Northland is facing some tough decisions about its transport network and officials want public feedback on what their priorities are.
From four laning State Highway 1 from Whangārei to Port Marsden Highway to dedicated bus lanes and improved public transport networks - and all within a limited budget - Northland's local authorities are working on how to improve things.
Now Northlanders are urged to attend upcoming public 'have your say' sessions to make their views known to those planning the blueprints addressing some of the region's most pressing transport issues.
The Northland Regional Transport Committee will next month hold a series of drop-in sessions on both the Draft Regional Land Transport Plan 2021-2027 (RLTP) and the Draft Regional Public Transport Plan 2021-2031(RPTP) as part of a public consultation process.
Northland Regional Council member Rick Stolwerk, who chairs the Regional Transport Committee, said regardless of where they live in the region, every Northlander has a vested interest in securing the best 'fit for purpose' transport system the region can afford.
He said while local bodies are constantly asking the public for its views on a wide range of matters, that input is especially important in this case as the RLTP – produced every six years – will serve as a blueprint for tens of millions of dollars spending on the region's roading infrastructure over the next three years in particular.
"Like its predecessors, the plan will attempt to address a raft of issues including critical matters like regional route resilience and security, but this time we're facing some additional challenges thrown up by Covid-19 which has added an extra layer of complexity to our longer term planning and the time it will take to deliver some work."
Stolwerk said the draft plan proposes priorities for major works projects and spending and specifically asks for the public's views on those proposed priorities.
Among the opportunities to capitalise on regionally agreed priorities provided by the region's transport network are:
· Reducing transport related deaths and serious injuries by investing in road infrastructure
· Regional and national connectivity, including four-laning of SH1 from Whangārei to Auckland and investing in roading, footpaths and cycleway to improve connections in urban areas
· Route resilience and route security
· Economic and tourism development
· Reducing the environmental effects of the transport network
· Provide people with better transport options and considering the needs of the transport disadvantaged
· Future proofing and long-term planning
He said in common with most other regions, a lack of funding continues to be the biggest issue facing Northland's land transport.
Funding sources include central government via things like fuel excise tax, road user charges, vehicle and driver registration and licensing and 'local share' from Northland's local authorities, mainly via rates and developer contributions.
"This draft plan represents a huge effort by people from a variety of local authority, government and other agencies to get the best outcomes from the money available."
He said while Covid-19 has affected the availability of funding for land transport initiatives, Northland and central government will continue to strive for the strategic goals set in the Government Policy Statement and the Draft RPTP.
"In doing this, we need to be pragmatic and recognise that funding availability may mean the objectives of this plan may not be met as quickly as they otherwise would have been."
Meanwhile, Stolwerk said the second plan released for consultation – the Draft RPTP – sets out how public passenger transport services and assistance for the transport disadvantaged will be provided for over the next decade.
"Once again cost is a big issue for us and one of the biggest challenges is always how to continue to grow patronage while maintaining the affordability and quality of these services."
There are four key projects in the Proposed RPTP which all require significant investment in order to grow to meet the demands and expectations of the community.
· A Whangārei District Council-led upgrade of the city's Rose St bus terminus; more room is needed for any future increase in the number of peak-time vehicles, as well as more modern seating, weather protection and pedestrian access for passengers from other parts of the CBD.
· Whangārei bus lane trial; WDC is to trial bus lanes where possible within the footprint of the roading network. The intent is that buses that visibly have an advantage in time over other vehicles will become more attractive to use.
· Subject to the provision of these bus lanes, CityLink Whangārei will increase the frequency of the service; the bus service requires additional investment to make improvements to meet public expectations and also encourage a shift from private cars to public transport.
· Regional rural services; the NRC is committed to retaining the current network of contracted passenger services, but given the distance between settlements, it can be difficult to initiate and retain services.
Stolwerk said challenges to be overcome with regional rural services include long distances travelled, low passenger numbers, retaining an affordable fare level and securing local and national funding assistance.
Details on the public consultation – including the two draft plans – is available at www.nrc.govt.nz/transportplan and consultation runs until March 26.
The upcoming public meeting schedule is:
■ Whangārei - March 8, Northland Regional Council chambers, Water St, 9am-11am.
■ Dargaville - March 8, Dargaville Town Hall, 3pm–5pm.
■ Opononi - March 9, Opononi War Memorial Hall, 10am–noon.
■ Kaikohe: - March 9, Far North District Council chambers, 3pm–5pm.
■ Mangawhai - March 11, Domain Hall, 11.30am–1.30pm.
■ Kaitaia - March 12, Te Ahu Centre, 10am–noon.
■ Kerikeri - March 12, Kingston House, 3pm-5pm.