Wellington Scoop

Three lanes into two for the new Buckle Street tunnel?

by Elaine Engman
Most Wellingtonians rightly believe that the Basin Reserve flyover will be a very expensive eyesore. Some have accepted it with the idea that it will improve traffic flows. But after a careful examination of the Transport Agency’s working plans, it seems obvious that the flyover will not improve overall traffic flows, but will more likely make rush hour traffic worse and cause more accidents.

The plans show that the new Buckle Street tunnel will have only two lanes which will carry the two lanes of west-bound traffic from the proposed flyover. However there will be a lot of other traffic coming into the tunnel, from Kent Terrace, Mt Cook and most importantly from Adelaide Road. To accommodate this additional traffic, a short “slip lane” will be in place. But this extra traffic will have less than a hundred meters to integrate into the two lanes of vehicles from the flyover.

Traffic jams are caused when the number of motorway lanes are reduced. The Transport Agency is very fond of these “pinch points. Some local examples: the Mount Victoria Tunnel, which is mainly responsible for traffic pressures around the Basin Reserve; the Terrace Tunnel coming into Wellington from the north; and where State Highway 1 narrows from two lanes to one lane between Plimmerton and Pukerua Bay going north. This last example has the worst daily rush hour congestion of any part of SH1 heading to Waikanae – much worse than the road between Paraparaumu and Waikanae.

The new tunnel under Buckle Street should improve traffic flows since one traffic signal will be eliminated. But there will undoubtedly be traffic backup through the tunnel during rush hour. And if the flyover is built, the short merge will not only create another “pinch point” but also will be likely to cause accidents. Motorists on the new flyover will be inclined to drive at more than 50 kph, speeding into the tunnel and conflicting with the other traffic attempting to merge into the two lanes.

There is to be no ventilation in the new tunnel. Drivers backed up into the tunnel by the Taranaki Street traffic lights will need to keep their car windows and vents closed unless they particularly enjoy the smell of auto and diesel fumes. For this, taxpayers will pay $90 million.


  1. Erentz, 28. March 2013, 10:48

    There were some drawings around for inner city bypass improvements showing an intention to widen it to three lanes. I assumed the tunnel would be three lanes also.

    I wonder if it is generally understood by people that this tunnel and its connecting flyover cannot be extended. If we come back and want to bury the bypass or do something about Vivian Street, we won’t be able to make use of this tunnel for that. I imagine there are some people who have the misconception that it can.

  2. Driver, 28. March 2013, 10:52

    The “pinchpoint” logic is persuasive. Let’s see if Rod James responds. What is not persuasive is the drawing (from the NZTA, I presume?) which shows a forest of trees east of Tory Street and east of the Basin. Do they think they’re kidding anyone with these misleading images?

  3. Paula Warren, 28. March 2013, 13:23

    There were lovely drawings for the inner city bypass as well. Apparently all the new road that cuts through Cuba Street is lined with big trees.

  4. Rod James, 28. March 2013, 13:37

    Hi, Rod James from the NZTA here.

    The tunnel lane markings are to be reconfigured to three lanes as part of the Basin Bridge Project, so the merging issues outlined here are not applicable.

  5. Elaine, 28. March 2013, 13:50

    According to the plans I saw and the oral verification of the NZTA person that I spoke to, the tunnel was only 2 lanes with a slip lane leading into it.

  6. NigelTwo, 28. March 2013, 14:08

    Eeek, How long do I have to hold my breath if i walk/cycle through this? If I’m allowed to…

  7. Lindsay, 28. March 2013, 14:46

    How can the Transport Agency reconfigure its plans to create three lanes of traffic in a tunnel that was designed for only two? And (noting the question above) will there also be a cycling lane?

  8. Erentz, 28. March 2013, 14:47

    Rod James: Are you confirming the current intention then is to widen the inner city bypass (Arthur St & Karo Dr) to three lanes in the subsequent inner city bypass improvement project?

    Are you also confirming that if in future we wanted to bury SH1 the current tunnel/flyover would require so much rework and cause so much disruption that they would not be used? If not can you please provide the plans showing how they would be used and how traffic would be detoured to make that possible.

  9. Guy, 28. March 2013, 19:10

    NigelTwo – i don’t think that the plan is to allow any cycling or walking through the tunnel. In fact, you’d be stupid to do so. The route for cyclists and pedestrians is above ground, through the nice park they are creating for people to cycle and walk through.

    And re the tunnel beneath – the plan was always to have 2 lanes, and a shoulder, I think (Rod can confirm that). The shoulder is the zone to park your car if it breaks down – so if there is no shoulder, and a third lane instead, then that should be fine – as long as no one breaks down. Not many people break down these days in modern cars.

  10. Guy, 28. March 2013, 22:57

    Erentz, looking at the position of the steel piling going in to the Memorial Park trenching route at present, it seems pretty obvious that the space left over, ie towards the Mt Cook School, is going to be big enough to have a similar number of lanes coming back the opposite way. Not that they are going to dig that at this point in time however – but they are leaving a corridor so that at some stage in the future, a contra-flow can be put in to take traffic TO the airport this way.
    That, of course, implies a second flyover. Helpfully, NZTA have already got this second route all worked out – Option B.
    No “plans” for that though.

  11. Ellie, 29. March 2013, 10:55

    An NZTA document from 2010, which has been quoted on wellington.scoop previously, allows for a second flyover in the opposite direction.
    So that is $90 million + overruns + $90 million + overruns in the opposite direction,
    Option X and Richard Reid are therefore cheaper and much better urban design

  12. erentz, 29. March 2013, 11:18

    Guy: That’s correct. But if you want to bury the westbound traffic on the inner city bypass you would need to either 1) divert westbound traffic somewhere and then modify the tunnel to run under Taranaki Street all the way to Ghuznee Street, 2) build a new westbound tunnel the whole way at the same time as the eastbound.

