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The company has also hinted at a financial contribution to help complete the long-awaited cycleway to Port Chalmers, once plans are finalised, chief executive Kevin Winders said yesterday.
His comments were welcomed by West Harbour Community Board chairman Steve Walker, even as he cautioned against using the removal of trucks as an excuse not to complete the cycleway.
The initiative, floated late last year, would mean 100% of container traffic to and from the port was transported by rail, while logs were loaded on to ships at Port Otago’s upper harbour depot, Mr Winders said.
At present, 65% of containers bound for the port travelled to and from Port Chalmers by rail, but log trucks regularly rumbled east on SH88 to the port. Mr Winders said ways of lifting rail traffic to 100% for containers were being considered as part of a new project launched this year.
KiwiRail could accommodate the extra demand, but the "real issue" was how to accommodate logging trucks’ within the upper harbour, he said.
They needed wharf space and also a shipping channel deep enough to allow fully-laden ships to navigate the harbour’s upper reaches.
At present, log ships loaded in the upper harbour sailed less than fully loaded and stopped at Port Chalmers or another port for a "top-up", he said.
Ways of tackling both issues were being considered, but it was "early days" in an initiative which could take years, especially if a consent for dredging was required, he said.
"Clearly we all have to drive on the road — our staff included — so we want it as safe as we can have it."
His comments followed the publication of a strongly-worded opinion article by Tony Williams, a West Harbour resident and one of the founders of the Harbour Cycle Network group, in yesterday’s Otago Daily Times. Mr Williams urged Port Otago to contribute to the cost of the cycleway, arguing the company’s operation generated much of the truck traffic on the highway and it had "a moral need to come to the party".
Mr Winders said Port Otago was "supportive" of the cycleway, but would need to see final designs, costings and other details from the NZ Transport Agency before considering a financial contribution.
"At this stage I’m waiting like everyone else, slightly frustrated, to see where they [NZTA] are going.
"But we’re supportive and if we had to chip in to contribute something, that’s not out of the question."
The cycleway project has suffered design and cost setbacks since the section from the city to St Leonards was completed.
The most recent was last October, when NZTA staff told the West Harbour board the estimated cost to complete the project had doubled to $25million and construction would be delayed.
The NZTA subsequently reiterated it remained committed to the project, and a spokeswoman said yesterday an update was due "shortly".