Commission says Wellington’s transport plan is counterproductive to carbon targets

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The government is moving forward with a second Mount Victoria tunnel and light rail in Wellington. Video / Mark Mitchell

The Infrastructure Commission says the preferred option for Wellington’s $7.4 billion transport plan is “fundamentally counterproductive” to meeting national carbon reduction targets.

Last week the government announced how it wanted to progress with Let’s Get Wellington Moving (LGWM).

The plan called for light rail on Island Bay, bus priority to the east, and a grade separation at the Basin Reserve.

There was a new Mount Victoria tunnel with two lanes for cars and two lanes for public transport, while the existing tunnel would be converted to one for walking and cycling.

But a report released today, which the Herald requested under the Official Information Act three weeks ago, shows the Te Waihanga Infrastructure Commission has raised concerns about the option.

At the beginning of May, Te Waihanga undertook a review of the economic and carbon analysis of the transport plan.

He said Option 4, not Option 1 as the government later argued, was the better choice from both a climate and an economic perspective.

“And [it is] the only option likely to be compatible with our international carbon emissions commitments,” the report said.

Option 4 keeps the light rail to the south, but drops the grade separation at the basin. It has a new tunnel for walking and cycling, while the existing Mount Victoria tunnel remains for vehicles.

Te Waihanga said Option 1 only started delivering net carbon emissions reductions in 2055, while Option 4 started it a decade earlier in 2045.

An artist's impression of rapid transit in Post Office Square as part of Let's Get Wellington Moving.  Picture / Provided
An artist’s impression of rapid transit in Post Office Square as part of Let’s Get Wellington Moving. Picture / Provided

He said Option 1 would result in a net increase in emissions by 2050 compared to a modest net reduction in emissions by then under Option 4.

“Te Waihanga is disappointed that none of the options presented result in substantial emissions reductions, in line with our 2050 targets,” the report said.

“Furthermore, all the options presented have very high costs relative to the magnitude of the emission reductions.”

The report says congestion pricing would be key to LGWM’s success.

“Further interventions should focus on unbuilt solutions and making better use of existing infrastructure, through measures such as pricing, travel demand management and reallocating existing road space to walking and on the bike.”

The report also revealed that the level of carbon emission reduction is highly dependent on the level of urban development.

Te Waihanga therefore found it “surprising” that the business case provided little certainty about the timing and level of housing intensification associated with each option.

LGWM has various investment objectives, with carbon emissions and mode shift given the highest weighting of 40%.

In response to Te Waihanga’s report, LGWM Independent Chairman Dave Brash said the program must also consider the other goals of quality of life, access, resilience and safety.

Brash said their input was “much appreciated,” but he disputed some of the assumptions made.

He said LGWM’s indicative business case was commissioned ahead of Net Zero’s goal, so the criticism was “unfair”.

But LGWM was still closely aligned with broader emissions reduction outcomes and there was room for more emphasis on congestion pricing, he said.

Brash felt that Te Waihanga had “underweighted” the role of urban intensification in achieving the twin goals of encouraging modal shift and developing greater public and active transport options.

He argued that Option 1 would likely achieve higher land intensity than Option 4.

“We are committed to ensuring that we make decisions under this program that are best aligned with the wellbeing outcomes of all New Zealanders,” Brash said.

Green Party transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter.  Photo/Mark Mitchell
Green Party transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter. Photo/Mark Mitchell

Green Party transport spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter said the government and city of Wellington had declared a climate emergency.

“This means we must direct all transport investment towards projects that will have the greatest impact on increasing mobility while reducing carbon pollution before 2050.”

She said the review confirmed that Option 4 was the best for the climate under all land use scenarios.

“It’s really important that strong evidence and analysis inform the options as they are developed from now on.”

City and regional councils are due to vote tomorrow on whether to back the government’s preferred LGWM option.

Regional council climate committee chairman and adviser Thomas Nash said the information came too late to have any real impact on council decisions tomorrow.

But he said they should be careful and rule out Option 4 altogether at this stage.

“If the Infrastructure Commission tells us we need to do more work on the climate and economic analysis of the current preferred option, then we should do that.”

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