Will we ever see the four-lane Tauranga Northern Link built between the city and Te Puna?
Construction should have been under way next month, says Tauranga MP and Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges, but instead we’re getting roundabouts and median strips on the old State Highway.
“This is not the four-lane highway we need. The safety issues are vital. This is the most dangerous, least forgiving stretch of road in the country. You can always deal with it with things like roundabouts to slow it down but the TNL is about much more than safety. It’s also about congestion, efficiency and freight.”
Transport Minister Phil Twyford was questioned in Parliament on Wednesday by National transport spokesman Jami-Lee Ross about whether he made the funding decision to reduce the state highway improvement budget, thereby ‘shelving’ the TNL.
“When the government came into office NZTA advised us that a 8.2c a litre excise increase would be needed to pay for the existing unfunded promises made by the former government, let alone the $10 billion of expressways that National had campaigned on.
“This was not sustainable, especially as increased investment in safety, regional roads, and public transport is so badly needed. So the Transport Agency has decided to re-evaluate future expressway projects, including the Tauranga Northern Link, to ensure that they deliver value for money,” he replied.
In 2016, as National’s Minister of Transport, Simon announced an investment of $520 million to improve the safety and efficiency for the Waihi to Tauranga corridor. Among the five key packages of work was the $286 million TNL, due for construction in 2018.
He balks at suggestions the previous government had nine years to fix the road and did nothing.
“Labour are telling fibs about this. Everything that needed to be done had been done by the previous National government. In fact, I approved half a billion dollars’ of funding and everything was in place for construction to start in October this year.”
Simon says the commercial tender for the TNL went out to market earlier this year but was stopped by NZTA.
“When Labour says we haven’t done anything, it’s just not true. A four-lane highway would have been happening in October and that’s a fact.”
But Jan Tinetti, Labour list MP for Tauranga, suggests we shouldn’t listen to the opposition trying to make political capital out of SH2.
“If the opposition was government they could only be doing what we’re doing. They couldn’t do any more than what we are doing. We can’t make decisions, we can only advocate for them.”
One of the issues, she says, is when a new government comes in there’s a new transport policy statement which gives NZTA direction on where it should apply its budget.
“However the NZTA spend is quite independent from government. The Minister can’t dictate where the money will be spent. It’s like Pharmac – it’s a world renowned and proven system – they can take the government’s goals and align them with projects.”
It prevents pork barrel politics where spending benefits the constituents of a politician in return for political support. “However it’s understandable some people don’t see the bigger picture where some areas have a greater need like ours.”
Jan says what is working is the government’s number one priority on its transport policy statement is safety. “So we have a good case for progress on SH2. Specific roads can’t be a priority on the policy statement, but safety can.”
The government last month confirmed immediate safety upgrades on SH2 between Waihi and Tauranga over the next five years, including $65 million for the SH2 Waihi to Omokoroa Safer Corridor project.
NZTA says safety along the existing state highway remains a top priority but a decision on further work is about four months away.
”We are carefully reviewing plans to evaluate whether it aligns with the new vision for our transport network,” according to NZTA’s Parekawhia McLean.
“It’s very important work. We’re not just looking at tweaks but are going back to first principles to establish what is the right way forward for these corridors.”
The re-evaluation process for the safety work will also consider what else could be done to improve journeys along SH2, such as speed limit reductions and active speed warning signs.
Jan has her own suggestion. “For a while, when we had similar issues on SH29 over the Kaimai Range, there was an increased presence of police and it had an immediate effect. That’s another discussion. Anything that will make SH2 safer I will ask for.”
Jan also salutes people getting out and protesting. Because she has been there herself. “Often that’s how we get change in New Zealand – average people standing up and saying this is not okay.”
See Wednesday’s discussion on the TNL in Parliament here: