Viola Palmer: A Kapiti resident's view of the expressway

Covering 316 hectares of fertile land with a road, the Kapiti Expressway, is poor stewardship, says Viola Palmer.
MAARTEN HOLL/FAIRFAX NZ

Covering 316 hectares of fertile land with a road, the Kapiti Expressway, is poor stewardship, says Viola Palmer.

OPINION: The community buy-in described by Pat Dougherty (Kapiti Expressway shows a way to collaboration, February 21) is by no means universal. For the many who opposed the expressway it is more a resigned acceptance.

The hoop-la that occurred at the opening reflects a sense of relief by locals. Relief that the noise, vibration and inconvenience of years of construction are coming to an end. Also relief that we will be able to drive on a road (present State Highway 1) without being dominated by trucks.

We might at last get some small benefit from the expressway. Some are glad to commute a little quicker. The cycle, walk and bridleway is handsome and so are the plantings.

Before the Government bull-dozed ahead with the expressway, a second North-South connecting road, complete with cycle, walking and bridleway, was all ready to go in 2010.

READ MORE: Pat Dougherty: The power of central and local government collaboration

This two-lane Western Link road (WLR) was designed for local traffic, with several access points, leaving SH1 for through traffic. The Western Link road could have been built without forcing anyone from their home, blending with the contours of the land and using up less ground.

When minister Steven Joyce came into the picture with his Roads of National Significance (RoNS), he had a hard job to convince the locals that an expressway was a better option. Opposition was huge. He said that regardless of whether the WLR went ahead, the Government was determined to put an expressway through Kapiti.

Two options of where it should go were proposed. Both caused significant public unease, so the third option of using the WLR was accepted by the public as being the least undesirable.

The Kapiti Coast District Council had no choice but to co-operate. It collaborated very effectively, as Dougherty described, making the best of a bad job for residents. But why RoNS and not Railways of National Significance or Coastal Shipping of National Significance.

We in Kapiti live on a narrow strip of land between ocean and hills. Covering 316 hectares of fertile land with a road is poor stewardship. The WLR would have taken up much less area.

Many of us live or holiday here because of the pleasant rural ambience.

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The owners of the 80 homes which were lost to the expressway are still hurting. So are the 1400 people adjacent to it, who received no compensation for the noise and pollution produced, and whose property values have dropped.

The environment is irreversibly damaged. I doubt if there was a carbon audit done on how many tonnes of greenhouse gases were emitted in the construction. Concrete production is especially high in emissions.

The cost to taxpayers of $630 million or $35 million per kilometre is horrendous. The benefit/cost ratio of this road is only 0.6. The millions could have been used to improve public transport, to electrify the rest of the main trunk railway, to build railway sidings to enhance freight, and to begin on Wellington's light rail.

Instead it will increase road usage, emissions, and pollution. Congestion in Wellington will be worse. Trucks produce four times more carbon emissions per ton-kilometre than trains.

The expressway will save a little travel time but it was a short-sighted decision by a Government with a focus on road infrastructure and economic growth at any price.

Dr Viola Palmer is a conservationist, Quaker and supporter of Save Kapiti, a group set up to campaign against the expressway. The views expressed are her own. 

 - The Dominion Post

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