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Under the surface: they’re still talking about a flyover option

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by Tim Jones
The Let’s Get Welly Moving (LGWM) public engagement process has gone through another of its seemingly endless permutations, with a series of workshops and meetings during March and April giving participants the chance to state their priorities in areas including public transport improvements, state highway improvements, encouraging active transport (walking and cycling) and transport demand management.

But while the public face of LGWM is this slowly unfolding public consultation process, there’s a whole lot more going on behind the scenes. Some officials, politicians and lobbyists are pushing strongly for state highway “improvements” to soak up the lion’s share of the funding available for Wellington transport.

If that happens, then consequences could include building duplicate Mt Victoria and Terrace tunnels, four-laning State Highway 1 as it passes through the city, or undergrounding at least part of State Highway 1’s route through the CBD.

And what about the Basin Reserve itself? Well, after the comprehensive and epic defeat of the New Zealand Transport Agency’s Basin Reserve flyover proposal, LGWM is still talking about the possibility of … a Basin Reserve flyover. Maybe a smaller flyover, maybe a flyover with nicer decorations and a better colour scheme, but a flyover nevertheless.

To be fair, we have no evidence yet that LGWM has settled on a Basin Reserve flyover as its preferred option for that part of the transport system. LGWM’s High and Medium state highway improvement options include grade separation at the Basin Reserve. That could be achieved by a flyover, a tunnel, or a cut-and-cover option. But it’s very clear that a flyover is still on the table as a potential option.

Which raises the question: does the Transport Agency still think, as its own internal report on its failure at the Board of Inquiry suggested, that the main problem with the flyover was that they didn’t sell the idea well enough? Because if they think that was the biggest problem with their proposal, then they really need to go back and read the Board of Inquiry findings on why a Basin Reserve flyover was such a terrible idea.

When Let’s Get Welly Moving started out, it was supposed to be a chance for a rethink, a chance for the three constituent bodies – NZTA, Wellington City Council and Greater Wellington – to move away from the outmoded transport approach that more motorways meant less congestion and a better transport system, when the evidence both New Zealand and worldwide clearly shows the opposite.

More roads means more congestion, a worse transport system, a less liveable city and yet more greenhouse gas emissions at a time when the Government, the City Council and Greater Wellington have all made commitments to reduce such emissions.

So it’s depressing, if not surprising, to hear that the road-builders are making the play once again – even though one of the key objectives of the project is to reduce dependence on private vehicle travel.

The only thing that will save the day and ensure that the central city is not ruined by still more roads is public pressure. If you think that coming up with good solutions for Wellington transport should involve

– taking meaningful action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
– becoming less, not more, dependent on the private motor vehicle
– improving public and individual health through encouraging activity and reducing harmful particulate emissions
– making Wellington a more liveable city
– preserving and enhancing public spaces such as the Basin Reserve
– making Wellington better and safer for pedestrians and cyclists
– moving towards setting up a modern, efficient light rail system along with a bus system that meets users’ needs
– concentrating on managing travel demand
– and avoiding burning massive amounts of public money at concrete shrines to the car

then it’s time to speak up. Tell your local and regional councillors that you don’t want the car-dependent future that the road-building and heavy haulage lobbies are trying to foist on you. Make that message very clear to your MPs and local election candidates at the election. Don’t vote for candidates who want to focus transport spending on motorway building.

Engagement is great – so long as that engagement is meaningful. Officials may want the pond to stay unruffled, but the time has come to start making waves.

Tim Jones is spokesperson for the Save the Basin Campaign.

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