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Save the Basin Reserve: Tim Jones, 2 July 2014. Photo by Mark Tantrum | www.marktantrum.comMotor­ways are hideous things. Need­less to say they are not built for their aes­thet­ics. Nor are they built for the acous­tics, the aroma or the vista, or their pos­it­ive impacts on land, health, hous­ing or her­it­age, or their desirab­il­ity to live near or walk along. They are not built to relieve traffic con­ges­tion: accord­ing to cur­rent inter­na­tion­al con­sensus, more roads simply invite more vehicles. And des­pite what the New Zea­l­and Trans­port Agency (NZTA) will tell you, there is also no clear evid­ence sug­gest­ing that motor­ways gen­er­ate eco­nom­ic growth,* unless you hap­pen to own Fulton Hogan or Bur­ger King. No, motor­ways have no intrins­ic value, and as destruct­ive, irre­vers­ible mon­stros­it­ies, they should be built only when no trans­port option bet­ter suited to the pub­lic interest is available.

So there is much aside from the dies­el fumes and tar that reeks about NZTA’s $12 bil­lion Roads of Nation­al Sig­ni­fic­ance (RoNS) pro­ject, one of New Zealand’s biggest infra­struc­ture invest­ments yet. The stated aim behind con­struct­ing this series of road links between Puhoi and Christ­ch­urch is to make the move­ment of freight and busi­ness traffic between ports, air­ports and mar­kets in the five major pop­u­la­tion centres more effi­cient. Yet there is little evid­ence to sug­gest that the install­a­tion of a nation­wide freight bypass without any genu­ine, loc­al­ised urb­an plan­ning of note will gen­er­ate sweep­ing nation­wide eco­nom­ic growth.

What is proven inter­na­tion­ally is that motor­ways encour­age people to live fur­ther from city centres and com­mute longer dis­tances, lead­ing to more urb­an sprawl and less effi­cient cit­ies.* What is also proven is that large-scale ‘eco­nom­ic growth’ of the nature prom­ised by gov­ern­ment is unlikely to cause golden money showers to rain down on the tax­pay­ers and road users foot­ing the bill for the roads. Pet­rol tax, how­ever, increased in July for the pur­pose, and any­one in busi­ness or retail may have noticed the instant increase in cour­i­er and goods sup­pli­er charges to keep up.

Accord­ing to NZTA, 92 per­cent of freight is cur­rently moved by road, and the total freight bur­den is fore­cast to increase. Yet even Main­freight wants to see freight car­ried by rail, not least because trucks emit 4.6 times more CO2 per tonne per kilo­metre car­ried than trains. The auto industry, too, is see­ing a sig­ni­fic­ant decrease in sales, as repor­ted by Time magazine in 2013. Young­er gen­er­a­tions are pur­chas­ing few­er cars, per­haps because they are liv­ing urb­an, envir­on­ment­ally aware, digit­ised life­styles, or per­haps because they can’t afford them, or both. In any case, we may have passed the point of peak car usage.

Con­sider this along­side the fact that man­aging traffic con­ges­tion and the move­ment of freight both require sound plan­ning and pub­lic trans­port, and that motor­ways do not guar­an­tee eco­nom­ic growth but do lead to increased car use and urb­an sprawl. So why has NZTA been so vehe­ment about their spe­cif­ic road­ing plans, includ­ing the fly­over? What were the objec­tions heard by the board? Import­antly, will NZTA make an appeal in the High Court, and if so for what reas­ons, and to whose benefit?


Board of Inquiry

The Wel­ling­ton North­ern Cor­ridor is the sec­tion of the RoNS pro­ject span­ning the 110 kilo­metres from Wel­ling­ton Air­port to Lev­in. The highly con­ten­tious $90 mil­lion fly­over (which NZTA insists on call­ing the ‘Basin Bridge’, since fly­overs are now inter­na­tion­ally out­moded) rep­res­en­ted one out of the sev­en Wel­ling­ton North­ern Cor­ridor RoNSs. The plan called for a 10-metre-high, one-way bridge to take vehicles from the Mt Vic­tor­ia tun­nel to just above the south end of Cam­bridge Ter­race, passing in front of the Basin Reserve. Expec­ted com­ple­tion was 2017.

