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Pushing the wrong road. Faults and fallacies in the Takapu Valley plan

by T. Duran
The recommendation from Wellington Region Chief Executives to build a road through Takapu Valley shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, despite promising an open working group to discuss roading requirements in the region, the Transport Agency proved false and opted for closed-door meetings where it could spoon-feed its preferred option to the chief executives without having to worry about anyone challenging their BS.

And BS it most certainly is. If it weren’t, the Agency wouldn’t need to work so hard to prevent alternate voices being heard.

Here’s one example: back in December, we sent an OIA request for the information that the Transport Agency had given to the chief executives — the information that they’ve had long enough to produce the report being tabled on Monday — and we have been told they still won’t be able to get it to US for weeks yet, ten weeks after we submitted the request. Yeah.

So what might the Transport Agency not have told the chief executives at the secret meetings?

That the resilience argument they’re leaning on to force through the Takapu Road option is pure fantasy. The geotechnical report they’re basing all this on stops at Grenada Village. That’s right. Their analysis of the Takapu Valley route is based on, I kid you not, Google maps and a vague notion that most of the rock around Wellington is more or less the same. Tell that to the poor sods trying to get the footings sorted for the Transmission Gully bridge over Cannons Creek, at the top of the valley.

The Transport Agency’s “resilience expert” didn’t know — and didn’t do enough homework to find out — that there’s an active fault right where they want to put the road. Anybody who’s claiming to be qualified to site a road in Wellington should know by now that tidy little valleys like Takapu are *created* by fault lines. So, do you think they’ve included paying GNS to study that fault line into their budget? Um, nope.

Did anyone point out that having two parallel highways could be a liability in a major event? That it could leave multiple routes to be cleared instead of one, dividing their resources? Ask Christchurch about triage. Do you think the chief executives were shown the map showing the bits of SH1 that are listed as earthquake vulnerable? Including that controversial stretch above the school? And were they told that the Transport Agency has said that if if it gets to build the new Takapu highway, it’s not going to bother strengthening SH1? Because, you know, building a new greenfields road is so much more fun than maintaining an existing one. People complain about the road cones. Best to just let it fall down first, and then make people beg you to fix it — like they did with SH58.

How about consulting with Transpower and Wellington Energy, who are currently burying power lines right under where the Transport Agency wants its interchange with TG to be? Also, nope.

Did they show the chief executives that there are already three different ways to get from the Tawa junction to Linden? Does adding a fourth through Takapu Valley really count as a significant improvement to the connectivity of the region? If they’re going to be ploughing more routes where there are already routes, aren’t there suburbs that might want to upgrade to TWO, before we gift Tawa with FOUR?

Did the Transport Agency remind the chief executives that the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has already shot down a highway through Takapu Valley once already, when it was proposed as part of the Transmission Gully project? Evidently not, since the chief executives think it’s a “logical” idea to extend TG down the valley. Oh wait, but according to the Transport Agency, it’s not the same road the PCE rejected, because, hey, they’ve moved it 500 meters to the left. Totally different. Won’t wreck the community or the environment at all, now.

Were the chief executives made aware that if the idea is to move heavy trucks from Petone to Transmission Gully — because they make a big noise about how they can make a nice even grade for heavy trucks — then SH58, being lower and shallower, is a much better choice…. oh wait! The Agency is planning to downgrade SH58, lowering the speed limit and slapping in some roundabouts. Making it safer by turning it into a slower, inconvenient road.

And they’ve budgeted half the cost for big interchanges on P2G as they say SH58 interchanges would cost, or that Dowse actually did cost, despite the size and complexity being comparable, if not worse.

Speaking of budgeting, they’re also budgeting their earthworks — remember the 20-storey-deep canyon they want to blast through Korokoro? — at half what they were told was the likely cost back in 2011. And that’s assuming they only have to take the stuff 6km, which won’t get most of it out of the project area. Planning on using that dirt for a runway extension? Hope you have another hundred million lying around.

So if the biggest chunks of their budget are already off by a factor of two, what does that say about their Benefit-Cost calculations? Which, by the way, include some generous “future benefits”, but don’t have to include the future expense of maintaining the kilometers of highway they want to build parallel to the existing one, plus all the superfluous interchanges.

What else shall we look at? Time savings? They’ve said you can save 15 minutes on your drive between Tawa and Petone. Which is a good trick considering that usually the drive takes only 15 minutes at peak hour. So the Transport Agency’s planning is so good that it will send you back in time? And the time savings they want to bulldoze Takapu Valley for? Ooh. 10 seconds. As much as 30 seconds on a good day, southbound. Maybe a minute or two northbound. That’s if the multiple roundabouts and traffic lights they want to put at Tawa haven’t stuck you in a half-hour queue.

Here’s the kicker, though: the Transport Agency is pushing the wrong road. Of the four options it analysed for the route north of the saddle, the one that was closest to the originally proposed route — what was “Option A” that came out at Grenada Village — was the best option, according to its own project goals and its own internal experts. It had good natural resilience, did the least damage to the environment, didn’t have bizarre snarly interchanges that tried to mash together two motorways with eight local streets, a train station and a footpath, and most importantly, it made the traffic flow best. But the Agency rejected that option.

The author is a technical analyst and resident of Takapu Valley.

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