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Published: 2003-05-01 00:00:00

Environment Waikato has renewed calls for the government to urgently release funds for the completion of “vital” improvements to State Highway 1.

The new 10km Rangiriri to Ohinewai expressway will be officially opened tomorrow (Thursday May 1). It is the first stage of an upgrade to the State Highway which continues to be dogged by a lack of funding.

Waikato Regional Council Chair Neil Clarke said Environment Waikato’s Land Transport Committee was pleased to see improvements to a “very dangerous section of road”. However, work on the expressway was simply too slow.

It was clear that Waikato roads and road users were suffering while funds were diverted to relieve congestion in bigger cities, Mr Clark said.

“We accept there are funding limitations and that traffic congestion in Auckland is a serious issue. But the reality is that no-one has ever died from congestion. On the other hand, 20 percent of all road fatalities happen in our Region; most of them on State Highways,” Mr Clarke said.

“The road between Auckland and Cambridge is like a constrained artery close to bursting point. Given that the Highway is a lifeline for the forestry, dairy and other major industries, this is not just a regional economic issue. It’s a national one as well.”

Mr Clarke said Environment Waikato had worked closely with local Members of Parliament, Mayors, Councils and Transit New Zealand to try and secure more funding for Waikato roads and gained a commitment to having the expressway completed as soon as possible. These representations had been supported by a Waikato Times campaign.

It had been a frustrating process made worse by the continuing number of road deaths on State Highway 1 between Auckland and Hamilton.

“We acknowledge that roading issues are complex but this issue is absolutely vital for both our Region and the nation. Completing the State Highway I expressway is critical given its appalling safety record and its economic importance. ”

Mr Clarke said Environment Waikato would continue to raise its concerns over roading priorities with Transit New Zealand, Transfund and with Transport Minister Paul Swain.