Whangārei Mayor Vince Cocurullo has hit out at $270 million of government funding for safety improvements to a notorious stretch of state highway, saying the money would be better focused on improving the main route into Northland.
Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency safety improvements are planned for about 30 kilometres of SH1 from Whangārei’s Tarewa Rd lights, south to the SH15 Port Marsden Highway roundabout at Ruakākā.
The government organisation this week allocated the money for road widening, centre median barriers, turnaround facilities, improved passing lanes, walking and cycling facilities, a shared path and signalised road crossings in urban Whangārei.
However, Cocurullo said a reliable, fully functioning route between Northland and Auckland was urgently needed first, followed by work on further progressing the remaining stretch of SH1′s Northland to Auckland expressway from Warkworth.
Cocurullo said the safety improvements missed the bigger picture.
“These are nice things, but we’ve got a roading network that’s failing.”
The safety project is still in its early stages. The next steps include public consultation with affected communities and talks with local government before a detailed design.
Construction is scheduled to start in late 2025. Coloured flexible safety posts will be put in the middle of SH1 this year for 26km from Toetoe Rd on Whangārei’s southern outskirts to the Port Marsden Highway roundabout, a process expected to take about three months.
Waka Kotahi national manager infrastructure delivery Mark Kinvig said the overall project would make travelling safer for the up to 20,000 people who travel the route daily.
Some of the safety work will mean the Waka Kotahi has to buy land along the route.
Cocurullo said safety improvements were always welcome but more pressing needs included building SH1 reliability over the Brynderwyns and its bypass routes such as the Oakleigh-Paparoa Rd.
He said the closure, yet again, of SH1 at Dome Valley at the weekend’s school holiday start, was the latest example of the lack of reliability in the Northland to Auckland arterial route.
“Fix up the essential backbone of our transport route into Northland first,” Cocurullo said.
Closing SH1 over the Brynderwyns costs Northland $1m a day.
“We need to get our roading up to scratch,” Cocurullo said.
“We desperately need a roading network that’s working, right now.”
The Northland to Auckland expressway was now four-laned from Auckland as far north as Warkworth. That meant about half the route was built, Cocurullo said, leaving only from Warkworth north to be completed.
He said Northlanders needed to make their voices heard around the need for a reliable transport route in and out of the region.
Waka Kotahi said the new median barrier would mean alterations for those accessing SH1 from homes or businesses along the route. The turning bays would also mean some drivers having to travel to the nearest intersection to make a safe right turn for travel in the opposite direction.
Waka Kotahi said land from properties along the corridor would be needed for the new turnaround bays and some centre median barrier work, but the agency would not have to buy entire properties. In most cases, only a small piece of road frontage would be needed.
Waka Kotahi regional manager system design Randhir Karma said the Whangārei to Port Marsden Highway safety project had been in the planning phase for a number of years.
“SH1 between Whangārei and Port Marsden Highway has a poor safety record with a disproportionately high number of people seriously hurt or killed on the road. Between 2015 and early 2020, 44 people were seriously hurt and 18 people were killed in crashes,” Karma said.
Karma said it was important to note that Waka Kotahi funding for the safety improvement project came from one budget area, and investment into Northland’s national state highway roading and storm recovery and resilience came from others.
Meanwhile, Karma said a Whangārei to Dome Valley resilience strategic project – set up in response to recent weather and due for completion this month – would recommend options for improving roading network resilience between Whangārei and Warkworth to the Government in a mix of short, medium and long-term approaches.
Longer term, options such as a potential SH1 alternative route to the Brynderwyns would be confirmed through the completion of a Whangārei to Te Hana business case, for which completion funding was required. The business case started in 2017 but paused the following year.
Meanwhile, Karma said Waka Kotahi did not expect construction of the Warkworth to Wellsford four-laning phase to start this decade.
However, preparation was under way. Route protection was being completed. Resource consents had been secured and land designation was almost in place. There was no money to take this phase through to construction.
■ Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air