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Build motorways, prepare for more cars

What will be the result of completing Transmission Gully and the new motorway that’s being bulldozed through the quiet towns of the Kapiti Coast? Yes, you may be able to get to Levin in half the time. But worse: the new expressways are expected to bring over 11,000 more cars into the CBD – that’s 20 per cent more than now – every morning.

As Michael Forbes reports [1] in the DomPost this morning:

While Auckland’s chronic traffic congestion is already apparent, Wellington’s is expected to get worse once the Kapiti expressway, Transmission Gully motorway, and Petone-Grenada highway are all built, making journeys in and out of the capital by road significantly easier. Recent studies by the Regional Council show that, even with continuing investment in public transport, there are expected to be 11,500 more cars entering Wellington during the morning rush in 2031.

And how to deal with this impossible situation?

Wellington recently joined forces with Auckland to lobby the Government for the law changes necessary to introduce user-pays charges as a means of reducing car use. Some of the ideas being floated include a congestion charge, such as the one used in central London, and fees that ramp up the cost of long-stay commuter parking.

But Luke Troy, the regional council’s general manager of strategy, says the need for more road pricing tools is still a long way off in Wellington. No need yet, apparently, to start worrying about 2031.

The new expressways have been enthusiastically supported [2] by the Chamber of Commerce and the Automobile Association since they were first announced back in 2009. Back then, there was no thought of the threat to the Wellington CBD that would be created by such a big increase in vehicles. Till now, the focus has always been on “quicker journeys” [3] rather than the impact of a huge increase in traffic arriving at the destinations.

The issue is already visible in Vivian Street, which is a blatant example of how the planners have failed to come up with any solution to the problem of too much traffic. This narrow inner city street is forced to have a double life – it’s also part of State Highway One and therefore (unconvincingly) also a road of national significance, albeit a most unsuccessful one which satisfies nobody.

Traffic lights on every block make a frustrating experience for drivers. And the endless traffic coming out of the single-lane Terrace Tunnel means that pedestrians wait forever at the lights, breathing traffic fumes and hoping for their brief moment to cross the significantly over-stressed street/road/highway. It’s easy to imagine the worsened situation for pedestrians if a second Terrace Tunnel is built and three lanes of traffic are emptied out into Vivian Street.

But of course pedestrians have no place in the plans for faster, wider roads.