The Mt Victoria road tunnel was opened in 1931, an era when cars didn’t have seat belts or indicators, nor passengers really as only the wealthy could afford them.
It is the only real link (other than a couple of circuitous detours) connecting Wellington’s international airport and its populous eastern suburbs, and the city centre and everywhere north of it. It’s usually clogged with traffic and is not a pleasureable drive.
Hell, driving doesn’t compare to walking though. The ageing thoroughfare has a raised walkway along the side, with space enough for two skinny people walking extremely close together. One of them has to be no more than 5′ tall to avoid hitting their head against the slope.
It’s also used by cyclists who just slam past, not giving a toss if a pedestrian’s forced onto the waist-height wall, or thrown into the traffic below.
Walking through is a fucker enough with the pollution and incessant noise of traffic, then you’ve got this bizarre Wellington tradition: tooting the horn in the Mt Vic tunnel. That’s a bit of an ear-bleeder. But I have to confess that, after my experiences with inconsiderate cyclists, I now hoot just as I’m passing them in my car, hoping to give them a jolt.
No-one can quite say what the reasoning behind this is but most drivers just seem to like the orchestral sound of the horn in this claustrophobic alleyway.
Many people who walk through it, do so every day, the cost of the bus being prohibitive for a short journey to the other side and the only foot alternative being the steep climb over the forested Town Belt, which is a must-avoid at night.
Initial predictions, back in the late 20s, were for 4,000 cars per day. By 1995 it was 33,000 per working day and God knows what it is today.
There are plans for alternative tunnels, which may well ease congestion in the tunnel and new Wellington mayor Celia Wade-Brown has put transport at the top of her hitlist, perhaps leading to such radical innovations as light rail in the city.
I walked through the tunnel today, with my iPod playing the New York Dolls at near full volume and I still could barely hear Trash . My lungs need a good airing now.
Just thought I’d let you know, should you ever drive through.
* This is a slightly revised version of an article posted in 2009.