The direction of travel for government's transport investment is clear.

The agenda, as revealed by the Ministry of Transport policy statement now out for consultation and recent announcements by Minister of Transport Phil Twyford and Auckland Mayor Phil Goff around Auckland's transport investment, highlights safety, regional roads, increased investment in public transport and alternative transport modes (rail, coastal shipping, ferries etc). It puts less emphasis on the Roads of National Significance.

Most of us would agree with the much of this, but four-laning State Highway 1 between Puhoi and Whangārei has suffered as a result. Back to incrementalism for SH1: Puhoi to Warkworth is under way and will be completed, but the rest? No.

Why are Northland's mayors, chairs of the Northland Regional Council and Regional Land Transport Committee, the Chamber of Commerce and Northland Inc so upset by this?

Traffic banked up for several kilometers after a crash on State Highway 1 south of Whangarei.
Traffic banked up for several kilometers after a crash on State Highway 1 south of Whangarei.

Because they know how important this route is for Northland; from a safety point of view and from an economic point of view.

State Highway 1 is Northland's key trade route and will remain so, far beyond my lifetime. It is also the key - and in some parts only - route in and out of Northland. And it is in constant repair.

For the past five years I have commuted between Silverdale and Whangārei every week. In that time I have not once had a clear run. It is constantly under construction. It seems like a revolving agenda of short-term maintenance.

In parts it is extremely dangerous; speeds vary from 15-100km/h (and above for some infuriated drivers), and it is truck, truck, truck, truckety-truck all the way.

Passing lanes are few and far between and some are limited to 80km/hour – really? Who was the genius who thought of that?

Whangarei city. Northland is three times the size of Auckland with one tenth of the population.
Whangarei city. Northland is three times the size of Auckland with one tenth of the population.

Speed reduction measures of varying rhyme, reason and success, are there to help us all behave better on the roads. The latest narrative we are hearing, which is blindingly obvious, is that in spite of these efforts the rising road toll is a result of driver behaviour.

That's like telling your kids that the single most important factor in a tidy bedroom is tidying your room.

Stretches of SH1 are some of the most dangerous in the country; throw in logging and other large articulated trucks, campervans, boat trailers, buses and locals and you have real, and often downright frightening, pressure points.


Driver education helps, but the single most important factor in increasing road safety is a better road.

Northland is growing, population-wise and economy-wise. Northport is expanding and has room to grow. New opportunities will arise in moving people and products between Northland and Auckland and the rest of New Zealand that are alternatives to road transport.

These will be part of the solution but, in the meantime, SH1 is a priority.

SH1 is Northland's trade artery, not an afterthought that can continue to be upgraded bit by bit, patch by patch.

It is also extremely important for Auckland. Not only is Auckland growing, but it cannot continue to grow to the west or the east – it is an isthmus.

Most of the recent announcements have been solutions for Auckland's growth southwards, interestingly where the Waikato Expressway has gone some way to provide growth and expansion opportunities for Auckland into the Waikato.

Northland has much to offer as a solution to Auckland in these ways. Latest statistics indicate many Aucklanders and businesses are choosing to relocate north.

Pukekohe, Auckland's key food bowl is under pressure. Northland is three times the size of Auckland with one tenth of the population. It has plenty of fertile soils, room to grow, wood, a strong manufacturing sector, port and developing digital infrastructure and available industrial land.

It has a large city, Whangārei, and a network of small- to medium-sized towns. It has established industries and plenty of new opportunities for economic development. Helping Auckland is one.

I am not usually in favour of "build it and they will come" approaches to economic development, but in this case they will.

• Dr David Wilson is the chief executive officer of Northland's Economic Development Agency, Northland Inc, and Chair of Economic Development NZ.