He is the Transport Minister. And he was the Transport Minister. And the two men have been toe-to-toe trading political blows over whether the region’s major roading projects have deliberately stalled.
Simon Bridges, Transport Minister under the last National government has ratcheted up the debate over the proposed Tauranga Northern Link and other major local roading projects by claiming money earmarked for the region’s transport infrastructure has been syphoned off for Auckland.
Simon told SunLive the government is “gutting” the regional highways funding by $5 billion over the next decade. “That money is a pretty much a straight transfer to Auckland for its tram project.”
Consequently, he says, there will be a lost three years where no transport infrastructure happens. He says NZTA boffins will always question whether projects justify the expense. “So it requires a political will to do these things. But this government won’t. It just won’t.”
In a return salvo, current Transport Minister Phil Twyford has accused Simon of “deliberate scaremongering and causing unnecessary angst in the community”.
He assures Bay of Plenty residents they will not be paying for Auckland light rail and suggests Simon should be explaining why his government cut transport funding for the Bay of Plenty by 15 per cent during his time in office.
“It’s outrageous that after nine years of the former National government doing nothing in this area, under his watch as Transport Minister, he has the audacity to suggest a government of just nine months should do this work.”
The TNL is a $286 million, 6.8km four-lane SH2 bypass between Bethlehem and Te Puna.
“They are just not going to do that,” says Simon. He claims the government pulled the tender midway through the process, just as the companies were lining up to get the first contract.
“It’s false economics, while Kiwis continue to die on SH2, while the safety of locals is compromised and freight efficiencies are compromised.”
But, he says, the government will spend $60-80 million on safety improvements to SH2.
“A wasted opportunity and a waste of money. Do the job once and do it right. It has to be done and what will happen is those tens of millions of dollars will be frittered away because when the job has to be done, all that work will have to be ripped up and replaced.”
Phil says Simon is wrong to suggest he personally stopped work on the TNL.
“As a former Minister of Transport, he knows I don’t personally decide which roading projects go ahead. He also knows that projects are often re-evaluated and decisions halted while the public is consulted on the latest government policy statement on land transport.”
The TNL is one of four separate projects which are included as part of NZTA’s broader SH2 Waihi to Tauranga programme. They include the TNL, Omokoroa to Te Puna, Katikati bypass and Waihi to Omokoroa.
The NZTA’s draft transport agency investment proposal sets out an investment of more than $1.3 billion in state highways in the Bay of Plenty region over the next 10 years to deliver on the government’s priorities.
In the draft TAIP the SH2 Waihi to Tauranga programme has been identified by NZTA as requiring re-evaluation to better align with the government policy statement on land transport. Then it will be reconsidered.
The TNL from Tauranga to Te Puna was due to begin construction in late 2018 and is now part of the re-evaluation process to align with the policy statement.
The Omokoroa to Te Puna section, a 7km section of new highway, and the Katikati bypass are entering pre-implementation phase, including design, property purchase and resource consents. Construction of these sections was subject to further funding. These projects are also part of the re-evaluation process.
“Some people will say we had nine years and we didn’t start the Tauranga Norhern Link,” says Simon.
“Big projects take a long time, take several years through the consenting, the design, the land acquisition, the planning. But all that was all done. And it’s a matter of record that the project would have been starting this year.”
And he says if re-elected in 2020, National would put the projects back on the table because the consequences in terms of safety and efficiencies are too great.
The government also “needs to keep at it” with the Hairini link, he says. “But they won’t. We always advocated a phased approach – once you have done the underpass, then move up and do the rest of it – the Hairini Bridge through Turret Road and 15th Avenue.”
The government says after intensive investigations it was identified that four-laning 15th Avenue and Turret Road would not be required before 2020.
Turret Road became a local council-controlled road in 2015 and the Tauranga City Council is looking to carry out that work in 2021.
Tauranga Labour list MP, Jan Tinetti, also joined the debate. “We had a Minister of Transport living right here in our city, the problems were right on his doorstep but very little was done.”
However, she insists she will make sure Tauranga enjoys real progress in dealing with its transport issues.