Wellington Scoop

No light at the end of this tunnel

If you’ve been wondering why LGWM seems to be continually distracted instead of making decisions to get us moving – yesterday’s news of recommendations in a (leaked) report would have confirmed your suspicions.

LGWM last year hired more consultants to make more suggestions – as it’s been in the habit of doing for years. And in a report received earlier this year (which wasn’t made public) the latest hired guns have suggested more tunnels – including a tunnel all the way from the Terrace Tunnel to Kilbirnie.

Remember the name of the consultancy firm that made the recommendation – it’s called The Property Group.

Central to the Property Group’s proposals, revealed yesterday by Damian George in the DomPost, is a “long tunnel” – through Newtown, Mt Cook, and Te Aro.

There’s no cost estimate. But Daran Ponter of the Regional Council says the cost would be “phenomenally expensive.” He did not expect that many of the consultants’ ideas would become reality. Chairman Ponter will no doubt be remembering that a more affordable and realistic recommendation – to cut and cover Karo Drive through the central city – was rejected by the government as too expensive. (Time to reconsider it?)

The Property Group is really enthusiastic about tunnels. In its report it also suggests:

… a duplicate Terrace Tunnel, a new tunnel under Te Aro below State Highway 1, and a “diagonal” tunnel between Kilbirnie and the Basin Reserve through Mt Victoria.

and more –

… a new Mt Victoria walking and cycling tunnel, adjacent to the existing tunnel …

It says its long tunnel “would open up the most new space for housing and urban development [with] the potential for more than 39,000 new dwellings and almost 1.3 million square-metres of commercial floor space.” (Does that mean that the character streets of Newtown would no longer be under threat?)

Damian George notes that neither the “long tunnel” nor the “diagonal” tunnel were part of the LGWM programme announced two years ago, and neither has been publicly disclosed. But he says that the LGWM people have told him that the tunnel report “is still informing their decision making.”

Which means that any final decisions about moving us better will have been pushed even further into the endless distance.


  1. Greenwelly, 4. August 2021, 9:36

    The other form of “rapid transit” to the airport will be bus lanes and electric buses – which are described in the property group report as “bus improvements.” Its becoming clearer that the sun is setting on getting light rail anywhere east of Mt Vic, with Island Bay now seen as the ultimate destination (after the first stage to the hospital).

  2. Lumbering Oaf, 4. August 2021, 9:56

    Anyone with Netflix should watch the series Utopia. It could be a documentary based on LGWM.

  3. luke, 4. August 2021, 11:02

    Simple strategy, Delay, distract, delay, delay, then build more roads when a new government agrees to fund them.

  4. Julienz, 4. August 2021, 12:14

    Given our proximity to sea level which is rising and Wellington’s rotten rock this sounds like yet another flight of fancy.

  5. K, 4. August 2021, 12:17

    Actually tunnel technology is rapidly improving and drastically reducing in cost thanks to “The Boring Company” which digs tunnels for approximately US$15million per mile. Just because tunnels under the central city weren’t viable from a cost perspective 5-10 years ago when initial plans were drawn up, it doesn’t mean they shoudn’t be reconsidered, especially if the costs have drastically reduced. In fact they might now be by far the cheapest way to get Wellington moving (by removing a large amount of the through traffic with creates central city congestion).

  6. James, 4. August 2021, 12:54

    It’s really not clear how a new tunnel would “open up the most new space for housing and urban development” unless it encourages more development at each end.

  7. Traveller, 4. August 2021, 13:38

    There’s more to do than just tunnelling. Between the Terrace and Kilbirnie – let’s guess at least five entrances and exits would be needed for such a long tunnel. Requiring the acquisition of extra land for the ramps going in and for the ramps going out.

  8. Dave B, 4. August 2021, 14:07

    A “long tunnel from the city to Kilbirnie” is a great idea, as long as it is for an underground extension to the railway system and not for cars.

  9. Mike Mellor, 4. August 2021, 14:18

    I suggest reading the letters from Kerry Wood and Chris Calvi-Freeman in today’s DomPost, both of whom point out the folly of a “phonomenally expensive” tunnel, and of light rail to the low-density dormitory suburb of Island Bay rather than using it to address congestion resulting from the high all-day demand in both directions to and from Miramar.

    Blue skies thinking is all very well, but shouldn’t LGWM be looking at credible options?

    And for tunnel proponents, where are all those additional vehicles going to go when they get to the eastern end?

  10. Helene Ritchie, 4. August 2021, 16:19

    Big bikkies. Huge $$. Why propose this? I know why. So that the streets above can become landscaped green treed parks for cyclists, walkers and children. Was the property group proposing that? However, a wide plaza-bridge over Jervois Quay (with a park and little cafes, with sculptures, planting, and connection to the waterfront (at the same time creating a tunnel underneath) …there’s another expensive idea but a better one.

    Does anyone know how much LGWM and NZTA have spent on consultants? Could Damian George fish that out please?

