Tunnel visions. Getting Welly moving under a new Mayor.

Andy Foster

Congratulations Andy Foster. You ran a good campaign. You’ve earned the right to be Wellington’s next mayor. Now the real work begins. You want another road tunnel under Mt Victoria. The majority of your councillors probably don’t. Where do we go from here? The Traffic Jam has some potentially radical ideas.

It didn’t take long. The word from The Hill is within a few hours of special votes confirming Andy Foster pipped incumbent Justin Lester in the city’s mayoralty race, transport minister Phil Twyford was talking about revisiting the timeline for work on Let’s Get Welly Moving.

By Tuesday, Twyford had gone public with RNZ’s Morning Report saying he’d be  prepared to discuss Let’s Get Welly Moving’s agenda, which currently prioritises construction of a new rapid public transit system to Wellington’s south and east, ahead of a second road tunnel under Mt Victoria.

Foster claims his victory is a mandate for the latter. Other far wiser and experienced political observers have blogged on why he defeated Lester, but I agree the desire among some voters for a few more lanes to planes was a factor. However, there is another potentially longer term election trend running contrary to that – and which I’ll come to later.

Twyford’s willingness to revisit the LGWM timetable comes as no surprise. Under his watch the NZTA has delayed Light Rail in Auckland (a Labour Pledge in 2017). Labour is even less invested in expanding Wellington’s PT network. Besides, it’s slipping in the opinion polls.

His insistence the amount of taxpayer money on the table for LGWM remains the same (around 60 percent of the estimated six billion dollar bill) only makes things worse for Light Rail (or whatever else it might be) to Newtown and beyond.

Foster’s promised to keep a lid or rates. Build your second tunnel under Mt Vic and there’s not much left in the bank.

Yes I know tunnel supporters argue it’ll be “multi-modal”. It’ll have space for bikes and pedestrians. But let’s face it, the people who voted for Foster on the tunnel issue expect it to be for cars. Their cars.

Mt Vic tunnel
I hope that footpath isn’t what they mean by “multi modal”.

And this is where it gets messy. Foster may claim he has a mandate to push through a second road tunnel, but he can’t do that without the support of his council. Stuff’s Thomas Coughlan has written an excellent piece on the hurdles the new mayor faces in bringing Mt Vic 2 forward.

If we look at the new Wellington City Council, I can see six votes  (including Foster’s) for a second road tunnel; Diane Calvert, Simon Woolf, Sean Rush (from the tunnel friendly Wellington Party) Malcolm Sparrow and Nicola Young. Not enough. Iona Pannett won’t have a bar of it. Based on their campaigns, previous voting in council and post-election statements, Sarah Free, Fleur Fitzsimons, Jenny Condie, Teri O’Neill, Rebecca Matthews, Laurie Foon, Tamatha Paul and Jill Day all appear to be road tunnel skeptics.

By the way, you can listen to a Traffic Jam analysis of the local election results with Talk Wellington’s Isabella Cawthorn and PT advocate Roland Sapsford here.

Of course councillors under pressure can flip-flop, as can Labour-led governments, but to do so would fly in the face of that other key trend in the 2019 local election; voting on climate change.

Off the back of the national school climate strikes and rallies, New Zealanders elected candidates committed to cutting the nation’s carbon emissions. I would argue in Wellington City alone, three new councillors, Condie, Paul and O’Neill all rode that wave into office.

Smart road lobbyists noticed it too. In the wake of Foster’s Wellington triumph and second tunnel trajectory, I spoke with Geordie Cassin from the AA’s Wellington Council.

The interview begins with his answer to my question as to whether he thinks a second Mt Vic road tunnel is now more likely – which he does. But I recommend you listen closely to what Geordie has to say.

There’s recognition climate concern isn’t going to go away. In fact, with every new story of record high temperatures in the arctic, droughts in Australia, and forest fires in the USA, it’s likely to increase. Geordie saw the kids marching, and how they kept on coming.

