COMMENT

The Coalition Government's lack of vision and investment in roading and transport is bad for our greater region. The proposed Ōtaki to Levin expressway which was identified by the previous National Government as a Road of National Significance, is on the back-burner – and there's no money to build it for at least another five years. It doesn't seem right. All the ground work had been done by the previous Government and there was money in the coffers to pay for it.

Meanwhile, locals, truck drivers, and freight companies and those of us who live or work anywhere in the lower North Island are in limbo as we all wait on an expressway to replace a very dangerous stretch of road.

Rangitikei MP Ian McKelvie. Photo / Bevan Conley
Rangitikei MP Ian McKelvie. Photo / Bevan Conley

In 2017 the NZTA commissioned a study to investigate the need for safety improvements on State Highway One (SH1), between Taylors Rd and south Levin (Levin urban boundary) over the next eight to 10-year timeframe. The study acknowledged that this particular section is "classified as a high-risk rural road" and that, "until the design and construction of Ōtaki to north of Levin capital works are completed, there are expected to be a high number of high severity crashes on the existing route".

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In fact, over the past 10 years, 24 people have died on this bit of road. Serious crashes are on the rise too – there were 18 last year, up from 10 in 2017 and two in 2016. Road safety consultant Fergus Tate said if the new expressway was built, those numbers would almost certainly drop.

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NZTA director for regional relationships Emma Speight said funding for state highways was under pressure as there was a lot of demand, and the money for the expressways would not be available until at least 2024. At this stage, there was also no funding to improve safety on the existing road she said. You have to wonder why they bothered commissioning a report.

There's also a very real concern that things will get worse before they get better when the Wellington Northern Corridor is completed, which means four lanes will be condensed into two lanes from Ōtaki north. Already it's got to the stage where many locals won't travel on the weekend because it's just too dangerous.

NZTA's own MegaMaps tool said the safest speed for that stretch of road is no more than 80km/h and in some places drivers should only be doing 60.

Across the country we're paying more in fuel taxes. We shouldn't be spending more time stuck in traffic. We should be seeing extensive investment in our regional roads. Strong transport connections are vital for our growing regions and for the safe and efficient transportation of people and goods.

A graphic showing the proposed Rahui Bridge area on the Peka Peka to Ōtaki Expressway.
A graphic showing the proposed Rahui Bridge area on the Peka Peka to Ōtaki Expressway.

Strong transport connections are vital for our growing regions and for the safe and efficient transportation of people and goods. You can't argue on the one hand you support regional New Zealand, while with the other you are cancelling and delaying key projects, imposing a raft of knee-jerk compliance costs and filling the media with anti-rural rhetoric.