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Transport plans: the good, the bad and the ugly

cars [1]

by Conor Hill
National released its transport package [2] for Wellington and the Hutt Valley last week. Everything in it is familiar to anyone following Wellington transport plans, but it’s worth a look.

The Good

Maintaining the spend on buses, bikes and walking committed to by Let’s Get Wellington Moving. Wellington will be a much better place for these changes.

The clarity of the new spending. Aside from already committed government spending and some rural trains, everything else is a road. For Wellington city, the new spending is just a dust off of old motorway plans. I don’t agree with it, but at least I know what it is.

More central government funding for some bigger ticket items than Let’s Get Wellington Moving, in which the ratepayer picks up 40% of the tab. This makes it easier for other parties to commit to fully funding their preferences.

Under grounding SH1 in Te Aro. No one really likes having State Highway 1 running at ground level through our city. I’m dubious about the cost, but I’d be happier if all those cars went underground.

The Bad

While I like the clarity of the new spending, it’s still all roads. It amazes me that a party can commit to the Zero Carbon Act AND to an endless tarmac pour.

Moving away from light rail as the mass transit solution. For technical, capacity, operating costs and congestion reasons, light rail is the best solution for mass transit from the railway station to the airport. National have scored a lot of points on this topic, but it’s the wrong decision for Wellington.

The cost. Some of the biggest new commitments – like undergrounding SH1 in Te Aro and Grenada to Seaview – are not in any real sense costed by NZTA. While National say they are committing to $4billion of new spending, don’t be surprised to see these roads cost twice that.

The feasibility. In 9 years, National couldn’t do anything in Wellington city, and regionally only completed a botched rush job of the Kapiti expressway. It stretches credulity to believe that National will be able to deliver anything like what they are promising.

The Ugly

While happy to discuss generalities, National don’t seem to be prepared to fully commit to anything concrete with regards to congestion charging. If you are seriously interested in busting congestion, then this has to be part of the solution.

National want to see an “extra Mount Victoria Tunnel and widening of Ruahine Street/ Wellington Road to improve access for buses and dedicated walking and cycling facilities.” This almost sounds like the second Mt Vic Tunnel will be for buses and bikes. But my bet is that it is some form of double speak, in which providing more road space for cars somehow magically makes things better for people on bikes and buses.

On the topic of widening Ruahine Street, it’s worth noting that this probably means taking land out of the Town Belt. It will be interesting to see if our Mayor’s oft stated love of the Town Belt manifests itself in relation to this.

There’s a lack of detail around Mass Transit. It amazes me that 5 years after Let’s Get Wellington Moving started, none of our politicians can commit to a route and mode for mass transit. To be fair, this is not just a critique of National.

Conclusion

The National package can be summed up as Strong Roads, More Roads, Better Roads. If you believe (against the evidence) that more roads fix congestion, then you’ll like this package. It’s good to see most current plans for public and active transport supported, but it’s a bad idea to denigrate light rail, and it’s a real shame there is no clarity around mass transit and congestion charging.

Lastly, the cost and timeframes of this package and National’s other transport plans are purely speculative. In the event National wins the election, there’s a good chance Chris Bishop, National’s transport spokesman, ends up as next term’s Phil Twyford – a smart guy, good in opposition, saddled with a bunch of undeliverable projects.