The Mount Victoria Tunnel in Wellington
June 1, 2009 Leave a comment
The tunnel is 623 metres (slightly more than a third of a mile) long and 5 metres (16.4 ft) in height, connecting Hataitai to the centre of Wellington and the suburb of Mount Victoria, under the mount of the same name. It is part of State Highway 1.
The tunnel was built in 15 months by the Hansford and Mills Construction Company. The project cost around £132,000 and greatly reduced travel time between the Eastern Suburbs and the central business district of Wellington. Construction employed a standard tunnel-excavation technique in which two teams of diggers begin on either side of the obstacle to be tunnelled through, eventually meeting in the centre.
The initial breakthrough, when the two separate teams of diggers met, occurred at 2.30pm on 31 May 1930, and the first people to pass through the breakthrough were tunnellers Philip Gilbert and Alfred Graham. The tunnel was opened officially by the mayor of Wellington, Thomas Charles Hislop, on 12 October 1931.
Although the tunnel has been eclipsed in terms of features and amenities by more recent tunnels around the country, such as the Terrace Motorway Tunnel, the Mount Victoria Tunnel was the first road tunnel in New Zealand to be mechanically ventilated. Around 32,000 vehicles pass through it each day. The tunnel also accommodates pedestrians and cyclists, who use an elevated ramp on the north side of the roadway. In the late 1970s, a number of crime incidents resulted in an alarm system being installed based on buttons spaced along the length of the pedestrian ramp – the system was removed several years later, as it proved ineffective. Recent additions include new lighting, CCTV cameras, brighter cleanable side panels and pollution control. These have significantly improved safety in the tunnel.
There has been a long standing designation for a second parallel tunnel to the north, in order to relieve peak period congestion resulting from lane merges at both ends of the tunnel. A pilot tunnel was bored through in 1974 to investigate the technical feasibility and still exists, although the eastern end has been bricked up and the western end lies on private property. Plans to build the second tunnel paralleled the original plan to complete the Wellington Urban Motorway to the tunnel to provide a motorway bypass of the whole of central Wellington. The second tunnel component was shelved indefinitely in 1981 when budget cuts meant that a scaled-down motorway extension was proposed that would terminate at the existing tunnel.
The tunnel currently is a traffic bottleneck in the morning peak from around 7.30 to 9.00am on the Hataitai side with traffic sometimes backing up over 1 km and in the afternoon peak between 5 and 6pm on the city side with queuing back around 0.5 km. Buses to the eastern suburbs bypass this congestion by using the much older single-lane Hataitai bus tunnel.
Some interesting stuff
During World War II, the government planned to use the tunnel as an air raid shelter if Wellington were attacked. However, the plan was scrapped as the tunnel was thought to be too vulnerable to assault from either side by hostile troops.
A murder occurred during the construction of the tunnel. A young woman named Phylis Simons was murdered by her lover, who buried her in the fill from the tunnel. Police ordered workers to excavate the fill in order to find the victim’s body.