At the begin­ning of pub­lic con­sulta­tion in 2008, Scoop repor­ted that 79 per­cent of sub­mis­sions were opposed to the fly­over. May­or Celia Wade-Brown has con­sist­ently opposed it, yet NZTA’s determ­in­a­tion to real­ise gov­ern­ment plans has been reflec­ted in their rela­tion­ship with loc­al coun­cil. Last year, anoth­er Scoop report revealed that NZTA board mem­ber (and former Wel­ling­ton deputy may­or) Alick Shaw and chief exec­ut­ive Geoff Danger­field both presen­ted Wel­ling­ton Coun­cil with ulti­mat­ums, in a 2011 state­ment in the Domin­ion Post and a 2012 let­ter to coun­cil, respect­ively. These sent a clear mes­sage to coun­cil: no fly­over, no fund­ing for any region­al road­ing con­struc­tion. The major turn­ing point in the council’s pos­i­tion, how­ever, came in 2013 when coun­cil­lor Andy Foster changed his pre­vi­ously anti-fly­over vote. From then on, coun­cil was offi­cially in favour and oppos­i­tion was left to residents.

Per­haps in light of this, NZTA pro­ceeded to pre-empt­ively move the his­tor­ic Home of Com­pas­sion crèche build­ing out of the path of the still uncon­sen­ted fly­over earli­er this year. NZTA has con­sist­ently insisted that the build­ing was moved in aid of the Nation­al War Memori­al (NWM) Park pro­ject. How­ever, on review­ing the evid­ence, the board decision states that “the only infer­ence that can be drawn is that the crèche was moved to facil­it­ate the build­ing of the Basin Bridge… [and] the relo­ca­tion… was not required for the com­ple­tion of the NWM Park”.

NZTA was also already rar­ing to go before Save Kapiti’s appeal against the Kapiti Express­way (detailed below) was com­plete. “We had [equip­ment] on site in pre­par­a­tion for con­struc­tion, we were pre­par­ing the site,” media man­ager Anthony Frith says, cla­ri­fy­ing that “there was no actu­al con­struc­tion before that [Supreme Court] decision”.

The gov­ern­ment-appoin­ted board (retired Envir­on­ment Court and Dis­trict Court judge Gor­don Whit­ing, social policy research­er James Baines, trans­port­a­tion con­sult­ant Dav­id Collins and resource man­age­ment con­sult­ant Dav­id McMa­hon) con­sidered over 350 sub­mis­sions and state­ments from wit­nesses. Save the Basin cam­paign­er Tim Jones believes the board may be put under pres­sure by NZTA to change their final decision, due 30 August, but have so far have been genu­inely thor­ough in their investigations.

Still, the dice have been “loaded against oppon­ents,” Jones says. “It is a highly asym­met­ric pro­cess… [in which] the gov­ern­ment, for prac­tic­al pur­poses, is a bot­tom­less pit of fund­ing.” On the oth­er hand, Save the Basin received a $15,000 Envir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Author­ity grant that only part-fun­ded four months of leg­al fees and expert­ise. Like the Archi­tec­tur­al Centre and New­town Res­id­ents Asso­ci­ation, they could not afford to fund their hard­work­ing law­yers (Tom Ben­nion and Philip Mil­ne, respect­ively) for the entire four-month peri­od, so some­times res­id­ents have taken on those roles. This has taken a heavy toll on loc­als, many of whom have suffered exhaus­tion and huge pres­sure on their work and fam­ily lives.

Photo by Mark Tantrum | FishHead Magazine


For Whom the Road Tolls

The urgency and lack of demo­crat­ic pro­cess with which NZTA has been approach­ing the RoNS pro­ject is more under­stand­able in light of the fact that the Road Trans­port For­um (RTF) donated almost $100,000 to the elec­tion cam­paign pre­ced­ing National’s first term in 2008. The friendly rela­tions between the Nation­al Party and the roads lobby seems to have made ensu­ing land trans­port policy a fore­gone con­clu­sion, with the fly­over a not­able exception.

