Finally, the Government has announced that it will contribute $6.4b (an indicative package) over two decades to help solve Wellington's transport problems. This will not solve all of Wellington's problems, but will certainly be the kickstart that it desperately requires and enable us to get some quick runs on the board.
So, let's be clear, the money is not about building more roads. It is for freeing up traffic in the Wellington CBD, combined with a mass transit system.
Included in the plan is:
- $2.2b for a rapid transit from the Wellington Railway Station to the airport
- A second Mount Victoria Tunnel
- More cycleways and better walkways
In making this announcement, Transport Minister Phil Twyford said, "We can't do everything at once and my expectation is that congestion-busting projects like rapid transit will be prioritised over motorway projects."
So, that's the priority - congestion-busting projects like rapid transit over motorway projects. There is good reason for that. We just cannot keep developing the amount of roads and expressways to keep up with the number of cars being registered. In the year 2000 there were one million "light cars and vans" registered on New Zealand roads and highways. By the year 2010 that number had risen to 2.5 million. The latest figures, 2019, the number of light cars and vans had risen to 3.5 million, all jostling for space on our roads, highways and expressways.
Breaking it down into bite-sized chunks
Because of the size and complexity of the problem, this project will take over two decades to solve. There are no quick fixes. However, Wellingtonians are desperate for solutions. I believe we should look at making progress immediately after the Local Body elections, and that we should break this project down into a number of bite-sized chunks. It would be impossible to do everything at once, else we would see the whole city and region implode on itself with an impossible to solve gridlock.
I think we should decide on light rail as the best possible option as it will mean that the whole Wellington region will be able to benefit from and we will be able to make an immediate impact in reducing congestion. Trackless trains are now being seen as a possible solution in some quarters. I think this should be examined, however, because of their weight I would think that our Wellington roads would need a lot of rebuilding, and all this would then raise the cost to equal that of light rail.
If we were to proceed with light rail, I think we should break this down into a number of stages:
Stage one from the Railway Station to Courtenay Place
The system would have the same gauge as the current rail system.
- This will allow the Johnsonville and Melling lines to be part of it and take commuters directly into town (initially to Courtenay Place, but eventually to Wellington Hospital and the Eastern Suburbs and Airport). This would take pressure off the Wellington Urban Motorway and the Hutt and Western Hutt Roads.
- It will further allow the ongoing maintenance of the light rail rolling stock to be carried out within the rail yards at the Railway Station.
- The route to Courtenay Place would be along Lambton Quay, Willis Street, Manners Street and down to Courtenay Place. Some groups would like the route to go down Jervois Quay, however, I see this as being too far removed from where people want to go and where they work.
Stage two of the project would see the extension of the light rail network to Newtown and the Wellington Regional Hospital. By that time some rational and transparent decisions should have been made about routes around the Basin Reserve and access to and from the Eastern Suburbs. At this point of time there is alot more water to go under the bridge before the fate of the Basin Reserve is sealed. Hopefully by the time the light rail network has reached Courtenay Place the layout of the roads and light rail layout (if it is even to go around the Basin Reserve) will have been decided and progess can then continue to be made.
Stage three would then extend the system out to the Eastern Suburbs and Wellington International Airport.
Working as a Region
It may be argued that the light rail systems is only for Wellington City (from the Railway Station to the airport), however I think it is important that the light rail system connect directly into the existing rail network. The problems with transport we face is not just a city problem, but a regional problem.
We not only have a congested city, but we have congested motorways. We have people travelling by car each day between the Hutt Valley, Johnsonville and Wellington. Further, the cities in the Wellington region are not isolated entities. Each city contributes to the well-being and growth of the other. A connected region will enhance that.