The Provincial Growth Fund is investing $9.6 million to seal the final unsealed section of State Highway 43 from Stratford to Taumarunui in Taranaki, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones announced.
Stratford District Mayor, Neil Volzke, says he is pleased by the announcement, which came after a successful application was submitted by Stratford District Council in conjunction with the NZ Transport Agency to the Provincial Growth Fund.
Neil said sealing this section of the highway is a key enabler to unlocking the district's and wider Taranaki's economic and tourism growth potential.
"Improvements to the highway will remove restrictions for tourists, rental vehicles, camper vans and benefit regular road users."
"We've waited a long time for this good news," he said. "The improvements included in our application can be traced back to the 1960s, when consecutive Stratford mayors advocated for the same improvements, for the same reasons."
"Now they can finally be put into action," he said.
Chief Executive Sven Hanne said he is also pleased with the news.
"Together with other PGF projects already committed in Taranaki as well as Ruapehu, the investment in SH43 will be a game changer for the region and trigger a step-change in the contribution tourism makes to Taranaki's economy."
He said the application had received strong support from other groups, and recognised their support in getting the application through.
"The application made by Council had strong support from iwi, councils and communities in our own and neighbouring regions, and we couldn't have got it across the line without them.
"There has been a lot of work over the years which has been integral to today's outcome," said Sven. "We're excited to see this finally get started."
Sealing the 12km gravel section of the Forgotten World Highway through Tangarakau Gorge will contribute an estimated $35m to $45m to the region and create 30 to 60 new jobs through increased economic activity.
"SH43 in Taranaki, better known as the Forgotten World Highway, is a popular trip for visitors, a key piece of infrastructure linking businesses with markets and a vital connection for isolated communities along its route," Shane Jones said.
"Aside from the natural beauty it showcases, it also serves as an important freight route for beef, lamb and dairy businesses, forestry, and the burgeoning local mānuka honey industry.
"Taranaki's economy has traditionally been heavily reliant on oil and gas, and dairy. There is a need to diversify the region's economy and remove the risk of reliance on these industries, both of which have recently experienced downturns. Sealing the last piece of SH43 is an important step towards this."
Matt McDonald, Chair of the Taranaki Regional Transport Committee, has also welcomed today's news.
"We've been pushing for this investment for a long time. It will bring worthwhile dividends for the whole region as well as Stratford District, and also for Ruapehu District."
The sealing of the road is expected to bring more tourists to the region, said Minister Jones.
"The unsealed 12km section of the 148km route is susceptible to the weather and is not an easy drive, especially for overseas motorists not used to such conditions. A number of rental companies do not allow hirers to drive on unsealed roads and many visitors express safety concerns.
"The Coalition Government has already committed to upgrading the Tongariro Crossing. SH43 is a direct route encouraging a visitor flow from Tongariro National Park through to Egmont National Park, making it easier for more visitors to access a relatively remote part of New Zealand. It is also part of the New Zealand Cycle Trail initiative.
"The improvements to SH43 will contribute to Taranaki's appeal as a tourist destination, and create the conditions for increased economic activity and community wellbeing."
Disclosure: Ilona Hanne is married to Stratford District Council CEO, Sven Hanne.