For months before it was willing to tell the public what it had decided, the Transport Agency was designing plans for a concrete flyover close to the Basin Reserve. Part of the process tried to find ways to “mitigate” the appearance of the flyover – such as landscaping and planting trees.
Some of the drawings prepared for a “specialists’ mitigation workshop” in May, which have now been released under the Official Information Act, show the Agency’s experts were hoping that most of the flyover would be hidden if they planted lots of trees.
The planners were told they should somehow create a flyover which would “reinforce the dramatic experience of the journey through Wellington.” (Rather than one which would be a blot on the cityscape?). They were advised that their design should be trying to preserve views to landmarks and contributing to local and distant views.
Mt Victoria residents may be relieved to know that the planners decided a “feature bridge” was not appropriate for the 380-metre-long flyover. They decided it should be “as slender as possible to reduce the visual impact.” In a strange acknowledgement of the issues, the project team advised: “In this important location the intention is for the bridge to not compete with the significant cultural and sporting features that surround it.” They hoped that the big structure would “provide a profile that presents a minimal width and depth of ‘belly’ under the deck plane, reducing the apparent width and depth of the structure and allowing a relatively fine side profile from critical views.”
They rejected pre-cast concrete beams (“poor aesthetics”) and chose a “concrete single box girder” as the most appropriate solution. “From an aesthetic point … likely to give a better outcome.” Once aesthetics had been dealt with, the positioning of the supporting piers was amended to allow speeds of 60kmh for the two lanes of flyover traffic heading west above Kent and Cambridge Terrace.
The planners worried about how to get “the best outcome” for the bleak space under the bridge between Hania Street and Kent Terrace. They decided a building under the overhead road would be the best idea. They want to build a glass box showroom, if they can find a commercial tenant. Perhaps they’re hoping that Regional Wines and Spirits might decide to move under the bridge rather than stay in its current premises with a flyover outside the front door.
They considered building a pedestrian underpass at Paterson Street, to make a safer environment for the students from Wellington College and St Marks who cross the highway twice a day. But they decided that this would create “an undesirable place that could provide a risk to personal safety” so they reverted to the status quo – traffic lights and a pedestrian crossing. No gain, therefore, for the students. And no change for the stop-start traffic heading east into the old Mt Victoria tunnel.
They even started developing plans for the second tunnel (for which no finance has yet been provided, though 2018 has been optimistically optimistically as a possible start date). To make space for aligning traffic flows if the new tunnel is built, they made a change to the flyover and moved it closer (even closer!) to the north-west corner of the Basin.
Until August, the planners were also developing the design of a road running through the Memorial Park. All their work was discarded when the politicians overruled the Agency.
However the long-forgotten idea of a processional route along Taranaki Street to the Memorial Park is still on the list of possibilities. The Wellington City Council and the government had agreed to this plan in 2009 when they were looking ahead to Wellington’s 150th anniversary as the capital city. The council was going to spend $3.5m to plant trees in the middle of Taranaki Street, to create a more processional ambiance (and to distract from the car yards). The money was never spent.
As the council has now committed $5m to help pay for the new improved park (with the road underground) it’s not likely that it’ll want to find $3.5m for planting trees. Even in the unlikely event of someone deciding to organise some processions along Taranaki Street.