The controversial $230 million Haast-Hollyford toll road is gaining momentum with its international investors visiting the West Coast this week to meet community leaders.
However, plans to apply for resource consent were on hold until a dispute was resolved over claims that part of the 136 kilometre proposed route was a paper road that officials illegally removed from maps nearly 40 years ago.
Two representatives from Australian-registered investment company JCP gave a breakdown of the road's financial projections at a meeting at West Coast Regional Council yesterday.
John Lunbeck, a San Francisco-based JCP partner, said the new route would meet rapidly growing demand for access to South Island's wilderness.
Its total cost was expected to be "no more than $230 million" but extra funding was available.
The toll fee would start at $35 per traveller, almost double the previously suggested $20 a head, and would generate about $30m in the first year, based on predictions of 800,000 to 900,000 travellers. That toll would increase by $5 every five years for 30 years and traffic was expected to grow by 6 per cent annually.
Haast Hollyford Highway chairman Durham Havill, a former Westland mayor and the road's strongest proponent, told the meeting that the road would have huge benefits for the West Coast and Southland.
It would double West Coast tourism, provide 1500 construction jobs over its four-year build, shave 355 kilometres and four to five hours off the trip between Haast and Milford Sound and offer a new South Island tourist loop, he said.
He said legal advice proved that a 38km paper road from the Cascade Valley to Southland's border was illegally removed from official maps in 1976, which Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) disputed. "It's holding up the whole project."
LINZ policy and regulatory general manager, Craig Armitage, said that the proposed route's southern and northern ends were already legal roads and appeared in the "cadastre", the system that recorded location and the extent of legal parcels of land, including roads.
"However, although a connecting ‘road' is shown on some historical maps and documents, it is unclear whether it is in fact a legal ‘paper' road," he said.
LINZ believed the matter should be decided in court.
Havill said the paper road had appeared in the cadastre and maps until 1976.
About 20 people attended yesterday's meeting, included representatives from Buller, Westland, Grey and Southland district councils, regional council, construction sector and National MP Chris Auchinvole. Southland mayor Gary Tong and some Southland District councillors also joined via video link.
The investors were also to the three West Coast mayors this week.
Conservationists opposed the road, which would dissect the World Heritage Area, Te Wahipounamu - southwest New Zealand.
- The Press