12 May 2009

Government rules out Waterview twin-tunnel

8:19 pm on 12 May 2009

The Government has ruled out a fully underground route for Auckland's controversial Waterview Connection - the country's most expensive road project.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce announced on Tuesday the Government will not fund the twin-tunnel option through the Mt Albert electorate, which the previous Labour-led Government had preferred.

Mr Joyce said that would have cost almost $2.8 billion, whereas three more cost-effective options to complete the western ring route have been identified, ranging from $1 billion to $1.4 billion.

The cheapest option would be fully above-ground, while the other two would combine underground and above ground roading. This means the Government will not now have to borrow to fund the project.

The final decision is in the hands of the Transport Agency, which met on Tuesday afternoon. It will announce its preferred option on Wednesday.

Mr Joyce says whichever option goes ahead, about 240 privately-owned residential properties will have to be demolished, as well as some commercial buildings.

The Transport Agency says it is contacting affected home owners before making its announcement.

Mr Joyce told Checkpoint on Monday he does not want a surface motorway to replace the axed tunnel project.

"I would certainly not be comfortable with just a surface option without any form of environmental mitigation. And I'd be surprised, frankly, given the agency's track record that would be their preference."

Residents who fought for six years for the the twin tunnels for the Waterview connection through Mt Albert are angy and promising to fight on.

Waterview resident Margi Watson is scathing of the Government's move, saying the decision not to go ahead with the tunnels is short-sighted.

"It's a really cheap and nasty option that means slaughter of a whole lot of communities and the green space that links all those communities together."

Setback for Auckland, says Labour

The Waterview Connection has become a central issue in the Mt Albert by-election, to be contested in June.

Labour Party transport spokesperson Darren Hughes says Aucklanders are getting an inferior option from the Government and locals will be disappointed.

"The project is a huge one, but it's also had huge consultation. People have been very clear they want the two deep tunnels going under that volcanic rock around Waterview and Labour supports that. This is a big setback for Auckland."

Mr Hughes says the tunnel option would have had the least impact on Mt Albert residents.

Green Party co-leader and Mt Albert candidate Russel Norman says bulldozing a motorway through the middle of the area is a disgrace.