Former Green Party co-con­ven­or Roland Sapsford explains how, between 2000 and 2002, Labour and the Greens cooper­ated to increase pub­lic trans­port fund­ing by 250 per­cent. The asso­ci­ated New Zea­l­and Trans­port Strategy was launched in 2002, and included a com­mit­ment to vehicle emis­sions test­ing, cent­ral fund­ing for walk­ing and cyc­ling, and a major over­haul of land trans­port legis­la­tion. The Land Trans­port Man­age­ment Act came into effect in 2003 and aimed to achieve an “integ­rated, safe, respons­ive and sus­tain­able” land trans­port system.

These move­ments appear to have made the likes of the Busi­ness Roundtable, Auck­land Cham­ber of Com­merce and the roads lobby a wee bit nervous. “Cri­ti­cism of the new policies began to appear in industry and trade magazines,” says Sapsford, “espe­cially the busi­ness press, and a sub­stan­tial lob­by­ing cam­paign began at a loc­al and region­al gov­ern­ment level. This was medi­ated through loc­al cham­bers of com­merce, as well as Auto­mobile Asso­ci­ation (AA) and RTF rep­res­ent­at­ives on region­al land trans­port com­mit­tees.” In 2002, a con­fer­ence titled The Case for Roads was held, from which an extract has been clipped on pages xx.

By 2004, the Allen Report had been com­mis­sioned by the AA with fund­ing from the Auck­land Cham­ber of Com­merce, Infra­struc­ture Auck­land, Busi­ness­NZ, Great­er Wel­ling­ton Region­al Coun­cil and the RTF. It advoc­ated for the expan­sion of road­ing invest­ment with the rationale that this leads to eco­nom­ic growth. A 2006 report by the freshly estab­lished New Zea­l­and Coun­cil for Infra­struc­ture Devel­op­ment, partnered by Deutsche Bank, Fulton Hogan, Busi­ness­NZ, New Zea­l­and Con­tract­ors’ Fed­er­a­tion and Mul­ti­plex Engin­eer­ing, focused on trans­port infra­struc­ture to 2025. This report advoc­ated stable, long-term fund­ing for heavy invest­ment in state high­ways. Togeth­er with RTF reports in 2006 and 2007, it laid the found­a­tion for the idea that future growth in freight move­ment by trucks means we need massive road­ing invest­ment now.

Fol­low­ing the RTF’s $100,000 cam­paign dona­tion, the suc­cess­fully elec­ted Nation­al Party sprung into gear. It cre­ated NZTA by mer­ging Trans­it New Zea­l­and — which used to research and pro­pose road­ing pro­jects — with Trans­fund, which assessed, ranked and fun­ded them accord­ing to bene­fit-cost ratios and urgency. Nation­al also intro­duced the require­ment that road­ing pro­jects “give effect to” the Gov­ern­ment Policy State­ment on roads. This policy state­ment reflects the pro-road­ing agenda that had been gain­ing sig­ni­fic­ant trac­tion over the pre­vi­ous decade.


The Fly­over

Save the Basin Reserve: Tim Jones, 2 July 2014. Photo by Mark Tantrum | www.marktantrum.comAccord­ing to NZTA’s Anthony Frith, the exist­ing road into the city from the Mt Vic­tor­ia tun­nel “does not serve the pur­poses of Wel­ling­to­ni­ans — it’s clogged up every day”. Frith claims a sev­en-minute sav­ing on travel times with the fly­over, though this fig­ure also relies on the com­ple­tion of the Mt Vic­tor­ia tun­nel duplic­a­tion pro­ject, for which no budget or sched­ule has been released. So the estim­ated saved time is in fact only 90 seconds (for a $90 mil­lion pro­ject, that’s $1 mil­lion per second saved!).

