"It's an absolute kick in the guts," is how Coromandel MP Scott Simpson describes the Government's decision to pull funding for a critical stage of a major State Highway 2 roading project.
Transport Minister Michael Wood and Infrastructure Minister Grant Robertson announced last week that the Government would no longer fund Stage 2 of the Takitimu North Link, also known as the TNL, from Te Puna to Ōmokoroa.
Simpson says feedback he's had from concerned road users and local residents is that they are "angry and feel utterly let down".
"What's worse is the government is going to spend the best part of a billion taxpayer dollars in Auckland on a fantasy walk and cycle way over the Waitemata harbour, while traffic congestion will only get worse and lives will continue be lost on a stretch of road now widely acknowledged as the most dangerous in New Zealand.
"It's a huge blow to the Western Bay of Plenty."
The government announcement was contained in a statement about the New Zealand Upgrade Programme (NZUP).
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 projects were expected to be completed by 2027 and at a total cost of $933 million.
Robertson says, "Covid-19 has increased construction costs around the world, and we've done the work upfront to understand the impact on NZUP projects which were announced pre-pandemic."
"Fully funding the new estimated costs for every project would have cost up to $6 billion extra on top of the original $6.8 billion, 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."
Western Bay Mayor Garry Webber says there are two sources of funding - the NZUP source which is funding the Takitimu North Link to Gill Lane, and the NZ Land Transport Fund.
The NZLTF is finalised in August once all Regional Land Transport Committee (RLTC) applications have been received.
The BOP RLTC met yesterday and Webber would be advocating for both the Ōmokoroa Interchange and the Katikati bypass.
Katikati-Waihi Beach Ward Councillor James Denyer was disappointed Stage2 had not been funded.
"A safer interchange at Ōmokoroa is absolutely vital."
Denyer was pleased the Katikati Bypass may be included in the RLTP.
"However, as it is not funded and doesn't have a timeframe attached to it, this is a rather modest step towards getting it built."
The problem at the Ōmokoroa Rd intersection is traffic build-up and a lack of roading infrastructure, says Fix the Bloody Roads campaigner Andrew Hollis.
"Omokoroa and Katikati are being developed extremely fast and this adds to the 35,000 vehicles using the road each day."
Others with perhaps more reason to feel let down are property owners who had been told their land was needed for the new road. Some have been living in a state of limbo for years.
Many have made financial and lifestyle decisions based on the assumption the government was going to buy either a portion of, or their full property.
Simpson says, "with roading plans still hovering this could potentially deter buyers from paying a fair market price.
"This is not fair and it's certainly not kind."
Simpson understands that some 140 property owners may be affected.
"I'm keen to hear from anyone in this situation to gain a better understanding of how they have been impacted."
Wood says, "meeting our commitment to decarbonising transport means that we have to start doing things differently".
He intends to amend the Government Policy Statement on land transport to provide Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency with the clarity it needs to make investments consistent with the country's decarbonisation goals.