Eastern Arterial funding bombshell will strangle Rotorua's economic future says mayor
Rotorua Mayor Kevin Winters is describing the New Zealand Transport Agency’s (NZTA) newly released draft State Highway Programme as a bombshell that could mean the slow strangulation of Rotorua’s economic future.
He said the report’s failure to include any funding for the next stage of the Rotorua Eastern Arterial Route until at least the 2017/18 financial year was totally unacceptable and Rotorua people would be justified in thinking the government had let them down badly.
Mr Winters said NZTA appeared to be snubbing Rotorua and ignoring the commitment previously given by the Minister of Transport.
“It’s less than two years since Steven Joyce came to town proudly making noises about funding that his government had allocated for initial investigation work on the Rotorua arterial.
“He went so far as to put out a statement (December 2009) saying it was the first step in easing traffic congestion through this important corridor.
“His statement said the project promoted economic growth, aided urban development and improved safety. It described the proposed arterial as an important link between the city of Rotorua and key infrastructure including Rotorua International Airport, the Port of Tauranga and the wider Bay of Plenty region.
“More importantly Mr Joyce said, and I quote, “the Government is committed to lifting productivity, creating jobs and helping get our goods to market faster. Strong investment in our state highways and the completion of projects such as this will help deliver on these priorities.”
“So I have to ask of NZTA, and the minister and our local MP, ‘what’s happened to this commitment?’ How can NZTA’s apparent funding about-face deliver on those priorities as promised?”
Rotorua District Council infrastructure services group manager Nico Claassen said forecasting showed that the existing heavily utilised Te Ngae Road route in and out of Rotorua would reach full capacity by 2017.
“This means it is imperative that construction work on the new Eastern Arterial is well underway by 2017 at the very latest. NZTA must therefore commit funding for the project’s design phase for inclusion in their 2014 budget, or sooner.
“This state highway programme is one of the single most important infrastructure projects in Rotorua’s history,’ said Mr Claassen. “Without it we can expect gridlock on our roads.”
Mr Winters said the future safety of Rotorua’s motorists, pedestrians and cyclists, and the city’s ability to service its visitor industry, especially those using the international airport, were both heavily dependent on the new arterial route going ahead.
“Additionally this is a vital lifeline for our wood processing and timber export industries as it is the sole heavy haulage route from our forests to processing plants and to the Port of Tauranga.
“This funding uncertainty will also come as a kick in the teeth to iwi in Rotorua who have major plans to develop land in the eastern part of the city. They need certainty about the Eastern Arterial before they can go-ahead. Unless the arterial gets funding iwi’s development aspirations will be seriously stifled.
“Similarly there are many businesses in the eastern part of Rotorua that are in a state of flux waiting to develop and grow their businesses. If the Eastern Arterial project grinds to a slow halt their growth plans will be dealt a death knell.
“Highway upgrade work throughout the Bay of Plenty and our Victoria Street Arterial are inextricably linked to the Eastern Arterial and our transport network’s operational effectiveness will be seriously restricted if the new route doesn’t proceed with haste.
“The government appears able to pour large amounts of cash into western Bay of Plenty roading projects and here in Rotorua we have always accepted those programmes as important to the region. But the Rotorua Eastern Arterial is now at the top of the Bay of Plenty Transport Committee’s priorities and we will not accept Rotorua being pushed aside any longer.”
Mr Winters said he had called NZTA’s regional office officials to Rotorua tomorrow [Thursday October 27] to explain themselves to the council. He said he will be making it perfectly clear that the council, local iwi, Rotorua businesses and the people of the district will not accept NZTA’s roading programme if it fails to provide the timely funding required for this city’s vital arterial plans to retain momentum.
“I will also be calling in our local MPs and making it very clear that we expect them to back their local community on this matter. I’ll be reminding them that just this week the Minister of Transport wrote to me with a copy of the new Government Policy Statement on Land Transport Funding, identifying key priorities as economic growth and productivity, value-for-money, and road safety.
“If the government ignores its own policy and fails the people of Rotorua then it must face the potential consequences of an electorate expressing dissatisfaction through the ballot box.