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Such a short tunnel

tunnel walkthru
Twitter photo by Sean Gillespie

by Lindsay Shelton
One thought was obvious as we walked through the new tunnel under Buckle Street this morning. It’s so short. If only it had been extended under Taranaki Street. And under Cuba Street. And under Victoria Street. And under Willis Street.

Traffic emerging from the tunnel will still be stopped by the traffic lights at Taranaki Street, and by three more sets of traffic lights before it reaches the Terrace Tunnel. Street life at each of these intersections would be wonderfully improved if pedestrians didn’t have to stand and wait and breathe the fumes while the traffic goes past. Specially on Victoria Street – the city council has unexpectedly found $11million for improvements, but tree-planting and mini-parks will do nothing to remove the ugliness of State Highway 1 running through it. Cuba Street too. Its struggling communities in the cluster of beautiful heritage buildings would have a much better chance of survival if the main road wasn’t crashing through their neighbourhood.

It would have been absurd to have the main road running through the Memorial Park. So building the tunnel was the right decision. But it’s just as absurd for the same traffic to continue to overpower street life in so many CBD streets.

There was a time not so long ago when the tunnel under the Memorial Park could have been extended in the opposite direction too. As the Architectural Centre reported in August last year:

dig

How easy it would be to implement Option X right now. While the current excavations are aimed at linking up a level patch at Taranaki Street with a level patch on Sussex Street … there is no doubt that it would be a perfect time to switch to Option X and continue digging the trench right down to ground level at the Basin. The infrastructure is all set, the temporary steel piling system is already in place, the trucks and diggers are on a roll, and it would be such a simple matter for the Transport Agency to issue a large variation to the plan, and continue the dig.

If that plan had been accepted, there’d have been no need to keep planning the flyover. The Transport Agency could have saved the $10.9million fighting the local community. It could, instead, have turned its attention to working out a more acceptable rearrangement of traffic around the Basin Reserve. There’ve been more than enough suggestions for them to develop, if only they weren’t so stubborn and blinkered.

Starting with Celia Wade-Brown’s plan, which she announced in 2010 before she’d been elected mayor. Moving on to Option X and the Richard Reid design. And continuing this morning, when a correspondent writing to the DomPost pointed out it would be easy to unclog congestion faced by traffic turning south from the Basin Roundabout:

Some minor tweaking to the road layout would remove congestion … We can all see that there should be two dedicated lanes heading into Adelaide Road, not one and a half. A pot of paint would do the job, but only if the city council, the regional council and the transport agency can work out who should hold the paintbrush.

three lanes

Back in the new tunnel, this morning’s walk showed that the painting has already been done. Drivers entering from two lanes will have the choice of moving across into a third lane while they’re briefly underground. (The white lines are in place.) Then as they drive out of the tunnel, there’s a fourth lane for anyone who wants to turn right into Taranaki Street. No such luck for left-turning traffic – it has to share the left lane with drivers who are trying to go straight ahead.

The newly widened Karo Drive has three lanes as well. Three lanes across Cuba Street may be marginally better for drivers, but they’ve done nothing to help the Cuba Street heritage precinct, where undergrounding should have been the only way to go.

Tunnel open for traffic on Monday