Transport minister Simeon Brown and infrastructure minister Chris Bishop (Image: Getty)
Transport minister Simeon Brown and infrastructure minister Chris Bishop (Image: Getty)

The BulletinApril 16, 2024

Mega tunnel idea prompts anger and satire but finds a couple of champions

Transport minister Simeon Brown and infrastructure minister Chris Bishop (Image: Getty)
Transport minister Simeon Brown and infrastructure minister Chris Bishop (Image: Getty)

One proponent has suggested the minister give Elon Musk a call about the newly resurrected mega tunnel idea for Wellington, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

‘We’re having a really good look at it” — Chris Bishop

The Herald’s Georgina Campbell broke the news yesterday that the government has asked Waka Kotahi to investigate building a four-kilometre long tunnel underneath Wellington, linking the Terrace Tunnel to Kilbirnie. Transport minister Simeon Brown said a long tunnel could make trips in the Wellington region to the airport up to 15 minutes faster. The current proposals for a second Mt Victoria tunnel are estimated to save travellers between two and three minutes on a trip to the airport. The tunnel would be close to twice the length of Auckland’s Waterview tunnel, which is currently the longest road tunnel in the country. Infrastructure minister Chris Bishop confirmed yesterday that the government was “having a really good look” at the idea. The Wellington tunnel proposal was considered in 2021 and subsequently rejected due to cost. The Spinoff’s Joel MacManus turned his mind to imagining what kind of cost-benefit analysis would have been required to resurrect the idea.

‘Frankly, astonishing’ — regional council transport chairperson

The news prompted Greater Wellington regional council transport chairperson Thomas Nash to say the announcement showed “an astonishing misunderstanding of transport priorities at a national level”. “We have new inter-island ferries that we need, we have massive upgrades to regional rail/metropolitan rail that we need, we have basic stuff like bus lanes, more buses that we need. The idea that a multi-billion dollar tunnel underneath Wellington for the 30% of traffic going out to the east should be the top of your priority list is, frankly, astonishing,” he said.

Anger in wake of ferry project cancellation

As Campbell reports, while costings aren’t known, Nash understood initial estimates could be as much as $10b – three times the cost of the cancelled mega ferry project. Labour’s transport spokesman Tangi Utikere said cancelling the urgently needed Cook Strait ferries and announcing the prospect of another tunnel in Wellington was not good decision-making. Campbell points to several cost comparisons on other significant transport projects including:

  • Auckland’s 2.4km Waterview tunnel: $1.4b
  • Auckland’s 3.45km City Rail Link project: $5.5b
  • Estimated costs on second Mt Victoria tunnel: $2.2b
  • Estimated overall costs on cancelled ferry project: close to $3b

‘Tell the minister, he could get Elon Musk to build it’

Not everyone thinks it’s a Lyle Lanley-esque flight of fancy. As The Post’s Erin Gourley reports this morning, the idea has a couple of champions. Transport expert and former head of Metlink and Transdev, Greg Pollock, said the long tunnel seemed like a “great idea” and was superior to the second Mt Victoria. Addressing concerns about earthquake resilience, Ian Brown of a geological engineering company Ian Brown Associates, said tunnels perform “incredibly well” under earthquake loading. “Tunnels are technically feasible anywhere, it all boils down to affordability,” he said. Acknowledging that Elon Musk’s HyperLoop project, a futuristic transport solution that involved whizzing people around in tubes at speed, had problems, Brown suggested the minister could get “Elon Musk to build” the tunnel. One of the most well-known players in the hyperloop space, HyperLoop One, shutdown at the end of 2023.

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