August 2019 – We can get Welly actually moving on transport – if we get back on track now.Diane Calvert
- Three years ago we had visionary thinking on our transport needs but it was not grounded in realistic and achievable plans
- The problems we face now is that we can’t afford it all. We went too big on ideas and that’s blown out the cost and time making the package unaffordable and unworkable.
- To get back on track we need to cut back the transport programme to a manageable level, be transparent and engage better, action NZTA advice and re-prioritise and re-sequence the big stuff – tunnels, roads, mass transit
Three years ago….
Three years ago, Wellingtonians were adamant that they had waited too long and wanted to see a decent transport network providing for all modes but most importantly sorting out the bottle necks along State Highway 1 (SH1) from The Terrace through to the eastern suburbs.
Three years ago, the mayoral candidates promised sorting out the transport including more lanes to the airport and additional tunnels at The Terrace and Mt Victoria.
Three years ago, light rail advocates started intensively lobbying. Ideological values started to drive the agenda. Grand plans started to form around light rail and a large urban regeneration/ intensification programme to help justify the cost with the development of another main transport route servicing a small geographical area out to the East.
Three years ago, Wellingtonians were asked what they wanted in terms of transport. It was like kids in a sweet shop. We wanted it all plus more. Money seemed unimportant especially if taxpayers were picking up the tab.
From what I saw, the initial drawings were impressive however Council or the public never got to see the details, costs and trade-offs until the Government’s indicative package was announced by the Minister of Transport, the Mayor of Wellington and Chair of Greater Wellington in May 2019. There continues to be a lack of real details, engagement on and transparency about what is planned.
What’s gone wrong?
We know that what we want and what we can actually afford are two different things, especially when we are primarily taxpayer/ratepayer funded. We went too big on the ideas and that’s blown out the cost and time.
The Let’s Get Welly Moving (LGWM) team (made up of NZTA, WCC and GWRC) decided they would ask government for it all without any compromises. I’m not sure what planet they were on but it looks like they were captured by the light rail movement, ideological views and wanting to reshape the city out to the south and east. The infrastructure challenges coupled with a route out to the east across earthquake prone land adds even more challenges, complexities and cost. Needless to say, the National Transport Fund (which funds transport projects) couldn’t afford it all.
It was at this point, the LGWM governance group, which included the Mayor, determined not to get guidance from its members (ie the full set of elected members) on what should or should not be put forward including sequencing of projects. According to the Chair and CEO of NZTA, final negotiations occurred between the Minister of Transport -Phil Twyford (who also held the Housing portfolio at this point) and the Mayor.
So now we have ended up with a programme that is much wider than its original scope, with very limited funding options and a very unhealthy ratepayer burden. Despite the fanfare, all that the government and Councils have effectively committed to is a series of ‘early improvements’ and to complete business cases for the big stuff.
Business cases are still two years away at least and any funding is not guaranteed. The expected funding of 100% for the SH1 improvements has been whittled down to 50% (the other 50% to be picked up by the ratepayer). It also looks like that 50% from the SH1 funds has been applied to prop up a seemingly unviable mass transit investment. The additional Mt Victoria tunnel may only happen after mass transit is put in place (10 years at least) and the additional Terrace tunnel is off the radar. The government’s indicative package is ultimately flawed in terms of the projects, the sequencing of those projects, the funding burden on ratepayers and the sucking dry of available transport funds for the wider Wellington region.
How do we get it back on track?
- Cut back the programme to a manageable level, action NZTA advice and re-prioritise and re-sequence the big stuff – tunnels, roads and mass transit.
- NZTA have advised that the extra MT Victoria tunnel should be built before mass transit. New leadership in both Wellington City and Greater Wellington will be able to better support and champion the expert advice received from the government’s transport agency (NZTA).
- As Mayor, I will get SH1 improvements back on the agenda and ensure they are not continually side-lined. Anything less will mean that businesses and people will walk away from the eastern side of our city.
- I will get the planned improvement to the Golden mile bedded in along with providing as much support as possible for a stronger bus network.
- I will de-couple the mass transit/urban re-generation project from LGWM programme so it becomes a standalone programme and better managed accordingly with the focus on more housing.
- I will work with the Government and our Councils with openness and transparency that will give them confidence that their contribution is truly welcomed and affordable.
- All Wellington city council elected members will be allowed to have a strong voice in the future shape of the programme.
Underlying all these actions, I will ensure that our carbon footprint continues to decrease by less congestion, more active ways of travel, more public transport and more encouragement of non-fossil fuel vehicles.