The "holiday highway" tag dreamed up for the Northern Motorway extension to Warkworth by Auckland councillor Mike Lee has enjoyed widespread currency. Critics of the Prime Minister lapped it up. Yet, it always owed far more to rhetoric than reality. Anything pertaining to John Key's Omaha Beach holiday home pales into insignificance when compared to the extension's significance for a rapidly developing district. It is commendable that an Auckland Council committee has acknowledged as much.
The regional development and operations committee was asked to make that judgment in relation to the consent process for the extension. It voted 16-4 for effectively fast-tracking the project through a Government-appointed board, rather than dealing with it locally under a process open to Environment Court challenges. The strength of the vote entailed some left-leaning committee members looking through the rhetoric - and past summer traffic jams at Warkworth - to see that this is, indeed, a road of national significance.
Rodney councillor and former district mayor Penny Webster summed this up when she noted that "this is about the umbilical cord to the north". The road is already heavily congested.
The possible use of tolls carries its own commentary on projected demand.
These factors justify the committee's decision to vote for a consent process that will occupy a maximum of nine months.
It is pleasing to see that the consenting process for this important stretch of our main state highway has been expedited. We have had cause to drive to Northland a couple of times this year, and once the motorway extension south of Puhoi runs out, the road quality immediately diminishes, and the traffic flow rapidly builds up.
The "holiday highway" jibe is totally inaccurate. Sure; there are some lovely holiday homes all the way up the Northland coast. But suggesting that the road is only being built for their benefit is insulting to the people of Northland.
Good friends moved to Whangarei last year. They, like many in the north are frustrated by the poor road access to Auckland and points south. And they tell me that people in Whangarei visible bristle when they hear the "holiday highway" stuff, because the road south is their lifeline, and past governments have ignored it. The patronising attitude of opposition politicians may also explain why Labour doesn't hold a single electorate seat north of the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
Puhoi to Wellsford is one piece of roading in need of urgent upgrade. Full marks to the John Key-led Government for declaring it a road of national significance (and ask the people of Northland if they agree), and kudos to the Auckland Council for ensuring that this vital roading project does not endure unnecessary delays.