It’s been a while hasn’t it?
I got to Episode 7, then life intervened. First in the form of the Summer Break, then my choir, The Doubtful Sounds, got its big moment in the Wellington Fringe, before the events of March 15th pushed everything else into the background.
But the traffic keeps on jamming, Let’s Get Wellington Moving still isn’t moving, and most important of all, the local body elections are looming.
These are the elections where we get to choose the representatives who will shape our city’s transport policy for the next three years. If you don’t like the present leadership, this is your chance to change it.
And what ever recommendation the LGWM team makes, it’s bound to become a local body election issue. In fact, those elections on October 12th could become a de facto referendum on it.
You might have noticed how the LGWM announcement never seems to arrive; from the end of last year, to early 2019. The latest word is before Easter. You’ve probably guessed the people making it are having trouble reaching agreement.
And if you need reminding as to what that consultation is leaning towards here’s a screenshot to jog your memory.
This is one scenario of four, and yes, this one involves digging quite a big hole under the city. The idea here, is to segregate the traffic traveling through the city, from the city itself. On one level (if you’ll excuse the mild pun) it looks attractive. The problem is the cost (which leaves less money for alternatives to the private vehicle) the disruption (it most likely won’t be a tunnel, but the trench that is then covered over) and amount of extra motor traffic such a scenario will deliver to the central city itself, not to mention the suburbs (have you noticed how busy it is in Karori, Kilbirnie and Miramar on the weekends these days?).
Wellington Mayor Justin Lester played it coy for a while, but he nailed his tunneling colours to the mast in the Dominion Post on March 12th.
“The next step for that will be focusing on public space, pedestrian space and putting a lot of that traffic out of the CBD, putting through tunnels effectively: cut-and-cover type facility.”
In other words, a trench for Highway One’s traverse of the city. That means two lanes each way, which will require extra tunnels at both ends. But he has a problem. The assistant transport minister is a Green. Julie Anne Genter can’t, in her carbon neutral conscience, commit billions of dollars to so much tar seal, even with light rail and additional cycle-lanes in the mix.
Stuck in the middle is the (Labour) transport minister, Phil Twyford. He’s been pushing for car alternatives in Auckland, but does he feel as strongly about Wellington, especially when to deny a trenched and tunneled Highway 1, puts him offside with fellow Labourite, Lester?
Waiting in the wings are local National MPs, who perceive (probably rightly) that a fatter highway is currently more popular with a majority of voters, and rejecting it is politically risky.
Will Twyford bury the Four Lane Trench and Tunnel project outright? Unlikely. But he is also reluctant to buy a public fight with the Greens. He could commit to some government spending, but insist ratepayers foot some of the bill for a bigger road. That would then leave it to Lester, and anyone else who supports a roads first approach, to campaign on that platform in the local elections.
But even if central Government does make a clear call to either embrace or reject the trenched highway option, the coming local body poll will still be crucial.
Wellington’s mayor and City Council make calls on local roads, cycleways and footpaths.
If you’re concerned about public transport, you need to scrutinise your regional councillors.
These are the people who presided over your new bus network, and who secretly re-appointed their CEO, despite the bus system continually failing to reach performance standards that CEO promised would be in place several months ago.
By the way, you can read Mike Mellor’s excellent ongoing analysis of Wellington’s bus and train performance here.
What does that say about the regard councillors hold for the people who put them there? I’ve argued in previous posts regional councillors were careless over the bus system because they felt most bus users don’t bother voting, and those who do, will have forgotten about the omnishambles by October.
And there’s another thing in their favour. Even if we are dissatisfied with the current crop, who do we replace them with? Who will lobby for public transport users, walkers, cyclists and sensible car drivers?
Which is why I’ve decided to come back to The Traffic Jam, at least until the local body elections. I’ve put the choir on the back-burner. I’ve bought a new recording device. I’m ready to get moving.
The people at Talk Wellington have rightly recognised now is the time to up the debate, and good on Stuff for running their excellent series of articles. I see the potential for LGWM to produce this city’s version of Auckland’s Waterview project; a multi-billion dollar road scheme, made inevitable (politically at least) by that city’s car dependency.
Problem is, Waterview may well end up producing Wellington Bypass like results in the medium to long term, and I fear four lanes of trenches and tunnels through the central city will achieve the same for Wellington.
But that’s for another blog.
I’ll be back with more posts, and podcasts soon.
In the meantime, I invite you to read widely, think carefully, and study your history.