    The only plan I can see being realistic in the future for burying SH1 along the bypass route is to rip out all of Memorial Park, move all the memorials, once again destroy trees that haven’t yet had a chance to mature. Dig a 4-lane tunnel all the way to Ghuznee Street along the northern side of the current alignment. Then divert traffic into it. The existing flyover probably being replaced in the process as it wouldn’t align well to the new tunnel.

    Building say a single 2-lane tunnel, then diverting westbound traffic onto that, then coming back and modifying/burying the bypass would be a huge amount of disruption at the points you have to dig under the existing roads of Taranaki, Cuba, Victoria, and Willis Streets. Diverting these streets to build one tunnel, then coming back and doing it again for another.

    This is not a new problem, but I’ve never had a response from NZTA or city council on it, because I suspect they don’t think that far ahead. No one is willing to say we definitely won’t bury SH1 in the future, many would like to see it happen, but yet our planning is making that more complex and more expensive. I think people in future are going to be less likely to put up with this kind of disruption, or with parks being built, destroyed, built, destroyed, etc.

    The reason I’d like a confirmation on this from Rod James is I suspect many people had a mistaken idea that the Memorial Park underpass and Basin flyover do form some part of a future where we might bury SH1. They don’t.

  13. Lindsay, 29. March 2013, 12:06

    Why is the Transport Agency so reluctant to communicate with Wellington people? It wasn’t till we reported its plans for only two traffic lanes in the Buckle Street tunnel that the Agency announced it would be changing to three lanes. Some of the above comments identify other key traffic design issues, crucial to the city, which the Agency isn’t telling us about. Is this because plans just don’t exist? Is it because the Agency’s political masters are dictating that staff stay silent? And then, of course, there was the sham consultation in which the Agency tried to muzzle public opinion by offering only two choices for the Basin – and both choices were a flyover. A tactic which failed to silence public concern and public opposition to the flyover proposal.

  14. NigelTwo, 29. March 2013, 18:34

    Can someone provide a link to the plans for this work? I can’t find them. They must exist given that the “bulldozers are running”.

  15. Sridhar, 29. March 2013, 21:22

    So Rod James – if the plans don’t improve traffic as NZTA promises, can we have you tried for misleading people and wasting 90 million dollars? If I am the judge then, I will ask you to repay that 90 million + interest from your personal pocket.

    Let’s see how much are you willing to place your bets on this bridge. and let’s see you reply to this post. No reply will be assumed to be an admission that NZTA’s plans are flawed.

    Oh I forgot, you are just parroting what the govt thru NZTA is asking you to say. right?

  16. Elaine Engman, 30. March 2013, 9:44

    NigelTwo: to find the plans, I went to NZTA’s offices next to the construction area right off Taranaki at Martha Square, first right from Buckle Street. (My partner’s apartment is in Tasman Gardens overlooking the construction, so we are very interested in the tunnel.)

    The workers there were very helpful and showed me the working plans. I noticed that the tunnel seemed narrow and was shown as having only 2 lanes as well as being lined up to connect directly to the proposed flyover. I asked how traffic from the other roads i.e. Adelaide Rd. etc. was going to get into the tunnel. The response was that there was going to be a slip road which would feed into the two lanes of the tunnel. This would work fine if the flyover was never connected.

    In thinking about this after I left, it seemed ridiculous that a pinch point like this could be “planned”. I then thought maybe I hadn’t seen or heard this information correctly.

    Therefore several days later I asked a friend to go with me to see if she could also see only two lanes in the tunnel. She saw what I saw and we were both were told that there were to be only two lanes in the tunnel. There was no evidence of a shoulder or a pull out area.

  17. Trish, 30. March 2013, 21:21

    We all seem to be wrong. It turns out that the point of the Basin Bridge has little to do with moving traffic faster from Hataitai to Taranaki Street. Jenny Chetwynd, Rod James’ boss at NZTA, explains in a letter to the DomPost published this morning. She says buses hit a roadblock at the Basin, “which delays thousands of passengers daily.” A key purpose of the flyover “is to lift the stream of east-east traffic out of the way, improving reliability and travel times for north-south public transport services.”

    So the flyover is about the movement of traffic to and from Newtown. The parking lot in the sky heading for Tawa may be a small price to pay.

  18. Driver, 31. March 2013, 9:08

    Thousands of bus passengers delayed at the Basin every day? Where does Jenny Chetwynd get her information from? Presumably from the same source as Fran Wilde, who said last year: ““People are delayed here constantly, whatever the time of day.” Strange how their experience is so different from the rest of us who drive round the Basin every day without hitting a roadblock.

  19. Pollyanna, 31. March 2013, 10:55

    Went to the airport at midday yesterday, down Kent Tce no problems, with buses in their green lanes and no holdups at the Basin roundabout, with cars into the left lane to the tunnel and buses continuing to the eastern and southern suburbs. It was a similar easy trip on the way home again round the Basin and into Cambridge Tce….just a matter of green and red lights so everyone gets a turn.

  20. Sridhar, 31. March 2013, 16:11

    @Pollyanna. One factor counts here. the time you drove to the airport is holiday time. But I agree with you it is a just a case of putting up with some signals. Unfortunately, there are people who think even urban streets should be like a motorway. No signals @ 100 kmph.

    For a country known for its laid back approach everywhere, including work, people seem to be most impatient on the roads.

  21. Nick, 1. April 2013, 1:31

    This entire process has been undemocratic and makes me wonder if NZ is really that much different from a communist state. If the local community and the rest of Wellington can’t agree on the merits of the project now, then what future does this project have? Thanks New Zealand “Tyrant” Agency.