Maori along the proposed State Highway 15 route on Mangakahia Rd want to formally engage with the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) "right from the start", rather than when the redesignated road is carrying about 900 heavy vehicles daily past their marae.
A NZTA team of six met at the Poroti marae on Saturday with about 30 people from some of the eight marae along the proposed 95km SH15 from the Te Pua Rd junction with SH1 at Te Ahuahu north of Kaikohe, to Marsden Point via Mangakahia Rd, Otaika Valley Rd, and a redesignated section of SH1 from the Portland turnoff to Ruakaka and the port.
Kaumatua provided a brief account of the historic Maori trade route through Poroti linking the Whangarei and Hokianga harbours, then NZTA Auckland and Northland safety and network performance manager Tim Crow introduced the agency team, explaining they were gathering information to progress the creation of SH15.
NZTA has set aside $15 million from its national roading fund budget for the project and Mr Crow said the agency taking over maintenance of the route from the Far North and Whangarei district councils would free council funds for other uses.
SH15 provides logging trucks access to about 50,000ha of production forest and Pari Walker, of Otaika Valley Rd, told the agency staff the route had been designed just for people using the port at Marsden Point.
He wanted to know if another route using Whatatiri Rd had been considered and other speakers also questioned the proposed route, with one kuia insisting the new state highway should run south through Pipiwai, Kamo and Whangarei to the port.
Paul Edwards, of Poroti, feared increased road safety issues outside Poroti Primary School and pollution of the Poroti Springs reserve.
Tane Te Rangi, of Pakotai, said the Mangakahia Valley had been exploited since the days of kauri timber and gumdigging.
"We all support progress and would prefer working with NZTA from the beginning rather than endure the battle Wright Rd residents have had over the dust problem on their road," he said.
Mr Te Rangi was supported by others calling for marae involvement "right at the sharp end" rather than "waiting for feedback". A kaumatua group was suggested for engagement with NZTA and there were calls for local people, rather than outside contractors, having an opportunity to work on the redesignated road.
NZTA Northland and Auckland media manager Sarah Azam said about 4500 vehicles now used the southern end of the proposed SH15 route daily.
"There isn't a breakdown for logging trucks, but heavy vehicles make up around 20 per cent of the traffic," she said.