8 Mar 2017

Northland highway 'an election-year spiel' - Peters

10:50 am on 8 March 2017

Northland MP Winston Peters says he is sceptical about the government's plan to upgrade State Highway 1 between Whangarei and Oakleigh - at a cost of up to $500 million.

Winston Peters at the Bridge run.

Winston Peters says the government has not followed through with promises made during the 2015 Northland by-election. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Minister of Transport Simon Bridges made the surprise announcement to Whangarei councillors at the opening of a new cycleway in the city on Friday.

Whangarei Mayor Sheryl Mai said it was outstanding news and that she wanted to jump for joy.

But Mr Peters said seeing was believing and pointed to promises made by National during the 2015 by-election, which he won.

"In 2015 they promised the ten-double lane bridges for Northland and not one has even started," he said.

"I think this is an election-year spiel to try to tell people they're doing something; laying out massive sums of money when the end result is possibly two decades away and therefore not likely to be a priority. "

The Transport Agency said work had, in fact, started on two of the promised bridges. The agency held a sod-turning ceremony last week to mark the start of the project to replace two one-lane bridges near Matakohe, in Kaipara.

The agency's Auckland-Northland director Auckland Ernst Zollner said the plan had always been to have those bridges, and two others at Kaeo and Taipa, built in the 2015 to 2018 funding cycle.

The remaining six would be built in the next cycle between 2018 and 2021, he said.

Police, community welcome highway

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Inspector Wayne Ewers Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

The government's promise to build a four-lane highway and separate traffic south of Whangarei has been praised by police, among others.

Inspector Wayne Ewers, the region's traffic chief, said the kilometre stretch between the city and Oakleigh had an appalling crash rate.

"It's a very unforgiving piece of road," he said.

"There've been four fatal crashes in the past 18 months and lots of injury crashes. Anything to make that road safer is ideal."

The owners of Northland's timber port at Marsden Point are also enthusiastic about the prospect of a better road.

Hundreds of log trucks on their way to the port share SH1 daily with other traffic including growing numbers of tourists in campervans.

Northport chairman Sir John Goulter said the project would be a game changer.

It would eliminate the constant delays and inefficiencies caused by accidents and roadworks, he said.

Bayleys real estate agent Penny Kempton said the new highway would also encourage development south of Whangarei.

The perceived risks of a daily drive on SH1 south of the city had put some buyers off property in that area in the past, she said.

"I think development south of the city's just waiting to happen and this (road) would be a major step forward in that. There's definitely a lot more people around who are interested in the Marsden Point area, and the prices out there are competitive.

The Transport Agency said Northland's biggest-ever roading project, the Whangarei to Oakleigh upgrade, would begin before 2019 and be completed within five to seven years.

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