Council in talks over roading trade-off

By John Cousins

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A trade-off could see the Tauranga City Council get rid of its $60 million Route K debt in exchange for taking ownership of Turret Rd and 15th Ave.

The council and the New Zealand Transport Agency are trying to hammer out a deal in which Turret Rd and 15th Ave could switch from a Government highway to a council-controlled local road, including the Turret Rd bridge. If agreement was reached, the council would take over responsibility to four-lane the bridge, Turret Rd and 15th Ave to Cameron Rd as part of the $100 million Hairini Link project.

Route K's debt has steadily grown over the years to the point where it is now a significant part of the council's overall debt of $400 million. About $2 million was added every year because the revenue from tolls fell well short of the amount needed to service the debt on the road. The long rumoured trade-off was confirmed by Mayor Stuart Crosby when he was quizzed about comments made in a newspaper column. The council and agency was looking at all the options and there may well be a trade-off, he said.

His preference was for the Government to take on Route K and its debt and to assist the council to widen Turret Rd and 15th Ave if it became a local road.

But the agency had made it clear that it did not have the extra cash to take over a $60 million debt and the council was now "seriously considering" approaching Treasury for special funding.

Mr Crosby said council ownership of Turret Rd and 15th Ave would allow more control of when the two roads would be widened. Capital works projects on council-owned roads were funded 50/50 by the council and the agency.

The last published cost estimate for the Turret Rd end of the Hairini Link project was $53 million, although Mr Crosby did not place much reliance on this 2009 ballpark figure.

He stressed the council and the agency were discussing concepts. Options included the agency taking over Route K and its debt in exchange for the council taking over Turret Rd and 15th Ave.

The first thing the council was looking to achieve was for the agency to take over the full maintenance of Route K. Other options included a deferred programme for the agency to take it over and a partial repayment over a number of years. "It is early days yet."

Mr Crosby said the underpass was a key project and there was a strong commitment to remedy the pinch point at Turret Rd. Construction of the $58 million underpass funnelling Welcome Bay traffic directly into the Hairini causeway was due to start in 2014-15.

Welcome Bay councillor Bill Grainger opposed Turret Rd and 15th Ave going back to the council because of the commitment by the Government to do the project - even if it meant the Turret Rd end would not happen until the 2020s. "I don't want to see it as part of a trade-off."

He said the pressure would come on almost immediately for the council to widen Turret Rd and 15th Ave once the underpass opened. In the long term, a deal could go against the council.

Cr Grainger said the council had put its head in a noose by building Route K and now it was trying to get out of it. If the council took over the two roads, he could not see it being able to afford the widening for a long time.

"That is why I want to put pressure back on the Government to honour the promise it made."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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