Rampant growth putting pressure on highway planning
Poor road-planning could hinder economic development as the region's population continues to soar.
Waikato is facing rampant residential and industrial growth in the next few years as people flood in from the regions and Auckland's exiles spill south from the Bombays.
On Monday, new members of the Waikato Regional Council's regional transport committee (RTC) heard economic development on the upper North Island hinges on good transport planning.
"Unless our land-use and transport plan is integrated at this scale, economic development will ultimately be hindered because of increasing congestion," said Madeleine Alderton, council's senior transport and infrastructure policy adviser.
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Moving freight and people around the region is the top priority and ranks ahead of safety and access to work, service and recreation. Alderton also said efforts are needed to influence a road-safety culture change.
RTC chairman and Waikato Regional Councillor Hugh Vercoe agrees.
Travel, employment and leisure will all feed off the Waikato Expressway and people are safer on better roads.
"The number one priority, strategically, in the Waikato for the last 15 years has been to complete the expressway," Vercoe said.
Hamilton City Councillor Dave Macpherson said an emerging issue is connecting residential growth areas to the regional network.
He pointed in particular to the growth in the south of Hamilton of 3000 houses if a bid to the government's $1 billion Housing Infrastructure Fund succeeds, but the north needs attention, too.
"Each have very significant transport components, bridges and some major works and highways like the Southern Links around Peacocke," Macpherson said.
Hamilton wants to start development quickly, he said, and roads are high on the agenda.
"None of the arterial connections between those areas and the rest of the city and the rest of the highway network are listed for the near future.
"We would be keen for some work to be done, reflecting residential growth cells and connections between the rest of the region."
The New Zealand Transport Agency's Central North Island regional relationship director Parekawhia McLean presented a quarterly report to the committee which shows a 4 per cent rise in traffic volumes on the state highway network in the three months to August 2016.
Emphasis is on the movement of freight. But Thames-Coromandel District Council's Rex Simpson said those figures must capture tourism as well.
"We've just got huge numbers or people coming into the Coromandel Peninsula - 250,000 people going to Hahei each year," Simpson said.
"Making sure that is part of the equation is something I would like to make sure of."
Waikato District Council's Dynes Fulton said the Horsham Downs south-facing ramps need to be integrated into the expressway design to aid connection from development in the north of the city.
Macpherson threw his weight behind Fulton's call, saying Hamilton's council is strongly in favour of the ramps being built at the same time as the rest of the expressway.
NZTA shelved previous growth predictions as new data comes through and is reluctant to commit to the option while the evidence is still being compiled.