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PoliticsApril 15, 2024

Revealed: A cost-benefit analysis for Wellington’s long tunnel


Does the capital really need a really long tunnel? Quite possibly, reckons Simeon Brown. Here’s how the transport minister might* have decided a project once rejected because it was eye-wateringly expensive was worth another look.

Transport minister Simeon Brown has asked Waka Kotahi officials to investigate building a long tunnel underneath Wellington, directly linking the Terrace Tunnel to Kilbirnie. The twin two-lane tunnels would be four kilometres long, by far the longest road tunnel ever built in New Zealand.

The long tunnel was considered at the start of the Let’s Get Wellington Moving project, and was rejected early in the process. None of the details of the proposal were ever released to the public, but LGWM reference group chairman Daran Ponter said the costs of the tunnel were “eye-watering“.

So why did Brown think the long tunnel was worth reinvestigating? The Spinoff can exclusively reveal a detailed cost-benefit analysis provided to the transport minister by his office.

Cost: It would be unbelievably expensive.

Benefit: It would leave the next Labour government with less money to waste on irresponsible projects like light rail or social welfare.

Cost: It would be extremely complex, requiring years of reports and business cases before construction even began.

Benefit: It would provide a vital boost for struggling local consulting firms.

Cost: Based on New Zealand’s record of infrastructure delivery, it would almost certainly end up billions over budget.

Benefit: We can fix that by simply firing 6.5% of the staff.

Cost: It could be politically risky, given how much National attacked Labour for expensive and unrealistic projects, like the second harbour crossing and tunnelled light rail.

Benefit: It shows a refreshingly bipartisan commitment to bad infrastructure planning.

Cost: It would mostly only benefit out-of-town visitors who drive directly through the city to the airport.

Benefit: That describes most MPs.

Cost: A 4km-long tunnel would be incredibly boring to drive through.

Benefit: It could add excitement via movie tie-ins, like dressing the tunnel up as one of the worms from Dune.

Cost: The land under Wellington has a high water table, which could cause flooding.

Benefit: The tunnel could double as a much-needed sewage and stormwater pipe.

Cost: The ground is unstable and would be a huge earthquake risk.

Benefit: The Long Tunnel Earthquake Victims Memorial Tunnel will be a value-add to the local tourist economy.

Cost: It wouldn’t have the same benefits for higher-density housing as light rail.

Benefit: A constrained housing supply is an important part of our landlord-based economy.

Cost: It would inevitably contribute to more car dependency and suburban sprawl on the outskirts of the city.

Benefit: It would help Lower Hutt subsume Wellington into the greater Hutt metropolis.

Cost: It would induce demand, leading to even more traffic and congestion.

Benefit: The Even Longer Tunnel will be a winning campaign policy for National in 2044.

*not really


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