$760m Puhoi - Warkworth 'holiday highway' gets the big tick
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A board of inquiry has given the go-ahead on the $760 million Puhoi-to-Warkworth highway.
Dubbed the "holiday highway" by its political opponents, the $760 million project will extend State Highway 1 beyond the toll road between Albany and Puhoi, north of Auckland to improve traffic flows to Warkworth, the gateway to the Northland region and weekend get-away destinations for Aucklanders.
The decision is the second this week involving a major roading project. Another board of inquiry, administered by the Environmental Protection Authority and appointed by Environment Minister Amy Adams, rejected a $90 million flyover proposed as a solution to congestion around Wellington's historic cricket ground, the Basin Reserve.
In its draft decision released today, the board approved the first stage of NZTA's proposed Ara Tuhono Puhoi to Wellsford Road of National Significance. The four-lane, 18.5 kilometre stretch of road, extending SH1 from its current end point at the Johnstone's Hill tunnels to the Kaipara Flats Road Intersection, north of Warkworth, is estimated to cost $760 million, an NZTA spokesperson told BusinessDesk.
The proposed Puhoi-Wellsford connection was singled out as a road of national significance by the National government in 2009. The more direct route is intended to cut down travel time and boost the regional economy, not only during its estimated five-year construction for the first stage, but also from increased traffic between Northland and Auckland.
"Cut three minutes"
It has been opposed by both the Labour and Green parties, with both slamming the decision as a waste of money and bad for the environment.
Labour Party transport and Auckland Issues spokesman Phil Twyford said the road was "a duplicate gold-plated toll road that would only cut three minutes off the travelling time between Puhoi and Warkworth, on a road that outside of the summer holidays carries less traffic than many suburban arterials".
Others have been more pro-development. "You can forget the 'holiday highway' nonsense — it's a vital road link that should have been upgraded years ago," regional development advocate Paul Brislen wrote last year.
46 land owners
The 673 hectares designated for the Puhoi-Warkworth stage cuts across 46 different landowners, including 18 Crown-owned parcels.
The proposal was notified in November last year, receiving a total of 187 submissions. Of those, 62 percent supported the project either in full or in part, 25 percent opposed it in full or in part, while the remaining 13 percent were either neutral or had alternate views.
In its draft, Priestley noted the submissions received, particularly those from affected landowners and residents opposed to it, but ultimately found their concerns "largely subjective", and didn't override that "social and economic benefits undoubtedly flow from New Zealand's roading network."
Landowners and residents were "in the board's view, not motivated by 'nimbyism' but instead by an abrupt and unanticipated fracturing of hopes and dreams," Priestly said. "None of the disappointments and fractured dreams which affected land owners and residents have placed before the Board would justify it, for the reasons stated, refusing the application."
However, the board did find that, during construction of the massive earthworks and bridge piles for the project ran the risk of "adverse effects" in the Puhoi River and the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park "particularly during high rainfall events".
"The discharge of stormwater from the motorway surfaces once it is operational may also affect the marine environment."
The board imposed numerous conditions on the project, which it accepted would create "significant and irreversible changes to the environment", which would soften with time as "mitigation planting becomes established and views are screened".
The board's final decision is due with the EPA by Sept. 4. The NZTA said construction is anticipated to start between 2015 and 2019 and be completed between 2020 and 2025.
The board of inquiry comprised retired High Court Judge John Priestley chairing, with Michael Parsonson, Alan Withy, Bronwyn Hunt and David Chandler.
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