As stated, cur­rent traffic expert­ise inter­na­tion­ally says that the con­ges­tion to which Frith refers can­not simply be built out of: it must be man­aged through pub­lic trans­port and urb­an design.* NZTA itself estim­ates that Trans­mis­sion Gully will see 25 per­cent of com­muters who would have taken the train on the road by 2026. Express­way plans also indic­ate that NZTA’s con­ges­tion man­age­ment hasn’t been very thor­ough: these include a new major inter­change on Kapiti Road, which already gets highly con­ges­ted and has a traffic count very sim­il­ar — if not great­er — than State High­way 1.

The fly­over plans included a 3‑metre-wide ped­es­tri­an-cycle­way. Save the Basin’s Tim Jones’s response to the prom­ised ped­es­tri­an-cycle­way is telling: “Sarah Pal­in might not have done a lot for the world, but she did pop­ular­ise the phrase, ‘you can’t put lip­stick on a pig’.” He says that with wind speed increas­ing at elev­a­tion, the shared, nar­row lane will make for unsafe jour­neys, par­tic­u­larly for children.

The cost of NZTA’s pro­jec­ted time sav­ing also includes severe dam­age to res­id­en­tial areas and her­it­age sites. In a 2012 report, NZTA itself lists far more objec­tions than bene­fits to the fly­over, includ­ing neg­at­ive impacts on eco­logy, her­it­age, sound and air qual­ity, and urb­an design. Motor­way pol­lu­tion in res­id­en­tial areas is known to affect lung capa­city and exacer­bate lung, sleep, heart and hear­ing prob­lems, as well as prop­erty val­ues. One neigh­bour­ing Grand­stand Apart­ment has reduced in value by $100,000. Dur­ing the con­struc­tion peri­od, NZTA has fur­ther warned that res­id­ents may have to be relo­cated for as many as 200 nights so that noisy work can be undertaken.

Former Black Cap and New Zea­l­and Crick­et chief exec­ut­ive Mar­tin Sned­den wrote in Scoop that the fly­over may spell the death of test match crick­et and threaten the inter­na­tion­al status of the 148-year-old Basin Reserve, des­pite NZTA’s plans to con­struct a 12-metre-high ‘North­ern Gate­way Build­ing’ to block the view of the road. These objec­tions can be found among the (over) 150 oth­ers spe­cif­ic to the fly­over that have been heard by the board and lis­ted on the Envir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Author­ity website.

The most alarm­ing objec­tion was per­haps that revealed in the Domin­ion Post last Novem­ber. The board of inquiry reques­ted a peer review from Abley Trans­port­a­tion Con­sult­ants of NZTA’s evid­ence for fly­over plans. Abley found 49 issues, the most wor­ry­ing being NZTA’s dis­missive response to oth­er road­ing options before seek­ing the public’s view on two fly­over designs in 2011, with Abley itself find­ing two altern­at­ives with equal mer­it. The Archi­tec­ture Centre and oppos­i­tion parties’ pre­ferred solu­tion (“Option X”) con­sists of a tun­nel between Sus­sex Street and Tarana­ki Street that is safer and allows for bet­ter qual­ity urb­an design than NZTA’s bridge. The tun­nel also allows for the same des­ig­nated bus lanes that NZTA claim as an advant­age to their own plans.

[quote by=“Clint East­wood and The Case for Roads”]

And it does seem to me that one of the great mis-labellings of recent his­tory is that the train was called the iron horse, but of course that’s wrong. The car was the iron horse. You see, when Clint East­wood decides he has to clean up the town, he doesn’t go off to the car­riage stock and get into the car­riage and then go in and find anoth­er horse to go to where the bar is and shoot up the bad­die. He goes out to his stable, climbs on to his horse, rides down, does his busi­ness, gets back on his horse, rides back home and has a scotch. The horse was private, point-to-point trans­port and that is how trans­port has been for most of his­tory. And that is why the word for equal­ity and equity has the same root as horse — equus. The horse was the great equal­iser. So you can see that Clint in his west­ern movies has power­ful sym­bol­ic con­tent. There are two equal­isers at work.”[/quote]

The Express­way


Also heav­ily con­tested has been the $650 mil­lion, 16-kilo­metre Kapiti Express­way route from Rau­mati to Peka Peka, which boasts four lanes, three bridges, a four- to five-year con­struc­tion peri­od and the per­man­ent defa­cing of nation­ally sig­ni­fic­ant wet­lands. The express­way was first designed in the 1950s: this was a dec­ade in which motor­ways were con­sidered good for eco­nom­ies (and in which the term ‘roads lobby’ was first coined).

