Editorial: Basin alternatives won't fly

An artist's impression of the planned Basin Reserve Flyover.
An artist's impression of the planned Basin Reserve Flyover.

The New Zealand Transport Agency has wisely set two non-negotiable criteria for any project to ease congestion around the Basin Reserve. It must separate north and southbound traffic from that heading west out of the Mt Victoria Tunnel and it must be affordable.

If the eight Wellington city councillors who last month voted to spend $50,000 investigating alternatives to NZTA's planned flyover have a better option that meets those criteria, now is the time to share it with ratepayers. It would be astounding if they find one.

The councillors who voted to renege on previous support for the flyover apparently know better than the roading experts who spent several years examining the best solution to unclog the Basin bottleneck. They carried the day by eight votes to seven at an extraordinary meeting called in December to decide whether the council should explore further options, despite it backing the flyover in 2011.

The most disturbing aspect is that the meeting was prompted by a plan drafted by Auckland architect Richard Reid. Mr Reid says he has a solution that will be just as effective at easing congestion as the flyover, but it is understood it does not include the all-important separation of traffic that the council itself has agreed is a must.

If so, Mr Reid's proposal will simply not be acceptable to NZTA. It would therefore be a complete waste of everybody's time for it to be submitted for consideration at the agency's March 1 board meeting, the deadline for the council to come up with a viable alternative.

It is also difficult to see what other options could be put forward.

The debate over whether the solution to improving traffic flows around the Basin lies in a tunnel or an overpass has dragged on for years. NZTA investigated a possible tunnel from Patterson St to Taranaki St, but found it would be too expensive. ''Option X'', which would have seen a tunnel along Buckle St, would have cost up to $75m more than the final flyover plan and was also rejected.

In a perfect world, NZTA would have the cash for a state-of-the-art tunnel all the way from Mt Victoria to the motorway. However, we live in a world of financial constraint. The reality is that for the amount the agency is prepared to spend around the Basin, a flyover is the only viable option.

NZTA is not prepared to meet the cost of a gold-plated solution, the council cannot afford to and motorists elsewhere in New Zealand who fund road building through their petrol levies should not be expected to.The Wellington region desperately needs to clear the traffic jams around the Basin Reserve. The business community needs it to boost growth, the airport needs it to allow expansion and motorists need it to save time and money.

The sooner the problem is solved, the sooner the region can move ahead.

Through their last-minute bid to convince the agency to revisit its plans, the eight councillors who want to relitigate the flyover have caused unnecessary confusion when certainty is required.

The Dominion Post