Big issues in regional transport

Transport remains one of the Wellington region's most vexed and difficult issues. Although there are plenty of initiatives and solutions proposed, the key is still securing government funding.

In aviation, Wellington International Airport Ltd (WIAL) has just released a long term strategy plan for consultation. It envisages passenger numbers doubling in the next ten years but only a ten percent increase in aircraft movements.

The difference is the expected shift to larger aircraft both domestically and internationally. WIAL chief executive Stephen Fitzgerald says the $450 million investment plan allows for the introduction of modern long range mid sized jets like the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350.

However part of the airport plan also requires the roading links to the airport to be operating successfully.

State highway one from Levin to the airport is now designated a road of national significance, which attracts extra attention and potentially higher priority funding from the newly formed New Zealand Transport Agency.

The main road transport issue is Transmission Gully, the controversial new four lane highway that will take traffic away from the current coastal route.  

Transmission Gully goes behind the hills, and has the support of most councils, although funding remains unresolved. Transport Minister Stephen Joyce was recently given a helicopter eye view of the area.

The regional chamber of commerce is hoping that the government's forthcoming National Policy Statement on transport will provide some certainty on land transport priorities and the levels of government funding. 

Also high on the region's priority list is the Ngarunga to airport corridor, where local councils are considering plans for a flyover by the Basin Reserve, widening the Mount Victoria tunnel and diverting more traffic around the eastern bays. All moves have provoked some level of controversy.

On State Highway two through the Hutt Valley and over the Rimutaka Hills to the Wairarapa, the regional transport plan aims to shift the movement of logs from trucks to rail and to upgrade sections of the road to make travel easier.

The Dowse interchange in the Hutt Valley is already under construction with the Melling interchange next.

Wellington commuters are big users of public transport. Nationally a quarter of the total bus rides and two thirds of rail passenger trips are taken in the Wellington region.

The regional council is buying 45 new rail passenger carriages from South Korea at a cost of $210 million and is bringing back some retired carriages as a stop gap measure.

Regional Council Chair Fran Wilde concedes "the rail system is stuffed because there has been no investment for a decade. We are pretty desperate to get the new trains on line."

The demand for public transport is forecast to increase, and so will the regional council's transport rate. While central government meets 80% of the capital costs and 25% of the running costs, commuters pay for half the operating costs and ratepayers the remaining quarter.

Transport rates are expected to double in the next ten years, says Wilde.

Published in the National Business Review of 22 May 2009