by Lindsay Shelton
I can remember when official openings were immediately followed by access for the public – into a new shop, or on to a new road. Not these days. The Kapiti Expressway was officially opened this morning. But it didn’t mean anything for motorists.
Nor for the locals it seems. Today’s official opening didn’t include them – they’ve been segregated into what’s being called “a community event” this Saturday to give them “a chance to experience the Expressway before it opens to traffic.” It would have been friendlier if the politicians had merged their official ceremony with the community event – why wouldn’t they want to mingle with the locals after spending $630million?
And when will the expressway actually be opening? The answer is less than specific: “in the next two weeks.”
The politicians and the Transport Agency are full of praise for what their big spend has created:
• 18 bridges; • 1.4 million new plants over 140 hectares, mostly locally sourced native species; • Over $200 million contributed to the local economy through employment of local businesses; • Over 5000 people worked on the project through its life; • 16km of shared pathways for cyclists, walkers and in most sections horses – around 20,000 steps if you want to walk it; • 70,000 cubic metres of concrete poured, enough to lay a footpath from Wellington to Auckland; • 3.5 million cubic metres of earth shifted – that’s 102 rugby fields piled 5m high; • 14ha of wetlands created
But for the locals, it may have been a different story. NewsHub’s report from the official opening contains this:
Kapiti Deputy Mayor Janet Holborow acknowledged all those who’ve lost their homes and businesses to make way for the expressway.
She may have been thinking of these people, described in 2015 by (now-mayor) K Guranathan:
Property owners who, for one reason or another, were not able to present their case during the Board of Enquiry process are now feeling the full brunt of the construction. Their property values have plummeted and life alongside the Expressway has become hell with little or no relief in sight.
There was a campaign against the expressway. The Kapiti campaigners quoted a Beca report which, they said, showed that “the expressway has no business case – the expected economic benefits are just 20% of the cost of building it.” But they failed to persuade the politicians to change their minds. The money was spent. And the expressway is now officially open. But not yet for traffic.