Facts don't support expressway
Dominion Post 18/03/2013
It and the board of inquiry that gave the green light to the expressway are wrong. There is no reason to believe four lanes from Levin to the airport will improve traffic in Wellington, or facilitate economic development.
To try to understand why this route is so important, I checked the Ministry of Transport statistics on freight movements. In 2006-2007 less than 0.004 per cent of all freight within New Zealand was moved by air. I concluded that it's not about getting freight to the airport.
So it must be about getting people to the airport.
According to Wellington Airport's audited annual report dated 31 March 2012 "domestic passenger numbers were flat". So no growth there either.
My next stop is New Zealand Transport Agency's traffic count data. It shows that for the 10-year period 2002-2012 traffic volumes on SH1 through Levin at Oxford St have fallen from 13,870 vehicles per day to 12,909 vehicles per day.
At Paraparaumu there were 24,300 vehicles per day in 2002 and 24,428 in 2012, an increase of 128 vehicles per day. Mackays Crossing has the biggest increase I could find, from 23,600 vehicles per day to 23,974 vehicles per day in 2012. That is an increase in traffic volumes of 1.5 per cent over the 10-year period.
Statistics NZ Commuting Patterns in New Zealand 1996-2006 showed that in the 2006 census 60 per cent of people living on the Kapiti Coast worked in the district.
This was the highest proportion of all the main centres in Wellington. It means the Kapiti transport network doesn't need to carry large numbers of people into Wellington for work. There is no new information available to suggest this has changed.
Put simply, there is no evidence to back up the constant messages that a four-lane expressway is needed for the future.
This is not to deny that some improvement will be necessary. The question is whether a high speed four-lane expressway is what is needed, or will even be helpful.
My own research has found that even NZTA officers believed the best option for such a road through Kapiti was along the existing SH1 and railway corridor. This was in line with NZTA's own urban design panel review of the options, a review that was discounted by the board of inquiry.
I spent 12 years working in Birmingham City Centre, known for the original spaghetti junction and its concrete collar, an elevated four-lane high speed road that circled the city.
For the past 20 years to enable economic growth and development, the city engineers have been demolishing the elevated motorway and reconstructing the boulevard-style roads they took away decades earlier in an effort to massage life back into the city.
It has worked - the removal of the elevated road network has brought major business and investment to the city.
When I saw the proposal put forward by Kapiti Coast District Council for the two-lane Western Link Road, I had no hesitation in backing the concept. It would be world class, 21st century infrastructure.
I am amazed that similar approaches are not being taken at the Basin Reserve. Birmingham is not alone, there are many cities around the world that are knocking down elevated motorways in urban areas and replacing them with boulevards.
Why isn't this modern approach being adopted in Wellington, especially when it will get better economic and social outcomes at lower cost?
The Mackays to Peka Peka board of inquiry was provided with results of tests that showed a two-lane local arterial would provide journey time-savings for all journeys, local, regional and national.
Little or no mention of such details are provided in the draft report.
Traffic engineers in the 1950s thought elevated motorways would solve congestion.
We now know building new roads provides no long-term congestion benefits.
The models that are being used in the Wellington area do not represent what will actually end up happening.
Michelle Lewis is an independent transport consultant who has previously worked in the UK, for the New Zealand Transport Agency, and for Kapiti District Council.