No money earmarked to build Southern Link

KATE DAVIDSON
Last updated 12:59 04/08/2014

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Nelson MP Nick Smith says the Government's financial commitment to investigating and designing the Southern Link is vital to getting the project moving, but no funding has been secured for its construction.

It is not known how much of the $12 million the Government has committed to investigating three national roading projects will come to the Nelson highway.

The new investigation will look at traffic volumes and any new information or technology, while the design will outline where the route will go.

But funding for the $40m to $50m construction of the road has not been committed.

"The design would then allow us to crystallise an exact cost, and no decision has been made, but obviously I will be working as hard as I can to secure that funding from the land transport fund," Smith said.

The design would also open up debate in the community about the route, he said.

"Nobody is exactly sure of what is proposed; everybody is surmising. I think it would be very constructive to an informed public discussion to have the design completed, and then we know exactly what is being proposed and what is possible . . . to make it work as effectively as possible for the Nelson community."

During a regional transport committee meeting on Friday, Nelson city councillor Ruth Copeland questioned funding the investigation, saying the proposed Southern Link route had a weak cost-benefit ratio, and an arterial traffic study already done by the Nelson City Council and the NZ Transport Agency had found no immediate need for the road.

Smith said the Government had signed the contract for Wellington's Transmission Gully highway with a cost-benefit ratio in a similar range to that of the Southern Link, and it was the Government's prerogative to choose which roads to fund.

He also rejected the findings of the arterial study done by the council and the NZTA three years ago.

Nelson's population growth was only marginally less than Auckland's, and the city would lose business to Richmond because of the lack of access to the city, Smith said.

"If we don't match an investment in our infrastructure, then the system will just become more and more clogged up."

He rejected an alternative proposal for clearways on Waimea Rd and Rocks Rd, saying the option was "never going to fly".

When asked if it was better to invest in public transport to relieve pressure on the roads, Smith said this was "dreaming".

"Public transport has got a place, but public transport has to travel over a road, and every morning a bus is held up in that peak period because the capacity of our roading infrastructure has not matched our population growth."

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Smith said the proposed roading options inevitably had impacts on different communities.

"Tahunanui, which is actually a very low-income community down on the flat, is as much impacted by the traffic as Victory would be, but for the progress of the community as a whole, the Southern Link is the right answer, and I have seen no credible other viable option.

"There might still be a debate about when, but I am totally committed to the Southern Link as the long-term arterial transport link for Nelson."

Nelsust convenor Peter Olorenshaw, who has long opposed the Southern Link route, questioned whether a further investigation would throw up anything new.

He said Nelson council figures showed that traffic volumes have been falling since 2005, apart from last year's traffic count, when Waimea Rd underwent major road works. "There was an increase in Rocks Rd traffic then, matching a corresponding decrease in Waimea Rd traffic."

He also referred to the Environment Court ruling against the suitability of the road.

Olorenshaw said the arterial study looked at all options, "and the best it came up with if roading expansion was ever needed was actually Rocks Rd and Waimea Rd clearways, not the Southern Link". Once Rocks Rd was improved, it would be safer and provide a better transport option, with freight still using the route.

- The Nelson Mail

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