Queenstown faces losing millions in road funding – leaving local maintenance and any upgrade to inadequate Kawarau Falls Bridge on the backburner.
Bridge pressure: Labour MP Phil Twyford on Kawarau Falls Bridge
And opposition MP Phil Twyford, Labour’s transport spokesman, is placing the blame on the Govern-ment’s plan to pour 12 billion bucks into seven major national roading projects dubbed the Roads of National Significance (RONS) during the next 10 years.
None of the seven are in the Wakatipu, where Queenstown Lakes District Council is preparing for a whopping nine million dollar cut to its road funding in the next three years.
Government’s New Zealand Transport Agency contributions, which part-fund roads in the regions, have fallen well short of council’s requests. NZTA approved $28.26 million for Queenstown Lakes road renewal work, an $8.88m shortfall on the requested $37.1m.
NZTA also came up $369,000 short of council’s request for $1.769m to maintain and operate the vital Crown Range Road linking Queenstown to Wanaka.
Still waiting at one-laner
The wait continues for local residents trying to cross Kawarau Falls Bridge in peak times.
Hilton Queenstown head concierge Nathan Wise (left) says on occasion after leaving work from the Kelvin Heights hotel he’s waited in the queue on the south side for half an hour whilst lights change back and forth.
“This one day it was just all backed up. Now I either try to finish before 5pm or think about staying till after 6pm.”
Queenstown councillor and Kelvin Heights resident Cath Gilmour, who normally cycles, says the biggest wait in her car has been 15 minutes.
“It’s a pain in the proverbial ... but it’s for an hour of the day for a few months over winter. Is that enough to persuade NZTA to spend the money required?
We can jump up and down but I don’t know if it’s going to make any difference when you hear the debate about Roads of National Signficance.”
Council transport boss Denis Mander says a further $100,000 shortfall for local road maintenance during the next three years will be able to be absorbed.
However, he calls the Crown Range shortfall “a big hit” and says NZTA officials are reviewing that – final decisions aren’t expected till next month.
“We’ll have to revisit our sealed maintenance programme,” Mander says, adding winter gritting of the Crown Range is something council is loathe to cut given the high number of tourists who aren’t as comfortable in winter conditions.
Meanwhile, the one-lane Kawarau Falls Bridge – the sole road access to The Remarkables skifield, Kingston and deep south – continues to languish at the back of the queue for a much-needed upgrade to two lanes. While NZTA has committed funding for a design, construction of the up-to-$20m State Highway project isn’t scheduled till 2016-17.
MP Twyford, visiting southern councils, says: “The Government has decided hell or high water to build these seven great projects and the effect to commit all this money to them has been to crowd out all other sorts of transport activities.
“Local roads are first in the queue as victims of this policy.”
Twyford says RONS has also led to an effective moratorium on new State Highway projects, like Kawarau Falls Bridge.
“I’m surprised a piece of essential infrastructure in the country’s prime tourism centre should be seemingly on the backburner. Hard to understand. Unless you’re part of a RONS, it’s very hard to get funding,” he says.
High-ranking Government minister Stephen Joyce, in Queenstown yesterday, says Twyford’s incorrect to say RONS spending is at the expense of regional roading.
“If you look at the total expenditure on roading projects around the country what we did is lifted hugely the amount that was being invested overall.
“And yes a lot of that additional investment has gone into the RONS projects but there’s still lots of regional projects being developed – certainly no less than were being done previously, so it’s a political position he’s taking,” Joyce says.