Pledge for local roading
Promised works a bribe – Labour
Major roadworks on two Taranaki highway black spots have been announced by the Government in a pre-election sweetener.
The Normanby overbridge project will start next year, five years earlier than expected after a cash injection of $10 million-$15 million.
Upgrades to the Mt Messenger and the Awakino Gorge have also been included, with up to $25m earmarked for 2017.
Prime Minister John Key announced the multimillion-dollar cash injections yesterday at the National party conference in Wellington.
The Taranaki projects are two of 14 included in the $212m road transport package, funded from the sale of state-owned assets.
Taranaki Regional Council chairman, David MacLeod said the inclusion of the projects was worthy of celebration.
The council and the regional transport committee had long advocated the need for action on the troublesome Taranaki highways, he said.
‘‘This is the best roading news to come out of Wellington for quite a number of years,’’ he said.
However, Labour MP Andrew Little slammed the proposal as an ‘‘election year bribe’’.
‘‘Up until now Taranaki has been asked to choose between Normanby and other projects, but now that it’s election year, well . . .’’
Little said that $25m for the Mt Messenger and Awakino Gorge tunnel was a drop in the ocean.
‘‘There’s about 100km of work that needs to be done there and a $20m commitment is not taking it seriously at all,’’ he said.
Labour will announce its transport policy in the next few weeks and it would also include works for Taranaki, Little said.
New Plymouth MP Jonathan Young said he was thrilled that Taranaki had received recognition for its considerable contribution to the country’s economy.
Young said although the Mt Messenger and Awakino Gorge corridor were not in his electorate, he had been campaigning to the Ministry of Transport for some time.
‘‘The road is used all the time by people going to and from Taranaki,’’ he said.
Young maintained that the party’s $212m proposal was not just a way to buy votes in the regions. ‘‘There is no way this Government makes a promise and doesn’t stick to it,’’ he said.
MacLeod said a clear message had been sent to Government in 2012 when officials in the province were asked to decide between the Normanby overbridge or the traffic-clogged northern highway outlet in Waiwhakaiho.
The regional transport committee said it would not choose because both were equally important to the future of Taranaki.
‘‘We’re pleased that this message has been taken on board, so top marks to Wellington,’’ MacLeod said.
Whanganui MP Chester Borrows said he had spent 15 years relentlessly campaigning for the work on the Normanby overbridge and was pleased the lobbying had finally paid off.
‘‘We’ve lost too many people on that bridge over the years,’’ he said.
‘‘I have such relief knowing the work is finally going ahead, and soon.’’
The work, scheduled to start as early as next year, will realign the current road, and change the current overbridge to a new underrail pass, he said.
Roger Maxwell, chairman of the regional transport committee, said the inclusion of improvements at Mt Messenger and Awakino Gorge showed the Government had accepted the committee’s strong case that SH3 north was a strategically important route for a region that was one of New Zealand’s economic powerhouses.
National’s cash promise also includes works in Manawatu, Gisborne, Marlborough, West Coast, Northland, Otago and Canterbury.
Long service: Waitara volunteer fire brigade’s operational support unit celebrated 50 years in existence on Saturday. From left, Nigel Cash, Craig Zimmerman, Terry Partington, Brent Shaw, Jan Ainsworth and Greig Barlow.
Blocked again: Truck accidents are commonplace in the Awakino Gorge, but the Government is promising major roadworks.