While some residents believe the NZ Transport Agency has promised the final solution to the expressway, as far as informing the community of the definitive route by early August, enquiries with NZTA about its progress have generated a resounding: "No, because there is no money".
While the expressway, reduced to a two-lane highway, has not been scrapped as yet, there is no way of telling when it might happen. NZTA now also admits that there is no funding available at the moment for the promised safety measures on the existing SH1 between Ōtaki and Levin.
When asked how the promised designation was progressing or when the designation was going to be made public, Emma Speight, NZTA Director of Regional Relationships, said funding for state highways is heavily constrained.
"There has been a reduction in overall state highway funding for the 2018-21 period, with further reductions in the years beyond that period.
"There is also an unprecedented number of funding requests from our transport partners. As a result there is currently insufficient funding to invest in all the infrastructure that communities are asking for including new state highway projects.
"This means careful management is needed to ensure our overall programme aligns with the Government's transport priorities, with safety being the top priority.
"This project was among a number reviewed by the NZ Transport Agency in 2018 to evaluate whether it aligns with the new vision for our transport network. The re-evaluation was completed and the outcome announced in 2018.
"This project remains part of our long-term plan and the NZ Transport Agency Board has endorsed the plans and direction set out for this corridor.
..We do not currently have funding to progress this work further and we cannot say now if funding will be available in the next NLTP period (2021-24).
"We understand how important it is to the community to get certainty around when this project may be built
"However we do not currently have funding to progress this work further and we cannot say now if funding will be available in the next NLTP period (2021-24).
"When funding does become available this project will be prioritised against other projects and programmes across the country.
"The next step for the Ōtaki to north of Levin project is to undertake the Detailed Business Case and further investigate and progress design of the road, within the preferred corridor. This work has been subject to funding being made available, and no funding has yet been allocated for this work.
"We are continuing to look to secure funding for safety improvements to be made on the existing highway in the short to medium term as part of the $1.4billion Safe Network Programme."
Businesses and residents affected by the ongoing saga of the express/highway between Ōtaki and Levin will be devastated, though at least now there is some certainty.
"Well, at least that is a formal confirmation that they are nor doing anything, something that took them 300 words, could have been said in about two," said one cynical resident who lives and works within the 300m corridor, within which the new highway will eventually fall.
Horowhenua District Council said it was "blown away" by the statement.
"I am concerned that it appears the Government does not have the money to complete the Wellington Northern Motorway," CEO David Clapperton said.
"The statement from NZTA reads as a warning to our people to expect:
· another 10 years of having the highest serious crash rate in the lower North Island
· another 10 years of losing loved ones
· another 10 years of truck and trailer units in our main streets
· another 10 years of a poorly maintained state highway that boasts earthquake-prone bridges, has no alternate route, and is prone to flooding.
"Everyone from NZTA to council, neighbouring councils, iwi, landowners and our residents all see O2NL as a priority project.
"The State Highway Network through Horowhenua is in crisis, and the crisis is about to get worse as traffic numbers climb - especially as other parts of the Wellington Northern Motorway come online next year.
"I do want to highlight that council does support the Government's Road to Zero strategy. However, we believe that the proof will be in the pudding - as NZTA has promised much on road safety but delivered little and doesn't appear to have the funds needed to complete projects that will make significant safety improvements in our region.
"Our community has already borne a heavy toll for the inadequacies of the State Highway network - yet here we are being told to let another decade pass us by," Clapperton said.