Mayors and chairs in the Horizons region are disappointed that extending the four-lane expressway from north of Ōtaki to north of Levin is likely to be years away.

The mayors and chairs meet regularly to push along the Manawatū-Whanganui Economic Development Action Plan. Recently an NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) official told them there may not be funding available to decide the route from north of Ōtaki to north of Levin until after 2024.

They had believed that piece of expressway was as important as building a new route to replace the Manawatū Gorge - and that work is going ahead.

At present the four-lane Wellington Northern Corridor will be pushed to just north of Ōtaki. The first disappointment for the mayors and chairs was that the Ōtaki to north of Levin stretch would be two lanes, with marker pegs down the middle, rather than four lanes.

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Now they are disappointed that its final route may not be decided for years.

"Traffic issues and constraints in this area will only be exaggerated once the Transmission Gully expressway is opened next year," Whanganui Mayor Hamish McDouall said.

Palmerston North Mayor Grant Smith has suggested the group engages with central government on the issue.

The mayors say the route is important to the entire central North Island, and that landowners on the route have put plans on hold and have been waiting for certainty for years.

Horizons Regional Council chairman Bruce Gordon said he feels sorry for the people of Levin.

"It can take 40 minutes to get through Levin on a Friday."

There have been many accidents on SH1 between Ōtaki and Levin, he said, with narrow overbridges over the railway especially dangerous on a wet night. The mayors and chairs were hoping for four lanes of expressway as far as the Waitarere curves north of Levin.

If development is allowed to happen along the likely route, it will be much harder to build more lanes later, Gordon said.

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The mayors and chairs would like the route decided, even if they have to wait for the expressway to be built.