  11. Ben Schrader, 4. August 2021, 17:04

    A long tunnel must be stupidest idea in the miserable history of the Wellington urban motorway. Even the 1960s proposal of driving the motorway through the Basin Reserve was better than this one. No doubt we are paying these consultants hundreds of thousands for their wisdom. Will LGWM also pay me mega-bucks if I come up with an even stupider idea?

  12. Richard Keller, 4. August 2021, 19:09

    Another ‘tunnel’ proposal is suggested for Wellington’s traffic (the longest one yet0. But this again ignores the one most globally proven of public traffic policy issues, that building more lanes for traffic never reduces congestion, rather always induces more congestion. Yes, we do have to relook at the proposals adopted by the WCC. The most important thing is there must NOT be another traffic tunnel. That would push to the rear the impact of all the other proposals for pedestrians, cycles, trains and buses, and the whole LGWM project would become a colossal waste of money.

  13. Wellington Inc, 4. August 2021, 19:52

    If the Mt Vic Tunnel and Terrace tunnels are to be duplicated, Karo Drive undergrounded and a solution for the Basin is to be found, isn’t a ‘long tunnel’ just a way of describing all this? A long tunnel would divert SH1 traffic away from the CBD. It would put (electric) vehicles underground out of the way, freeing up space above ground and making it safer for people, public transport, cycling, public spaces and Inner city living.

  14. Henry Filth, 5. August 2021, 7:01

    “. . . the potential for more than 39,000 new dwellings. . . “ Where are they going to go? Anyone got any ideas? Sounds like magical thinking to me.

  15. Gwynneth Jansen, 5. August 2021, 9:49

    Yes Lumbering, ‘Utopia’ is a brilliant look at planning agencies and is very funny. Not so funny is watching money evaporate while LGWM get in even more consultants to come up with more plans to consult with us on and so it goes – round and round. So, how much has been spent this time around?

  16. Kerry, 5. August 2021, 10:21

    What is all this really about? I suggest that in this and many other areas we are choosing between two objectives:

    Either we demand more effective action than the Climate Change Commission has proposed, adopting and expanding LGWM’s ‘more people in fewer vehicles.’ This will meet international climate change objectives, but will damage the economy. Economic growth is inconsistent with controlling carbon emissions, because carbon emissions were created by economic growth.

    Alternatively we collapse the economy, because other nations refuse to trade with us.

    When making your choice, don’t forget that New Zealand’s per-capita transport emissions are greater than in any other nation, other than a couple of tiny states with a combined land area smaller than Wellington. It is also worth noting:
    — Wellington is a high-risk area for flooding, because sea levels are rising and the Wellington area sinking.
    — There are big savings in reducing petrol and diesel imports.
    — Cities in other countries are reacting to climate change practically and effectively, as planned by LGWM: why can’t we do the same?

  17. Greenwelly, 5. August 2021, 13:27

    …sea levels are rising and the Wellington area sinking. Wellington was lifted 1.5 metres in 1855. Cape Pencarrow rose 6 metres. The historical Pencarrow beaches indicate that this is a continuing trend … the Wellington area is not sinking.

  18. michael, 5. August 2021, 15:15

    Most cities have the geographical ability to bypass traffic needing to get from one side to the other. Just a shame the tunnel idea is going to be too expensive as it would make a huge difference to the inner city if public transport, service vehicles, trucks and cars not coming into the city could cross it without going through it.

  19. Dave B, 5. August 2021, 15:26

    Helene Ritchie, I like your idea of “a wide plaza-bridge over Jervois Quay (with a park and little cafes, with sculptures, planting, and connection to the waterfront, at the same time creating a tunnel underneath)”.

    Actually I had this idea, but with a subtle difference. The road-corridor along the Quays would be converted into our much-needed regional railway extension, and this would be covered over and landscaped. Between Frank Kitts Park and Civic Square would be a station-stop and this would be located underneath (and accessible from) the proposed plaza-bridge. The area would become a major public-transport node right next to a revitalised Civic Square. A wonderful concept!

    From there the extended railway would descend into a cut-and-cover tunnel and curve around into an alignment beneath Taranaki Street, the next station being under the Courtenay Place intersection. Then up Taranaki Street, where rising-ground would enable tunnel-boring instead of cut-and-cover, with the next station at Pukeahu Park/Mt Cook. From there the tunnel would proceed along a similar alignment to Kilbirnie, to that proposed by the Property Group for their road-tunnel idea. Another underground station would extend beneath the Newtown Fruit and Vege market, St Annes Church carpark and the adjacent Mercy Park in Newtown, before popping out at Queens Drive Kilbirnie, whereupon it would assume the Leonie Gill Walkway alignment to Rongotai. A tunnel under the runway would be necessary to get it to the airport.

    This would bring the immense benefits of rail to this part of Wellington and would connect it by rail to the rest of the region. What’s not to like, apart from the cost? But what if it was cheaper than the motorway tunnel being proposed by the Property Group?

