Tolls to fund Transmission Gully route
As revealed in today's Dominion Post, the Government has committed to building the 26km inland highway as part of a $2.2 billion upgrade of State Highway 1 from Levin to Wellington.
The project was confirmed by Transport Minister Steven Joyce at a press conference this morning. It will be part of the Government's roads of national significance strategy, which will see more than $10 billion spent nationwide.
Transmission Gully will be the second of three phases of work that will see several projects developed from Levin south.
Phase one will see work begin on improving the highway from Ngauranga Gorge to Aotea Quay and the Basin Reserve, as well as work on the Peka Peka to Otaki section and the McKays Crossing to Peka Peka section.
Phase three will see the duplication of the Mt Victoria and Terrace tunnels and work between Otaki and Levin.
Mr Joyce said a funding plan was in place for the Gully project but hinted that tolling would be needed for it to be built.
"At about a billion dollars this is a very expensive project, so the project is likely to need both the government funding and tolling. The geography of the area means that there are no cheap or easy options," said Mr Joyce.
"The gully route is the best long-term option ... in terms of route security, journey time savings and minimising impact both during construction and in the longer term."
Mr Joyce said the Gully was a more effective solution to SH1's woes than upgrading the coastal highway. Latest cost estimates show the two projects would cost about the same amount of money.
"Transmission Gully will bring benefits to the coastal communities of Mana, Plimmerton, Pukerua Bay and Paekakariki through reduced community severance and traffic noise, as well as improved air quality.
"Progressing the coastal route would have meant putting all our eggs in one basket."
The New Zealand Transport Agency also announced various other projects aimed at reducing congestion on SH1 from Levin to the capital, improving safety and supporting economic growth.
Once completed, the upgrade route should save motorists up to 33 minutes during peak times and up to 23 minutes during the day.
It is the first time it has been given the go-ahead with funding in place. It should be completed within a decade.
"It is a sensible decision," said Fran Wilde, chairwoman of Greater Wellington regional council.
"This is the route that Wellingtonians overwhelmingly supported and it's the long-term sensible route. We need a route into the capital city that is secure and the current route is just simply not secure."
The 26km highway will stretch from Linden to McKays Crossing, bypassing choke-points at Paremata and Pukerua Bay.
The decision to build the Gully comes more than 60 years after the route was proposed, and should end the debate about how to improve access to Wellington from the north.
The Transport Agency is close to applying for resource consents that would allow work to begin.
Porirua Mayor Jenny Brash said the coastal highway was always a non-starter and urged the Government to start work on Transmission Gully as soon as possible.
"It is the only long-term sustainable solution for the Wellington region. Let's get on and do it."
Roading New Zealand chief executive Chris Olsen said the industry had "huge" capacity to work on major road projects simultaneously.
Committed funding meant contractors would have some certainty, so could employ more workers and buy equipment.
"There is quite a huge amount of capacity in the industry at present. I would say that there is absolutely no problem.
"The contracting industry is very confident we would deliver."
The Gully is not a panacea to the region's roading woes. It would shave only 10 minutes off a peak-time trip from Kapiti Coast to Wellington, and would add to congestion in the capital.
Transport Ministry documents show it could take longer to reopen after an earthquake than the coastal route, and ministryOfficials told Mr Joyce this year that the economic benefits were low. But public support remains high, with 89 per cent of submitters in a Transport Agency survey last year supporting the route.
The Dominion Post