While the Wellington Chamber of Commerce keeps up the same old rhetoric over limiting rates while asking for more corporate welfare, I sense a change with the AA.

I think the AA can see that even if Foster is able to persuade enough of his fellow councillors,  and the government, to go back on the commitment to begin the PT work on Let’s Get Welly Moving first (and let’s remember folks, PT first was what the majority of submissions to LGWM asked for) pushing on a with a road tunnel under Mt Vic is likely to buy a fight in the Environment Court, and a fair amount of protest in the streets.

Here’s Roland and Isabella’s thoughts on the mandate voters gave Wellington’s local leaders.

Foster could bank on a change of Government next year, but what if the cavalry under Simon Bridges fails to arrive?

I think there’s one thing all sides of this debate agree on; we’re sick of the mucking around.

Is there a way through this?

I think it’s time for a bit more ambition. Forget about a 60/40 taxpayer/ratepayer split in funding. Addressing The Capital’s congestion is a state job. We’re expecting Wellingtonions to stump up with almost half of the money needed to cope with traffic created by years of national road building projects.

Nope.

If central government wants another road tunnel, then it can pay the whole of the LGWM bill itself.

And if the AA wants a second road tunnel for its members, it should insist work on rapid mass transit to Newtown and beyond, begins at the same time. That’s the best way to avoid another potentially drawn out battle in the courts and on the streets.

Because if you want to signal you don’t give a stuff about climate change, building another road at the expense of PT is the good way of doing it.

That’s Foster’s best hope for his Mt Vic ambitions too; unite the council behind a plan which puts PT on an equal footing with another road tunnel.

By the way, if that road tunnel is to be truly multi-modal, then you’d better make sure you limit its use to electric vehicles, because we already have a tunnel full of exhaust fumes.

And yes, if you want any chance of avoiding the usual result of widening the state highway on one side of the city – that we’re back in the same place dealing with congestion under The Terrace in 15 years time – then you’d better make sure your rapid transit linking the region’s rail system with Newtown and beyond, is up and running when that second tunnel opens.

Metlink line up Wikipedia
The rapid transit shouldn’t end here.

In fact, given car ownership is likely to decline relative to ownership of e-bikes and scooters, we could even plan for a next stage which re-configures one of those road tunnels for buses only, while converting the existing bus tunnel to a shared cycle and footpath.

Would the progressive transport mob support it?

I don’t know. But could the Government afford to ignore a united front from City and Regional Council, the AA, and the active and PT transport lobby? Maybe even National’s Wellington MPs would support it?

All this becomes irrelevant if Phil Twyford sticks to the current LGWM timetable, and if National fails to win office next year.

However, I still think it’s time for the AA and the progressives to talk. Whatever happens with LGWM, from late next year we will have to start dealing with the extra traffic generated by Transmission Gully.

As micromobility disrupts old ways of getting around, the AA needs to think about representing the owners of e-bikes and scooters, and improving the experience of those members who still choose to drive.

The best way to do that, is lobby for better alternatives for those of us who would prefer – at least some of the time – not to.

Jam 2

Happy Jammin’.

  • This will be the final blog for The Traffic Jam in its current form. I had to decide between my choir, The Doubtful Sounds, or this. I went for the music. That gives me a little more time for my partner and son. I owe them. There’s a chance I can persuade RNZ to fund The Traffic Jam as one of its podcasts, although we’d have to shift our focus beyond Wellington. Whatever happens, I’ve really enjoyed writing these Jams, as I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them. I started the Jam not because I hate cars, but because I love driving and fear, unless Wellington changes its ways, we’re headed for gridlock, and we’ll have to spend a tonne of money getting ourselves out of it. I believe there’s room on this planet for motor vehicles which don’t pollute, but failure to provide ourselves with alternatives is literally kicking the can down the road. I’ll continue to share an observation or two via my Twitter account and you can be sure of a thumbs up from me at the lights if you stop on a yellow, and a friendly wave if you let the bike go first, once it’s safe to let you pass… Cheers! Bryan Crump.

 

 

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