A four-lane highway south of Whangarei is off the Government agenda with Northland roading officials now hoping to secure funding to make major safety improvements to the 22km section of road.
The bad news came after a delegation of senior Northland roading and local government representatives travelled to the Beehive and met the Minister of Transport Phil Twyford last week to express the importance of such a highway to the region.
After the 90-minute meeting in the minister's office, Twyford told the Northlanders it was clear he could not promise a four-lane highway under the Government's priorities.
Bill Shepherd, chairman of Northland Regional Council, along with Whangarei District Council Mayor Sheryl Mai, Far North District Council Mayor John Carter, Kaipara Mayor Jason Smith, Regional Transport Committee chairman John Bain, and WDC CEO Rob Furlong in his role as chairman of the Northland Transportation Alliance were in Wellington to attend the Local Government Road Safety Summit.
Shepherd said the meeting with the minister had been planned a month ago and the aim was to express concern over the direction the Government was taking on their roading strategy and heading away from four-lane highways.
"We decided we should take a senior delegation to meet with the minister and put the case and the importance of a four-lane highway from Auckland to Northland. Our priorities are regional economic development, safety and resilience of the roading system, making sure Northland stays connected to the rest of the country," Shepherd said.
"He was clear he could not promise us a four-lane highway under the government priorities. We're disappointed about that."
Shepherd said building such a major road was a 20-year programme and even if Government did not want to pay in the short term, planning for the highway for the future had to continue.
Earlier this month the Government released its draft 10-year transport plan, including cutting more than $5 billion from state highway upgrades and channelling the money into public transport such as light rail, urban cycleways and safety improvements on urban and regional roads in a bid to lower the road toll.
The Government boasted of doubling the funding for regional roads and it would spend up to an extra $230m more than National planned over the next five years.
National's transport spokesman, Jami-Lee Ross, said that was peanuts compared with more than $5b being stripped out of the state highway network over the next 10 years, which would have benefited the regions.
The news the four-lane highway was on ice meant the focus had to move to ensuring applications for funding for safety improvements on the stretch of road between Whangarei and Marsden Point Highway sat within the Government's priorities.
Bain, chairman of the Regional Transport Committee, said that would mean creating more passing lanes and pull-off bays and any other measures that improved the safety of the highway.
"Of course this is extremely disappointing. With the change of government and change of direction it's unlikely we will get the highway built in the form we wanted. We still think four lanes should be left on the map because in the future we believe that it will be a necessity,'' he said.
"It's almost five years from when we really started to push this through and we were winning, now we have lost out."
Bain said it meant the draft Regional Land Transport Plan for Northland would be looked at and tweaked if required to fit with the Government's new roading priorities before it went forward to the New Zealand Transport Agency, where funding would be decided.
In February all four Northland council leaders presented a joint statement saying there was plenty of merit in the proposed bigger highway between Northland and Warkworth.
They said they would rather the Government spend more on that vital main link than on regional roads, but they'd like regional roads to be better funded, too.
It was then that signs emerged the newly-elected Government was less enthusiastic than its predecessor about the Warkworth-Whangarei motorway when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern suggested that neglected regional roads would be better candidates for funding.
The projected cost of the entire four-laning between Warkworth and Whangarei was just short of $2b.
Last week the Government announced a notoriously dangerous intersection on State Highway 1 just south of Whangarei would get a roundabout and other work designed to improve road safety.
Associate Transport Minister Shane Jones announced the safety improvements to the Loop Rd intersection of SH1 and SH15 that will include a new single lane roundabout where Loop Rd (north) meets SH1. The Loop Rd (south) access to SH1 will be closed.