Driving around the new Waipapa roundabout is a bittersweet experience for the man who dubbed himself the Champion of the Regions.
The Advocate asked former Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones to drive a reporter around the first major project to be funded by the coalition Government's Provincial Growth Fund.
This time Jones was not in a ministerial BMW but in his own Nissan people-mover, known to his family as ''the bongo van''.
Even the unfinished roundabout cluttered with cones is a vast improvement in terms of flow and safety on the notorious Waipapa Rd-SH10 intersection near Kerikeri.
''There's a lot of roadworks and it's very dislocative at the moment but everyone tells me it's very much appreciated. It's the kind of infrastructure that makes a positive change to the daily lives of garden-variety Kiwis,'' Jones said.
There was, however, a touch of regret that someone else will do the ribbon-cutting when the project is completed in April 2021.
Jones also drove past the spot where, in September last year, he handed former Northland MP Matt King a spade and invited him to help turn the first sod as part of a pre-construction blessing ceremony.
''Little did I know he would be digging something akin to a political grave which both him and I have suffered with the red tide that swept through the North,'' he mused.
Jones paid tribute to councillor Ann Court, now Far North deputy mayor, who campaigned for a roundabout for 29 years. He also praised Waipapa's business community for putting up with the disruption.
''But I'm fairly confident that once this roundabout, and the ones at Puketona, Kawakawa and Matthews Ave [Kaitaia] are completed, people will see I genuinely left a legacy for my three years.''
The PGF contributed $9 million but the entire Waipapa corridor project will cost around $24.5m, with the NZ Transport Agency picking up the rest of the tab.
So have taxpayers been landed with a gold-plated roundabout?
Jones said the cost included work on unseen infrastructure, such as power and water, and a new link road and bridge connecting Waipapa Loop Rd with Klinac Ln in Waipapa's commercial area.
However, he was still disturbed by the cost, saying New Zealanders seemed to have inherited a system that was excessively expensive.
While still a minister, Jones made no secret of his frustration with how long the project was taking.
''It just seems to be part of the operational culture these days that infrastructure takes an inordinately long period of time and costs are at a level I doubt we can afford.''
He was also puzzled by one element of the design: ''Why is there is a large 'maternity bump' heading north on SH10? I assume it's there to slow down trucks, but I hope it doesn't lead to any prangs.''
Jones had been at the receiving end of some ribbing from new Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson, who joked that Jones had done the ''heavy lifting'' while the current Government would enjoy the light lunches as they wandered around the country cutting ribbons to open his PGF projects.
Meanwhile, Andrew Thackwray, project delivery manager for Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, said work was on schedule — weather permitting — for pre-Christmas completion.
Asphalt had been laid on the roundabout, SH10 approaches and on Skippers Ln, with kerbing due to be finished by the end of November.
Traffic had been using the roundabout in its temporary form for a month and it was working well, although some drivers needed reminding to use their indicators.
It was already reducing peak-time congestion, making turns safer and slowing highway traffic through Waipapa.
Work would shut down from December 23 to January 5 to keep holiday traffic flowing. No major work was planned for SH10 or Skippers Ln until after Waitangi weekend.
Contractors would be back in the new year to build a bridge on Maritime Ln and finish the link to Klinac Ln. Once that was complete, traffic would no longer have to use SH10 to travel around Waipapa.
The project cost includes shared paths along Waipapa Rd and SH10, moving power cables underground, a major stormwater upgrade and a new carpark on Waipapa Loop Rd.
■ See tomorrow's Advocate to find out why the cost blew out from $9m to $24.5m.