25 Jun 2018

NZTA re-evaluating planned Ōtaki-Levin highway

From Checkpoint, 6:15 pm on 25 June 2018

Seven mayors and a regional council chair are calling on the Transport Agency to commit to fixing State Highway 1 between Ōtaki and Levin.

Traffic backed up near Levin

Traffic backed up near Levin earlier this year. Photo: RNZ/ Richard Tindiller

The agency is re-evaluating a planned four-lane state highway aimed at making the road safer and opening up the corridor between the two towns, north of Wellington. 

Mayors from across the Manawatū-Whanganui region will lobby the agency to make sure that even if the planned expressway doesn't go ahead, the road - which one mayor described as "death highway" - will still be improved.

They did the same thing while decisions were being made about an alternative route through the Manawatū Gorge. 

In February, the Transport Agency released nine options for the road where it goes through Levin, with 400 homes potentially affected. 

It had to re-evaluate its plans as part of its investment proposal after the government developed a new draft policy on land transport. 

A decision on the project is expected to be released in two to three months. 

Horizons Regional Council chair Bruce Gordon said the government talked about safety and resilience in its draft policy statement.

"In this case the road is subject to closures through flooding events, closed regularly through accidents, and it's the death highway at the moment." 

The region could make do with two lanes instead of four if necessary, as long as land was saved to extend the road later. 

If the new route wasn't built, the region could suffer. 

"[Not building] it would stifle growth in our region, it would take away a lot of business confidence that we're starting to enjoy, at the moment we're one of the surge regions of New Zealand and to us it's very important this section of the highway gets the upgrade it's so overdue." 

'It's got to happen sooner or later'

Horowhenua mayor Michael Feyen said he understood the new government might have different priorities to the old one, but no matter the decision the town needed a bypass. 

"Levin absolutely needs to get our blockages and our roading through SH1 through the middle of town. There's no question about it, it's got to happen sooner or later." 

The road between Ōtaki and Levin is definitely a dangerous road and everybody knows that." 

The biggest problem for people in Levin was they didn't know where the road was going to go. 

"If the National government had stayed in, I think ... they would have made their decisions about where it's going to go and the like, but the new government has a different strategy. We've got to operate off the coalition's strategy." 

Simon Burgess' house in Levin sits on the route for two of the proposed options. The re-evaluation of the road would leave him and fellow residents in limbo for longer, he said. 

"We don't know what's going to happen and when, so it sort of hangs over your head."  

"Everything's on hold - you don't know whether you can spend money on the house, you don't know whether you should be looking for something else." 

Simon Burgess is concerned the road is going to be built on his property.

Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

There was lot of uncertainty about what the future held, Mr Burgess said. 

"What does re-evaluation mean? Does it mean they're not going to do it? Does it mean they're going to start from scratch?" 

The Transport Agency wrote to residents last week telling them they would have to wait another couple of months before an update.

It acknowledged the lack of certainty was a cause of concern and frustration for people affected. 

In the meantime, safety improvements are being done on State Highway 1 between Levin and the Manawatū river.