$2b for capital's roads at risk

DAVE BURGESS
Last updated 05:00 11/04/2011
Celia

Sources at NZTA confirmed there is concern over mixed messages it is receiving from Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown over its roading projects.

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More than $2 billion of Government money could be lost if Wellington City Council fails to back the Transport Agency's roading plans.

The Transport Agency has asked for clarity in a letter that will be with the council this week. It asks the council to hold an extraordinary meeting to sort out its definitive position on roading.

Sources at the agency confirmed there is concern over mixed messages it is receiving from Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown over its roading projects that include a duplicate Mt Victoria tunnel, the four-laning of Ruahine St and a possible flyover next to the Basin Reserve.

The mayor campaigned against the proposals in last year's local body elections when she championed a light-rail system to connect the railway station and the airport, via Wellington Hospital.

The agency is preparing to release its consultation roading document with options for the Basin Reserve, a duplicate Mt Victoria tunnel and Ruahine St.

But it does not want to do so without council backing, fearing it may "walk into an ambush because politicians are playing silly buggers" by playing around with words to "advance personal views when they know perfectly well what the majority view around the council table is", a source said.

Ms Wade-Brown told The Dominion Post last month that she supported the agency's proposals but only so far as options and feasibility – essentially support in principle only. "I haven't said I support doing tunnels or other projects," she said at the time.

She declined to answer questions last week on whether she would support the roading projects, instead issuing a statement through a spokesman.

"There is no letter so the mayor won't be making any comment except that she looks forward to working in partnership with the NZTA as part of the public consultation process."

Councillor John Morrison said most of his colleagues held the view that the council supported the roading projects and all that remained was to decide on the final options after public consultation.

"I totally support over $2b of investment coming into this city and I'm horrified that some of my colleagues are trying to jeopardise that. I will be advocating for the extraordinary meeting as soon as the letter arrives.

"With the way things have happened with disasters, bailouts and financial demands on the Government, if this is delayed and the opportunities lost then it could end up on the never-never."

NZTA sources agreed that it could lead to it reluctantly ditching the Wellington projects to use the funding elsewhere in the country.

The agency believes the individual roading projects within the city – which could also include a duplicate Terrace tunnel – are all vital aspects of its four-laning of State Highway 1 between Levin and Wellington Airport.

"To think you can pick and choose what parts to go ahead with simply because you don't like roads ... would mean we would be making worthless or questionable investments," a source said.

"It is not that these things won't happen but they will be put on the backburner and of course that whole question of confidence of delivery becomes a question mark again."

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The Government announced two years ago that it was planning to spend $2.4 billion to upgrade State Highway 1 from Wellington Airport to Levin. Key elements are:

- A duplicate Mt Victoria tunnel, possibly at the end of Paterson St. This project was then estimated to cost $217 million. Ruahine St at the southern end of the tunnel would be turned into a four-lane expressway to the airport.

- Improvements to speed traffic flows at the Basin Reserve. This could include a flyover or tunnel at the northern end of the Basin. The estimated cost of this project was $36m.

- A second Terrace Tunnel estimated to cost $150m.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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