  20. Kerry, 5. August 2021, 15:43

    Greenwelly. WCC data is clear that we are sinking, sourced from GNS. Pencarrow is on the wrong side.

  21. Greenwelly, 5. August 2021, 16:01

    Kerry, got a link? Would be interested to read it.

  22. Helene Ritchie, 5. August 2021, 19:08

    Brilliant Dave B. I liked my idea too. I was going to add rail to it, but then I thought we would dive into another prolonged same old same old about whether what where rail, light rail, trackless trams, speedy buses etc. My thinking did not extend as far as yours with the various stations etc. An Underground metro?? Now that’s novel. And, I read above that sea level rise will not be our problem as apparently the earth will rise in the next earthquake or the one after that.

    Cost of your proposal? Well it might be less than the cost of an infinite number of LGWM-NZTA future consultants. Has LGWM-NZTA offered you a contract to further develop your proposal? They haven’t come anywhere near me (yet)!

  23. Helene, 5. August 2021, 19:50


    Maybe WCC and GNS are wrong in their predictions…

    The 1855 Wairarapa earthquake saw significant uplift of the seabed in Wellington. More recently, the Kaikoura seabed was lifted in the 2016 Earthquake, by quite a lot in some places. The 7.8 magnitude quake lifted the seabed by 0.5 to 2 meters (2 to 7 feet) along a 20-kilometer stretch of the Kaikoura coast. In one area, the uplift was a remarkable 5.5 meters (18 feet).

  24. Dave B, 5. August 2021, 22:24

    Helene Ritchie – an underground metro is not novel. It was seriously proposed by De Leuw Cather consultants in the 1960s, though not all the way to the airport. At the same time they also proposed an underground metro for Auckland which happily (if belatedly), is at last now being built. Some time in the 1970s we threw away any idea of developing rail and went all-out for car-based transport instead. The mess that has got us into is exactly what De Leuw Cather warned-of if we didn’t extend the railway. So nothing is new under the sun.

    Neither LGWM, Waka Kotahi nor any other official body has shown any interest in my proposal during the last 35 years or so that I have been banging on about it. Indeed during one of the many public hearings I have tried to present it at, Chairwoman Fran Wilde ominously had her eyes closed!

    By the way, for those concerned about sea-level rise, the landscaped concrete structure that I propose to cover the waterfront railway with, will double as a stop-bank against flooding for that part of the city. Win-win.

  25. Helene Ritchie, 6. August 2021, 9:02

    Dave B. Perhaps I should clarify my use of ‘novel’. In this context, an underground metro proposal is novel for a big part of our population. I too remember the de Leuw Cather report and recommendations, accompanied by one of the first big environmental campaigns in the country to try, but unsuccesfully, to stop a motorway being driven through countless Thorndon Victorian heritage villas (true!) and historic Bolton St graves.
    An underground metro is novel to everyone not born then (and to many born since!). That probably includes many of the employees and consultants engaged by LGWM-NZTA. Most of Gen Zero will never have heard of this proposal. Perhaps it’s time to open up that discussion here… instead of the trackless trams-speedy buses-heavy rail-light rail-not that route but that one debate that seems to suddenly be heading in the direction of a long tunnel for more cars, accompanied by a bunch of guys scared of a safe pedestrian crossing in Cobham Drive.

  26. Ralf, 6. August 2021, 9:05

    Note that the purpose of LGWM is to be a consultation machine until the time when a second car tunnel through Mt. Victoria (first step) with a highway bypass of the basin reserve (second step, since all the cars coming through the tunnel will just pile up there) can be put onto the table again. So they are just doing their job they are intended to do.

  27. David Mackenzie, 6. August 2021, 10:42

    How about, let’s not get Wellington moving again. Let’s get as many as possible working from home as much as possible. Let’s have no-one using their cars to go to work, when they need to, because we have an excellent public transport system which is always on time because it is not competing with motorists. Shoppers can circulate around the CBD on a fare-free shuttle. Tunnels only for rail to the airport. The climate needs us not to be building any more roads for private cars even electric ones. They are a big mistake as we do not have sufficient power production already.

  28. Richard Keller, 14. August 2021, 15:48

    The rationale and necessity for lessening the number of cars on Wellington streets has apparently become so compelling that the organizations which oppose moving into the 21C in that way have banded together in a DomPost advt to expose their desperation to everyone, not content to keep it to themselves. Daren Ponter of the Regional Council says he is surprised and disappointed that they just didn’t go to him and his council with their concerns but this group clearly feels they must go straight to the portion of the general public which is similarly desperate.

    This episode illustrates so well why LGWM seems stuck. The irresistible force of the future of many fewer cars versus the immoveable force of the old total dominance of the personal motor car.

  29. Claire, 14. August 2021, 19:38

    Richard will you be happy when the cars are electric.