The promised four-lane expressway that has become a two-lane highway is a step closer now that NZTA has been able to free up funds for the next steps for the transport corridor between Ōtaki and North of Levin, the Agency said late last week.
Organisers of the recent Build Our Road Campaign are delighted the plans for the road are no longer stalled. The transport industry is less than impressed.
Though there is progress, it is not all good news. The 'expressway' will still be a two-lane highway and the timeline for its realisation remains uncertain as funding is expected to not be available for the next ten years.
On the bright side: NZTA is also considering installing a roundabout on the SH57 and Queen Street intersection.
"We are thrilled that the Government has recognised the importance of Horowhenua and our vital role in the connection of the capital to the rest of the North Island with the announcement," Build Our Road Spokesperson Antony Young said.
"Affected homeowners living within the proposed corridor now have a sense of certainty, as do those who use the road daily. We congratulate the Minister of Transport for making the decision to finish this vital piece of infrastructure.
"We wish to acknowledge the support of news media, our community, local and national business owners and the Horowhenua District Council in the lead up to the announcement
"As the designation progresses, we will follow the updates and work with our partners and Government to ensure that they do move forwards and build our road."
Nick Leggett, Chief Executive of the New Zealand Road Transport Forum, is less than impressed.
"The truth is that despite the positives in the announcement, the Horowhenua has still been sold short.
"From a local perspective, the designation is positive because it will remove uncertainty for residents who were in limbo. Safety improvements will hopefully save lives and reduce injuries, but the existing road is still not fit for purpose.
"Patch jobs and retrofitting of safety measures doesn't provide a modern, four-lane, safe expressway that Horowhenua residents and businesses are entitled to. Traffic will be slower, especially with the growth Levin has on the horizon.
"The road freight transport industry believes four lanes from Palmerston North to Wellington is a must to guarantee the supply of goods to market.
"A modern, 21st century road is demanded for safety. It's the "missing link" in the chain with all the other roading projects such as the Kāpiti expressway and the soon to be opened Transmission Gully."
"There has been real value in the regional mayors and chairs working together to advance the case for designation," Horizons Regional Council chair Bruce Gordon said. "We look forward to continuing working with the minister and the transport agency on the work programme."
He also pointed out that O2NL is a vital part of the inter regional transport links.
"O2NL improvements, alongside the new Te Ahu a Turanga - Manawatū Gorge route, and the Palmerston North integrated freight and logistics transport hub will ensure logistics, freight and people can move safely and efficiently throughout our region and beyond.
"The first stage of the project is to designate the road, which will give certainty to the Horowhenua residents and the district council to plan for their future in a sustainable manner.
The transport agency said it had also committed to progress the shelved safety improvements for the existing SH1 as an "immediate priority".
Those immediate improvements are expected to include median barriers, roadside barriers and wide centrelines along with consideration of a new roundabout at the SH57/Queen Street intersection and turnaround facilities at SH1/SH57. Construction will start in the next few months.
NZTA will now complete a detailed business case and investigate funding for further safety improvements on the existing SH1 to the north of Levin. The total cost of the upgrades, detailed business case and designation is $51 million and funding will be allocated as project milestones are reached.
But transport minister Phil Twyford put a damper on the news.
"I know that some local residents favoured a four-lane motorway, but the cost and economic value of that simply doesn't stack up. We can't go back to the days of spending 40 per cent of the transport budget on just a few projects while the number of deaths and serious injuries increase every year."
"Safety is our top transport priority and we're upgrading over 3300km of state highways across the country after a 50 per cent increase in road deaths under the last government."
He acknowledged that the road from Ōtaki to the north of Levin has one of the highest accident rates in the country, but maintains the life-saving upgrades help reduce it.
Safety upgrades will be made along 23.4km of the existing state highway, running along SH1 from the end of the Peka Peka to Ōtaki Expressway to Levin, and along SH57 from the intersection with SH1 to the previously completed safety improvements north of Levin.
A number of safety improvements were completed last December, including flexible posts on flush medians, static signs and the repainting of existing road markings. High risk signage from Levin to Foxton was installed early this year.
Agency Director of Regional Relationships Emma Speight said the Agency will now move ahead on a series of critical next steps to build on the work already done to plan the new route.
"Confirming the designation of the new route will help us identify where it will ultimately sit within the preferred 300m corridor, securing it for the future and providing certainty for current and future development, as well as land owners.
The Transport Agency will then be able to purchase directly affected properties, under the legislated process.
"These steps are an important part of the long-term transport network planning process. Construction will not begin until these steps are complete, and when funding is made available in the future.
Given current funding is heavily constrained, this is not expected in the next 10 years.
"We acknowledge that a lack of certainty around this project has created real frustration for many people, especially those living or with property along this corridor. We are writing to property owners in the preferred corridor now and will work directly with them as we proceed through the next steps."
Speight said a review of speed limits on State Highway 1 from Ōtaki to Levin will also begin in the near future, which the Transport Agency will talk with the community about.
"While technical advice will be an important part of these reviews, local knowledge and experience of using these roads is also vital to this process, and we will be actively seeking input and feedback from the community."
To improve safety in the short term, ahead of longer term solutions, upgrades will be made along 23.4km of the existing state highway, running along State Highway 1 from the end of the Peka Peka to Ōtaki Expressway to Taylors Road, and along State Highway 57 from the intersection with State Highway 1 to the previously-completed safety improvements.
The safety improvements are expected to include the installation of new median barriers, roadside barriers and wide centrelines, along with consideration of a new roundabout at the State Highway 57/Queen Street intersection and new turnaround facilities at State Highway 1/State Highway 57.
Ms Speight said a review of speed limits on State Highway 1 from Ōtaki to Levin will also begin in the near future, which the Transport Agency will talk with the community about.
"While technical advice will be an important part of these reviews, local knowledge and experience of using these roads is also vital to this process, and we will be actively seeking input and feedback from the community.
"We are also continuing to investigate funding for further safety improvements on the existing State Highway 1 to the north of Levin. Safety improvements on two level crossings in the region will also get underway shortly."
A number of safety improvements were also completed in December last year, including the installation of flexible posts on flush medians, static signs and the repainting of existing road markings. High risk signage from Levin to Foxton was also installed in early 2019.
"That NZTA will proceed with the designation of the Ōtaki to North of Levin Expressway is very welcome," Horowhenua District Council's Acting Chief Executive Mark Lester said.
"It is a common-sense decision and will provide our community with certainty.
"The safety improvements that will be rolled out are overdue – our community has had to put up with a State Highway that is a high crash zone and we have increasing traffic counts. Our people deserve to get home safe just like everyone else in New Zealand."