Frustrated New Plymouth motorists have been given their first look at what the solution to the city's biggest traffic flashpoint will look like.
Yesterday, the first plans for the upgrade to the city's Waiwhakaiho Bridge and northern outlet route were released by MP Jonathan Young and the New Zealand Transport Agency.
They reveal a new bridge will be built alongside the existing one over the Waiwhakaiho River, increasing the number of lanes from three to five.
Mr Young confirmed yesterday the five stages of the Vickers Rd to City development, price-tagged at more than $15 million, have been signed off by the NZTA.
Construction work on the bridge is expected to start in early 2014.
The northern outlet bottleneck has been a long-standing cause of anger for motorists in New Plymouth. It was also a cause championed by many politicians and it dominated last year's campaign trail.
Twelve months ago it was an election promise pledged not only by Mr Young but also Prime Minister John Key and then Transport Minister Steven Joyce.
Other improvements signalled include two extra lanes over the Te Henui bridge, intersection improvements at Devon St East and Mangorei Rd, construction of dual carriageway at various locations and installation or improvements of cycleways.
Mr Young said he took his hat off to NZTA for signing off all five stages of the project.
"Everyone will see a vast improvement in the flow of traffic," he said.
The economic development benefits of fixing the city's biggest bottleneck speak for themselves, Mr Young says.
"It's ticking boxes for economic development as well as improving emergency services ability to get through to Bell Block and Waitara in the north."
He describes the debate over the upgrade as being "tight and tough" at different times.
His thoughts are echoed by Labour MP Andrew Little who over the last year has spent much time insisting Mr Young needed to front up and deliver.
"It's been a long time coming and they had to come up with the goods," he said.
Politics won on the day, according to Mr Little, who said the fiercely contested election campaign meant the Government had to stay true to its word.
With the city upgrades well underway, Mr Little said it's now a case of keeping the pressure on in regards to Mt Messenger and Awakino Gorge.
"It still remains an issue that was highlighted only a couple of weeks ago when the road was closed again after a truck rolled," he said.
NZTA regional state highways manager David McGonigal said the project will help future proof New Plymouth for continued growth, in line with the growth expectations laid out in the New Plymouth Strategic Study 2008.
That future proofing applied particularly in the Bell Block industrial area. "New Plymouth is one of New Zealand's most attractive and liveable cities and we need to make sure we cater for it to keep growing and thriving," he said.
The project will also make travelling safer and the city's transport system more resilient by providing a second bridge over the Waiwhakaiho River, Mr McGonigal said.
"New Plymouth leads the pack as one of New Zealand's model communities for walking and cycling and provision will be made for dedicated pathways to ensure everyone has health and safe transport choices."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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