Unbelievable was how Northland mayors described the recent announcement not to progress the four lanes from Whangārei to Marsden and unacceptable was what the Chamber of Commerce told Labour MPs Grant Robertson, Emily Henderson, Willow Jean Prime and Kelvin Davis in Whangārei on Friday. I agree.
Numerous economic action plans over the past decade have identified the four lanes as the single biggest economic driver for Northland.
Under these scenarios the route from Whangārei to Marsden had one of the best benefit:cost ratios across the whole SH1 network to Auckland even better than the highly touted Waterview tunnel.
Not only was there productivity benefits for the region but a few years ago this section of road was the #1 police hotspot for accidents across all of New Zealand, so an important safety factor in what is New Zealand's fastest growing region.
I was suspicious something was up a few weeks beforehand because locals had been contacting me concerned that Waka Kotahi (NZTA) had suddenly gone quiet and so I generated some questions to the Minister.
Reply 16411 (2021) has been answered to Dr Shane Reti 17 May 2021 Portfolio: Transport (Hon Michael Wood)
Question: Does he commit to progressing a four-lane highway from Whangarei to Marsden in 2021, if not, why not ?
Reply: The Government has not made changes to the New Zealand Upgrade Programme and remains committed to delivery of good transport outcomes along all of the routes concerned. Given the scale of the projects concerned and the fact that the programme was announced pre-Covid, a base lining exercise has been done to provide certainty around cost and scope. Ministers are working through the options on how to take the programme forward, and announcements will be made in the near future.
The four lanes into Northland have been traded off for a rail link to Marsden Point that no government of any colour has been willing to build for decades because no one will commit to using it. At a cost of 100s of millions of dollars a "build it and they will come" scenario has all the hallmarks of Marsden B which didn't generate a megawatt of electricity and was eventually broken up and shipped offshore.
I need to add here that on one level we need to take care not to be locked and single focused on roads only and that I do see an important part for rail in an integrated freight system into Northland.
I am glad that the upgrade to the Auckland North Auckland rail line has progressed and recent container movements from the port is very encouraging towards what may be a sustainable business case for rail – so show us the business case for the link.
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Finally, while we are told about the safety improvements that will replace the four lanes such as more soft hit posts along the centre line like we currently have, while useful, they really don't cut the mustard in comparison and put simply, we need four lanes not sticks.