Wellington city councillors were told yesterday that the government will not pay for Option X. What would be best for the city is not acceptable for the politicians. They want the cheapest possible deal.
Not that the government delivered this decision directly. The information emerged at a briefing meeting, almost as a throwaway line, in response to a question from a councillor who asked: “In terms of funding for Option X, what are the chances of the government fronting up with the extra money?”
“Low,” replied the NZ Transport Agency’s Selwyn Blackmore. Then he added that the government had refused to fund the cost of putting State Highway into a tunnel under the Memorial Park. As the tunnel is a key element in Option X, there suddenly seemed to be no hope for the Architectural Centre’s popular plan which would avoid the negative impacts of an elevated highway alongside the Basin Reserve.
The government’s reason for refusing the money: “because there are no transport benefits.”
There would, of course, be many other benefits for Wellington. But the government isn’t concerned about any of these. Even its claim of “no transport benefits” is a dubious one. Without a tunnel under the park, the $70m elevated highway won’t be any help to west-bound traffic, which will continue to be stopped by traffic lights at Tory Street and Taranaki Street.
But it’s the cheapest option. Auckland gets tunnels and clouds. Wellington gets a 380-metre-long two-lane one-way concrete bridge from the Mt Victoria Tunnel to Tory Street.
The Transport Agency is blatantly evasive about public opinion. It has received more than 2100 public submissions but yesterday it refused to tell councillors how many opposed the overhead road. The agency presented a series of pie charts, but claimed that “we haven’t analysed the numbers who supported the bridge.”
There was much unconvincing talk about spending limitless amounts of money on “mitigating” the overhead road. Landscape designer Megan Wraight, speaking for the Transport Agency, believes it will be “subtle and refined rather than an iconic structure.”
Which raises the question: if it’s going to be so subtle and refined, why the need for mitigation? There are already discussions about having to build a grandstand to hide the bridge from events on the Basin, though there’s no way it can be hidden from Kent and Cambridge Terraces. There’ll have to be noise barriers to give a pretence of protecting Mt Victoria homeowners from their diminishing quality of life, though there’ll be no protection from diminishing property values. There’s weird talk of lights and artworks and arcades and plantings. None of which can hide the fact that everyone knows the dank and dark and noisy reality of the underbelly of a flyover.
In the words of Celia Wade-Brown: “‘An attractive flyover’ is an oxymoron…I don’t think a 50-year flyover is a good 50-year answer for this significant part of Wellington.” The sad result of the “do it cheap” decision will be that once all 380 metres of the overhead road have been built, all the money in the world won’t be able to make it invisible.
Eye of the Fish comments:
Option X is the best value