A four-lane highway for a dangerous stretch of Northland highway is off the cards but instead a new road that will run parallel to the existing route will be built.
Where exactly the new road, running from south of Whangārei at Loop Rd SH1 to the intersection with Port Marsden Highway SH15, would go is still being investigated by the NZ Transport Agency but the plan was to build it to the east of State Highway 1.
NZTA made the announcement today as part of a plan to improve the stretch between Whangārei and Te Hana. However it could not say what the road would cost.
The road between Whangārei and Port Marsden Highway has been identified by police as one of 10 hot spots in the country that will get more road-safety monitoring because it has had more fatalities per kilometre than other roads. Only last Saturday two more people died on the section of the road.
The announcement disappointed local roading leaders and Whangārei MP Shane Reti, who said the option fell short of the four-lane highway that Northlanders wanted and needed to be safe and to prosper.
NZTA general manager, system design and delivery, Brett Gliddon said the Northland project was one of 12 that were re-evaluated to ensure the project aligned with new priorities set out in the Government Policy Statement (GPS) on Land Transport which highlighted safety, resilience and access.
The new road would carry north- and south-bound traffic and would be built to the latest design standards. While it was still being confirmed where it would go safety work would continue on the existing highway.
"To begin with we will deliver short-term safety improvements between Whangārei and Port Marsden Highway (SH15) to make it safer, such as roadside barriers, median barriers, centre-line widening and improved road marking," Gliddon said.
"At the same time we will continue to future proof for a new route between Whangārei and SH15. Along with the existing road, this will create four lanes of capacity. Land will be designated for a future transport corridor to be built on a better alignment and to the best safety standards."
He said the construction timing and the form of the new route would depend on growth and funding priorities across the rest of the country.
In December the funding allocations for the 12 re-evaluated corridors across the country will be considered against funds available nationally and the timing of the programme will be confirmed. Gliddon said the people of Northland should not be disappointed with the project.
"I think what we are proposing will actually be good for Northland. Ultimately, over time, what they will get is four lanes of capacity, or four lanes of traffic, through this corridor and they will have a high quality route in the future. They will have a very safe existing route in the short to medium term. So I think that if you take a step back it gives them everything they were wanting."
Reti, National MP for Whangārei, was disappointed.
"Every single mayor in Northland, every electorate seat MP, the [Northland] Regional Council and the ... [council] transport committee were all saying the same thing, that the biggest economic driver for Northland is a four-lane highway and so the announcement completely ignores community representation," Reti said.
Northland Regional Council transport committee chair John Bain said the original plan of four lanes was the safest option. However, he said, anything that reduced fatalities was welcome.
"We are going to get some safety improvements that everyone in Northland will be hoping reduces the numbers of fatalities."
He said a parallel highway was the first tranche in the construction of a four-lane highway but in the meantime Northland was stuck with a band-aid roading system.
Whangārei mayor Sheryl Mai appreciated the work the NZTA had put into the plans and the work it continued to do within the constraints of Government policy.
"It is vital that investment in transport infrastructure in our region is prioritised, to prevent the ongoing loss of life caused by crashes on our road. We need a safe, efficient transport system that allows the commerce of the region to operate as efficiently as in other parts of the country and is fit for purpose for all road users."
Another dangerous route, north of Wellington between the town of Otaki and north of Levin, will also get a new two-lane road in addition to the existing state highway.
The NZTA said selecting the preferred route for the new road would be completed this year.
The current route would receive some short- and medium-term safety improvements in the meantime.
SH2 between Tauranga and Waihi would also be upgraded, although details were not available on the NZTA website.
Transport Minister Phil Twyford described the work on the three routes as "four lanes of capacity in total when combining the improved existing highways".
"A total of four lanes of capacity along these routes will help meet future traffic volumes," he said.
Re-evaluations of another nine stretches of road are ongoing and expected to be complete by December.