Expressway threat seen in policy criticism

The Government has hit back at opposition criticism of its motorway building programme, saying a change in government could jeopardise the completion of the Waikato Expressway.

Labour's transport spokesman Phil Twyford has called for an independent review of the Government's Roads of National Significance, labelling some of the roading projects "duds".

The Government has named the $2.4 billion Waikato Expressway project, to be finished by 2019, as one of seven Roads of National Significance.

A government policy statement on land transport funding last year also noted four high-value highways that could become future Roads of National Significance, including State Highway 29 between Hamilton and Tauranga and SH1 between Cambridge and Tirau.

Mr Twyford said it would be an "economic crime" to expand the motorway building programme without scrutinising the current projects.

He said analysis of the MacKays to Peka Peka section of the Kapiti Expressway and the Puhoi to Wellsford highway project showed they would generate little economic benefit.

"Until there is an independent review of National's so-called Roads of National Significance and their value for money, there is no way the Government should be proceeding with four new projects.

"I am writing to the Auditor General to ask for a review of the RoNS programme, to test whether there is sufficient accountability for value for money, and whether NZTA's [New Zealand Transport Agency] approach to assessing the economic value of projects is robust enough."

However Mr Twyford reserved his opinion on the Waikato Expressway and declined to say whether it should be completed by 2019.

"I haven't done the in-depth analysis of the Waikato Expressway, it's got a whole lot of different parts to it, so I don't want to express a definitive view without having done the work on it. I would like to take a closer look at the Waikato Expressway and before I do that I won't venture a comment."

But National's Hamilton East MP David Bennett said the four-lane expressway would strengthen Hamilton's ties with Auckland and would allow the region to benefit from Auckland's growth.

He said the Government was focused on completing the expressway by 2019 but its completion would be put at risk under a Labour-Greens Government.

Construction on two significant sections of the expressway, the Hamilton and Huntly sections, was due to start in 2015 and finish in 2019.

"Labour has been very non-committal about the expressway so these next two big chunks could be in doubt if we had a Labour-Greens Government."

Mr Bennett said the links from Hamilton to Tauranga and from Cambridge and Tirau were "vital looking forward" but a lot of work had to be done around investigating those options. "It's the next step Hamilton needs to progress, especially the link to Tauranga."

Waikato Times