Hastings mayor Sandra Hazlehurst says she would make four-laning the Hawke's Bay Expressway a priority for the district if she is voted in for a second term.
But the man vying for her job, Damon Harvey, says right now there are other roading priorities around regional transport that need "greater investment".
Hazlehurst said it was time for a rethink about the NZTA-funded expressway, as well as the way the region uses transport, as Hawke's Bay's economy continues to boom.
"We must focus on future-proofing our transport network."
Hawke's Bay was the fastest-growing region in New Zealand for the three quarters to March 2019.
"And we have predictions that show that growth will continue," Hazlehurst said.
"Hawke's Bay's pip-fruit crop alone is forecast to almost double. And those growth figures apply just to apples, with all primary production on a strong growth curve, from fruit and vegetables to sheep, beef and forestry."
Hazlehurst said pip-fruit planting in Hawke's Bay was set to grow by 38 per cent over the next decade, to more than 9000 hectares.
Pip-fruit exports are expected to increase by about 80 per cent to almost 500,000 tonnes, she said.
"If we are almost doubling the amount of fruit going to export, then we can expect near double the number of trucks carrying that produce to the port."
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She said this success would have a "massive impact on our transport links; particularly our roads between Central Hawke's Bay, Rangitikei, Hastings, Napier, Wairoa and the Port of Napier".
"We will prepare a visionary and aspirational strategic plan. Our priorities must be on four-laning the expressway, unlocking what is a traffic pinch-point, and forward planning on all critical routes across and into and out of the region. We need to be prepared for the impact. I will ensure we are looking ahead."
A meeting with the Rangitikei mayor and transport experts is happening on October 1, with a two-day regional leaders' transport workshop is scheduled for early next year.
Planning needs to include the workforce growth required to manage the increasing primary production and the industry and manufacturing that flows from it.
Te Ara Kahikatea, the Whakatu Arterial Link, which better connects productive land to industrial areas, is now complete.
But Hazlehurst believes much more needs to be done.
"This is a good news story ... But we must prepare for the impacts of growth."
Harvey said he felt that ongoing improvements and investment including widening the expressway had already helped.
"This has already seen significantly reduce congestion and more investment is continuing."
The region's first roading priority instead, should be to improve congestion and access into and around the Port, including looking at rail services, he said.
Another major focus is on improving public transport especially between Napier and Hastings, "which will further reduce the number of vehicles commuting".
"I understand the Hawke's Bay Regional Council is about to announce some new services and initiatives," Harvey said.