A decision to pull funding for a critical stage of a major roading project has been slammed as ''disgraceful''.
And it's unlikely there will be any progress on this part of the Takitimu North Link, also known as the TNL, over the next 10 years.
Transport minister Michael Wood and Infrastructure Minister Grant Robertson announced yesterday the Government would no longer fund Stage 2 of the project, from Te Puna to Ōmokoroa.
The defunding has sparked anger, upset and fury from those who have fought long and hard for improvements to the deadly section of highway - including Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller, who described it as ''disgraceful''.
In response, Wood said despite the increased costs because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government was increasing its investment into Stage 1 to enable construction to start at the end of this year.
The announcement was contained inside a press release about the New Zealand Upgrade Programme. The ministers confirmed the construction of Stage 1, a 6.8km four-lane expressway between Tauranga and Te Puna, which is expected to start later this year.
Stage 2, a 7km extension of the expressway, would receive route protection but nothing else in the next three years and any progress within the next 10 years was "unlikely".
Originally, the two stages were expected to be completed by 2027 and cost a total of $933m. Stage 2 would cost $455m of this.
Robertson said Covid-19 had increased construction costs around the world and fully funding the new estimated costs for every project would have cost up to $6 billion on top of the original $6.8b.
"So instead we've taken a balanced approach with a mix of additional investment and a handful of projects being re-scoped, while also keeping a lid on debt."
Wood said in light of the increased costs and climate commitments, it was important to take another look at the programme.
"Recognising the need to decarbonise our transport system, we're rebalancing the package to increase investment in rail, public transport and walking and cycling."
A total of $655m was allocated to Stage 1 of the Takitimu North Link project, and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency awarded construction contracts to Fulton Hogan and HEB.
The Government expects 350 to 400 people will work on Takitimu North Link Stage 1 project at the peak of construction.
Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller said the move had failed the local community, particularly Te Puna and Ōmokoroa.
Muller referenced the Fix the Bloody Road campaign, which in 2018 held a protest that closed the highway to traffic as people marched across the Wairoa Bridge.
"There's immense anger from the community that for years and years that road has not been fixed. Now it's not considered as important when at the same time $685 million is going towards a cycleway and bus lane across Auckland Harbour Bridge," Muller said.
"I find it disgraceful. We are the fifth-biggest city and fastest-growing region in New Zealand with the biggest and best port. Everyone's screaming out for infrastructure."
Former Fix the Bloody Road campaigner Sean Lett has long called for action but told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend he had already distanced himself from the group out of frustration of concerns falling on deaf ears.
Friday's announcement just proved this, he said.
"I don't believe anything this Government says. It was all shovel ready, but it's been a year since they have come out and said it's shovel ready, so let's go."
Lett was concerned about the Ōmokoroa intersection with SH2 and said something desperately needed to be done.
"You've got about nine different turns on one intersection. It's just diabolical and they keep building houses out there.
"You have to stop building houses to collect taxes and rates - you have to build infrastructure first."
Tauranga MP Simon Bridges said the project was the "single biggest thing that needs to happen in the Western Bay".
"It's not just a broken promise, it means thousands in traffic from the Western Bay into the city and continued deaths on this killer road."
In recent years, this section of SH2 has been considered one of New Zealand's most dangerous highways because of the countless serious crashes, injuries and deaths.
Western Bay of Plenty councillor and representative for the Ōmokoroa area Murray Grainger said he was incredibly disappointed and frustrated.
"They give us orders to build houses and zone land. They keep delaying the road that was promised years ago. The Government said they would be open and transparent but here they are given millions to a cycle lane bridge in Auckland.
"How many lives are going to be saved by the cycle bridge compared to the lives that would be saved at the Ōmokoroa intersection?"
Grainger said regional entities such as the Western Bay council and UFTI had come together and agreed Ōmokoroa would be a growth area and planned for that, with the agreement the North Link was going ahead and now "the rug has been pulled out from under it".
He believed the Government had misguided priorities.
The Employers and Manufacturers Association has previously raised concerns about the lack of investment in infrastructure on such a well-used route between Tauranga and Auckland.
Head of advocacy and strategy Alan McDonald said the announcement was disappointing.
"The key thing is it's a downgrade to the upgrade and that's really disappointing for a whole lot of our members," he said.
"It's a major access point for the port and everything else ... the congestion costs are mounting all of the time; the longer you sit in traffic the more the costs rise to do it."
McDonald warned of the repercussions of such a delay.
"There is one truism in building infrastructure: the longer you wait, the more expensive it gets."
Wood said despite the increased costs because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government was increasing its investment into Stage 1 to enable construction to start at the end of this year.
"The contract has been signed and it's funded, which is much more than the previous government ever did," he said.
"We're also proceeding with route protection for the next stage, which will be built in the future.
"We know safety is a major concern on SH2 and that's why we're continuing to build safety improvements between Waihī and Ōmokoroa to help save lives."
- Additional reporting by Luke Kirkness
Takitimu North Link Stage One (between SH29 and SH2 near Te Puna):
• New 6.8km four-lane corridor.
• Use of two lanes to prioritise public transport, freight and vehicles carrying multiple people.
• New 6.8km separated walking and cycling path.
• New bridge crossing at Wairoa River.
• Overbridge interchange at Minden Rd.
• Underpasses at Cambridge Rd and Wairoa Rd.
• New westbound single lane connection from Fifteenth Ave to Takitimu Drive Toll Rd.
• Northbound flyover and southbound bypass lane at the SH29 interconnection/interface.
Takitimu North Link Stage 2 (between SH2 Te Puna and Ōmokoroa):
Route protection of:
• New 7km four lane corridor.
• New 7km separated shared path.
Now: Stage 1 design and construction preparatory activities, including geotechnical investigations.
Now: Stage 2 route protection.
Late 2021: Lodge Stage 2 consents.
Late 2021: Stage 1 construction start, subject to property negotiations.
2026: Stage 1 construction complete.
Stage 1 has been allocated $655m. Costs will continue to be refined.
Waka Kotahi said the Takitimu North Link project will support urban growth in the Western Bay of Plenty and is a key part of the region's connected centres programme developed by the Urban Form and Transport Initiative.
State Highway 2 is a busy highway with a poor safety record and the pressures of this have been felt in this community for some time, Waka Kotahi system design national manager Robyn Elston said.
"This section of state highway between Waihī and Tauranga has developed into a busy commuter and freight route as well as an important tourist link for the northern Bay of Plenty and Coromandel Peninsula.
"It is also one of New Zealand's highest-risk rural roads."
Western Bay of Plenty communities were projected to grow by 16,000 people in the next 20 years, with traffic crossing the Wairoa Bridge increasing from 20,000 to more than 30,000 daily by 2031.