Mass transit has been brought to the forefront of a plan to overhaul Wellington's transport network.
The $6.4 billion Let's Get Wellington Moving (LGWM) plan has finally been announced, be it months late.
But it's light on detail, so much so the Treasury did not support a recommendation for Cabinet to endorse the indicative LGWM package.
Mass transit might be a priority for the project but exactly what technology will run along the route is yet to be decided.
The government-endorsed plan is quite different from LGWM's recommended programme of investment, with big roading projects taken off the cards.
However, the Government has backed mass transit, a second Mt Victoria Tunnel, better cycling and walking paths, unblocking the Basin Reserve and other public transport improvements.
Light on detail
Understanding the plan for LGWM proved to be confusing at times following today's announcement.
It was clear from the speeches made at the city's central railway station that mass transit was the winner, but what about all the other projects Wellingtonians were consulted on? What happened to those?
It's important to note the recommended programme for investment and what the Government has actually agreed to are two separate things, but both documents are posted on LGWM's website.
The Government didn't agree to fund all the things in the LGWM's governance group's recommendation, which the group anticipated considering current transport settings.
For example, the governance group recommended doubling the Terrace Tunnel but that's not a part of the final plan.
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LGWM will be delivered over 20 years.
But there is an early delivery programme to make a start while the wider plan is worked out.
That includes safer speed limits in the CBD, a crossing at Cobham Drive, as well as prioritising buses and improvements to walking and cycling on the Golden Mile, Thorndon Quay, and Hutt Rd.
There are no real solid timelines for the plan apart from "a few years" before spades are in the ground for mass transit followed by "several years" of construction.
The plan still needs to go before Wellington City Council and Wellington Regional Council for endorsement.
More detailed business cases will then have to be worked through.
Estimated capital costs for the major components of the plan have already been provided. They include rapid transit at $2.2 billion and a second Mt Victoria tunnel and widening Ruahine St at $700 million.
Plans for the transport overhaul are so light on detail the Treasury did not support a recommendation for Cabinet to endorse the indicative LGWM package.
"Making an announcement at this stage carries significant risks, as it will raise public expectations of future investment before the costs and benefits of the package are fully understood. The Minister's proposal also relies on several assumptions that have not been thoroughly tested, including exploring long-term financing to fund rapid transit," the Cabinet paper reads.
The Treasury instead recommended Cabinet merely note the package at this stage and invited the Transport Minister to report back with more cost details.
Phil Twyford said Cabinet decided to endorse the indicative package because Wellingtonians had waited decades for this kind of transport investment.
"Officials have done a lot of work crunching the numbers and looking through the cost implications, including on long-term financing for rapid transit. I will report back to Cabinet with a long-term financing proposal in due course."
The $6.4b project will be jointly paid for by the Government, Wellington City Council and Wellington Regional Council.
That money includes inflation proofing and financing costs of rapid transit.
The Government will foot 60 per cent of the bill while local government is set to contribute 40 per cent, subject to the seal of approval from councils.
The total government contribution over 30 years will be $3.8b.
Councils are yet to decide how their share of the project will be funded.
Mayor Justin Lester said they would look at network user charges, carpark levies, general rates increases of 1-1.3 per cent per annum over 12 years, and value capture options.
But city councillor Simon Woolf said it could be much more than that.
"That percentage is on top of what the rates increase would be anyhow and I could see that over a period of years and into the future that those increases could be huge."
Jacinda Ardern has ruled out further regional fuel taxes while she's Prime Minister.
There's no doubt mass transit is front and centre of the Let's Get Wellington Moving plan, but it involves significant further investigation.
That work will be extensive.
It includes looking into technology, route choice and extensions, integrations with the wider public transport network and funding options.
The LGWM governance group recommended a mass transit corridor from the railway station to the airport via a new waterfront spine, Taranaki St, the hospital, Newtown, Kilbirnie and Miramar.
This preferred route has been identified at a high level and further investigation is needed to assess the assumptions made in singling it out.
