The Ōtaki to North of Levin Expressway remains in limbo as the decision on a preferred route has yet again been delayed, this time until the end of the year.
But it now comes with a promise of a firm decision on where the expressway will run by the new year, NZTA has said.
Both Kāpiti and Horowhenua District Councils are ecstatic with the decision to 'go ahead' as it ends 'a decade of uncertainty' for residents. Horowhenua district councillors and its mayor were briefed on Wednesday afternoon about the timeline for this.
Selection of a preferred route for the Ōtaki to North of Levin expressway will be completed this year, NZTA said in a letter delivered this week to around 400 Horowhenua residents whose property may be in the path of any of the proposed routes for the new expressway.
However, the new state highway is likely to be just two lanes, rather than four, but with room for widening to four lanes in the future.
The letter said the new priorities regarding transport plans for the nation have now been sorted and a general approach for future plans for the O2NL corridor has been agreed upon.
Actual construction as well as any funding of the new expressway will depend on growth and priorities elsewhere in the country.
Rather than talk about the much needed expressway, NZTA keeps referring to the transport corridor. Given the current government preference for public transport this could mean priority might be given to rail and bus services, rather than an expressway.
The new priorities NZTA refers to mean "an emphasis on delivery of short and medium term safety improvements, designating for new route which will have allowance for four lanes in the future and working on enhancing public transport options and improve amenity within Levin."
At a press conference late on Wednesday afternoon in Wellington NZTA's Director Regional Relationships Emma Speight said: "Public transport enhancements will be investigated for the region which could include rail connections, park and ride availability and bus service improvements."
"We will work with our council partners and the Levin community to develop a programme to make the town centre a better place to live and move around.
"This will include sustainable land use, enhanced walking and cycling access and potentially delivering some sections of the new road earlier to manage heavy vehicles," the letter, signed by Emma Speight, said.
Plans for the Expressway will be considered in more detail in December once all road projects around the country have been evaluated and an update to residents will follow shortly after that.
Safety improvements on the existing highway between Ōtaki and Levin will continue, NZTA's letter to residents said.
At the press conference Speight said," We will be coming back to the community and stakeholders before the end of the year about the prefrerred road corridor and proposed timing for project construction."
In the short term immediate safety improvements will be made on the existing State Highways 1 and 57, initially focussed on speed management, road marking, signage and enforcement followed by infrastructure measures. Public transport enhancements including bus service improvements, park and ride availability and extending commuter rail services north from Waikanae will also be investigated, she said.
Ōtaki MP Nathan Guy was disappointed at the announcement. "Whilst the designation of a transport corridor will be considered progress there has been little said about timeframe and funding required for completion.
"I am disappointed that the massive safety enhancement opportunity of a four-lane highway has been overlooked in favour of just two lanes, with further work being done on the existing quite dangerous highway.
Nathan Guy labelled the announcement 'short-sighted' given the steadily rising road traffic volumes and regular congestion problems.
Horowhenua District Council CEO David Clapperton however said he had no doubt whatsoever about the expressway now. "It is a red-letter day for Horowhenua as it has lifted the cloud of uncertainty.
"While it will be a staged approach, there is no doubt in my mind that a four-lane expressway will be built as traffic volumes and population numbers continue to climb."
Clapperton said the district had grown at a faster rate than predicted for two years in a row and 2018 is tracking even further ahead.
"This announcement from NZTA will accelerate that growth. We will need to reassess the predictions to ensure we are not caught out by growth as has happened elsewhere in the country."
Horowhenua's Growth Response Manager Daniel Haigh said to meet demand a minimum of 244 homes need to be built every year for the next 20 years.
"We have been preparing Horowhenua for growth and this announcement means we can move ahead with confidence with a raft of projects that will provide capacity and transform our communities," he said.
He's talking about the master plan for 2000 homes at Gladstone Green, Levin, the master plan for 500 homes at Foxton Beach, the Transforming Taitoko Levin Town Centre Strategy and the Horowhenua Growth Strategy, which sets out where new subdivisions and industrial areas can be built.
Clapperton said the council was also progressing with its Horowhenua 2040 Vision, which includes a raft of projects aimed at transforming the district, improving the wellbeing of residents, protecting the environment and improving iwi relationships.