Green light for $1b Gully route

20:29, Dec 14 2009

Transmission Gully is expected to get the green light from the Government today as part of a $2 billion upgrade of State Highway 1 from Levin to Wellington Airport.

An announcement will be made at midday by Transport Minister Steven Joyce, who is likely to approve the Gully project as well as a Kapiti expressway, improvements around the Basin Reserve and new Wellington tunnels.

The entire project will have a price tag of about $2 billion. The latest cost for the new highway was pegged at $1.025b.

It is the first time it has been given the go-ahead with funding in place. It should be completed within a decade.

"It is a sensible decision," said Fran Wilde, chairwoman of Greater Wellington regional council.

"This is the route that Wellingtonians overwhelmingly supported and it's the long-term sensible route. We need a route into the capital city that is secure and the current route is just simply not secure."

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The 26-kilometre highway will stretch from Linden to McKays Crossing, bypassing choke-points at Paremata and Pukerua Bay.

An announcement will also be made on the Government's chosen expressway route between McKays Crossing and Otaki, which could see some homes bulldozed.

Wellington Mayor Kerry Prendergast is in Copenhagen and could not be contacted. However, city council transport spokesman Andy Foster said it was hoped that major projects in the capital would also be given high priority.

"It's important that you invest where you get the biggest bang for your buck and that's certainly not the Transmission gullies of this world."

The decision to build the Gully comes more than 60 years after the route was proposed, and should end the debate about how to improve access to Wellington from the north.

With all the funding coming from central government, it also ends speculation that the highway could be funded through tolls, a road tax or a private-public partnership.

The decision to build Transmission Gully instead of upgrading the coastal highway follows months of investigation by transport officials on the merits of both plans.

It is thought the coastal highway would be too expensive and vulnerable in an earthquake.

The New Zealand Transport Agency is close to applying for resource consents that would allow work to begin.

Porirua Mayor Jenny Brash said the coastal highway was always a non-starter and urged the Government to start work on Transmission Gully as soon as possible.

Roading New Zealand chief executive Chris Olsen said the industry had "huge" capacity to work on major road projects simultaneously.

Committed funding meant contractors would have some certainty, so could employ more workers and buy equipment.

"The contracting industry is very confident we would deliver."

The Gully is not a panacea to the region's roading woes. It would shave only 10 minutes off a peak-time trip from Kapiti Coast to Wellington, and would add to congestion in the capital.

Transport Ministry documents show it could take longer to reopen after an earthquake than the coastal route, and ministry officials told Mr Joyce this year that the economic benefits were low. But public support remains high, with 89 per cent of submitters in a Transport Agency survey last year supporting the route.

A LONG ROAD

1940s: First mooted as an alternative route for State Highway 1. American soldiers stationed in New Zealand thought to have offered to help build it.

1997: Transmission Gully designation approved in district plan. Cost estimated at $210 million.

2005: Government commits $405 million to improve road transport between Linden and McKays Crossing. Independent review puts cost at $1.1 billion.

June 2006: Transit considers Transmission Gully the region's top roading priority.

December 2006: First contracts awarded.

May 2007: Geotechnical work begins. Finance Minister Michael Cullen rejects calls for more government funding.

July 2008: Transit releases new route plan, cutting $275m off the cost. March 2009: Government announces it will fully fund the project.

Today: Government to give the green light, ditching coastal highway upgrade.

The Dominion Post