Horowhenua is in uproar at speculation that cost overruns for infrastructure around the country could mean shelving of major projects, such as the Horowhenua Expressway, Ō2NL.
Local Labour MP Terisa Ngobi said she understands that any speculation regarding the Ō2NL is frustrating.
"It is important to remember that no decisions have been made yet, and that no projects have been cancelled," she said.
The speculation has set tongues wagging and many, including former National Party candidate Tim Costley, have joined the dissenting voices but Costley also offers a solution.
Horowhenua District Council officially called this speculation at this late stage in the project "not only unwarranted but is also totally unfair and cruel".
While promised by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern just over a year ago that Ō2NL was a goer, with four lanes plus a path for walkers and cyclists beside it, the community is now in shock at the publication of 'snippets of briefings' to the transport minister warning of cost overruns around the country, which may need either more funding or shelving or downscaling.
While Horowhenua has fought hard and long for a four-lane expressway to bypass its towns, and celebrated a year ago its success, despair has now returned once again.
The speculation was made worse since Transport Minister Michael Wood is refusing to confirm or deny any of that speculation.
Horowhenua District councillor Sam Jennings said the council has been trying to get confirmation, without success, while mayor Bernie Wanden said, "We can't have these yo-yo announcements, and whether they are rumour or not, there needs to be a response."
He said the expressway will mitigate a lot of problems, including loss of life on a bit of road that has been labelled 'a killing field'.
Horowhenua District Council has expressed alarm and concern at media speculation that the Ōtaki to North of Levin (Ō2NL) Expressway is in danger of being scrapped and that the Minister of Transport is unable to confirm commitment to the project.
"It was only in December 2020 that Prime Minister Ardern officially commenced the Tara-Ika subdivision – the largest residential development in the history of Horowhenua – with the acknowledgement that growth forecasts in the region were considerable and investment in local infrastructure necessary.
"With significant growth in the region, the catalyst for much of that growth has been the knowledge that the roading network between Wellington and Levin would become safer and more efficient," Wanden said.
"Being invited to be part of the Wellington Regional Growth Framework recognises that with the Expressway, Horowhenua can assist with the challenges that are faced in the Wellington region, especially in the housing area.
"The Horowhenua community is again being placed in a position of uncertainty which is causing significant stress and anxiety to its residents and businesses. The state highway that splits our community is becoming busier by the day, posing increased risk to the safety of the community.
"For many residents who live in the designated corridor, the impact has been great, with a number of properties either purchased by Waka Kotahi or have been signalled as being required for the Expressway. To have this conjecture and uncertainty at such a late stage in the project is not only unwarranted but is also totally unfair and cruel."
Put the speculation surrounding the future of this project to bed and commit to ensuring the project is completed.
Horowhenua District Council is in the middle of its Long Term Plan, with much of that planning, whether it be for Infrastructure or the future revitalisation of the Levin Town Centre, revolving around the Expressway being built and operational in 2029.
Council's plea to Government is to put the speculation surrounding the future of this project to bed and to commit to ensuring the project is completed.
The speculation means the National Party is having field day with former-National Party candidate Tim Costley saying news the Ō2NL Expressway from Ōtaki to North of Levin is in doubt will be gutting for our community. However, he is offering an immediate solution.
"It's heart-breaking to think that this vital road could be cancelled for a second time in three years."
The expressway, originally a road of National Significance under National, was cancelled by the Labour Government in 2018 when around $5 billion was taken from the Land Transport Fund, and then re-announced in 2020 as a campaign promise, he said.
"The local Labour candidate promised it would be built if she was elected.
"Here we are six months on and exactly what we all predicted and feared is happening. Election promises are being thrown out the window, with Ō2NL looking set to be added to the pile of failed delivery like light rail in Auckland and KiwiBuild."
Costley said the problem is more urgent than sticking to the current slow timeline. His concern is that with the Peka Peka to Ōtaki (PP2Ō) Expressway due to finish within a year, around the same time as Transmission Gully, free-flowing traffic from Wellington will be piled up in Levin early next year.
"If you think Oxford St is bad now, wait until the new roads open," he said.
"But all of Wellington's congestion will soon be pushed into Oxford St, Levin."
Costley is proposing a staged approach to address the immediate issue. Stage one is to fast-track the northern three kilometres of the Ō2NL, linking SH1 and SH57 near Koputaroa and Heatherlea roads.
"Even starting with two lanes in the short term will allow SH1 traffic to bypass Levin completely and give local residents their town centre back."
The remainder of Ō2NL would then be built in phase two, on a slightly accelerated timeline from the current plan which doesn't see completion until the end of the decade.
Costley said estimates on phase 1 are around $40m to build the road with a 20 month build time. "This is too cheap and easy to ignore. We must do this."
Over the last 20 years, someone has been killed on this stretch of road on average every 7-8 months. By contrast, no one has died on the new Kāpiti Expressway. "This road will save lives."
The road regularly appears on NZTA hotspots, with traffic backing up almost from Ōtaki to Levin on weekends and public holidays.
"I travel this road every day on my way to and from work. I know exactly the problems, the frustrations, and the needless deaths on the current road. Now is the time for action, not to stand back and play politics.
"We cannot afford to cancel Ō2NL, nor can we afford to wait 10 years for the first phase. We need the bypass now."
Labour's Ōtaki MP Terisa Ngobi is trying to calm the storm, saying, "Ō2NL is critical to the livelihoods, safety and wellbeing of people not just in the Ōtaki electorate, but across the lower North Island.
"While I know that recent speculation regarding the Ō2NL is frustrating, it is important to remember that no decisions have been made yet, and that no projects have been cancelled.
"I have spoken to the Minister of Transport today and will be meeting him on Tuesday when we are back at Parliament, but in the interim please be assured that I will continue to provide a strong local voice in support of the Ō2NL as your Member of Parliament."