A reshuffle with transport money has meant NZTA is able to advance the case for the O2NL Expressway. In a statement issued today the agency said it has committed to undertake the next steps for the transport corridor bwteeen Ōtaki and North of Levin.
It is also committed now to progress safety improvements for the existing SH1 as an "immediate priority."
The Build Our Road campaigners are delighted.
Agency Director of Regional Relationships Emma Speight says the Agency will now move ahead on a series of critical next steps to build on the work already done to plan the new route. This includes undertaking the detailed business case and designation, as well as ensuring safety is improved on the existing State Highway 1 in the short term.
"Confirming the designation of the new route will help us identify where it will ultimately sit within the preferred 300 metre corridor, securing it for the future and providing certainty for current and future development, as well as land owners. The Transport Agency will then be able to purchase directly affected properties, as per the legislated process.
"These steps are an important part of the long term transport network planning process. Construction will not begin until these steps are complete, and when funding is made available in the future. Given current funding is heavily constrained, this is not expected in the next ten years.
"We acknowledge that a lack of certainty around this project has created real frustration for many people, especially those living or with property along this corridor. We are writing to property owners in the preferred corridor now and will work directly with them as we proceed through the next steps."
To improve safety in the short term, ahead of longer term solutions, upgrades will be made along 23.4 kilometres of the existing state highway, running along State Highway 1 from the end of the Peka Peka to Ōtaki Expressway to Taylors Road, and along State Highway 57 from the intersection with State Highway 1 to the previously-completed safety improvements.
The safety improvements are expected to include the installation of new median barriers, roadside barriers and wide centrelines, along with consideration of a new roundabout at the State Highway 57/Queen Street intersection and new turnaround facilities at State Highway 1/State Highway 57.
Ms Speight says a review of speed limits on State Highway 1 from Ōtaki to Levin will also begin in the near future, which the Transport Agency will talk with the community about.
"While technical advice will be an important part of these reviews, local knowledge and experience of using these roads is also vital to this process, and we will be actively seeking input and feedback from the community.
"We are also continuing to investigate funding for further safety improvements on the existing State Highway 1 to the north of Levin. Safety improvements on two level crossings in the region will also get underway shortly."
A number of safety improvements were also completed in December last year, including the installation of flexible posts on flush medians, static signs and the repainting of existing road markings. High risk signage from Levin to Foxton was also installed in early 2019.
Horowhenua District Council's Acting Chief Executive Mark Lester said: "This announcement from NZTA that it will proceed with the designation of the Otaki to North of Levin Expressway is very welcome.
"It is a common-sense decision and will provide our community with certainty.
"The safety improvements that will be rolled out are overdue – our community has had to put up with State Highway that is a high crash zone and we have increasing traffic counts. Our people deserve to get home safe just like everyone else in New Zealand.
"We congratulate the Minister of Transport for seeing sense on these issues and we look forward to working with NZTA on their implementation.
"We are one of the fastest growing districts in New Zealand and today's announcements will accelerate development opportunities that will improve our communities – the future of Horowhenua is bright.
"We wish to acknowledge the support of our neighbouring Councils who have advocated with us on this project."
Antony Young, Spokesperson for Build Our Road said: "We are thrilled that the Government has recognised the importance of Horowhenua and our vital role in the connection of the Capital to the rest of the North Island with today's announcement.
"Affected homeowners living within the proposed corridor now have a sense of certainty, as do those who use the road daily. We congratulate the Minister of Transport for making the decision to finish this vital piece of infrastructure.
"We wish to acknowledge the support of news media, our community, local and national business owners and the Horowhenua District Council in the lead up to today's announcement
As the designation progresses, we will follow the updates and work with our partners and Government to ensure that they do move forwards and build our road."