Whangārei’s mayor has expressed disbelief that a project to four-lane Northland’s busiest and deadliest highway has been scrapped.
Whangreis mayor has expressed disbelief and shock to news a project to four-lane Northlands busiest and deadliest highway has been scrapped.
The Government announced on Friday the project to upgrade State Highway 1 between Whangrei and Port Marsden Highway would not go ahead, along with five other projects in the NZ Upgrade Programme.
The changes come among a $6 billion cost blow-out in just one year.
State Highway 1 south of Whangrei is congested and dangerous. Motorists were hoping for it to be four-laned.
While the four-laning will not go ahead, the Government has committed to a crucial rail connection to Marsden Point, where Northport is located.
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Calls for the rail spur were amplified late last year, when Northport was used to help supply Aucklands Christmas freight, due to congestion at Ports of Auckland.
A container truck leaves Northport with containers full of Christmas freight, after the port was used to ease congestion at Ports of Auckland.
A total of 2700 truck trips between Marsden Point and Auckland were created from just one ship docking at the Northland port.
But Whangrei mayor Sheryl Mai said while the rail connection was good news, it should not come at the cost of the busy highway.
You cannot replace a road with rail, because youre never going to get from my place to Auckland on a train, weve still got to get somewhere in vehicles.
The road upgrade was also to include a separate walking and cycling path, but that would most likely not go ahead now, she said.
Whangrei mayor Sheryl Mai says rail will never be able to replace road for all transport needs. (File photo)
The 19km rail connection will enable easy transport of freight, and there has already been an increase in rail use since the rail line was upgraded earlier this year, Mai acknowledged.
However, she said the rail spur would take a number of years to build.
Fridays announcement was for continued land purchases for the rail link, along with starting advanced design, and iwi and stakeholder engagement.
No timeline was given for the connections completion, although it was expected to take five years to build.
Northport is one of the only major ports that does not have a rail connection. (File photo)
Conversely, a lot of work had already been done on the four-laning project, including community consultation, designations and geotech work, Mai said.
Transport Minister Michael Wood acknowledge that safety on the state highway was a concern for locals, so there would be targeted safety upgrades, including median barriers, along the route.
In the 20 years to 2019, there were 24 road deaths and 50 serious injuries in an 8.5km blackspot near Oakleigh.
Safety work on SH1 has already helped the deadly road improve, and Mai said anything to improve safety would help.
But she questioned if the safety plan would involve reducing the speed limit on the highway as proposed by Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency rather than safety improvements on the road.
If the speed limit was dropped to 80kmh, it would add to the cost of freight, increase congestion and increase the travel distance between Whangrei and Auckland, she said.
We still dont know what the plan is … Saving lives is really, really important but it has been frustrating that the distance between here and Auckland hasnt changed but the time to travel it has.
Meanwhile, KiwiRail chief executive Greg Miller has cheered the Governments proposed investment in Northland rail, which includes an upgrade to the rail line north of Whangrei, as well as the Marsden Point link.
This is about creating a resilient rail network for the region, reducing carbon emissions, creating jobs and helping local businesses to grow, he said.
It will also see the creation of the first significant new rail line in New Zealand since the 1950s.