Wellington City Council is pushing for taxpayers to fund an underground tunnel beneath Buckle St to prevent the "backside" of a motorway flyover blighting a nationally significant part of the city.
An official's report being released today finds the so-called "Option X" promoted by a group of local architects is feasible and a tunnelling option should be considered alongside two flyovers proposed by the Government's roading authority.
Option X involves an underground road between Taranaki St and the Basin Reserve, turning Buckle St into a large public space with a "green bridge" walkway. The report is likely to suggest extending the tunnelled road even further west towards the inner-city bypass.
Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said the cheaper flyover options promoted by the New Zealand Transport Agency would blight a nationally significant area boasting Memorial Park, the War Memorial, Government House and the nation's oldest cricket ground.
"This is something we're going to have to live with as a city for decades. I don't want us to be short-changed."
The report's recommendations will form the basis of the council's submission on the Ngauranga to Airport Corridor Plan, which includes $75 million and $90m flyover options, and a second Mt Victoria tunnel, to cut congestion.
NZTA has already consulted on the options and previously dismissed the Architecture Centre's concept designs as impractical and too expensive. The agency hit out at the proposal yesterday. It would cost an estimated $165m to build, triple traffic volumes on Tory and Tasman streets, create lengthy traffic "doglegs", and require the removal of Sussex St properties.
"It has some fundamental problems related to safety, its affordability, and how it would work in practice," Wellington state highways manager Rod James said. "This is expensive and the money isn't currently available."
Other options could be considered after all the submissions had been processed, he said. But while the agency was reviewing Option X with the Architecture Centre, it was unlikely to become a serious contender.
Today's report is likely to split an already divided council over the future of State Highway 1. Ms Wade-Brown said most councillors had wanted further information on Option X at a transport workshop earlier this year.
"I'm pleased to see it looks like under-grounding the road there is feasible. The question [now] is how hard will we push NZTA to examine under-grounding options.
"I think we would be let down by having the backside of a flyover in this key part of the city."
Asked if the council was prepared to contribute towards the extra cost of tunnelling, Ms Wade-Brown said that was up to ratepayers. But central government should contribute the lion's share because of the area's significance.
Deputy Mayor Ian McKinnon said he would be "very cautious" about the council taking on extra costs when it faced millions of dollars in leaky-building liabilities and earthquake-strengthening work. The route to Wellington Airport was already badly congested. Improving the road was crucial to Wellington's economic wellbeing.
"I will support the option which is technically feasible and within the funding parameters that NZTA has laid down."
Councillor John Morrison said Option X had not been tested or properly costed, and was a delaying tactic by the anti-road brigade.
$165 million project estimate
A "cut and cover tunnel" from Sussex St to Taranaki St.
Parks connecting Memorial Park, the Basin Reserve.
Green pedestrian overbridges at Sussex/Buckle St intersection.
Dufferin St South a pedestrian and cycle pathway.
Dedicated public transport lanes for bus or light rail.
- The Dominion Post
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