Toll mooted for two bridges

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Minister of Transport Simeon Brown and Rangitata MP James Meager open Meager's electorate office in Ashburton recently. Photo Toni Williams.
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The Minister of Transport was given a belated birthday cake adorned with a picture of the Ashburton River bridge as a reminder of the proposed second bridge project.

Simeon Brown visited Ashburton on Friday to open Rangitata Member of Parliament James Meager’s new office and the new Fairfield Freight Hub.

Meager presented Brown with the cake displaying the photo.

It wasn’t the only reminder Brown was given about the importance of the second bridge project.

At the office opening, the minister said he had been impressed at the oversized novelty scissors used to cut the ribbon that had been borrowed from Mayor Neil Brown.

The mayor was quick to quip the minister was more than welcome to use them again when he opens the second bridge.

The bridge is listed as a road of regional significance and the minister said he wants all funding options on the table. He said he hasn’t ruled out the option of introducing a toll, either on the new bridge or existing State Highway 1 bridge, to help pay for its construction.

The bridge has been included in the re-draft of the Government policy statement on land transport, which sets the direction for NZ Transport Agency.

Minister Brown said he did not have an update while it was going through the process.

“The next step is for NZTA to put the national land transport programme together,” Minister Brown said.

“We are obviously committed to the project, and that process will identify when and how it will be delivered.”

While National has said construction will begin in its first term, the question remains how the project will be funded.

As it is not a State Highway but a local road project, the minister suggested there would be a requirement for the district council to contribute.

The process will provide the answers around how it’s funded, who is funding what, and when construction will begin, he said.

With a myriad of infrastructure projects required around the country, the government is looking at “a range of funding and financing tools”.

“All of our roads of national significance should be tolled.

“Part of that is so we can protect the maintenance budgets, particularly for rural state highways, and rural and local roads, because we need to make sure we are doing a much better job of maintaining what we have currently got.”

The direction to NZTA is that all options should be on the table for funding the bridge, he said.

“The reality is there is only a limited amount of money in the land transport fund and so we need to look at all funding and financing tools to get things happening.

“Funding is part of the puzzle but consenting has become another challenge which can delay projects by years.”

The government is looking to pass fast-track consent legislation that could help expedite the bridge construction when the time comes.

Mayor Brown said he had a good discussion with minister around ways the bridge could be funded, and those discussions over funding options would now take place between NZTA and the district council.

LDR is local body journalism cofunded by RNZ and NZ On Air.