Incoming mayor Celia Wade-Brown will have a fight on her hands to get a light-rail system linking the railway station, Wellington Hospital and the airport – with some councillors already having doubts over the project.
Their views are backed by potential flaws flagged during the formation of the Ngauranga to Airport Corridor Plan approved two years ago by Wellington City Council, Greater Wellington regional council and Transit New Zealand.
The plan includes a feasibility study, to start in June next year, to look at light-rail options.
Ms Wade-Brown estimated the cost of her proposed system, which would also use existing train tracks to Johnsonville and be in place by 2020, at between $300m and $400m. But the route it could take from the hospital to the airport has not been investigated.
One option she has proposed would have the service head toward Wellington Zoo before going across to Kilbirnie, presumably by tunnel. It would then go along Coutts St to the airport. It could instead go along Constable St to Kilbirnie, Ms Wade-Brown has said.
What the corridor plan didn't consider, because it wasn't thought viable, was extension of the public transport spine from the hospital to the airport, via Kilbirnie.
Official papers show that the high cost, coupled with the expected low passenger numbers to and from the airport, made the extension unviable.
An extension also would "significantly adversely affect" other road users such as motorists and cyclists.
Councillor Bryan Pepperell said the affordability of the scheme had to be questioned. "I think there is a bit of unreality about this, given the economic crisis we are still not out of."
The bulk of funding for light rail would come from the Government and the regional council, Mr Pepperell said. "Council may have to play a role in buying the land to create the route. Once you start acquiring land then you have to start buying privately owned land, which can be expensive."
Councillor John Morrison said he was "very sceptical" about the plan for light rail. "Spending three or four hundred million bucks to get you to or from the airport, I'm not sure too many people would want to do that as it is mostly businessmen who use the airport. They like to use taxis."
The light-rail system would not solve eastern suburbs transport problems, he said.
Ms Wade-Brown said yesterday that she had strong support from councillors for looking at how feasible the project was. She accepted the details needed to be worked through.
Councillor Helene Ritchie said she "emphatically" supported light rail. "I absolutely support her whole vision for the city and light rail is a part of that."
Greater Wellington regional council chairwoman Fran Wilde said there were possible problems, including high costs, with light rail heading through Kilbirnie.
"The fact is the feasibility study will answer those questions. Whatever we do, we are spending big bucks on transport and will continue to spend big bucks."
A $140m light-rail system discussed in the Ngauranga to airport plan would add $2m to $4m to the total annual subsidy required to operate public transport.
The regional council seeks to recover at least 50 per cent of public transport costs from fares. The rest is subsidised by ratepayers and taxpayers.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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