It really annoys Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges.
“You never seem to make the point clear, with the greatest of respect. The Tauranga Northern Link has been cancelled, okay?”
The Tauranga MP says there’s all the growth in Tauranga, all the freight, all the congestion. “But the TNL, although an inevitability, is not going to happen under that guy.”
That guy being Phil Twyford, Minister of Transport. “They are stringing you along. The NZTA and Phil are not being straight with you if they tell you the TNL has not been cancelled. Because it has. Write the reality. It has been cancelled.”
Construction on the estimated $286 million, 6.8km, four-lane, median-divided expressway between the roundabout at the top of the old Takitimu Drive toll road through to the Loop Road west of Te Puna was due to start this year.
Funding for the TNL was granted in 2016 as part of the $520 million Waihi to Tauranga Corridor programme to improve road safety, and support economic development and regional growth along this busy regional highway.
For his part, Phil Twyford says NZTA is currently re-evaluating SH2 and considering all the options. In a written statement to The Weekend Sun the Minister said “it’s important we let the roading experts make the best decisions about how to make SH2 safer for everyone without political interference.”
He agrees we need to ‘fix the bloody road’.
“I don’t want anyone else to lose their lives on this road; no one does.” He says that’s why the government is investing $65 million over the next three years on urgent safety improvements – upgrading 26 intersections, road and shoulder widening, centre line widening, and installing roadside safety barriers. Construction on the first safety improvements between Waihi and Omokoroa is about to begin.
Simon says work was due to start on the TNL next month. “But the government has pulled the pin on all the processes, including the commercial tender which would have got work under way. Now we are left with some roundabouts and safety improvements, but not the fundamental fix.”
But the city to Te Puna leg of SH2 isn’t the major safety issue. That part of the road isn’t littered with white crosses.
“But the point is, if you are going to fix SH2, do it once and do it properly,” says Simon. And ‘the fundamental fix’ he refers to is a four-lane highway between Waihi and Tauranga, which he believes is going to have to happen.
“If you build a four-lane highway for half a billion dollars, no one would die.” He says roundabout and safety improvements will be “fine to good”.
“But it’s a tragedy; it’s not fixing the overarching medium to long-term issues which require a four-lane state highway. Why spend 80 million now and half a billion later when you can do the job once and properly?”
He blames the government and Auckland for the “cancellation” of the TNL.
“They have stripped $5 billion out of regional state highways and it’s going into what’s called ‘mass transit’. That’s a tram in Auckland.”
Simon says the safety improvements planned are about $400 million less than what National was planning to spend in the next three or four years, and over time, $800-900 million less.
“It would have been over time because we had committed to a four-lane highway to Katikati.”
NZTA told The Weekend Sun it is currently reviewing plans for the SH2 Waihi to Tauranga project which is expected to take four months.
“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.”