Two National MPs have slated new construction delays in a $933 million Bay of Plenty roading project, with one saying they are leaving communities "in the lurch".
Waka Kotahi, the New Zealand Transport Agency, has pushed out the construction start date of the Takitimu North Link (TNL) - formerly the Tauranga Northern Link - by about year.
The TNL is a new four-lane expressway between Tauranga and the fast-growing Western Bay suburb of Ōmokoroa, bypassing a section of State Highway 2 which has a poor safety record and worsening congestion.
It will be constructed in two phases: Stage one ($478m) is the 6.8km leg from Tauranga's Takitimu Drive toll road to Te Puna, including a connection to 15th Ave, and stage two ($455m) is the 7km extension to Ōmokoroa, at the State Highway 2 intersection.
The Government allocated $933m in funding in January through the New Zealand Upgrade Programme.
In May the agency said stage one construction was scheduled to start at the end of this year and finish by late 2025.
It now says construction will start in late next year, subject to property negotiations, and finish in 2026.
Asked for the reasons for the delay, the agency said it was able to confirm the timing after developing its understanding of the project complexities, impact of Covid-19 and forewarning the market.
It was looking at the corridor as a whole and investigating constructing a 2km stretch north of Te Puna in stage one instead of stage two if it could get the land and consents.
"There are always challenges delivering large and complex projects. Land purchase is a complex and sensitive process, and over the next 12 months we will be engaging with landowners."
Stage two construction is due to start in 2024 and finish in 2028, subject to elements that "could impact delivery timeframes".
Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller and Tauranga MP Simon Bridges - both recent former leaders of the National Party - slammed the delays.
Muller said he found them "completely abysmal".
"The people of Te Puna, Bethlehem and Ōmokoroa have been left in the lurch.
"It's just hopeless."
He said the project was out for commercial tender when it was pulled by the then-new Labour-led coalition Government in mid-2018 for a re-evaluation, and three years had been "wasted", in his opinion.
He said the delay would have economic impacts with people and goods staying stuck in traffic on the existing State Highway 2 route.
"That leaves a whole lot of productivity on the table."
Bridges, who as Transport Minister in 2016 announced funding for the Tauranga to Te Puna leg of the project, said the delay was "not good enough".
"There is no good reason why the TNL can't start tomorrow. It was ready for construction in 2018.
"The Government says their ambition is for shovel-ready projects, I can't think of a project in New Zealand that is more shovel-ready."
The road would have been the first cab off the rank had National been re-elected in 2017, he said.
He said the design was critical and all four lanes needed to be for cars and trucks in his view.
"Nothing other than a mirror image of the Tauranga Eastern Link will be good enough.
"I am really concerned the project is being downgraded to something less significant than it needs to be."
The agency has said one lane in each direction will be used to prioritise public transport, multiple-passenger vehicles and/or freight, and there will be a separated cycleway and walkway.
Transport Minister Michael Wood hit back at the MPs, asking why the last National Government did not just build the TNL if it was so shovel-ready.
"It's a shame two local National MPs are having a go at a project that the community has been calling for just because they didn't get around to it despite having nine years."
He said the TNL would make travelling safer and quicker, and create jobs.
"One of our Government's top priorities is accelerating our economic recovery, and the NZ Upgrade Programme is boosting local economies and creating a 10-year pipeline of work for the industry.
"This is on top of our shovel-ready projects, and the Bay of Plenty has received over $170m towards projects that will create hundreds of jobs."
Western Bay of Plenty mayor Garry Webber and Tauranga deputy mayor Tina Salisbury both said the delay was "disappointing" but understandable given the complexity of the project.
Webber said the funds were in place and the road - for which land purchases were made more than 15 years ago - would get built even if later than hoped.
"With this project, we are used to waiting."
Where is the process at?
Stage one - Tauranga to Te Puna
- Extent of designation confirmed
- Regional consents granted
- Property purchases mostly complete, 10 per cent remaining
- Specimen design done
- Geotechnical assessment at 15th Ave under way
- Tender process for detailed design and construction contracts under way
- Tender price to be received December 2020
- Design component to be awarded in March 2021.
Stage two - Te Puna to Ōmokoroa
- Designation, consenting requirements and property acquisition are not yet completed.