Scrap project says Goff
IT WAS used for political leverage at the last election but this time the Puhoi to Wellsford highway extension is being taken to with a sledge hammer.
The National Party unveiled plans to speed up the highway’s development in 2008 by classifying it as a ‘‘road of national significance’’. Three years later, after surveys, geotechnical reports and public consultation, Labour leader Phil Goff says his party will scrap the project. He’s expected to elaborate when he visits Warkworth tomorrow to address the Grey Power Association meeting in the Hexham St Methodist Church Hall at 11am. The public is welcome to attend.
Transport firm Neville Brothers managing director Kelvin Neville is unimpressed with Mr Goff’s comments.
‘‘My first thought was ‘ are there any Labour seats up north?’ The answer is no. So it doesn’t affect him. It’s going to be a shamozzal if it doesn’t get done.’’
Mr Neville says his Dairy Flatbased firm uses the highway north constantly and the proposed PuhoiWellsford extension would be welcome. But he is not expecting it to go ahead any time soon.
‘‘That’s the trouble with New Zealand. In other countries, they get their A into G, make a plan to do something, then they do it.’’
Labour has long been opposed to early development of the new highway.
‘‘There is no way Labour has ever accepted that this stretch of highway is a road of national significance,’’ party transport spokesman Shane Jones said in March. ‘‘It falls into the nice-but-not-necessary category, and there is absolutely no doubt that the $ 1.3 billion estimated cost of the highway could be put to far better use on other infrastructure projects.
‘‘Everyone who uses the existing road regularly agrees that improvements are needed but there are ways to create a better road that won’t cost anywhere near that. Our urgent priorities around infrastructure projects in the future must be moving freight and people around Auckland.
‘‘In terms of creating a strong economy that generates jobs, the holiday highway would have negligible long-term impact.
‘‘Workable rail freight and public transport solutions in Auckland are vital, however, to getting our major city moving.’’
Mr Goff’s latest comments have brought a strong reaction and some say Northland’s economy is at stake if the extension doesn’t go ahead.
‘‘The upgrade of State Highway 1 from Puhoi to Wellsford is key to unlocking the economic potential of the Northland region which currently ranks as the most economically deprived region in the country,’’ New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development chief executive Stephen Selwood says.
‘‘The simple fact is that Northland will remain the poorest region if connectivity to and from New Zealand’s largest city continues to be throttled.’’
The council has on its board Fulton Hogan’s New Zealand and Australia operations managing director Nick Miller and Robert Jones who was project director for the $360 million Northern Gateway Alliance.
The use of the term ‘‘holiday highway’’ by Mr Goff, which was initially coined by former Auckland Regional Council chairman Mike Lee, is also criticised. Mr Selwood describes it as ‘‘inappropriate’’.
‘‘The route carries over 16,500 vehicles on an average day, but has dramatically higher volumes in the holiday season. By 2026, traffic volumes are expected to rise by 30 percent with a high concentration of heavy traffic and tourist trips. Figures from the National Freight Demands Study suggest road freight traffic between Northland and Auckland will increase by over 250 percent over the 25-year period from 2006 to 2031.
‘‘The answer to these problems is not continuing to defer projects that are clearly needed. Rather we need to find new and more innovative ways to fund investment that will lift New Zealand’s economic performance, improve the safety of our road networks and improve social outcomes for the regions that need it most.
‘‘In the last five years, 19 people have lost their lives on the PuhoiWellsford road and hundreds seriously injured.
‘‘This will continue to get worse if timely investment is not made,’’ he says.
The council believes tolling may be the answer to the issue.
A low-level toll on Auckland motorways and on the new 38km Puhoi-Wellsford highway would raise sufficient capital to enable the project to proceed along with other key transport initiatives in the region such as the inner city rail loop, key arterial upgrades, and an additional harbour crossing, Mr Selwood says.
Political football: Labour wants to scrap the Puhoi-Wellsford national road of significance, saying the $1.3 billion forecast cost could be better spent on other infrastructure. Party leader Phil Goff, inset, is in Warkworth tomorrow and is likely to face questions about Labour’s ‘‘holiday highway’’ stand.