The stated aims of the Kapiti Express­way were to alle­vi­ate traffic con­ges­tion and provide an emer­gency altern­at­ive route to State High­way 1. How­ever, by the 1990s the express­way had still not been con­struc­ted and the designs were later deemed unne­ces­sary, out­dated, socially divis­ive and “poor urb­an plan­ning” by NZTA itself. So in the 1990s an altern­at­ive was designed by world-class urb­an plan­ner James Lunday, called the West­ern Link Road (WLR).

Lunday based his work on the prin­ciple that roads are to be designed around com­munit­ies, not vice versa. So the WLR included few­er lanes, lower speed lim­its, cycle­ways, bri­dle­ways, walk­ways, and space for loc­al busi­ness and activ­it­ies. It was not a straight bypass designed for freight. Fol­low­ing sev­er­al rounds of leg­al action, Lunday’s WLR was con­sen­ted and entered Kapiti Council’s Dis­trict Plan, which is of course leg­ally bind­ing. Much of the land was bought.

Then in 2009, then Min­is­ter of Trans­port, Steven Joyce over­rode the council’s plans with a rein­state­ment of the old express­way designs, now part of the integ­rated RoNS pro­ject. Unsur­pris­ingly, when ‘con­sulta­tion’ begun that year regard­ing Kapiti’s pre­ferred road­ing option for a State High­way 1 altern­at­ive, the pro­cess was biased. Save Kapiti’s Mark Har­ris recounts how the express­way option was sud­denly and ambigu­ously rein­tro­duced, heav­ily mar­keted, and cos­ted without loc­al road­ing ele­ments factored in. The anti-express­way vote was then split between two options that both appeared rel­at­ively expens­ive due to their inclu­sion of costs for loc­al road ele­ments. The express­way was then set to get underway.

In Kapiti, pre­vi­ous may­or Jenny Row­an once pas­sion­ately opposed the express­way, fam­ously dub­bing it the “high­way from hell”. By 2013, she was stat­ing that “it’s now time to let NZTA get on with the job, and for us to focus on get­ting the very best we can out of the pro­ject”. This meant nego­ti­at­ing over 300 con­di­tions — from envir­on­ment­al pro­tec­tion to noise mit­ig­a­tion and cycleways.

Save Kapiti con­tin­ued to appeal, how­ever, on the grounds of NZTA not hav­ing suf­fi­ciently assessed James Lunday’s more socially and envir­on­ment­ally respons­ible WLR, and hav­ing illeg­ally over­rid­den dis­trict plans to build it. Last August, how­ever, the Supreme Court decided in favour of NZTA. “In one of the most tor­tu­ous pieces of logic I have ever read,” says Har­ris, “…they said that as the exist­ing pro­pos­al had yet to be built, and it and the new pro­pos­al couldn’t co-exist, the exist­ing pro­pos­al was irrel­ev­ant and needn’t be considered.”

NZTA’s Frith says that the express­way route is safer “because it’s four lanes. It’s a more resi­li­ent route.” He adds, “It bet­ter provides for the traffic capa­city. The WLR would have served a dif­fer­ent pur­pose, it would have worked as a loc­al arter­i­al but what we’re look­ing at is some­thing dif­fer­ent. [The WLR] does not ful­fil the needs of the project.”

