Following on from our recent post dissing the likelihood of the “Transmission Gully” project ever getting off the ground, Transit made a big splash with a 4 page advert in the local rag (sorry DomPost, but your quality has been on a solid downwards trajectory lately and you no longer deserve the epithet of national newspaper), setting out improvements: a “new route” (which seems to be “using the gully floor” instead of “half way up the bottom of a steep slope”), a reduction in the number of intersections, and a confirmation that it would be 4 lanes (ie 2 lanes each way). Somehow from that there is a saving of over $235 million, certainly nothing to be sneezed at. Why, that would get you one and a half new light rail systems (a relative snip at $140 million) in central Wellington, right there! And there’s the rub: Mayor Kerry is quoted on the front page as saying that Transmission Gully was still in Never-Never Land, and that unless central government stumps up with another $600 million, it isn’t going to go ahead. It’s worth noting that the definition of boondoggle not only includes: work or activity that is worthless or pointless but gives the appearance of having value, but also the following: a public project of questionable merit that typically involves political patronage and graft. Transmission Gully certainly qualifies as having questionable merit – only time will tell if it goes ahead, and if that go-ahead involves political patronage. Seeing as central government has already come up with $400 million, and wanted local government to come up with the rest of the $ 1 billion, it certainly looks like a solid impasse right there. Go directly to jail, do not pass Go.
But it wasn’t always like that. Just a few years ago, when costs were cheaper, it was Transit who was dragging the chain, and saying the prospect of T Gully was an unlikely event, if memory serves me right. Presumably hands were slapped, heads were rolled, and – well, hell, after all, Transit is a roading body – they suddenly found a new-found enthusiasm for the previous ‘uneconomic’ route. So what is the reason behind the change from half way up a hill to down in the valley, and if it is such a good economic move, why didn’t they do it from the start? Well I’m no roading engineer and so can’t say for certain (Transit roading engineers: feel free to blog in anonymously with your reply), but at a guess: halfway up the hill was thought to be a better place in terms of orthodox road building, rather than in the shifting shingle at the base of the gully. It is an earthquake faultline after all, and the ground conditions are not good (witness washouts on the Paekakariki hills nearby, with thousands of tonnes of gravel ending up in the bedrooms of a motel – twice), and there is a small trickle / raging torrent (depending on weather) in the bottom. The section above shows the previous designated section along the route, while the picture below is the Otira Gorge viaduct (in Arthur’s Pass) designed by Beca and constructed / opened in 2005/2006 (and presumably more difficult ground than the Gully route).
Transit is now saying that they had it wrong before :
“The preferred route generally runs lower along the gully to reduce the height and number of large cuts into the hillside, meaning the risk of a landslide is reduced. Fewer bridges and culverts along the preferred route means there will be less obstruction to the natural movement of debris in streams during storms. This means that the overall risk of storm damage to structures as a result of debris build-up or washouts is reduced.”
They’re doing away with the viaduct across the faultline as well, using a large earth berm, so we won’t have anything as interesting as the picture above either, where the viaduct cleverly and delicately steps across the shifting gravel slope, the stream and the faultline all in one go; ending up on the other side of the valley while you motor happily on to your destination at Franz Joseph glacier, without barely noticing a thing.
No, here in the Gully route, the valley is wider, the traffic is heavier, the road is 2-3 times the width, and route is steeper, meaning that if you live in Kapiti and want this to become reality, you’re going to have to delve deeply into your pocket: because apart from weekends away in Waikanae, we Wellingtonians don’t want it. If we’re going to go further (and let’s face it, with the next stops being Bulls, Shannon, Palmerston North and Woodville, who can blame us), we’ll take a plane instead.