It’s going to take the next two months for the board of inquiry to hear all the evidence for and against the flyover that the government’s Transport Agency wants to build alongside the Basin Reserve.
The board of inquiry, with four members chosen by the government, has its first meeting this morning. The hearings will be continuing for 35 days, with closing submissions on April 4. The board is under instructions from the government to fast-track its proceedings, with the requirement that it must announce its decision by the end of May. That’s nine months from when submissions were first called for.
The Transport Agency prepared for the inquiry by employing thirty consultants to write papers in support of the flyover. In spite of their work, the
“list of contested issues” contains a total of more than 160 topics on which the participants have failed to agree with what the Agency wants to build.
These issues are as basic as whether the flyover is necessary and whether all relevant options – such as at-grade alternatives – have been considered. There are challenges to the Transport Agency’s modelling of traffic flows, and questions about costings and social and environmental issues. Eight heritage issues are listed, as well as safety issues for schoolchildren.
3.8 on the list asks a pointed question: Does the flyover project appropriately reflect the values of local residents, the wider New Zealand public, and visitors to New Zealand’s capital.
Disappointingly, a majority of city councillors decided that the council would not oppose the flyover. The council will be represented at the hearing, but its list of contested issues is a small and insignificant one. The regional council will also be represented at the hearing, but pointlessly as its councillors voted to support the flyover, without reservations.
With our elected representatives defaulting, opposition has been left to the locals: specifically the lobby group Save the Basin and the Mt Victoria Residents Association, together with the Architectural Centre and the Newtown Residents Association. They have contributed a substantial number of the concerns in the list of contested issues.
Consultants to the Transport Agency have also raised concerns, most recently in a report released last week.
The same consultants released more detailed concerns at the end of November, when their peer review challenged 49 points in the Agency’s plans. As the DomPost reported on 30 November:
Transport experts [who wrote the review] have described the logic used to eliminate other options including a tunnel as “inconsistent” and “difficult to follow”. They have also flagged the possibility that the flyover could present a safety risk to traffic, cyclists and pedestrians if it goes ahead as planned.
The biggest red flag was the way the Transport Agency ruled out other options [at the Basin Reserve] before seeking the public’s view on two flyover designs – one 20m north and the other 65m north of the Basin – in 2011. The reviewers applied their own tests to about 10 alternatives and found two had equal merit. Both involved building new roads to the north and east of the Basin for state highway traffic. The reviewers were unsure why the alternatives had been discounted. They were also unsure why a tunnel was scrapped, as it was found to be better than a flyover in every way, except cost.
Expert witnesses who are opposing the flyover will be speaking strongly about the benefits of these options which would solve traffic problems around the Basin without the need for an obtrusive flyover.
One of the most authoritative of these witnesses is David Young. From 1992 to 2004 he was employed by Transit New Zealand (the Transport Agency’s previous name) as policy and planning manager and then national planning manager – in that position, he was in charge of state highway planning. His evidence will be a key part of the case against the flyover. The low-cost at-grade option, he’ll be telling the board of inquiry, will solve all traffic problems around the Basin:
There is a low-cost option, described in this submission as the Basin Roundabout Enhancements Option, of upgrading the existing Basin Roundabout by widening Paterson Street westbound up to the Dufferin Street stop line and widening Dufferin Street to between Paterson Street and Rugby Street, in each case to three lanes, to provide three continuous lanes westbound around the roundabout from the exit from the Mt Victoria Tunnel to Buckle Street/Karo Drive.
He is one of several authoritative figures who’ll be telling the government-appointed board members why a flyover isn’t necessary – not even with its new name of a “bridge.” In a strangely blatant piece of PR, the Agency is hoping we won’t keep thinking that they want to build a flyover. The flyover inquiry has become a bridge inquiry. But call it a bridge or call it a flyover, the 300ft concrete structure remains the same.