Foster could 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.

John Rankin is spokesperson for FIT Wellington.