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The Government could save more than $1 billion by shelving its Puhoi to Wellsford motorway extension plan and instead installing a rail link with Marsden Point and upgrading State Highway 1 from Puhoi to Whangarei.
That's the view of councillor Aaron Edwards, who has joined his Whangarei District Council colleague councillor Brian McLachlan in calling on the Government to take a new look at the $1.7 billion motorway extension plan and instead put money into ensuring the Northland rail line is retained.
Mr McLachlan had earlier said he wanted Whangarei MP Phil Heatley to re-examine motorway funding while the KiwiRail turnaround plan was proposing to close the North Auckland rail line. Mr Heatley last week supported both the motorway extension and Marsden Pt rail link, saying Northland needed both and advising councillors not to "trade away road-building to get rail-building".
Mr Edwards, a certified engineering technician, said yesterday it was disappointing the MP was still promoting Puhoi to Wellsford four-laning. "This project has been proven uneconomic by the New Zealand Transport Agency's own benefit cost ratio," he said.
"The Government needs to start thinking of SH1 north of Auckland as a complete transport corridor from Auckland to Whangarei and on to the Bay of Islands, not a motorway that stops short of the Northland region."
Mr Edwards said a study commissioned by the Campaign for Better Transport found SH1 could be upgraded, including a Warkworth bypass and Dome Valley upgrade, for $320 million. With the Marsden Pt rail extension also estimated to cost $320 million, Northland's road and rail transport could be improved for a total of $640 million - more than $1 billion less than the proposed Puhoi-Wellsford motorway, he said. But Mr Heatley was yesterday still confident Northland could have both the Marsden Pt rail link and motorway extensions.
"When Auckland Ports starts shedding business to us due to CBD congestion, then Marsden Pt becomes a significant importing port which makes the rail link economic," he said.
"Today tens of thousands of vehicles use SH1 and it needs upgrading. Tomorrow we need the rail link and all that can logically be done is being done. I simply ask councillors not to panic and to unite for both road and rail. I'm fighting for both and with Northland unity we will win."
This article first appeared on www.northernadvocate.co.nz
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