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A $7.1 million upgrade of a popular tourist route through the Catlins could be included in the National Land Transport Programme expected in June.
Solid support was shown for the tourist route connecting Nugget Point, in Otago, through Curio Bay to Haldane, in Southland, during the submission process for the Draft Otago Southland Regional Land Transport Plan, after public submissions closed on Friday, (March 6) Environment Southland senior policy planner for transport Russell Hawkes said.
The draft plan received 305 largely supportive submissions.
''A big number of the submissions were in support of that combined project at the Nuggets and Curio Bay,'' Mr Hawkes said.
The route's inclusion as a high priority in the draft plan would probably mean the ''Southern Penguin Scenic Journey'' through the Catlins area had taken another step closer to inclusion in the New Zealand Transport Authority (NZTA) three-year plan, he said.
The councils released the plan last month as a joint document, to strengthen the voice they have at a national level.
The project upgrade would include tarsealing two of the route's trouble spots, the road to Nugget Point, in Otago, and a 20km stretch from Haldane to Curio Bay, in Southland, he said. The tourist route was identified as a high priority after the police crash analysis system identified that 27% of vehicle crashes in the Catlins are caused, or partly caused, by international drivers.
Driving on unsealed roads was linked to the crash rate, which the plan states is ''increasing in number and seriousness''.
''Our hospitalisation data [crash related] indicates the Catlins areas require some immediate intervention.''
Reducing the social cost of crashes is listed as a top priority in the two regions' transport strategy.
Priority was also given to transport services and infrastructure supporting economic productivity and growth. Tourism was highlighted as an important industry for the area.
The project would include tourist signage, scenic stops, frequent rest areas, and new tracks and parking areas.
The hearing panels for the regional transport committees are considering submissions in Dunedin today and Invercargill tomorrow. The panel would make recommendations on potential changes to the draft plan. The draft plan would then require approval by the two regional councils to be submitted to the NZTA by the end of April.
The National Land Transport Programme would be released at the end of June.
The Clutha district's $2.6 million contribution to the project identified in the plan includes a $1 million contribution by the council, with the remaining $1.6 million to be funded by the NZTA. The council included the completion of the Nuggets Rd upgrade in its draft long-term plan on the basis that it did attract NZTA funding, a council spokeswoman said. The council's long-term plan goes to the public for consultation next month.
Southern Penguin Scenic Journey - the Catlins (Otago and Southland)
Total project cost: $7.1 million
Southland District Council contribution: $4,050,000
Clutha District Council contribution: $2,630,000
Project years: 2015-16 and 2016-17