A toll on the $710 million Pūhoi to Warkworth highway, dubbed the "Holiday Highway", is up for public consultation.

Today, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency made a surprise announcement a toll could pay for the construction and maintenance costs of the new highway, which is well under way.

No other reasons were provided, prompting the Automobile Association to speculate if the Government is trying to claw back money on projects that have already been funded.

The agency wants to charge motorists $2.40 for cars and $4.80 for heavy vehicles - the same amount charged for the Northern Gateway section of State Highway 1 from Orewa to the Johnstones Hill tunnels where the Pūhoi to Warkworth highway begins.

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There will be a separate toll for each section of SH1 motorway, taking the cost of driving from Orewa to Warkworth to $4.80 for cars and $9.60 for heavy vehicles.

The toll will be most heavily felt by Aucklanders, who were hit with a 11.5 cents a litre regional petrol tax by Auckland Council in July 2018.

Giant cranes are being used to lay beams on the new Pūhoi to Warkworth highway. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Giant cranes are being used to lay beams on the new Pūhoi to Warkworth highway. Photo / Jason Oxenham

AA's principal adviser of infrastructure, Barney Irvine, questioned why tolling was not discussed three or four years ago, saying people are looking forward to the project but finding out it will be tolled will be a kick in the guts.

"Are we going to see tolls on all new highways? If so, that's going to make for a lot of toll roads in the next few years," he said.

The agency is also asking for feedback on a proposal to reduce speed limits on sections of the existing SH1 from Pūhoi to north of Warkworth to make it safer for road users now and in the future.

The 18.5km Pūhoi to Warkworth highway was consented in 2014, with Prime Minister John Key turning the first sod in a paddock outside Warkworth in December 2016.

It was due to be built by the end of next year, but the agency said this could be pushed back by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The transport agency awarded a Public Private Partnership (PPP) contract to the Northern Express Group (NX2) to build the highway and then operate and maintain it for 25 years.

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By 2026, it is projected the new highway and old SH1 route will cater for 35,000 vehicles a day and shave off 10 minutes on the drive from Auckland to Warkworth.

In the early days critics dubbed it a "holiday highway" for rich Aucklanders driving to their beach homes at Omaha, but it cannot come soon enough for Warkworth where it will bypass the booming town, forecast to grow from 4500 residents to more than 25,000 over the next 25 years.

Construction progress on the new Pūhoi to Warkworth highway. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Construction progress on the new Pūhoi to Warkworth highway. Photo / Jason Oxenham

There are three toll roads in New Zealand - the Northern Gateway on SH1 from Orewa to Pūhoi ($2.40 for cars, $4.80 for heavy vehicles), Tauranga Eastern Link ($2.10 for cars, $5.20 for heavy vehicles) and Takitimu Drive in Tauranga ($1.90 for cars, $5 for heavy vehicles).

Waka Kotahi director of regional relationships Steve Mutton said the existing SH1 will be the free alternative route if the new motorway is tolled.

Waka Kotahi is looking at reducing the speed limits on sections of the current SH1 between Pūhoi and L Phillips Road (Sheepworld), north of Warkworth.

"The existing state highway has a high crash history and making it safer for all road users is a priority for Waka Kotahi," said Mutton.

Public consultation on the tolling and lower speed limit proposals will open this Friday, May 15, and close on June 15.

Find out more at: https://www.nzta.govt.nz/about-us/consultations/

Pūhoi to Warkworth motorway project by the numbers

• $710m - cost

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• 18.5km - length

• 4 - number of lanes

• 7- number of new bridges

• 7m cu m - amount of rock and soil to be cut

• 7km - culvert pipe system

• 750 plus - number of workers at the peak

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• 35,000 - number of vehicles per day on new motorway and existing SH1 route by 2026

• Late 2021 - opens to traffic