29 Jun 2022

Wellington's ambitious transport plan 'transformational' - but construction years away

9:08 pm on 29 June 2022

Wellington leaders say it's a significant day for the capital city, with an ambitious transport plan given the thumbs up by the government.

Illustration showing roading around Wellington's Basin Reserve.

Illustration showing roading around Wellington's Basin Reserve. Photo: Supplied / LGWM

The $7.2 billion dollar project is the biggest investment into infrastructure and transport the capital has ever seen.

But some leaders on either side of the political spectrum don't think the direction is good enough.

Today Minister for Transport Michael Woods and Minister for Finance, Infrastructure - and Wellington Central MP - Grant Robertson announced the government's preferred choice of the four options tabled last year.

Light rail is all but confirmed to go ahead for south of the city.

The government has proposed an off-ramp option to swerve away from rail if there isn't enough housing intensity along the rail route.

A map of public transport routes in the government's preferred Let's Get Wellington Moving option.

A map of public transport routes in the government's preferred Let's Get Wellington Moving option. Photo: Supplied / LGWM

In that case, the rail network will be replaced with a rapid bus route.

Robertson said he was "as confident as can be" that rail would go ahead as planned.

Under the network, a commuter could take one light rail train from the Wellington Railway Station all the way to Island Bay Beach.

Further, two trains could connect an Island Bay resident as far north as Masterton.

The Basin Reserve - a constant headache for traffic - will be stripped of its round-about design and will make way for the rail-line, cycleways, buses and cars to travel around.

Artist's impression of Mt Victoria tunnel for pedestrians and bicycles

Artist's impression of Mt Victoria tunnel for pedestrians and bicycles Photo: Let's Get Wellington Moving

Mount Victoria will also get a new tunnel.

The current tunnel, with two lanes for traffic and a pedestrian path, will be transformed to a cycleway and foot path - meaning there will be no access for vehicles.

A new tunnel will go ahead with four lanes, two of which will be for buses and two for cars.

With the Hataitai bus tunnel still remaining as is, the new plan makes way for more bus access and expands the current set up for cyclists and pedestrians.

Wellington Mayor Andy Foster said the preferred option would be transformational for Wellington

"What today's announcement does is it gives us certainty, and that's the really important thing, it says 'this is the route for mass rapid transport' - that is now clear."

Wellington City Council and the Greater Wellington Regional Council are partnered with government in the project, but the latter has a 60 percent stake in funding.

However, it is still disputed as to whether the option government, and likely councils, prefer is the most climate friendly.

An illustration shows plans for light rail outside Wellington's central city train station.

An illustration shows plans for light rail outside Wellington's central city train station. Photo: Supplied / LGWM

Building tunnels have a high carbon cost both in production and through the emissions it will allow for vehicles - though no extra private car lanes are proposed in the government's option.

Option four, which is similar to the preferred option in design but significantly without a tunnel, is what the Green Party was supporting.

Infrastructure and transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter said not only would the government's option cost more, it would emit more carbon.

"It's actually nonsensical to try and claim that the tunnels are going to reduce carbon in the long term. The benefits come from light rail and bus priority which is in option four," she said.

"And of course if you save $2.2 billion on the tunnels, you can put it into more transformational public transport improvements elsewhere"

Wood said it was a difference between embedded carbon, which is the carbon used in the construction of a project, and enabled carbon - which takes into account the carbon reductions long term.

An artists impression of the proposed plan for public transport for Wellington Regional Hospital.

An artists impression of the proposed plan for public transport outside Wellington Regional Hospital. Photo: Supplied / LGWM

He said housing also came into the equation.

"If we achieve that [projected] extra housing yield, we actually very quickly under option one reach a point of neutrality and then carbon reductions."

The government is, however, yet to complete a Climate Implications of Policy Assessment - a legal requirement that assesses greenhouse gas emissions of proposals.

Wood said it would be incoming.

He also said today that the days of cramming cars into the city centre were numbered.

National Party transport spokesperson Simeon Brown said he "totally rejects" that claim.

National has been advocating for a long time for a four lane highway through the city, through to the airport and to Mirimar.

"Because that actually takes that traffic off the local roads in the CBD and allows better public transport, walking and cycling, through the city - not competing with heavy congestion trying to get through the city at the same time" Brown said.

'A little bit of patience'

Work on the project will not kick off for some time still.

Wellington City and the Greater Regional Councils will next week sign off the design option before a detailed business case can be made.

Foster was "confident" councillors will sign off the plan.

That business case will likely be done by the end of 2024, to which the design phase then starts.

Construction will begin in 2028, and take between eight-15 years, depending on the final details of the plan.

Until then, Foster asked Wellingtonians to have "a little bit of patience".

"We are deliberately going to try and make sure that we do this as fast as we possibly can, and if there are things that we can make happen quicker, we will be doing so," Foster said.

Labour MP Michael Wood

Minister of Transport Michael Wood Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Light rail could be prioritised in phased approach

Wood told Checkpoint the light rail project was tentatively projected to be completed and operational by 2031-2032.

However, Wood said he and other stakeholders were talking with officials about options as to how the project could be delivered sooner.

"One of the options we have raised with them for further investigation is looking at phasing, so are there ways in which we can bring forward parts of the project so we get the benefits to the people of Wellington as soon as possible?"

He said "high quality public transport options" such as the proposed light rail system could be prioritised if a phasing approach was put in place.

The project had not yet secured all of the land and houses along the proposed routes, Wood said.

Land purchases would be discussed as the project began to form a detailed business case.

A full range of funding options were being considered for the "significant investment" into the project, Wood said.

"You simply don't build theses sort of large scale public transport systems in built up cities without a real investment but after 50 years of kicking the can down the road it is important that we get on with it."

Cabinet confirmed today that Wood would work with Robertson to determine the most appropriate funding mechanisms for public transport projects taking place across New Zealand.

Wood said he was open to working with opposition political parties to ensure the project would be delivered regardless of which party was in government in the future.

"Wellingtonians want this to get done, they want us to get on with it, they've been waiting too long... if we can work together to give that certainty, then I would be very keen to do that and I put that offer out there to all other political parties."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs