The Eye of the Fish

August 30, 2012

Two Tunnels too

News through the official channels today, to back up what we have suspected for some time: that the Mt Vic tunnel is to be duplicated. Not straight away, mind you, but a reasonably definite timeframe : starting about 2018.

This is bound to stir up a bit of a fuss, although perhaps not as much as the plans for Flyovers has stirred up. Some people will view the extra tunnel as just as bad as a flyover, because both of them are means of catering for and thereby encouraging traffic. Some would say it is just a waste of money, and there is no doubt that it will cost a lot.

Others are bound to be massively gung ho and sing the praises of a second tunnel, in the same way that some supported the flyover, in the belief that it will speed up traffic. I’m pretty sure that the traffic won’t speed up on the route due to a flyover alone – so supporters are likely to be grossly disappointed – unless there are improvements elsewhere as well. Actually, the flyover will, in my ever-so-humble opinion, improve traffic down the Adelaide Road, more than it will on the State Highway itself.

But the flyover just plain won’t work properly until there is a second tunnel, and two lanes all the way through to Rongotai. There is a good chance that it won’t work even then either, as it will still have a blockage to the north, at Taranaki St, at Victoria St, and at Willis St, but there is a chance that a second tunnel will help.

Unlike others who were also against the flyover, I’m not against a second tunnel. Kent Dunston and members of the Mt Vic Residents Society will probably say that its a bad thing and a waste of money, but I might have to disagree. I like tunnels. They have little of the urban design hangovers that a flyover gives a city. Yes, they chew up money, but let’s face it: Wellington has hills, and Wellington needs tunnels.

We have built tunnels before, when the city had a lot less money than it does now.

There is a long list of tunnels built in our fine city – built by hand, with pick and shovel, or even with a ladder on the back of a truck.

Nowadays of course we will have an even better way of doing it – with big machines. No, sadly, not the TBM tunnel boring machines, unless we plan to dig right across to Pencarrow. It’s more likely that it will be tunneled with a road header using NATM and nobody should be dying as a result of this proposed tunnel. It should be all quite safe. What we really need to do is to ensure that we get the best tunnel for our dollars. It should be an interesting few years!

30 - 08 - 12

This whole thing could have easily been avoided with just a little foresight and extra work.
It’s still not too late I say. Think big!

30 - 08 - 12

Wow – I had no idea. That was massive!
“The more dramatic Denny Regrade No. 1 (1908–1911) sluiced away the entire half of the hill closest to the waterfront, about 27 city blocks extending from Pine Street to Cedar Street and from Second to Fifth Avenues. 20,000,000 US gallons (75,708 kl) of water a day were pumped from Lake Union, to be aimed at the hill as jets of water, then run through tunnels to Elliott Bay.”

31 - 08 - 12

Hey Min are you saying regrade Mt Vic? – maybe push it in to Evans Bay so we can have a proper sized, international airport runway… then maybe we could connect it to the motorway by in-filling the harbour so the road by-passes town altogether… No flyover, no tunnels no interruption of Memorial Park… Awesome!

Max – I reckon you are right in alluding that the extra tunnel is less significant an issue to the cityscape as is the blinking flyover. Have people given in on the flyover issue? – I hope not

31 - 08 - 12

You may wish to check this proposed bill out. You never know Seattle may be allowed in this piece of legislation.

National War Memorial Park (Pukeahu) Empowering Bill (first reading held sent to Transport and Industrial Relations)

This is a Government Bill which seeks to grant the necessary statutory authorisations and property rights to the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and the New Zealand Transport Agency to enable completion of the National War Memorial (Pukeahu) by April 2015. The Committee has called for submissions by 6 September with a report due on 18 September, 2012. See:

Kent Duston
31 - 08 - 12

Max – there seem to be a few issues with the tunnel, so here are the concerns of the Mt Vic community as a pick-n-mix selection.

1. The heritage problems – The second tunnel is being put through along the path of the pilot tunnel, which results in the wholesale demolition of Paterson Street. Some of the houses have very significant heritage value and date to the 1870s, but as usual NZTA is treating them as simply a bunch of old houses that are ripe for demolition.

2. The transport problems – There’s little proof that a second tunnel will do anything other than move congestion 500 metres down the road in either direction. “Predict and provide” has been discredited for decades, for the simple reason that induced traffic simply overwhelms the extra capacity. And the fact that traffic volumes haven’t risen at anything near the 3% per annum predicted by NZTA doesn’t help their argument.

3. The financial problems – The full-fat Ruahine-to-Taranaki roading experience will cost a cool $400 million (plus inevitable cost over-runs) for about a kilometre of road that has a net negative BCR. This is the sort of lousy investment that would have made the Nationwide Finance directors blush with embarrassment. So we can’t afford to do anything about child poverty, but we can afford $400 million for this … ?

4. The design problem – One of the proposals for Option X was that a second tunnel could run underneath the current tunnel; I mean, if we’re going to hose money against the wall irrespective of the return (see point 3) then let’s at least get some good urban design out of it. However the designs put forward by NZTA are simply dumb-ass retreads of the sorts of 1960s flyover-and-tunnel approaches that have long been abandoned by the rest of the OECD.

Of course, not everyone in the neighbourhood is opposed to a second tunnel – I was speaking to one person a few months ago who thought it would enable him to get to the airport faster, right up until I pointed out that the slip-road by St Josephs would be the first casualty of the flyover.

So I agree that tunnels are cool – it’s just that this one won’t work, is too expensive, is in the wrong place and is poorly designed. Other than that, it has my full support.

31 - 08 - 12

Kent – my replies to your comments:
1 – agreed. So, we have to work to get NZTA to change that viewpoint.
2 – agreed, totally.
3 – agreed. Makes no sense to me at all, but you will never get Joyce to divert money for child poverty, so, sadly, irrelevant?
4 – agreed. So, we have to work to get NZTA to change that viewpoint too.

31 - 08 - 12

Those old heritage photos are excellent! Seems like a nice way to get a few million more off the tunneling bill – dig it by hand! None of that fancy machine stuff – why not look at a simpler, more wholesome style of construction?

Kent Duston
31 - 08 - 12

Max – I don’t quite have your optimism about changing the NZTA viewpoint, as I think the problem is one of competence rather than outlook.

I’m sure the NZTA traffic engineers didn’t sit around in a meeting and say to themselves, “how can we turn the Basin Reserve into a totally crap concrete jungle?” Even in my more cynical moments about NZTA – when neither Rod James nor Jenny Chetwynd can be bothered turning up to public meetings, when they send consultants from Opus to “engage” with local communities, when they ignore literally thousands of public submissions – I don’t think they genuinely set out to do a bad job; they’re just utterly incapable of doing a better one.

There’s always something in the list of objections that jerks your chain; in the case of Cr Pannett, it’s the sheer folly of their transport decisions. But in my case it’s item 4, the needless, wanton destruction of any sense of urban design in Wellington.

Let’s run a little thought experiment. Let’s assume the Basin Reserve was this fantastic internationally-famous cricket ground simply awash in sporting and cultural heritage; and let’s assume it was embedded in a historical precinct of the coolest little capital in the world. It just happens that a (decreasing) bunch of cars drive around it each day, so we want to smooth out the traffic flows without completely buggering the very atmosphere that makes the place special. If we thought about the solution to that challenge in urban design terms, would the end result look anything like what NZTA have proposed? Of course it wouldn’t.

If we gave the problem to Norman Foster, we’d get something with the panache of the Millau Viaduct. Heck, if we gave the problem to Ian Athfield we’d get something with the wit and flair of Civic Square; if he can take what was a pretty unprepossessing roadway between some ordinary civic buildings and turn it into Wellington’s front room decorated with nikau, then I’m sure he could do something truly inspired with the Basin and the tunnel and Buckle Street.

Urban designers have a weight of responsibility on their shoulders, in my view. We get to live with the consequences of their decisions and designs for decades or generations or centuries, so they have the responsibility to do a decent job. To some degree we can excuse the derivative third-rate built-down-to-a-price rubbish in some of the commercial realm – and not all of it is – because it comes and goes relatively quickly in comparison to our civic buildings and urban landscapes. If designers want to work in the public rather than private realm, they have the obligation to do the best damn job they possibly can, in my view.

So the real reason NZTA is making such an unholy mess of the Basin precinct is because the underskilled kids they have on the job simply aren’t up to the task.

I spent a day listening to the children and their Opus minders at the open day NZTA ran for “community engagement” purposes last year. Leaving aside the cowardice and cynicism that saw absolutely no NZTA senior management at the session, my overwhelming thought was “do the Mums of these kids know they’re here?” There was no-one with the stature of an Athfield or a Foster expounding a vision for a heritage precinct; there were merely a collection of journeyman traffic engineers with less than a decade’s experience under their belts misquoting BCRs and professing ignorance of the basic principles of urban design. This wasn’t New Zealand’s A team dealing with one of the country’s most important urban areas; it was the warm leftovers who lacked the ability to get an OE job in Europe where they might learn their trade, screwing around with bad 1960s designs that they were too timid to re-think.

As everyone knows, Option X produces a far better outcome for Wellington. But the fact that the Architecture Centre can pull it out of the hat with only a few weeks work, using mostly the talents of their (talented) students shows how lacking NZTA really are.

If Ian Athfield put his hand up to redesign the Basin and the tunnel and Buckle Street, I’d be signing up as an enthusiastic supporter. If NZTA had an ounce of sense, they’d stop looking at the precinct as a traffic problem and put it out for international competition as an urban design challenge, with a byproduct of wanting to improve the traffic flows. If Bilbao – a town barely bigger than Wellington – can attract someone with the stature of Gehry to design an art museum, then I’m sure there would be some people with some pretty impressive CVs lining up to do some spectacular things at the Basin.

From where I sit, it’s hard to tell whether NZTA’s idiotic approach to the problem is the result of a failure of imagination, a failure to attract even mildly talented staff, or a failure of management. But no matter how you cut it, what they’ve proposed to date will undoubtedly be a failure.

60 MPa
31 - 08 - 12

Just a note as regards tunnels, if you double-stack them then the upper one would transfer some loads to the lower one. It may be easier all round -no pun intended- to drill the second one below and to one side

minor detail

1 - 09 - 12

Kent – Bravo! Thank you for that Piece from the heart – couldn’t have put it into words any better than that. Totally agree with your sentiments.

2 - 09 - 12

slightly unrelated, but worth a read from sunday’s christchurch press.
perhaps we could forward it to the NZTA?

2 - 09 - 12

Minimus – did you get to the TEDx talks down in Chch this weekend? Sounds like it might have been interesting? Wanna do a post some time and bring us up to date with what is happening down there?

2 - 09 - 12

No, i didn’t go, I only heard about it on thursday, it wasn’t very well publicised.
I do have a few ideas on posts I’ve been working on, but they haven’t come to fruition. Will work on it…

2 - 09 - 12

Is it true that there’s a pilot tunnel running parallel to the Mt Vic tunnel?
I remember someone ages ago saying the closed up entrance is in some backyard on Paterson street.

3 - 09 - 12

Yes, there is indeed a pilot tunnel, some 2-3 m in diameter, which ends up in a Paterson St backyard.
NZTA plan to use it as set out for their route.
Seems to me that if the pilot tunnel was reinforced with concrete and steel reinforcing, that they’d be better off to avoid it…

3 - 09 - 12

I’m curious if anyone knows anything about the tunnel in the northern town belt. When I first arrived in Wellington I bought a book of various local tramps and bush walks and one talked about this tunnel. I went out and did it – it took some exploring to find the only thing that even resembled a tunnel. It was basically what Maximus describes as the pilot tunnel in mt. Vic – about 2m diameter – looking more like a storm culvert than anything. I was pretty disappointed with my discovery. Anyway, anyone know what the story is about it? It is about half way up mt. Tinakori on the Thorndon side. Was it a pilot tunnel? Was it intended to connect thorndon with wilton? Enquiring minds want to know.

3 - 09 - 12

“Seems to me that if the pilot tunnel was reinforced with concrete and steel reinforcing, that they’d be better off to avoid it…”

Just steel apparently…

3 - 09 - 12

“Enquiring minds want to know” – could be the Thomas Tunnel – about 40m long apparently, and probably related to the nearby quarry (where it gets its name from), or, at a stretch, even early gold mining (traces of gold were found in Wgtn hills, but before you start digging, it never amounted to much).

4 - 09 - 12

The Thomas Tunnel on Tinakori is shown on page 23 of this:
Not much good for helping with traffic though…

5 - 09 - 12

So if you’re the person on Paterson street with that Tunnel entrance in your back yard, are you able to enter it “legally”?

Looking on Google street view, I’m just wondering where it is, so well hidden.

Oh yeah
6 - 09 - 12

Hmmmm, it’s pretty well hidden. I think that the Mt Vic Residents Assoc know exactly whose back yard it’s in, but you certainly can’t tell from an aerial view. There are, without doubt, many strange things buried on the side of Mt Vic, and this is but one of them.

Still, I suspect they’ll be acutely aware of things when two lanes of traffic start coming through here!