Horowhenua mayor Bernie Wanden is calling on Government ministers to quash suggestions a new highway between Ōtaki and Levin is on the back-burner, fearing lives will be lost if the project is further delayed.
Wanden was responding to reports major infrastructure projects were under government review, casting doubt on the Ōtaki to north of Levin four-lane expressway that was due to start in 2025.
"We hope they will put this to bed as soon as possible. I am hoping there will be an announcement from the minister very quickly that this much-need roading project will be continuing as planned," he said.
"It would be a travesty to stop it now.
"We can't have these yo-yo announcements, and whether they are rumour or not, there needs to be a response. We can't exist in limbo."
A worrying aspect for Wanden was the safety of motorists travelling through the district on the existing highway, which he said was "one of the most dangerous stretches of road in New Zealand".
He feared lives would be lost should the project be stalled. A coroner once labelled the existing stretch of road between Ōtaki and Levin "a killing field".
"OZNL will mitigate a lot of these issues," he said.
Wanden said the whole district needed certainty, especially the people whose properties and livelihoods were directly affected.
"I really feel for these people. Their lives are put on hold and they're wondering what lies ahead for them," he said.
"I can imagine there will be a few expletives being expressed by people in the corridor on hearing this. They'll be thinking - what's the point?
"Again we are in a state of limbo. There is no guarantee, and that's the concerning part."
Wanden said a change in plans had implications for Horowhenua District Council, which was obligated to plan and forecast for expected growth in the expectation the highway was being built.
"Forecasting is based on the growth assumptions we are expecting and O2NL was the catalyst for that," he said.
"We have lived with this for many, many years and thought we had a concrete way forward with plans and could plan with confidence. Now, to get this from left field, is obviously very worrying.
"That's the concerning part. We are now at the mercy of the number crunchers in Wellington."
Wanden said described O2NL as a critical part of roading infrastructure for the whole of New Zealand. It would be a continuation of the main connection route in and out of Wellington.
Levin was now a major bottleneck along the existing state highway with heavy traffic often banked up either side of the two sets of traffic lights on Oxford St.
"People need to be able to move around safely. We need safety, connectivity and resilience from our roading network," he said.
Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency was already well into the planning phase for O2NL and was poised to start the consenting process.
Meanwhile, HDC councillor Sam Jennings said they had been trying for months to get some certainty from NZTA "to no avail".
"This apparent change in government commitment to the project is alarming," he said.
"It is essential that we all continue to put pressure on Government to commit to and fund this project.
"I encourage everyone to email and contact your local Labour MP to express how you feel about this commitment flip flop and the new state of limbo we now find ourselves in.
"The minister could remove all uncertainty in a heartbeat, but he has elected not to meaning there is genuine risk that the project could be dropped or delayed further.
"The project needs to be confirmed and adequately funded to ensure affected property owners and businesses get fair compensation and that the project does not scrimp on essential mitigation measures."