Basin's vexed flyover issue

ANDY FOSTER
Last updated 05:00 25/02/2013

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OPINION: The results of a Wellington City Council review of plans that include a flyover to ease the Basin Reserve bottleneck are due this week. The council has been accused of shillyshallying on the issue. Councillor Andy Foster explains why the council's done what it's done. 

Transport is a particularly divisive issue and the Basin Reserve proposals are no different.

Wellington City Council has been accused of delaying progress and of changing its mind on the Basin. It has done neither.

To understand the council's position it is important to understand the history.

Since 2008 the council has supported a strategy of separating the traffic travelling east-west around the Basin from that going north-south. The aim is to make bus journey times more reliable, to make the ring-route more reliable and to make things better for cyclists and pedestrians. In April 2011 the council confirmed that support.

At the same time council said it wanted briefings on specific proposals, and that both it and the public should be involved in consultations. We also said that council should be involved in the regulatory process around whatever solution was decided on.

Councillors first debated a flyover proposal in October 2011 when the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) consulted the wider public on two flyover options. However, the council said its preference was "a tunnel from Buckle St to the approach to the Mt Victoria Tunnel in order to preserve the integrity and heritage of the National War Memorial, the Basin Reserve and Government House".

We also said that of the two flyover options we preferred the one which had the bridge closer to the Basin Reserve, but that it would need "significant mitigation reflecting the importance of the location". Notes of councillors' impassioned speeches make clear most were deeply concerned about the potential impacts of a flyover, as were most of the over 2100 public submitters.

The council's press release reflected that, with Mayor Celia Wade-Brown saying the flyover "risks tearing the fabric and character of the city and will disconnect communities" and that "tarting up the flyover option is like putting lipstick on a gorilla".

I said at the time "strong public feedback, and the majority of councillors considered undergrounding would give a much better outcome for the city that the transport improvements are supposed to serve".

That was seen by the media - correctly - as council rejecting a flyover in favour of a tunnel. Despite the council opposing a flyover it has, at officer and political level, worked constructively with NZTA on trying to mitigate flyover impacts, and on "optimising" movement elsewhere between the tunnels.

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However, the debate on the flyover last December, and the current review that followed, were inevitable. I stress this is the only review council has ever done. Previously we've just responded to NZTA proposals.

We'll obviously take part in any consent process and regardless of the review's outcomes it will greatly help in that process.

Our review won't affect NZTA's timeframe for lodging consent applications, unless it concludes another option is superior. Council has been invited to meet the NZTA board on March 1, to be followed by a paper for councillors to debate.

Our review is looking at: Ground-level options.

The Architecture Centre's Option X (a tunnel option). Undergrounding Buckle St for Memorial Park should make it cheaper but the question is how much cheaper.

Modelling all the options relative traffic performance. An urban design assessment of all the options including visual analysis, further flyover mitigation options, and detail on the proposed Basin stand.

Relative costs of the different options. Some people seem to think money for the Government's Roads of National Significance projects (including the Basin) grows on trees. It doesn't. It's money not available for other transport investments.

There seem to be five positions for council to take after the review: Supporting the flyover as proposed; Supporting a flyover but only on the basis of modifications to offset its impact; Supporting a ground level option; Supporting Option X; Or concluding neither option X nor a ground level alternative is viable, but also that the impact of the flyover outweighs its transport benefits.

In that unfortunate circumstance the flyover might be unlikely to get consent anyway.

To get to an outcome council officers are working closely, collaboratively, and quickly, with NZTA and Architecture Centre. Council will need to weigh up transport, urban design and cost considerations.

The council has been criticised by some for the cost of the review. It's worth considering that any developments at the Basin may last for 100 years, and that the $50,000 review budget represents just three days' interest on the projected flyover cost.

The area is an important part of our city, despite being part of a corridor obviously blighted by roading designations since the 1960s. An efficient transport system is vital to a city, but it is the city itself that is most important, and is the reason for, origin and destination of most of that transport. Our concern is the whole house, not just the corridor.

THE STORY SO FAR

The Wellington City Council is due to present the findings of a review into roading options around the Basin Reserve on Friday.

It comes after the council, in its final meeting of 2012, voted eight to seven to spend $50,000 to investigate further options for the Wellington bottleneck - despite the NZ Transport Agency warning that withdrawing support for the flyover could put other transport projects in jeopardy.

The agency considers a flyover north of the historic cricket ground to be essential to its transport plans for the city, which includes the possibility of a light rail system, and had been preparing to lodge resource consent applications for the $90 million project early this year.

The council had earlier made a submission in support of moves to separate traffic around the cricket ground. - Katie Chapman

- The Dominion Post

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