Completing expressway a priority for region

AARON LEAMAN
Last updated 05:00 30/08/2014

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A proposal by the Greens to funnel billions of dollars into fixing Auckland's traffic woes at the expense of the Waikato Expressway could hinder Hamilton's economic growth.

That was the majority view of our Waikato Times panelists who back National and Labour's stance to complete the $2.4 billion expressway project by 2019.

The Greens argue completing the Waikato Expressway through to Hamilton did not make sense and instead want to spend billions of dollars fixing Auckland's traffic headaches.

But former Labour Hamilton West MP Martin Gallagher said Hamilton's industrial development in Ruakura was based on the assumption the expressway would be completed.

"All of Hamilton's economic planning makes a presumption of the completion of the expressway roughly within the time the current Government has announced," Gallagher said.

"It's very significant Labour's policies also support the completion of the expressway to Cambridge so I would expect that if there was a Labour-led Government, then the senior partner would carry the day on that issue."

Waikato regional councillor Lois Livingston was in "two minds" over the Greens' proposals and believed the current Government had placed too much focus on road-building.

She believed sorting out Auckland's traffic gridlock would benefit the Waikato and supported the future funding of a daily commuter rail service between Hamilton and Auckland.

"There's a lot of things that need to happen before a daily rail service can happen but we need to plan for it and, hopefully, over the next 10 years it could come to fruition," Livingston said.

Former Hamilton mayor Russ Rimmington said the expressway had to be completed "without delay" and once finished would be a huge economic driver for Hamilton and the region. Even though Waikato was a large tax base for the Government, very little investment was returned into the region.

"We need stronger representation from our local MPs, both nice guys but if they are re-elected they need to take some cement pills and harden up," Rimmington said. "Ruakura has been a world-leading innovation centre [but] successive Governments over the last few decades have depleted its resources to the detriment of our region and New Zealand."

Waikato University student Kate Lunn said the Waikato Expressway was a crucial project for the future economic growth of Hamilton and the region, and believed it should get priority funding.

Lunn said the region as a whole had benefited from central Government investment during the past three to six years in things such as the expressway, the $500m upgrade of Waikato Hospital and the building of new schools in Hamilton's north.

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Former prime minister Jim Bolger said National's commitment to completing the Waikato Expressway reflected the region's importance to the national economy.

"Waikato has deservedly done well in terms of Government investment because it's a huge economic machine for New Zealand."

Meanwhile, our panelists were split on who won Thursday's leader debate between National's John Key and Labour's David Cunliffe.

Although Gallagher and Livingston picked Cunliffe as the debate winner, Bolger said Key was the "clear winner". "I think without question the prime minister won but the other point is David Cunliffe did better than many expected and that gave him some marks," he said.

Bolger said the country was in the extraordinary position that if National did not form the next Government, it could be led by someone other than Cunliffe. "I say that with Labour at 25 per cent. Winston [Peters] might put his hand up for prime minister as the most experienced man there," Bolger said.

aaron.leaman@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

- Waikato Times

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