No 'utopian' dream: Case for Wellington City light rail reignites as price tag drops
The cost of light-rail "utopia" for Wellington could be headed down as a group of councillors say half a billion dollars can be shaved off its price tag.
According to the group, modern street trams could link the city to the airport and southern suburbs for $450m to $650m, depending on the route they took.
Greater Wellington regional councillors Paul Bruce, Sue Kedgley and Daran Ponter have united to push for light rail to be put back on the agenda, ahead of local body elections in October.
They're supported by two regional council candidates Dr Roger Blakeley, and Dr Russell Tregonning.
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In 2013 light rail was taken out of the mix of possible solutions to improve Wellington's public transport, after an 18 month investigation found it would cost almost $1 billion.
But that hefty price tag came about because experts writing the report used top-end costings, Bruce said.
"We had quite a number of overseas experts look at it, and they were astounded at the high-end costs ascribed to light rail ... that would be the disaster costing, we don't think that's realistic at all."
There were a variety of routes rail could take, Bruce said, including through Newtown and over Constable St, where trams used to go, or further south near the zoo, where a tunnel could be put in through Mt Albert.
"We're not keen on being totally prescriptive on the route ... there is a lot of choice, if you make a decision too early you end up arguing about the route."
Light rail was one of mayor Celia Wade-Brown's main promises when she was elected in 2010, but in 2013 she conceded it was too expensive.
A large part of the cost came from the need for the tram system to have its own tunnel through Mt Victoria.
Light rail would see modern trams operate largely on streets, usually with the right-of-way over traffic.
Ponter said the cost of the light rail was coming down as technology improved, and would eventually reach a "tipping point", with buses already jam packed in the central city.
"You can't poke any more buses down the Golden Mile."
Greater Wellington chair Chris Laidlaw said there were plenty of opinions on light rail that ranged from "the practical to the utopian".
"It certainly won't replace buses in the central city and it will have to be affordable as an option. The other issue is the optimal route - whether down the Golden Mile or round the quays."
Wade-Brown, who will not stand in October's elections, was still backing light rail in her final weeks on the job.
She said light rail was a great idea for a "smart progressive city" and improving technology was making it cheaper - the likes of Sydney and Canberra had chosen light rail recently.
As a minimum, she said the light rail corridors should be protected in work underway examining the Ngauranga to airport route after the Basin flyover was dumped.
Wellington City Council transport committee chair Andy Foster said the price could be significantly less for light rail with a number of debateable costs included in the 2013 report.
Most people loved the concept of light rail but it had to be planned in a way that worked for Wellington City, he said.
"What we don't really want is us collectively as politicians saying 'I've got the answer'."