How a bridge will untangle the Basin

JENNY CHETWYND
Last updated 05:00 22/11/2012

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OPINION: This week, the New Zealand Transport Agency is inviting the public to look at its proposal for a bridge to untangle the Basin bottleneck.

Many people will be aware that the proposed bridge will make journey times shorter and more reliable for westbound traffic travelling between the eastern suburbs and the Wellington CBD. What people might not be aware of are the benefits under the bridge - that is, how a bridge will make getting around the Basin easier and safer for everyone.

Grade separation at the Basin is a key facet of the region's Ngauranga to Airport Corridor Plan, a joint strategy by Greater Wellington, Wellington City Council and the NZTA to develop an integrated network that improves travel for all Wellingtonians - whether you drive a car, catch a bus, walk or cycle.

The NZTA is investing $348 million in public transport in Wellington over the next three years - far more than ever before. Providing people with attractive public transport alternatives makes it easier for people to leave their cars at home. That's why, together with Greater Wellington, we're subsidising Wellington's train and bus fares to make public transport affordable. That's why together we're investing in comfortable, higher capacity Matangi trains. And that's why the NZTA is proposing a Basin bridge - to make buses and future public transport faster and more reliable between the CBD and Newtown.

At the moment, there's too much traffic around the Basin, and it wants to move in different directions in a limited space. This means there's no room for a dedicated public transport spine.

For future options such as bus priority lanes or a light rail system (as outlined in the current Public Transport Spine Study) to be effective, we need to free up the Basin. The bridge is the first step in achieving this. By lifting westbound state highway traffic exiting the Mt Victoria tunnel off the local roads so it doesn't compete with north-south traffic, the Basin becomes far more efficient and safer for public transport, as well as cycling and walking. People will be able to get between their home, work, the hospital, the airport and schools more quickly.

Removing about 13,000 vehicles daily at street level also means we can improve the Basin's environment for pedestrians, and enable better, safer school pick-up and drop-off facilities.

A new pedestrian plaza outside the northern entrance to the Basin Reserve will give fans a safer, more pedestrian-friendly area to spill out on to after the big game.

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And up on the bridge, a new walking and cycling facility means people can safely nip across between the tunnel and Tory St without dodging cars, trucks or buses. The Basin bridge will also help to reduce traffic around Oriental Parade, where traffic volumes have soared in recent years as a consequence of drivers avoiding the Basin bottleneck.

Wider benefits for the Wellington transport network will be realised by our proposals to duplicate Mt Victoria Tunnel and widen Ruahine St and Wellington Rd. We're finalising details on these projects.

We recognise a bridge isn't everyone's preference, and we've looked hard into alternatives such as a tunnel, Option X, or a street-level solution. But these options all come with extensive logistical difficulties. It's simply not practical to build a steep, V-shaped tunnel through swampy ground around the Basin. Option X will increase the number of traffic lanes outside the ground's front gates to between eight and 10, require a longer and steeper tunnel to be built at Buckle St, and force pedestrians and cyclists to climb a four-storey-high overbridge. No available street-level option is able to fix the problems without encroaching on the Basin Reserve grounds or surrounding private property, or compromising the future public transport spine.

To ensure the best solution is developed for this area, we have engaged top urban designers and architects. The design philosophy of the project is to integrate the bridge into a high-quality environment comprising a new public realm (that is, a park area), and new urban spaces that reinforce and support existing uses, and are well lit and safe at day and at night.

The bridge itself has been designed as a slimline, sweeping, elevated street with no noisy bridge deck joins, as few piers as possible, and a dedicated walking and cycling facility. We're also proposing to provide a new entrance to the cricket ground, and we're working closely with the Basin Reserve Trust and WCC to develop a new structure that will be an appropriate fit for the ground and help to provide visual mitigation for the effects of the bridge.

Information boards describing the project will be on display between 4pm and 8pm tonight at Mt Cook School and between 1pm and 5pm on Saturday and Sunday at St Joseph's Church. The project team will be on hand to answer questions.

Visitors will also be able to see drawings, cross sections and visualisations, and go on a virtual drivethrough or walkthrough of the project.

Information is also viewable at www.nzta.govt.nz/basin-bridge

- Jenny Chetwynd is NZTA's central region director.

- The Dominion Post

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