An infrastructure expert has called on the government not to "sit on their hands" over the completion of Auckland's Western Ring Route.
Transport minister Steven Joyce indicated today that a cost blowout of the proposed Waterview tunnel option could lead to the plan being shelved.
"The decision by government to look at alternatives is neither unexpected nor unreasonable but should not be allowed to delay this crucial project", said NZ Council for Infrastructure Development boss Stephen Selwood.
"Completion of the Waterview connection is central to releasing the full value of the corridor including four projects already under construction: the Mt Roskill extension of SH20 about to open in March; the Manukau Harbour Crossing; the SH1 to SH20 link at Manukau and the Hobsonville extension at Westgate.
"When these four projects are completed by 2011, Waterview will be the last connection to a complete alternative north/south bypass to SH1 on the western side of the city. It will provide significant economic stimulus to West and South Auckland, and is central to lifting productively across the whole of the Auckland region."
"This is by far the largest roading project in New Zealand's construction pipeline", said Mr Selwood.
"It will employ thousands of people in design, finance, construction, professional services and facilities maintenance. Whilst it is appropriate to take time to determine the best solution, this must not be allowed to delay completion of this critical link."
The Government said earlier today it may be a case of "back to the drawing board", after the Waterview tunnel costed out at about $1 billion more than previously thought.
Transport minister Steven Joyce is now asking officials to come up with alternatives to the tunnel, which is intended to complete the western motorway to bypass Auckland.
The cost of building the proposed twin tunnels was originally estimated at $1.89 billion but that has now increased to around $2.77 billion.
The new sum includes the cost of debt financing and associated works to State Highway 16, which were not included in the original project estimates.
Mr Joyce says that amounts to 1.6 per cent of New Zealand's GDP or between three-and-a-half and four times the total current annual state highway construction budget.
"The Government is committed to delivering a Waterview Connection but wants to ensure the project is advanced in a cost-effective and future-proofed way," he said.
"The other issue besides cost is that the current tunnel proposal is for two two lane tunnels. This leaves no room at all to cater for increased demand as the road gets busier."
Making the tunnels three lanes now would increase the cost of the proposal to in excess of $3 billion.
"A Waterview connection is crucial to the completion of the Western Ring Route but the Government cannot sensibly commit to fund a project of this expense and with these limitations without serious consideration of the alternatives.
"The last Government allowed expectations to be raised about a number of large transport projects, including Waterview, without actually allocating funding to them."
He claimed that just before leaving office, the Labour Government decreased funding for state highways by around 9 per cent.
Mr Joyce has asked officials to report back on alternative options along the same route in April.
- NZ HERALD STAFF
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