For the sake of the express­way, many res­id­ents have been ous­ted from their homes per­man­ently, with oth­ers see­ing their com­munity and liv­ing area sig­ni­fic­antly trans­formed and deval­ued. NZTA also ini­tially planned to bull­doze through ances­tral land in Waik­an­ae that has belonged to des­cend­ants of Wi Para­ta since before 1840. Thanks to protests made by cur­rent own­er Patri­cia Grace, that land is now being set aside as a Māori reservation.

The express­way prom­ises 500 FTE jobs over the four- to five-year con­struc­tion peri­od and the kind of ‘big box’ devel­op­ment motor­ways bring (like the chain of fast-food out­lets Par­a­pa­raumu already sports along State High­way 1). Accord­ing to Save Kapiti, the 4,000 jobs the WLR offered included ongo­ing and loc­al jobs. Even by the NZTA’s own cal­cu­la­tions, the express­way achieves a bene­fit-cost ratio of only 0.23, where a rat­ing of 1 would have been too low to war­rant the con­struc­tion of a pro­ject before National’s first term.


It is clear that NZTA is hell-bent on build­ing the RoNS, and that there is more than pub­lic interest at stake. It seems they are still pre­par­ing for a future of road usage as though it were the 1950s — as though trains can’t move freight, traffic con­ges­tion can be built out of, and dies­el fumes rain money and prosper­ity on tax­pay­ers and com­munit­ies. In a rare moment of cyn­icism, Tim Jones also sug­gests that here in New Zea­l­and, “policy is cheap”. Yet July saw a hard won vic­tory for Jones, fel­low fly­over oppos­i­tion groups — and, in fact, any Wel­ling­to­ni­an in favour of sound and demo­crat­ic urb­an design and trans­port planning.


*Inform­a­tion provided by a traffic expert who wished to remain anonymous.

Photo by Mark Tantrum | FishHead Magazine



1950s                Ini­tial designs for the Kapiti Express­way are made.

1990s                 West­ern Link Road designed by James Lunday.

2000-02         Labour and the Greens cooper­ate to increase pub­lic trans­port fund­ing by 250 percent.

2002                  New Zea­l­and Trans­port Strategy launched.

2003                  Land Trans­port Man­age­ment Act comes into effect.

2002                  Case for Roads conference.

2004                  AA com­mis­sions the Allen Report, which advoc­ates for expan­sion of road­ing investment.

2006-07          New Zea­l­and Coun­cil for Infra­struc­ture Devel­op­ment releases reports advoc­at­ing for stable, long-term fund­ing for heavy invest­ment in state highways.

2008                  Road Trans­port For­um donates almost $100,000 to Nation­al elec­tion campaign.

Nation­al merges Trans­it New Zea­l­and and Trans­fund into one entity, the New Zea­l­and Trans­port Agency (NZTA), and intro­duces the require­ment that road­ing pro­jects also “give effect to” the Gov­ern­ment Policy State­ment on roads.

Roads of Nation­al Sig­ni­fic­ance (RoNS) plan kicks into action under then trans­port min­is­ter Steven Joyce.

Fly­over con­sulta­tion begins, with 79 per­cent sub­mis­sions oppos­ing the plan.

2009                 Nation­al over­rides Kapiti Council’s Dis­trict Plan to build the West­ern Link Road by rein­tro­du­cing the Kapiti Express­way, which fits into the RoNS plan.

2011                   Pub­lic con­sulta­tion on fly­over takes place.

2013                  Save Kapiti take their appeal through the High Court and into the Supreme Court, but NZTA prevails.

Coun­cil­lor Andy Foster changes his vote on the fly­over, mean­ing the coun­cil is in favour and oppos­i­tion is left to residents.

2014                  Patri­cia Grace’s appeal to have the Kapiti Express­way rerouted to avoid Māori land is successful.

22 July             The board announces draft decision to decline resource con­sent for the flyover.

15 August        Dead­line for com­ment on draft decision.

30 August       Final decision and report due. Assum­ing the final decision is unchanged, this will likely be fol­lowed by an appeal in the High Court from NZTA.[/info]

Photo by Mark Tantrum | FishHead Magazine

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