Two routes are being proposed for four-laning State Highway 1 between Whangārei and Marsden Pt, with the public invited to have a say on which route they prefer before a final decision is made by the end of the year.
And Northland Regional Council regional transport committee chairman John Bain said whichever route was chosen it was vital that it was "put down on paper and work started as soon as possible".
Bain said four-laning SH1 - initially to the Port Marsden roundabout, then to Te Hana to meet with the four-laning from Auckland - was crucial to Northland's economic future.
He urged anybody who cared about the four-laning to make a submission on which route they preferred.
Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency has announced a shortlist of two route options for upgrading the Whangārei to Port Marsden State Highway (SH1), with a preferred route to be confirmed by the end of the year. Waka Kotahi is now asking for public feedback on the options presented to feed into decision making.
Senior manager project delivery Andrew Thackwray said the project will provide an upgraded 22km four-lane corridor that will improve transport connections between Auckland and Whangārei.
It is part of the New Zealand Upgrade Programme's $6.8 billion investment to save lives, get regions moving and boost productivity in key growth areas, he said.
Bain said four-laning SH1 all the way to Auckland would be the most important infrastructure project to get Northland's economy booming and it was important that the project to Port Marsden Highway got started as soon as possible.
''We will be supporting the principle of having four lanes to Marsden Pt as a good start, but it's critical it's then extended to meet up with the four-laning coming from Auckland and stopping at our southern border at Te Hana,'' he said.
''We want to get the best deal for Northland so we will be looking closely at the options from NZTA and looking at what their experts say is the best option, after input from the public and those landowners who may be affected.
''It's not just about drawing a line on a map and saying let's go. There are issues like the geology of the land.''
Bain said he didn't have a preference of the options at this stage: "I don't really care where, I just want to see it [given the go ahead] on paper and work starting - preferably as soon as possible.''
He said it was important that people made submissions on the two routes because NZTA needed as much public feedback as possible.
Thackwray said, "State Highway 1 is a vital link between Northland and the rest of the country for freight, communities and tourism. Around two million tonnes of freight moves between Northland and Auckland each year and tourism in Northland accounts for $1b a year. Improving the region's freight connections will be a game changer for the wider Northland economy."
Work started on the business case for the project in 2017 and progressed to the point of presenting four short-listed route options. Work was placed on hold while an independent evaluation ensured the project was aligned with the Government Policy Statement for Land Transport.
The outcome of the 2018 re-evaluation recommended route protection for additional capacity between Whangārei and Port Marsden Highway in the future, although there was no funding at the time to progress the project.
"Earlier this year the Government announced the NZ Upgrade programme which included $692 million for construction of the Whangārei to Port Marsden Highway, with a separated walking and cycling path. This is great news for the region as it means the project has committed funding and construction can start soon," Thackwray said.
The two options for consultation are to upgrade the current state highway to four lanes (with some sections built on a new alignment to straighten out curves) or to upgrade the current state highway to four lanes with a section built on a new alignment to the west to avoid the coastal marine environment at Oakleigh.
Waka Kotahi is now seeking public feedback on both the urban section of the project between Tarewa Rd and Toetoe Rd and the two route options in the rural section between Toetoe Rd and Port Marsden Highway.
"The last time we talked to the public about upgrading this section of SH1 was in 2017. At that time, there was strong support for widening the current state highway to four lanes but we need to hear from those new to the project or who didn't participate in consultation three years ago,'' he said.
''The option including a section built to the west of SH1 is a mixture of two route options shortlisted in 2017 so we're also keen to hear our customers' thoughts on that."
Waka Kotahi is encouraging communities within the Whangārei district, regional road users and visitors to Northland to share their thoughts online by visiting www.nzta.govt.nz/w2pmh or via email at email@example.com . Feedback will be open until October 23. For more information, visit www.nzta.govt.nz/w2pmh
The Whangārei to Port Marsden Highway project is part of the wider Whangārei to Te Hana programme, aimed at building more resilient transport connections between Northland and Auckland.
NZ Upgrade Programme funding is specifically for the Whangārei to Port Marsden Highway section of the Whangārei to Te Hana programme. Further funding will be required to progress the Port Marsden Highway to Te Hana section.