Opening of SH1 Mercer to Longswamp

  • Annette King

Last month I had the pleasure of joining Prime Minister Helen Clark at the official sod-turning for the Manukau extension of the Western Ring Route in Auckland.

Today, however, marks a real ‘kilometre stone’ for me as Transport Minister because this is the first time I have been asked to open an actual road.

Thank you very much for inviting me to the final stage of this magnificent project, and the first thing I want to do today is to thank Transit NZ Waikato Regional Manager Chris Allen and project managers Jason Schirnack and Eric Van Derwel for their work completing this part of the Waikato Expressway.

I also want to acknowledge the contribution of the Waikato Regional Land Transport Committee, who are developing the Waikato Regional Land Transport Strategy, and to thank the Franklin and Waikato District Councils for helping with initial land planning for the state highway. Franklin Mayor Mark Ball and Waikato Mayor Peter Harris will both be speaking to you shortly.

Finally, I want to acknowledge my parliamentary colleagues here today, Nanaia Mahuta, Martin Gallagher, Paul Hutchison, Sue Moroney, David Bennett and Lindsay Tisch.

The purpose of this and other projects on the Waikato Expressway is to decrease congestion, provide a more efficient long haul route and to reduce the crash rate on State Highway 1.

The importance of projects like this cannot be overstated in terms of the Government’s commitment to building a world-class roading infrastructure in New Zealand.

This is New Zealand's main north/south transportation link. The Waikato region is a key part of New Zealand’s transport infrastructure and safe and efficient transport links are essential. This area has 16 percent of the country’s state highway network and 20 percent of commercial freight. Together with Auckland and the western Bay of Plenty it is one of the fastest growing regions.

All those statistics slip glibly enough off the tongue, and perhaps disguise the fact that it is important to recognise how much work has had to be done --- and still needs to be done --- to rebuild our land transport infrastructure after years of neglect.

Completion of this $83.5 million, 12 kilometre section of the Waikato Expressway has certainly been challenging.

It has involved relocation of 1km of main trunk railway, construction of a 160m-long bridge over Whangamarino River and railway and major interchanges at Mercer and Hampton Downs Road.
The project was complicated by a fault line running through the Whangamarino hills beside the highway, the swampy topography, the North Island main rail trunk line running parallel, and the need to preserve a pa site associated with the 19th century colonial wars.

I am delighted that the project has eliminated the Meremere crash black spot, and that it has been completed with minimised impacts on the Waikato River and Whangamarino Stream.

The State Highway Forecast makes accelerated progress on the Waikato Expressway and safety issues its highest priority for this region. State Highway 1 will be reinforced as the preferred long haul route together with SH29 to the Bay of Plenty.

Over the next five years this will enable:

·Further investigation, then design and construction of the Rangiriri Bypass.
·Design of the Ngaruawahia, Cambridge and Huntly bypasses, and the Longswamp to Rangiriri four-laning project. Some of this design work begins in 2006/07.
·Construction of the Church to Avalon Drive four laning, and Avalon Drive bypass, which it is hoped to complete within the next five years.
·Design of the Kopu Bridge replacement, which is already underway
·And design of the Maramarua deviation to be carried out and construction commenced.

Transit NZ is working with local government to achieve a sustainable land transport system. This includes work on the Regional Land Transport Strategy, agreement on roading planning at district and city local authority level, and sometimes shared funding responsibilities for both local and national infrastructure.

This is happening In this region with shared funding responsibilities taking place with Hamilton City Council and Taupo District Council.

Another example of partnership in action has been the Waikato Joint Officials Group (JOG) process. That work has helped us to fund and plan future improvements along the Waikato Expressway.

Through the JOG the Crown has invested an additional $215m for state highways, local roads, public transport, travel demand management, walking and cycling and rail in the Waikato. This investment begins in 2007/08, and will enable further Waikato Expressway work to be advanced.

While today's focus is on the opening of a road, I want to emphasise that this Government is also very committed to public transport. Since 1999, we have increased public transport spending by more than 700 percent, from $43 million to an estimated $360 million in 2006/07.

In 1996/97, the Waikato region received just $946,000 for passenger transport. The Government has since increased Waikato passenger transport spending by almost 600 percent. Land Transport NZ is expected to allocate around $5.5 million to the Waikato region for passenger transport in the 2006/07 year.

The extent of the Government’s commitment to improving road transport infrastructure can be readily seen in the fact that for the first time the Government will spend more over the next five years --- some $300 million more, in fact --- on land transport than it collects in petrol excise duties, road user charges and motor vehicle registration fees. We are quite rightly proud of that.

In the 2006 Budget released in May the Government's land transport spending increased by $1.3 billion to $13.4 billion over the next five years to guarantee and accelerate New Zealand's largest ever road building programme.
Budget 2006 allocated the funds to guarantee the state highway programme and to speed up work on major projects to ease traffic congestion. It also continues the momentum of much-needed improvements around New Zealand.

The Budget also provided further certainty for delivering State Highway activities through introduction of a five-year appropriation, which protects against cost increases and revenue decreases.
Transit will develop a five year plan that will be updated periodically. This is the first time that such funding certainty has been provided. In the past, funding had only been allocated by Land Transport on a year-by-year basis.

Alongside all this extra funding, the Government has put procedures in place to ensure we are getting value for money. The Advisory Group on Roading Costs and the Review of Value for Money in the Land Transport Sector have both been formed to ensure value for money is being achieved in the transport sector.

I expect the Advisory Group on Roading Costs to report back to me in August with their findings and recommendations. The value for money review will provide its final report to Ministers in October.

But those reports are for the future, and today is a day simply for celebration.

Thank you for joining me in opening this important part of our state highway network