Stratford mayor Neil Volzke has welcomed the announcement of additional funding for SH43, the Forgotten World Highway.
The stretch of road which connects Stratford to Taumarunui is one of the winners in a new round of regional services funding announced by Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones.
Jones announced a package of $190m in spending, as part of the $300m earmarked for the regions in the Government's new $12 billion infrastructure programme.
$13.4 million of that money is earmarked for improving SH43, the Forgotten World Highway, something Mayor Neil Volzke has been loudly and consistently lobbying for.
"This funding announcement is great news for the Taranaki region and comes on top of the $9.6 million already promised for sealing the last 12km of the SH43.
"We have been lobbying for these road improvements for many years and a better, safer road will be welcomed by all motorists. It is very satisfying for us, that Minister Jones has supported our view and given the green light for this future work."
Technically, the money does not come from the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF), but is part of a new spending initiative, the NZ Upgrade Programme. It will be administered by the Provincial Development Unit, a division of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment which also runs the PGF.
"This funding boost has allowed us to get projects under way that may not have been an exact fit with the Provincial Growth Fund criteria but were worthy investments nonetheless," said Jones.
The project will include a range of upgrades to the road, including safety improvements, passing opportunities, a single-lane bridge upgrade and culvert replacements.
The improvements will provide resilience for the Central North Island's transport network, as an important alternative to SH3 between Taranaki and the Upper North Island.
The Forgotten World Highway is promoted as a tourist destination and the previously announced Provincial Growth Fund funded sealing of the unsealed section of the Tangarakau Gorge is expected to drive GDP gains into Taranaki of up to $45 million over 40 years
Together, the projects are forecast to increase visitor numbers to Taranaki by around 13,000 annually, something Mayor Volzke says will help the region greatly.
"The outcome will make the region much more accessible for tourists and over time will facilitate a major boost to the local economy as a result of increased number of visitors."
The Upgrade Programme funding covers 18 different projects, in regions including Northland, Bay of Plenty, Hawke's Bay, Taranaki, Otago, West Coast, Canterbury and Southland.
Half the money, $88.2m, will be spent on roads. As well as the improvements to SH43, other roading projects included are $6m for a roundabout at the State Highway One turnoff to Kawakawa, and $13m on State Highway 2 improvements in Hawke's Bay.
The Infracom conference where the funding was announced is billed as the first step to working out how well infrastructure sectors are managing.
"We really want to understand why some sectors perform better than others," said Infracom board chair Dr Alan Bollard. "We will gather information from territorial local authorities, government departments, Crown entities, State-owned enterprises and other infrastructure providers."
The Government has also asked Infracom to look at the port sector and provide an independent view of the proposal to move Auckland port operations to Northport and Tauranga. It is also managing a wholesale review of the Public Private Partnership (PPP) model.