The government’s Transport Agency delivered a snub to the Wellington City Council last week when it said it intends to choose one of its two flyover options for the northern side of the Basin Reserve.
The Agency knows that last October, the city council voted against the flyover  and sent a clear message to the government opposing the plan.
But included in last week’s announcement  of the tunnel under the new memorial park, the Transport Agency’s Wellington state highways manager said:
“Decisions on which option will be progressed in the Basin Reserve area will be announced late next week.”
They key words are “which option.” The Agency has only two of them – and they’re not real options at all, because both are for a flyover. Which the council doesn’t want. In fact, to quote Councillor Iona Pannett speaking last October: “No one in Mount Victoria wants the flyover. It is our job to represent the interests of our constituents. Three residents’ associations say a flyover is unacceptable and a tunnel is the only way.”
Mayor Celia Wade-Brown  was prescient when she said in the same month: “if tunnelling would be good for the memorial park, it should also be good for other parts of our city.” She accurately described Option X  as an inspirational idea which had captured the public imagination. She said councillors should be speaking up for the people of Wellington. She described hopes for “mitigation” of a flyover as being akin to putting lipstick on a gorilla.
She was supported by Councillor Andy Foster, who holds the Council’s Transport Portfolio. He said Wellingtonians want the best result for the city, and this means going underground.
The Transport Agency has recently shown that it can respond to political pressure – though from national politicians rather than local ones. Last year the Agency said it couldn’t afford a tunnel under the new memorial park. When it changed its mind last week, this was because of intervention from the government. But the opinions of local politicians don’t seem to hold so much sway with the Agency.
A majority of eight councillors opposed the flyover and supported the decision that cut and covering State Highway 1 from the Mount Victoria Tunnel all the way to the Memorial Park would be the best decision for Wellington: Mayor Wade-Brown, Foster, Cook, Eagle, Lester, Pannett, Pepperell, and Ritchie.
Seven councillors voted for the flyover: Ahipene-Mercer, Best, Coughlan, Gill, Marsh, Deputy Mayor McKinnon and Morrison. It had also always been supported by former Mayor Kerry Prendergast . Some people thought her stance was one of the factors in her election defeat.
It’s now being said that the memorial park decision will not only be changing the visual landscape but should also be changing the financial outlook as well. Observers calculate that the Buckle Street tunnel makes Option X more affordable than the flyover*. Whether or not the Agency accepts such a view, one thing is certain: if it insists on a flyover at the Basin Reserve, Wellington and Wellingtonians will continue to fight it.
*Maximus writes :
Option A PLUS Memorial Park trenching could equal $195m, while Option X would still have an upper cost of $165m – and it already includes trenching of the park in its calculations. The lower end cost of Option X must be … is it something like $135m? Take $100m for the trench off that, and suddenly Option X is looking like the cheapest option on the table.
The Transport Agency announces the flyover