The DomPost, long a supporter of a flyover at the Basin Reserve, is making a last minute discovery of some of the arguments against it.
It reports this morning that consultants who peer-reviewed the $90m flyover project have three significant concerns. Crucially, they believe the method used to discount alternatives was “inconsistent” and lacked transparency.
[The consultants'] Abley’s concerns stem from when the Transport Agency first sought to find a solution to the Basin’s congestion woes in 2009. It decided to separate state highway traffic from local traffic via a flyover rather than reconfigure the existing road, even though the latter option – costing as little as $40m – made better economic sense.
The reason was that a flyover provided much better transport benefits, such as faster journey times, which made its extra cost negligible. But when a tunnel was considered later in the process, the agency dismissed it as being unaffordable, even though it had the same benefits as a flyover, with the addition of being less of an eyesore and more environmentally friendly.
…That decision appeared to contradict the Transport Agency’s statement that its preferred option would have the least social, community and environmental impact. “The apparent inconsistency and lack of transparency in the underlying process . . . is a significant concern of the reviewers,” said the consultants.
Such concerns were identified back in 2011, when the Transport Agency’s “consultation” tried to force Wellingtonians to choose between a flyover and a flyover, without mentioning the other options.
At that time, Kent Duston was precise in his criticism of the exclusion of other options. Then convenor of the Save the Basin campaign, he said the bizarre decision flew in the face of rational transport planning:
“The decision to consult only on the flyover options is an insult to the intelligence of Wellingtonians. It’s clear that there are choices to be made between cut-and-cover, tunnels, at-grade and flyover designs, and for the Transport Agency to take alternative approaches off the table before consultation even starts smacks of paternalistic arrogance… From a commonsense point of view, we should be looking at the costs and benefits of all the available solutions. For instance, the cut-and-cover design from the Architecture Centre has much better urban design outcomes, while the at-grade solution proposed by Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown would appear to deliver 90% of the benefits of a flyover at 10% of the cost.
“There are very clear issues with a flyover, not least how it will perform in an earthquake, the ever-increasing costs of building it, and the impact of noise and vehicle pollution on the Basin Reserve. There is also the open question about why a hugely-expensive flyover is needed when congestion has not risen as predicted, and traffic levels on the highway network fell 2% last year. The Basin Reserve is a heritage-listed precinct with immense cultural and sporting value. The Transport Agency should be condemned for its high-handed and arrogant assumption that a flyover is the only possible solution.
And recently there’s been similar criticism from a former senior planner within the Agency’s own ranks. His evidence against the flyover is now online and will be given to the board of inquiry which starts on Monday week. David Young, who for eight years was Transit NZ’s national planning manager, confirms that there is a low-cost at-grade option for solving Basin traffic problems without a flyover. He asks why the Agency failed to allow Wellingtonians the choice of this non-flyover option. Had it been been identified and included in the consultation process, he says, it is likely that it would have been preferred by affected parties “and would, or at least should, have been selected by the Transport Agency.”
This expert witness also says the “grossly uneconomic” flyover will cause significant adverse environmental effects and he asks why the Agency is understating environmental issues related to the flyover.
The board of inquiry which is being asked to approve a flyover at the Basin Reserve starts its hearings on Monday February 3 at 9.30 at the Amora Hotel.