NZTA too quick on flyover, say critics

More than a decade of exhaustive research was put into solving the Basin Reserve's traffic congestion woes and it all came back to one conclusion - a flyover.

That was the New Zealand Transport Agency's response yesterday when it endured more criticism from opposition groups who believe it was too quick to commit to the proposed flyover.

A board of inquiry hearing to determine whether the $90 million project gets resource consent has now been going for three weeks.

Attacking the agency's assessment of alternatives, such as a tunnel or an upgrade of the existing roundabout, has been a prime tactic of groups opposed to the flyover.

Several Transport Agency officials have been forced to defend their planning, and yesterday it was the turn of Wayne Stewart, who oversaw the flyover's development and design.

Dr Stewart spent the day deflecting criticism from the Architecture Centre, which feels not enough was done to develop its Option X proposal, which involves directing all local traffic along Sussex St to the west of the Basin and turning Buckle St into a tunnel.

Option X was looked at by the agency shortly after it was first mooted in 2011. It was dismissed for several reasons, one of which was the extra cost of converting Buckle St into a tunnel.

But the Government's decision a year later to pay for the tunnel conversion so it could build the National War Memorial Park presented a golden opportunity to revisit Option X, which was suddenly more affordable.

The agency looked at the proposal again but concluded it was still going to cost at least $50m more than a flyover, Dr Stewart said.

Architecture Centre lawyer Philip Milne suggested that, by the time Option X was revisited, the agency had already made up its mind to seek resource consent for a flyover. He put it to Dr Stewart that, if more effort had been made developing Option X earlier on, it would have looked like a more attractive option.

Dr Stewart disagreed, saying a reduction in cost alone was not enough to save Option X.

The proposal was still a bad fit for the surrounding heritage area and required demolishing private property along Sussex St to widen the road.

The agency had thoroughly investigated a similar idea to Option X, known as Option E, a year or so earlier and abandoned it for those reasons, Dr Stewart said. "I had some personal disappointment there, because I thought Option E would save us but I had specialists telling me the design aspects were flawed and it could not be saved through mitigation."

Mr Milne said that, in light of the Buckle St funding approval, all the options that had been discarded earlier should have been "run through the sieve again" and compared with a flyover.

Dr Stewart said there were no compelling reasons for doing that.

The hearing is due to resume on Monday.

The Dominion Post