Rodney District leaders are confident of obtaining strong Government political backing for Whangaparaoa Peninsula's long-sought shortcut to Auckland, despite its modest rating on a regional priorities list.

The $217 million Penlink project is expected to be included in the Transport Agency's three-year national land transport programme, due out on Thursday, although it remains unclear what ranking that Government organisation will give it.

The Rodney District Council wants $125.6 million from the national transport fund. Another $43.8 million will come from tolls and $41.3 million from development levies for the 6.8km road between the Northern Motorway and Stanmore Bay, including a 540m high-level bridge across Weiti River from Stillwater.

The only dedicated contribution from ratepayers would be $6.2 million to widen 3km of Whangaparaoa Rd, from west of an intersection with the new Penlink connection, to Ladies Mile in Manly.

Although the project is well down the Auckland Regional Transport Authority's list of priorities the national agency is under political pressure from the Government for construction to start over summer.

The rush is fuelled by the due expiry in 2011 of 10-year resource consents which can be extended only if substantial works are completed by then.

"It has to go ahead [for] the development of this crucially important part of the region," Speaker Lockwood Smith, the MP for Rodney, said.

"To me it is not an issue of if it will be done - the issue is when."

Although it was the Transport Agency's ultimate responsibility to prioritise projects for public funding, "it doesn't work in a vacuum and at the end of the day has got to be conscious of the objectives of the Government of the day".

He said the Government shared his view that Penlink was a very important project for Auckland.

Dr Smith believed ambitious development plans for Silverdale, which he said would remain hampered as long as it was divided by the high volume of traffic heading to or from Whangaparaoa Peninsula, should be uppermost in decision-makers' minds.

Rodney Mayor Penny Webster said Transport Minister Steven Joyce had promised her council that the road would go ahead.

But Auckland Regional Transport Committee chairwoman Christine Rose said she expected the agency to follow due process in respecting higher ratings accorded by the regional transport authority for other roads and public transport projects.

"It seems the process for identifying regional and national priorities has changed completely since the new Government [was elected]."

Automobile Association spokesman Simon Lambourne also questioned Penlink's merits against projects with higher regional transport authority rankings, such as components of the $1.3 billion "Ameti" package of new roads and public transport links through southeast Auckland.

Whangaparaoa wildlife scientist Keith Corbett said any undue haste to start work without leaving time to rescue protected and threatened gecko and skink populations in the area would put the project in breach of the Wildlife Act.

Dr Corbett, a retired expert on reptiles and amphibious species, said two springs were needed for an adequate rescue operation, yet the district council had begun neither a wildlife survey nor a search for suitable alternative habitat.

Council project head Ray Ginnever said there would be enough time left once funds were assured and early efforts would focus on building the 45m high bridge across the Weiti River.

A QUICKER WAY
What: 6.8km two-lane toll road including a 540m bridge, 45m above Weiti River, wide enough for a third "tidal flow" traffic lane if required. Will cut 5.5km off trips by avoiding the loop through Silverdale.
Where: Between the Northern Motorway at Redvale and an intersection with Whangaparaoa Rd above Stanmore Bay.
When: Rodney District Council hopes to start construction early next year, for completion in 2013.
Estimated cost: $216.9 million, including $38 million to widen Whangaparaoa Rd between Brightside Rd and Manly.
Estimate travel times savings: 12 to 15 minutes.