"The final mass transit route will depend on a number of variables, such as the mode of mass transit selected, and how best to integrate mass transit with other programme elements. This work will involve engagement with the community and with people who could be directly affected," LGWM documents read.
No decision has been made on the type of transport for the route, although the options gaining the most traction in the public arena are light rail and trackless trams.
Light Rail Transit Association spokesman Brent Efford said the proposal for mass transit was "unbelievably stupid".
"A waterfront route away from the Golden Mile – the region's main street – instead going via Taranaki St not Courtenay Place, and a winding indirect route to the airport via Miramar and mixed up with State Highway 1 will cost more and be too slow to be an attractive alternative to driving.
"But the worst aspect of the whole plan is the failure to have an integrated high-capacity regional rail transit system penetrating the CBD, like every other rail-equipped city in the world either already has or, like Auckland, is striving towards," he said.
What about the Basin?
"Unblocking the Basin" has an estimated capital cost of $190m.
LGWM was created after the battle for the Basin.
In 2014 a board of inquiry declined resource consent for the NZ Transport Agency's $90m Basin Reserve Flyover.
A total of 215 submissions were received by the board, and evidence was heard from 69 witnesses. A further 74 submitters made representations during the hearing.
The NZTA then appealed that decision to the High Court, but was unsuccessful.
Transport Minister Phil Twyford made it explicitly clear in today's announcement that the new plan for the Basin did not involve a flyover.
Instead there will be grade separation between north-south movements, east-west movements and any mass transit corridors.
"Engagement with the community will be needed to explore and develop a design that achieves transport outcomes, is sympathetic to the local geography, enhances the use of the Basin, and improves amenity around the reserve," LGWM documents read.
Save The Basin spokesman Tim Jones said details on the reserve were murky.
"We're concerned about some of the plans around the Basin. There's still a bit of wiggle room that they could try to sneak a Basin Reserve flyover or something like it through."
A win for the Greens
Greens co-leader James Shaw brought a copy of a campaign flyer from the 1990s to today's announcement.
It shows a profile shot of the young university student campaigning on the Greens ticket for Wellington City Council.
On the back of the leaflet is a list of the Greens' priorities for Wellington.
"A first class public transport system, a light-rail link from the airport to the railway station."
Shaw said today's announcement was a huge win.
"I'm absolutely delighted that after decades of campaigning for rapid transit through the city we're able to deliver it now that we're in government.
"Mass rapid transit is the best option because it gets people around the city far more efficiently and fast than single occupancy vehicles. And what that does, it frees up the roads for people who have to travel by car or for freight."
It's no wonder the Greens are celebrating with several proposed road projects also put on the backburner or canned completely.
The LGWM governance group recommended building a second Terrace Tunnel, moving the Inner City Bypass underground and a fourth southbound lane between Ngauranga and Aotea Quay.
But the Government wasn't on board with that.
It has agreed to fund a second Mount Victoria Tunnel, although that's set down for the second phase of the project.
Wellington Chamber of Commerce chief executive John Milford said he was pleased to see improvements to public transport connections.
But he said public transport improvements were not binary.
"Wellington's economy desperately needs infrastructure investment to unclog our roads and let freight and commuters move more freely around our city.
"Our successful airport is growing quickly, yet a four-lane road servicing it is over 20 years away. At certain times of the day it's quicker to fly from Auckland than drive the final 6km into town."
What's behind the delay?
The decision announced today was expected in August last year.
When asked what the hold-up was Transport Minister Phil Twyford said it was necessary to take the time to get the plan right.
"It's a big and complex undertaking; we're doing things that have not been done before."
They also had to consider what a prudent level of investment for the city the size of Wellington was and other projects the region would want in the next 30 years, he said.
LGWM documents posted online today were in line with that sentiment.
"This announcement provides a way forward for LGWM to deliver a step-change in transport to support the city and region's growth, and realise much of LGWM's vision, while being affordable within long-term transport funding priorities."