All major roading projects in the Western Bay will be under way within the next decade after the Government today announced a special $150 million transport grant.
This extra funding through Land Transport NZ is expected to be matched by contributions from local authorities over the next 10 years - producing a $300 million spur to the Bay's transport plans.
The funding boost - announced by Transport Minister Pete Hodgson - will virtually eliminate the shortfall in completing the congestion-busting strategic roading network.
Up to 90 per cent of the additional money will head Tauranga's way.
The funding package for the $240 million Harbour Link project, including the second bridge and overland viaduct from Takitimu Drive, has now been settled.
And the $180 million eastern arterial expressway bypassing Te Puke can be started six years earlier than expected.
Mr Hodgson said the harbour bridge would be designated a state highway and Transit New Zealand would handle financing that includes tolls at no more than $2 a car.
He said in Tauranga this morning that the extra funding, recommended by the joint officials group, was a result of the Western Bay's "dizzy" population and economic growth.
The Bay is only the third region to be given special consideration under the joint officials group (JOG) consultation process - Auckland is receiving an extra $950 million and Wellington $225 million over the next 10 years. Neighbouring Waikato entered the JOG process three weeks ago.
The National Party has pledged an extra $270 million for the Western Bay's roading network if it gains power. This included no tolls on the harbour bridge with the money to come from directing more road user charges and fuel tax in to state highway construction.
Mr Hodgson also announced today that he will ask the governor-general for an order allowing Harbour Link to be partially tolled - the second project in the country, behind the re-routing of State Highway 1 north of Orewa, to be funded by debt under the new Land Transport Management Act.
He said the latest cost estimate for Harbour Link was $244 million. Half was coming from the Land Transport NZ fund in the normal way and Transit NZ would borrow the other half from Treasury.
The money, including interest, would be repaid through tolling - last Monday Cabinet capped the level of tolls at $2 a car and $4 a truck.
Mr Hodgson said the toll would probably be lower in off-peak travel times and based on how many motorists were using the bridge. It was initially thought the toll could be $1.25 a car.
The major roading projects can now be completed back to back. Construction of Harbour Link, which included widening Hewletts Rd to four lanes, could begin next year and be completed in 2009 when the next priority, the eastern arterial, would begin.
This expressway, from Te Maunga to Paengaroa, would service urban development in Papamoa East and the proposed Rangiuru business park and provide a faster link to Rotorua and Whakatane.
When that project nears completion three years later, attention swings to the $180 million northern arterial from Route K, crossing the Wairoa River and travelling past Te Puna.
In between, other funding will go on improving the public transport system, including buses and a ferry service and creating more walking and cycling accessways in Tauranga.
The eastern and northern arterials were not included in Transit's latest 10-year construction programme, released on July 1. They have been pushed forward by the extra funding, to come out of the Crown Account over the next 10 years.
United Future list MP Larry Baldock, who has championed Tauranga's roading interests in Wellington, said the work could be continued with confidence. "We don't want to be like Auckland and we can now get the roads built in 10 years."
John Cronin, Environment Bay of Plenty chairman, said the Government was prepared to go the extra mile because the region had its land transport strategy in place and was ready to move.
The council would contribute another $40 million over l0 years towards the new package, with $30 million of that going into Western Bay projects.