Backing likely for fast-tracking ring road

JONATHAN CARSON
Last updated 05:00 27/11/2012

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A majority of city councillors have signalled they will vote to accept a close to $10 million government subsidy that will fast-track the completion of the Hamilton ring road project.

The move is expected to ease congestion sooner for thousands of motorists, who have been plagued by constant roadworks over the past year, and potentially save ratepayers millions of dollars.

But there are concerns that completing the ring road well before the Waikato Expressway is finished will put extra pressure on the city's roading network.

The NZTransport Agency offered to advance fund the ring road extension, from Ruakura Rd to Cobham Dr, on the condition that council agreed to complete it by 2014-15, rather than the original target of 2019-20.

However, if the council decides against bringing the deadline forward it runs the risk of losing the up to $10 million advance, according to a finance and monitoring committee report.

"Council would need to reapply at the time it wanted to undertake the construction and compete nationally for any funding that may be available," the report says.

Councillors will debate and vote on the options on Thursday and most said they were leaning toward a move to fast-track the project, taking full advantage of the subsidy.

"From my point of view, it's just cheaper to do it now than later," councillor Roger Hennebry said.

"I think we've got to get all this bloody roadworks out of the way. People are a bit sick of it now and if we put it on the back burner for two years and start again it's costing us more money and more upheaval."

Ewan Wilson said he would reserve his final decision until the debate, but his gut feeling was to accept the agency's subsidy and press on ahead of schedule.

"My natural reaction is to try to get the most done as quickly as possible while maximising the subsidy.

"I know the counter-argument is that if we do this other parts of the roading network may come under pressure until they're able to link up all the balance, but I'm not as convinced of that."

John Gower and deputy mayor Gordon Chesterman also indicated they were more inclined to accept the subsidy, and mayor Julie Hardaker previously said councillors would be letting the city down if they didn't take the money on offer.

Councillors Daphne Bell, Angela O'Leary and Maria Westphal would not comment on their position yesterday.

"I think it will be a close vote," Mr Chesterman said.

Councillor Dave Macpherson has been vocal in his opposition to completing the ring road well before the Waikato Expressway, saying high volumes of State Highway 1 traffic will put extra pressure on the new route.

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However, traffic analysis by council staff suggested this would amount to about 250 extra vehicles a day for only a short time.

Council infrastructure general manager Chris Allen said completing the link to Cobham Dr earlier would take the pressure off "community-focused" areas such as Peachgrove Rd.

The combined construction cost of the ring road, including property, is estimated at $98 million.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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