War of words over high­way

Waikato News - - NEWS - Tom Row­land

Con­cerns over govern­ment fund­ing of a key sec­tion of the Waikato Ex­press­way has sparked a war of words be­tween Hamil­ton-based MPs Jamie Strange and David Ben­nett.

Ear­lier this month the Govern­ment re­leased its Pol­icy State­ment on Trans­port for pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion. The pol­icy sees more fund­ing for pub­lic trans­port with $4 bil­lion be­ing al­lo­cated over 10 years to es­tab­lish rapid tran­sit (trains and buses), such as the Hamil­ton to Auckland con­nec­tion.

In­creased fund­ing of pub­lic trans­port comes at a cost for state highways which will see fund­ing cut by 11 per cent, although the Labour-led Govern­ment says de­ci­sions have yet to be made on spend­ing pri­or­i­ties.

The news has raised se­ri­ous con­cerns for Mr Ben­nett who is Na­tional MP for Hamil­ton East. He be­lieves the ex­press­way ex­ten­sion from Cam­bridge to Piarere is un­der threat.

“The ex­press­way is im­por­tant be­cause it di­vides the traf­fic from Ro­torua to Tauranga at that point. It is not much good hav­ing a road that stops at Cam­bridge when ac­tu­ally you need it to keep go­ing through to Piarere be­cause that is where the traf­fic di­vides,” Mr Ben­nett said.

De­spite the funds be­ing cut to sup­port pub­lic trans­port, Mr Ben­nett be­lieves that it should not be a mat­ter of ei­ther/or.

“We need to be work­ing on that rail op­tion, but the thing is the ex­ten­sion is the op­por­tu­nity that is in front of us now. We have done all that work get­ting the ex­press­way up to that point and it would be silly to stop that now.”

Mr Ben­nett says the higher fuel tax that Labour is propos­ing will be enough to fund both. A fuel tax in­crease of be­tween 9 and 12 cents a litre has been pro­posed while Auck­lan­ders will face fuel tax hikes of about 20 cents a litre if the Govern­ment’s in­creases and a re­gional fuel tax are brought in.

He would also like to see the full rail link up­graded from the start which in­cludes elec­tri­fi­ca­tion of the tracks from Po­keno north. Cur­rently the plan is to get a diesel train run­ning from Hamil­ton to Pa­pakura which Mr Ben­nett la­belled as the cheap op­tion.

Labour list MP Jamie Strange has said that no de­ci­sion had been made yet over the ex­ten­sion.

“There is only a slight drop, but there is still money avail­able,” Mr Strange said. “It has gone from some­thing like $4.1 bil­lion to $3.8 bil­lion so it has only gone down a lit­tle bit, but over the next three years there is still some money avail­able.”

Mr Strange also said the fi­nal de­ci­sion will be up to NZTA and this has caused con­fu­sion.

“They are au­ton­o­mous, and what will hap­pen is the coun­cil in our re­gion will put to­gether a re­gional trans­port pro­posal.”

Mr Strange said it his ex­pec­ta­tion that the Cam­bridge to Piarere ex­ten­sion and the South­ern Links will both be in­cluded in that trans­port pro­posal.

“NZTA also has both of those on their list. The first pri­or­ity for them is fin­ish­ing the Waikato Ex­press­way and that will be done in 2020. The sec­ond pri­or­ity is South­ern Links and the third is Cam­bridge to Piarere.”

The con­sul­ta­tion process closes on May 2.

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