National MP’s have launched a petition, joining the calls of Horowhenua locals who want to see the Government commit funding to construct a four lane highway between Ōtaki and Levin.
“The change of Government came in, everyone thought that the road would keep happening, $5 billion cut to the state highway budget, the road’s been cancelled," National’s Transport spokesperson Chris Bishop said.
“It’s putting enormous pressure on people here, enormous frustration … we need to get on with it, National will do that.”
The petition is calling for the Government to reverse its decision to reduce the plan to a two-lane highway and to construct the highway sooner.
The Government recently announced funding to decide on the specific route of the highway inside the proposed 300 metre corridor.
“I couldn't put a time on it right now but I hope the road will be built sooner rather than later,” Transport Minister Phil Twyford said.
“National have been really disingenuous about this, they never funded it or designated the route - it's essentially a ghost road.”
Mr Twyford said he understood the desire from locals for a four-lane highway.
“The transport budget has to cater for every community across New Zealand, every city and every town, everyone has got transport projects so we've got to make decisions about spending that money in the most efficient and fair way possible,” he said.
Mr Twyford said he thought a two lane highway would be sufficient for the demands of the area.
New Zealand Transport Agency regional relationships director Emma Speight said in a statement that because of its priorities and reduced funding for state highways, construction of the estimated $100 million 40km highway is not expected to begin in the next decade.
‘We do not currently have funding to progress this work further and we cannot say if funding will be available in the next NLTP (National Land Transport Programme) period (2021-24)," she stated.
NZTA is working to add safety barriers to the stretch of State Highway One in the area and are reviewing speed limits.
There have been 24 deaths on the road from 2009 to 2018, according to NZTA.
The Road Transport Forum backs the building of a four-lane expressway.
“This has been identified as one of the most dangerous routes in the country, surely the best way of acting on that is not to slow down traffic with half-pie measures, it’s to invest in good quality four-lane expressway that’s safe, well-designed and well maintained, especially when we know the Government has the money to do that,” Road Transport Forum chief executive Nick Leggett said.
Mr Leggett said the risk on truck drivers that travel on State Highway One in the area, along with commuters, will only increase as commuter numbers build due to property development in Levin.
“Good roads ensure people get to their destinations more safely and there aren’t the delays that tend to be a real drag on the economy - congestion slows the economy down,” he said.
Manawatu farmer Peter Staples owns farmland that’s in the proposed highway route location but wants the Government to construct the highway once they’ve finished building the Peka Peka to Ōtaki expressway.
“You can’t make plans for the future so you’re in no man’s land,” he said.
“No one’s going to buy a house that’s in the 300 metre corridor are they, or nearby, so I can’t see why they can’t buy up the land now so people can move on with their lives.”
Mr Staples said he does not travel on the weekends with his wife due to traffic on State Highway One, and stressed residents have stopped talking about the future due to the uncertainty of whether they’ll lose their properties.
“Just think of the cost in 10 years’ time… it’s going to be terrible as each year goes past isn’t it, there’ll be more accidents and more people killed.”
“We’re in limbo and I’d hate for our kids to have to sort it all out, it would be good if I could sort it all out before then,” he said.
Levin local and Build our Road campaigner Antony Young said the community and the council’s town centre plan has been put on hold by the project.
“It’s a state highway and we’ve got farm vehicles clogging up traffic, we’ve got businesses trying to get their produce to Wellington that are being held up,” he said.
“Our lives are just as important and when safety’s at risk and the economy and jobs count on better access to the markets, we just really want the Government to take note and prioritise us as opposed to just the big cities, which I do understand – there are some big challenges there.”