Editorial: Pursuing Option X a waste of time

There is a glaring problem with the proposal to build a tunnel beneath Buckle St as part of the project to ease congestion around the Basin Reserve: who will pay for it? At an estimated cost of $165 million, the so-called "Option X" is more than double the cheapest flyover option put out for consultation by the Transport Agency.

Given the huge pressure public finances are under, NZTA has made clear it is not able to increase funding for the badly needed work to relieve bottlenecks on the Cobham Dr to Buckle St section of the airport to Levin corridor. It is also extremely unlikely that Wellington City Council is prepared to fund the shortfall of at least $75m.

In light of that, it is difficult to see Option X as little more than a delaying tactic aimed at further stalling work that needs to begin as soon as possible to unclog Wellington's roads and get the capital's economy moving.

Option X, promoted by a group of architects, is likely to form the basis of the council's submission on NZTA's plans to build a flyover heading west around the Basin Reserve. The agency's preferred option would see the flyover run just 20 metres north of the ground at a cost of $75m, but it could also site it 45m further away at an extra cost of $15m. NZTA will also fund a new $11m grandstand to hide the flyover from almost every vantage point in the Basin Reserve if its preferred option goes ahead.

Option X proposes that traffic run at ground level in and out of the Mt Victoria tunnel with a "cut and cover" tunnel built from the Basin Reserve to Taranaki St. Memorial Park would be extended to the War Memorial with a green pedestrian overbridge down to the Basin.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown has left open the prospect of ratepayers paying some of the cost, though she says the lion's share should fall to the Government given the national significance of the area. The Government, however, has made it abundantly clear it is prepared to spend a maximum of $90m. Deputy Mayor Ian McKinnon has also pointed out the unlikelihood of the council funding the shortfall, given the significant costs it faces from its leaky buildings liabilities and earthquake strengthening.

Cost is not the only problem with the proposal, with NZTA warning it would create traffic "doglegs" that would triple volumes on Tory and Tasman streets. The agency also has concerns about safety.

Of course, in an ideal world, roads would be as unintrusive as possible. But the present economic environment is far from ideal, and Ms Wade-Brown and other councillors who back Option X know full well that it is far too expensive to get the green light. Rather than wasting time advocating for a project that will never get funding, they would do ratepayers a better service by focusing on getting the best result from the options on the table. The money is there for that road. It is time to stop delaying and get it built.

In praise of ... menhir delivery men

'The year is 50BC. Gaul is entirely occupied by the Romans. Well, not entirely ..." With those words French illustrator Albert Uderzo and his scriptwriting partner, the late Rene Goscinny, first plunged the young, and the young-at-heart, into a colourful world of laughter, bad Latin and even more execrable puns 52 years ago. It is a world inhabited by indomitable Gauls, hapless Roman legionnaires, bards, druids and a motley assortment of historical figures. The heroes are the magnificently-moustached, "shrewd, cunning little warrior" Asterix and his sidekick Obelix, a menhir delivery man who had the good fortune to fall into a vat of magical potion as a child, giving him superhuman strength. Just what the purpose of a menhir is has perplexed not only comic book readers, but archaeologists who have stumbled across them in their thousands in Western Europe. However, Obelix delivers them with the guileless enthusiasm he brings to his other favourite pursuits – eating wild boar and collecting legionnaires' helmets. The fact that helmets are most commonly found on legionnaires' heads only adds to his, and our, fun. Now Uderzo has announced he is retiring, 34 years after the death of Goscinny. May he be blessed with an abundance of boar and surrounded by menhirs.

The Dominion Post