OPINION: Perhaps we should not be too effusive over confirmation of the big roading spendup. The New Zealand Land Transport Agency is only returning to the region its entitlement, after all.
The $175 million tagged for "regional" projects in the top of the south is our due from the five-cents-a-litre fuel tax and a share of road-user charges; nothing more. The good news is that we have not received less than we deserve, either - a prospect that looked likely at times over the past 18 months.
The problem has been disagreement between the Nelson City Council and agency on whether its proposed projects met the criteria for the so-called R funding. One major sticking point was the council's promotion of a $6m cycling and pedestrian "boulevard" for the Rocks Rd-Wakefield Quay waterfront area.
Initially, the agency had some difficulties in accepting that a facility of this type was an appropriate use of regional roading funds. Given the Auckland area's rapacious needs for transport funding after years of local body dysfunction and the growing focus on rebuilding Christchurch, it would not surprise had the central bureaucrats gone hunting for devious ways to reallocate regional funds for high-priority projects.
However, after months of to-ing and fro-ing between the council and Wellington, it is pleasing that the agency has finally accepted Nelson's arguments. These include the growing importance of tourism and cycling to a fast-growing region, as well as the need to improve and strengthen roads and bridges between Richmond and Blenheim in order to cater for heavier freight trucks.
Given the absence of rail links, a beefed up road-freight roading network is vital and the focus this gets in the package is both predictable and welcome. However, although it represents only a fraction of the region's funding package, the Rocks Rd boulevard is in many ways the most significant outcome of negotiations that have been both protracted and, at times, tetchy.
It helps cement council ambitions to make more of the scenic value of an already significant regional asset - the Nelson waterfront. That the agency has finally agreed to a plan to enhance recreational usage - for tourists and locals alike - alongside one of its State Highways is a pleasing development.
Both the council and agency must have made concessions in order to reach an agreement that was looking unlikely a year ago - prompting some public table-thumping by Mayor Aldo Miccio. He drew some criticism for that, and it is pleasing to see that the city has largely got its way.
Agency spokeswoman Jenny Chetwynd makes some interesting observations in commenting on the funding package. She says enhancing safety and access for recreational travel will encourage cycling, both for regular commuting and tourism.
This, plus the green light for the waterfront boulevard, seem to suggest growing acceptance that land transport funding is about more than simply building new and better roads. The Rocks Rd-Wakefield Quay jewel will never show its full sparkle while a state highway runs through it, but the boulevard will give it a significant polish.
- The Nelson Mail