The new chair of the New Zealand Transport Agency could be the man who has the most influence over the future of important regional infrastructure roading projects, such as the Otaki to Levin expressway.
Experienced director Michael Stiassny has been appointed chair of the NZTA, replacing Fran Wilde who has been acting chair for three months.
In the announcing Mr Stiassny’s appointment, the Minister of Transport Phil Twyford says the Government has a transformative agenda to rebalance the transport system toward better safety, access and value for money, along with more investment in regional and local roads and rail.
Minister Twyford says NZTA has a crucial role to play in creating a modern and sustainable transport network across land transport modes and that Mr Stiassny will bring strong and decisive leadership to the Board.
The NZTA Board that Stiassny now chairs is the body that will ultimately green light or scrap the Otaki to Levin expressway project.
Minister Twyford has earlier confirmed that NZTA officials are investigating the expressway project and eventually would present a business case for their Board.
The NZTA Board will have to consider "the funding settings" under the Government Policy Statement (GPS) when they make their final determination on the expressway.
The GPS has four strategic priorities for the country’s transport system: Safety, Value for Money, Access and Environment.
The National opposition believes the changed priorities under the GPS raises uncertainty over whether the expressway will get the go-ahead from the NZTA Board.
However, Horowhenua Mayor Michael Feyen told the Beach FM Morning Magazine programme he is not yet 'distressed' about the future of the project.
He says that while things are a “little bit up in the air at the moment”, he’s not yet “at the stage of being distressed, or overly concerned”.
Mayor Feyen says it’s a new Government and some things take a while to organise.
He says if the expressway doesn’t go ahead “at a minimum we need a high-quality bypass with interchanges at either side of town, to ease congestion”.
The Horowhenua District Council will continue to have “fair and frank” discussions with NZTA because the expressway is vital, he says.
Kapiti Mayor K Gurunathan is equally adamant about the importance of the expressway.
"Stopping this project in its tracks would be devastating for both the Kāpiti and Horowhenua communities and motorists that regularly travel between Wellington, Ōtaki and Levin," he told Beach FM earlier this week.
"As well as improving the region's resilience and providing for safer and more reliable journeys between Ōtaki and Levin, the extension to the northern corridor will bring our northern neighbours closer to Kāpiti, significantly enhancing our district's potential for growth," says Mayor Guru.