Doubts over new Southern Link study

KATE DAVIDSON
Last updated 12:59 30/07/2014
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An expensive new study of Nelson's proposed Southern Link road might not produce much different information, says NZ Transport Agency chief executive Geoff Dangerfield.

National has promised a share of $12 million to investigate the viability of the controversial project if it is re-elected.

The NZTA, which is responsible for the country's highways and transport networks, said any new investigation would build on the arterial traffic study completed three years ago by it and the Nelson City Council.

"We are going to update it, essentially, and bring it into 2015. It may not be all that different - we don't know," Dangerfield said.

The arterial study found that there were no significant traffic problems in Nelson. Nor were any forecast for the next 25 years. However, it suggested that the southern arterial route be protected in case the situation changed.

Depending on the election result, the new study is expected to begin by the end of this year, and will take about a year to complete.

"The Government said they would like us to investigate and have a fresh look at the Southern Link, and they've put some money into a budget to do that - that's what we are going to do," Dangerfield said.

He said the agency's role was to "thoroughly and professionally investigate" the potential highway, thinking about it in the context of the entire transport network, along with how Nelson would develop and grow.

"The point is when you link the Southern Link and Rocks Rd together, you've got to understand how does the transport actually move and distribute around these two particular routes, so all our approach and modelling will be you can't divorce the two - it's about how the whole network functions."

Despite rumours, there would be no secret agenda with the proposed route, Dangerfield said.

"Our approach is always to be open and transparent about all this information, to the extent that we know things or this investigation reveals things that will be on the table and in the public arena."

If the investigation found that there was a need for the new highway, and reached the design phase, the road would still be several years away, he said, as it would need to obtain resource consents and go through the Environment Court - which ruled against the route in 2004.

"Consenting is going to be the issue," said the agency's planning and investment manager, Peter Hookham. "Being realistic, you could be talking at least three years."

The agency's strategy, communications and performance group manager, Jenny Chetwynd, said that in the meantime, Rocks Rd was a key link for the Nelson region.

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"It's a really important access route through the city and into the port, and it is functioning well, but it's also an important space amenity-wise for the city, so you've got to balance those two things up as well."

Chetwynd said upgrading the road provided an opportunity to look at how cycling and walking fitted in with the existing highway system, and to get them working well together.

The waterfront road also had problems, she said.

"There is some slippage on the cliff face and some closures that we do have to deal with . . . so there is a resilience argument there that says, well, an inland route wouldn't suffer from the same issues as a coastal road."

Two concepts to improve Rocks Rd, in particular for cyclists and pedestrians, are out for public consultation. If approved, it is expected to take a further two years to finalise the detailed design and planning. Construction would take another year.

Most of the money set aside for the upgrade comes from a $20m regional fund, which the council has until 2018 to use.

"Nelson has just been hanging on to those [funds], waiting to work up a portfolio of the right projects, so Rocks Rd is part of the walking and cycling package," said Hookham.

- The Nelson Mail

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