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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol. 37, No 21. August 28, 1974

The end of the road to nowhere

page break

The end of the road to nowhere

Cars stuck in traffic

The proposal by the National Roads Board to stop the construction of the Wellington Urban Motorway at Ghuznee Street has aroused a lot of [unclear: ire] in Wellington over the last fortnight. Many local members of parliament, and the City Council/with the sole exception of David Shand, have joined the local press in condemning the decision. They have produced a variety of insubstantial arguments to justify the continuation of the motorway to the Basin Reserve and eventually to the Airport. They insist that the motorway must go the full distance without giving any consideration to the problems of where it is that the cars wish to go, or what to do with the cars when they get there.

The basic idea of the motorway, when the planning of it began nearly 20 years ago, was to enable the more rapid flow of commuter traffic from the Hutt Valley and the Porirua Basin into the Wellington central business district, which in those days comprised the area of Lambton Quay Willis Street, Manners Street, and Cuba Street. It was then thought in the latter part of the 1950s, that as Wellington City grew, the logical direction in which it would expand was' up the Te Aro flat — i.e. the rash of high-rise building was to take place in the Ghuznee Street and Vivian Street area. And if this was where the employment was to be, it seemed sensible that there should be some quicker way to get people in and out from the Northern suburbs, rather than forcing them through endless sets of traffic lights up and down Willis Street, Lambton Quay, and the waterfront. If all the employment was to be available in the Te Aro area, why not build a motorway, such as befits any self-respecting capital city, to allow commuters rapid access by bypassing or otherwise avoiding the central city? Hence the rationale for the foothills motorway.

But as we are all aware, during the 1960s, Wellington has grown in a rather different way to that proposed by the planners. The government centre sprouted in Thorndon, and around the Railway Station area of the central business district. With the overthrow of a town-planning zoning decision in the courts, the Shell Company was able to lead the procession of high-rise buildings up the Terrace. Wellington's development of employment opportunities within the central business district has not taken place in the Te Aro area, but instead, almost without exception, it has been concentrated North of the Willis Street Manners Street intersection. It would seem that there was little point in even taking the motorway as far as Ghuznee Street — it might as well end at the Terrace on—and—off ramps.

But there is another problem common to virtually all urban motorways. There is hardly an abundance of car parking space in central Wellington on an ordinary weekday. All the main parking buildings are generally full, and kerb-space is rarely empty. The motorway, when it is completed as far as the Terrace and Ghuznee Street exit points will encourage more cars to be brought into the city by commuters. It seems a trifle anachronistic that the Wellington City Council should be continually haranguing the university for not providing sufficient car-parking space, while at the same time it encourages the Ministry of Works and the National Roads Board to complete a motorway which will create far more parking problems in the central city.

The only answer to the City Council's problems would seem to be the construction of a forest of parking buildings in the central city area. This must, at this stage of the city's development, be a very costly operation, involving the destruction of many sound buildings. Making the city an island in the middle of motorways makes nonsense of Councillor Fowler's plans to make the city a more human place — a place for people to be able to live in and move about in freely outside the normal business hours of nine to five.

A variety of arguments have been produced by the local politicians to argue that the motorway should proceed. One of the more interesting is that produced by the MP for Mirimar, Bill Young. He claims that the decision to stop the motorway at Ghuznee Street is giving undue favouritism to Auckland at the expense of Wellington. He proves that Auckland is getting 2½ times as much funds from the NRB as is Wellington. However, it is likely that Auckland gets 2½ times as much money because Auckland has 2½ times as many people.

Another argument for the motorway is that presented by W.G. Morrison, a former Wellington City Councillor and chairman of the town-planning committee, in a letter to the editor of the Dominion, He claims that at present, the only ways out of Wellington in time of earthquake lie between Stewart Dawson's corner and the sea, and that therefore Wellington must have the motorway as an emergency exist. A substantial part of the motorway is built along an earthquake fault line in Shell gully, and thus its durability in time of earthquake would seem somewhat doubtful. Much of the rest of the motorway is built on reclaimed land along the shore between Thorndon and Petone, which might well disappear in an earthquake! So much for the motorway as an emergency exit!

Another argument concocted in favour of continuation of the motorway (this time from a Dominion editorial and from Mr W.G. Morrison) is that it will improve the visual appearance of the city. According to the Dominion: "The motorway is not a luxury or a transport extra, whatever may be said by some environmentalists who would prefer shabby old slums to easy movement of people." (August 15) Mr Morrison expresses similar approval of the improvement in the appearance of Thorndon, in the Hobson Street—Hill Street length of the motorway. No mention is made of the fate of the many people who used to live in houses pulled down ahead of the advancing motorway. No mention is made of the present housing shortage in Wellington, which is in large measure attributable to the motorway construction. The slums that the Dominion describes are considered purely for their visual impact, rather than for the people that presently live in them. And then, amazingly, the Dominion manages to condemn environmentalists for putting primary emphasis on the appearance of the city!!

And so the motorway is being stopped by the National Roads Board, along with a number of other motorways around the country. Even if it is being stopped for the wrong reasons — as part of a financial cutback, rather than for the more sensible reason that it is only the creation of empire-building planner — it is still a good thing to see it finishing. In answer to the question with which the Evening Post headlined an editorial: "What use is half a motorway?", I think we can answer that half a motorway is about as much use as a whole motorway — and many millions of dollars cheaper.