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Co-operation needed for transport plans

The Waikato Region will need an unprecedented amount of Regional co-operation to ensure a solution to its transport problems will be “sorted by Christmas”, Transport Minister Pete Hodgson told Environment Waikato’s Regional Land Transport Committee meeting today.

He said the Region was large and complex with disparate transport needs, and would need buy in from every corner of the Waikato.

He said he anticipated that in early August there would be an announcement with “issues of interest for the Waikato”.

“All of us must commit the time and effort to get this process done and I think December is achievable. There are more local authorities involved in the development of Waikato’s special funding package than in any other the Government has undertaken so far. Waikato is bigger and more diverse than Auckland, Wellington or the Bay of Plenty.”

He said Waikato communities should not have to wait for the package to be agreed on before the Government took action, and officials would start work on the special funding package shortly to run alongside the Regional Land Transport Strategy.

He said since a Labour Government took over expenditure on land transport had increased by more than 80 percent across all types of transport, not including the recent announcements of one-off funding packages.

“The needs of the Waikato Region cannot be met by conventional funding methods. It is more than any other Region a corridor. Although all regions are growing and New Zealand is one of the highest performing economies in the world, Regional growth here is approaching remarkable and it has run into infrastructural difficulties as a result.

“The State Highway programme each year has not benefited the Waikato well and if one looks at how many projects are staying on track, being put back, put forward or added year by year it is easy to assess that the Waikato could do better.”

He said there needed to be additional funding policy, through a Joint Officials Group.

“The JOG is about money and it is a nonsense to say it isn’t. Much of the increased funding has to come from us, and historically it has. The scope of the JOG has to be agreed and has to enhance State Highways 1 and 2 but cannot be limited to that. It has to include environmental issues, whether it’s stock effluent or that bloody bridge at Kopu.”

He said the Waikato JOG would be the largest and may be as large as the Auckland, Wellington and Bay of Plenty ones put together. For some issues traditional computer modelling would not be up to scratch. Design and investigation should begin now so that projects were not held up by lack of completed investigations.

He expected more than $26 billion to be spent in the Region over the next 10 years, with some coming from tolling. The Waikato could also decide that, even with JOG and Government funding it wanted to go further and do some toll roading to bring projects forward, from which it could service $100 million worth of debt.

He said the Government was keen to get the funding process underway as the Region needed certainty and ordinary processes would not achieve that.

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