Tunnel could help Queenstown and Wanaka play nicely

Over or under the Crown Range?
MARJORIE COOL/STUFF

Over or under the Crown Range?

A road tunnel under the mountains between Wanaka and Queenstown could help draw the two communities together and boost the district's economy, Queenstown Lakes District Council chief executive Mike Theelen thinks.

Theelen's left field idea was reported by The Spinoff on August 7.

His bolt from the blue has sparked a host of questions from people interviewed by Stuff on the streets of both towns, with construction costs and whether a tunnel is really needed at the heart of the debate.

Queenstown Lakes District Council chief executive Mike Theelen and mayor Jim Boult peruse council literature.
DASHA KUPRIENKO/STUFF

Queenstown Lakes District Council chief executive Mike Theelen and mayor Jim Boult peruse council literature.

A tunnel is not in the long term district plan or budget.

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Spinoff reporter Peter Newport recently interviewed Theelen about improving digital and physical connections between the two towns.

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Geordie Mansford of Wanaka: Who is going to pay for it? I don't think we need it. We are basically accommodating tourism. I have never heard any locals complaining about the Crown Range.

Damian Brown of Queenstown: It's overly costly. The views are amazing and in the winter the road closes only a few times and it's not congested. Definitely don't need it.

Katie Waal of California: Where would it start and finish? Would it be similar to the road or would it detour anywhere? You would miss the view. It is a beautiful drive, I reckon, and people would do that anyway to see the view.

Rhys Grimmer of Queenstown: I think it's gonna be alright but a lot of money. It's still a nice road but a tunnel will make a commute shorter.

Declan Wong of Queenstown: That's gonna be one long tunnel. Locals will enjoy it because housing will be a lot better.

Shayna Maunder of Wanaka: It is such a nice drive over though. Do we need it? For a massive cost, I feel there is not a need for it. It is kind of a cool idea but it's kind of unnecessary. It would be billions and billions.

Lucy Lyall of Queenstown: In the winter it will be easier and safer to have a tunnel. But I think it's a lot of money to put into something that will be used for three months in a year.

Lenny McGirr of Wanaka: I do question how wise it is in New Zealand to build long tunnels because of earthquakes but I know they do in Japan. Do we need it? Is it a want or a need? . . . I like that Wanaka is a bit cut off.

Colin Walsh of Queenstown: Good for him [Theelen], future thinking. I like the Crown Range but I think if it takes less time to get to Wanaka it's good.

Avryl Rose of Queenstown: Hundred percent a good idea. I can't handle the Crown Range. I think there are a lot of things to get to and travel to in Wanaka.

Chloe Nicholas, left, of Wanaka: It is an amazing thing to think about. It depends on logistics. But it could be handy. It would be quicker to McDonalds. But that is not such a big deal. It has positives and negatives. Lucy McAdam, right, of Wanaka: I think the Kaikoura Coast needs to be sorted out first. The road between Christchurch and Blenheim is not designed for the amount of traffic it gets on it. It is so bad.

Jeff Salonga of Queenstown: It would be just a waste. We have really good roads and can build ten new roads rather than building a tunnel. It's not practical.

Jackson Midgley of Wanaka: Does it appeal to tourists? Is it an alternative way for tourists to get here? I wonder if it would be worth it and if it would be a shorter drive. I feel it is a short drive anyway.

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The pair had noted Queenstown and Wanaka had much to offer each other but would not "play nicely together".

"We agreed that an Elon Musk-style hyper loop train could make the 80 kilometre journey in minutes and would need little land. Mike Theelen was not dismissing a tunnel either," Newport wrote.

Theelen confirmed his thinking to Stuff and that he had been speculating with Newport about how to grow the district.

The Wanaka to Queenstown commute has nice views from the Crown Range.
DASHA KUPRIENKO/STUFF

The Wanaka to Queenstown commute has nice views from the Crown Range.

"There will always be some people who see the two key centres as rivals but that underplays our collective strength," he said. 

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Theelen stressed he had not thought about where a tunnel might start or end, how much it might cost or how long it could be. Those things needed to be part of a national conversation and it could even be a "partial tunnel", he said.

"We are not rushing out to design a tunnel and put it in the long term plan".

People walk through Auckland's Waterview Tunnel Connection on opening day, June 18, 2017.
SIMON WATTS/STUFF

People walk through Auckland's Waterview Tunnel Connection on opening day, June 18, 2017.

"It might sit there for a long time. It might find its way into 50 year or 30 year thinking," he said.

However, the district was attracting "high tech" residents who had a fluid attitude about their choices of where to live and work and the Crown Range was "the last barrier to overcome", with workers commuting over it every day, Theelen said.

He cited Europe's high quality roads and long tunnels as an example of what could be achieved.

Wanaka friends Shayna Maunder, Chloe Nicholas and Lucy McAdam say a tunnel might get them to McDonald's in Queenstown ...
MARJORIE COOK/STUFF

Wanaka friends Shayna Maunder, Chloe Nicholas and Lucy McAdam say a tunnel might get them to McDonald's in Queenstown faster, but could cost billions. Fixing Kaikoura's road is a bigger national priority, they said.

"Wanaka's opportunity to develop is really there. The airport development, opportunities for more people flying in and out. We want to protect the key qualities of Queenstown and Wanaka, as well as towns like Luggate, Hawea and Glenorchy. But it is about how to let people live where they want and overcome that travel issue," Theelen said.​

The conversation about new ways to move people could also take in skifield access issues, including gondolas, Theelen said

"How should we service our skifields? There is ultimately no need for anyone to take their cars up there. They are doing a good job with buses and Remarkables Park is looking at a gondola. There should be opportunities for alternatives." 

OTHER TUNNELS

Gotthard Base Tunnel, Switzerland: The world's longest, deepest rail tunnel runs for 57 km underneath the Swiss Alps and entered entered regular service in 2016. CNN reported it took 17 years and about $12 billion to build.

Channel Tunnel, Britain and France: The 50km tunnel undersea rail tunnel was completed in 1994. It took six years to build at a cost of £4.65 billion at the time (equating to £12 million in 2015, according to The Telegraph).

Lærdal Tunnel, Norway: The world's longest road tunnel is 24.51km long. It opened in 2000 at a cost of $113.1 million.  

Waterview Connection, New Zealand: New Zealand's longest road tunnel is 2.4km long, cost $1.2 billion and opened in 2016.

The Milford Dart tunnel: A proposed 11.8 kilometre bus tunnel from the end of Routeburn Road to Milford Road was axed in 2013 by then-Conservation Minister Nick Smith because of impacts on the wilderness. The cost was variously reported between $150 million and $180 million.

 - Stuff

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