The New Zealand Transport Agency has confirmed the need for a new state highway between Tauranga and Te Puna as well as "dramatic" safety improvements on State Highway 2.
It has, however, no timeline for the work.
The Bay of Plenty Times has obtained a letter the NZ Transport Agency sent to landowners this week describing its plan for the Tauranga to Waihi transport corridor after re-evaluating four major project plans, including the proposed Tauranga Northern Link.
The agency called a media briefing in Tauranga this afternoon to discuss the update.
Western Bay of Plenty Mayor Garry Webber said he was frustrated the agency had not seen fit to give him a briefing before sending information to members of the public.
He said the update did not move the issue along very much.
"We are still on the agency's radar but there is no indication of when this is going to happen or whether funding has been approved.
"We're in a holding pattern, as they say in the airline industry, waiting for the runway to clear."
In the letter, regional relationships director Parekawhia Mclean said the re-evaluation process had confirmed a need to "dramatically improve safety" on State Highway 2, as well as build a new state highway "on the alignment of Tauranga Northern Link".
"The new plans include a two-lane route, one lane in each direction, between Te Puna and Tauranga for general traffic."
The agency said any "additional lanes" could be reserved for public transport and high occupancy vehicles.
"The construction and timing of the new route will depend on the growth and funding priorities across the rest of the country."
The initial proposal was for a four-lane highway.
The agency said it would focus on safety improvements between Waihi and Omokoroa, including flexible median barriers, wide centre lines and protections from "roadside hazards".
Some of that work was already underway and would be extended to the stretch between Omokoroa and Te Puna.
"We will start with safety improvements including an upgrade of the Omokoroa intersection."
The agency did not commit to any timeline for the work.
"The construction timing and form of the new route will depend on growth and funding priorities across the rest of the country."
State Highway 2 north of Tauranga has been identified by the AA as one of New Zealand's most deadly stretches of highway.
Fix the Bloody Road campaigner Matthew Farrell said the news amounted to the agency saying it would get around to it eventually.
"Yes you need this road but we can't do it yet, and we can't pay for it yet.
"I can't see how they are going to answer these questions with a straight face."
Farrell said the news amounted, essentially, to more delays.
Residents of communities north of Tauranga have been waiting almost a year to hear the agency's plans for a series of major transport projects planned for the corridor between Waihi and Tauranga.
The coalition Government's announcement of a new transport direction prompted the agency to begin a re-evaluation of four Western Bay of Plenty projects.
The letter suggests the proposed Katikati bypass will not go ahead any time soon.
"In Katikati, we will work with the community to design solutions to improve access and make the town centre a better place to live by improving traffic management.
"We will continue to hold the land designations which protect the route between Omokoroa and Te Puna, the Katikati bypass and for the Tauranga Northern Link. This means that we will still have the ability to construct these designations when the timing is right."
Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller slammed the plans.
"The NZTA confirmation that they will consider a half-baked version of a Tauranga Northern Link 'sometime in the future' is so out of step with the community's expectation, I wonder quite frankly whether Government politicians have any idea about the needs of this community at all," Muller said in a statement.
"Despite the huge community anger, they are kicking the can down our dangerous road. The TNL was needed five years ago, not in five years' time," he said.
"Suggesting it becomes a two-lane road, with additional lanes for public transport and high occupancy is just a waste of time and typical of a Government more interested in process than building anything. They need to copy the Tauranga Eastern Link design, that road shows you can have trucks, cars and buses move freely if you build it right the first time. Their vision for roading for Tauranga is band-aid safety improvements and a maybe Northern Link sometime in the never-never. It's just hopeless," Muller said.
Muller was unrepentant when asked why he and his National colleagues, including leader Simon Bridges and former transport spokesman Jami-Lee Ross, had characterised the TNL as having been "cancelled".
"The tender process was underway and they cancelled it. Construction was due to start last month."
Transport Minister Phil Twyford welcomed the agency's decision, saying no one wanted any more lives lost on the roads.
In response to Muller's comments, he said: "If the Tauranga Northern Link was so desperately needed five years ago, why didn't Todd Muller's government and former Transport Minister Simon Bridges build it?"